Folklore - Music




The rizitika songs form a separate category of the Cretan folksongs. As the name indicates, the place of their origin is at the foot (rizes) of the mountains, especially the Lefka Ori in Western Crete.


Nobody knows exactly when the first rizitika songs came into existence, but at least they can be traced back to the Byzantine period (about 1.000 A.D.). The rizitika tradition has survived both the Venetian and the Turkish domination of the island, and is still alive in the 21st century. As a matter of fact there are a number of songs about the German occupation of Crete during the Second World War. Even today new rizitika songs are being composed, and their content and style do indeed live up to that of the old songs.


Besides the chronological classification, the songs are also divided into the two categories tis tavlas (at the table) and tis stratas (on the road).


The songs of the tis tavlas category are sung during banquets, at parties, baptisms, weddings and on other lesser occasions - and they are always sung without musical accompaniment.


The tis stratas songs are rarely sung nowadays, but in former times people sang them when they were walking or riding from one place to another. Often the songs were accompanied by a lyra (or a fiddle in Eastern Crete) and a laouto. This category also includes some of the wedding songs that were sung when the bridegroom set out for his parents-in-law's home, and later when he brought his bride to their common home. Furthermore there are wedding songs where the bridegroom's mother welcomes the bride, as well as when the dowry was exhibited.



The songs did change in the course of time. In Byzantine time a popular subject was the dying border soldier Digenis Akritas. Often the descriptions in the songs were exaggerated, as for instance in the well-known song about Digenis Akritas:



Ο Διγενής ψυχομαχεί κι η γης τονε τρομάσσει. Digenis is fighting with Death, and the earth is fearing him.
Βροντά κι αστράφτει ο ουρανός και σειέτ' ο απάνω κόσμος, From the sky it is thundering and lightning, and the whole world is shaking,
κι ο κάτω κόσμος άνοιξε και τρίζουν τα θεμέλια, And the land of the dead opened, and the foundations are groaning,
κι η πλάκα τον ανατριχιά πώς θα τονε σκεπάσει, And the gravestone shudders, how can it cover him,
πώς θα σκεπάσει τον αητό, τση γης τον αντρειωμένο. How can it cover this eagle, the bravest man on earth?
Σπίτι δεν τον εσκέπαζε, σπήλιο δεν τον εχώριε, A house couldn't cover him, no cave could hold him,
τα όρη εδιασκέλιζε, βουνού κορφές επήδα, Over mountains he strove, he flew over the mountain peaks,
χαράκια αμαδολόγανε και ριζιμιά ξεκούνιε. Blocks of stone he pulled down and boulders he shoved.
Στο βίτσισμά πιανε πουλιά, στο πέταγμα γεράκια, With the snare he caught birds and hawks on the wing,
στο γλάκιο και στο πήδημα τα λάφια και τ' αγρίμια. Running and bounding deer and wild goats he caught.
Ζηλεύγει ο Χάρος με χωσιά μακρά τόνε βιγλίζει, Death got jealous and ambushed him,
κι ελάβωσέν ντου την καρδιά και την ψυχή ντου πήρε. Wounded him in his heart and stole his soul.


In the Venetian period the songs became more realistic, even though the Western chivalry was a recurrent theme. From this period we find the first songs with rhymes.


In the Turkish period many allegories were used in the songs. It was simply too risky to say things point-blank, so the meaning was paraphrased.


An example of such a song could be the well-known and often played "Agrimia ki agrimakia mou":


- Αγρίμια κι αγριμάκια μου, λάφια μου μερωμένα - You wild goats and kids, you tamed deer,
πέστε μου πού 'ν' οι τόποι σας και πού τα χειμαδιά σας. Tell me, where do you live, where are you staying in the winter.
- Γκρεμνά 'ναι μας οι τόποι μας, λέσκες τα χειμαδιά μας, - In the precipices we live, the steep peaks are our winter quarters,
τα σπηλιαράκια του βουνού είναι τα γονικά μας. The caves in the mountains are our ancestral home.


In this song the wild goats symbolize the resistance (cha´nides), who lived in the mountains, from where they attacked the Turks, who usually lived on the plains.



Another famous resistance song that is sung without reserve, is the "Pote tha kanei xasteria". Many people believe that it has its origin in the Turkish period, but as a matter of fact it is a song developed from an old Byzantine song. The old text is as follows:


Χριστέ, να ζώνουμουν σπαθί και νά 'πιανα κοντάρι, Christ, I ought to fasten a sword around my waist and grab my lance
να πρόβαινα στον Ομαλό, στη στράτα τω Μουσούρω, And walk to Omalos on the Mousouros road.
να σύρω τ' αργυρό σπαθί και το χρουσό κοντάρι, There I will draw my silver sword and golden lance
να κάμω μάνες δίχως γιούς, γυκαίκες δίχως άνδρες, To deprive mothers of their sons and wives of their husbands,
να κάμω και μωρά παιδιά με δίχως τσι μανάδες. To deprive newborn babies of their mothers.


The text that is sung today refers to the Turkish period and is as follows:


Πότες θα κάμει ξαστεριά, πότες θα φλεβαρίσει, When will it be starry, when will it be February
να πάρω το τουφέκι μου, την έμορφη πατρώνα, So I can grab my gun, my beautiful cartridge belt
να κατεβώ στον Ομαλό, στη στράτα τω Μουσούρω, And walk down to Omalos on the Mousouros road,
να κάμω μάνες δίχως γιούς, γυναίκες δίχως άντρες, I' ll deprive mothers of their sons and wives of their husbands,
να κάμω και μωρά παιδιά να 'ναι δίχως μανάδες, I' ll deprive newborn babies of their mothers,
να κλαιν τη νύχτα για βυζί και την αυγή για γάλα so they will cry for her breast in the night and in the early morning for milk,
και τ' αποδιαφωτίσματα για την καημένη μάνα. and when the sun rises they shall cry for their poor mother.


The Mousouros family was a rich family that was sent to Crete after its liberation from the Saracens by Nikiforos Fokas. According to tradition the Byzantine emperor Alexios Komninos decided in the year 1082 that 12 families were to be sent to Crete to consolidate the Byzantine power. Obviously the family constructed a paved road from Chania to Omalos. Some remains have been found near the village of Karanou - half way to Omalos.



The song had a "renaissance" during the military dictatorship in Greece (1967-74), when the students sang it during their occupation of the faculty of law in Athens in 1973. Only the verse "and walk down to Omalos" was changed to the words "and walk down to the faculty of law".


As mentioned before the German occupation of Crete in May 1941 gave rise to many songs:


Παιδιά κι είντα 'ναι η καταχνιά και τούτη η κατσιφάρα, What is this fog and this haze, my friends?
και γιάντα φεύγουν τα πουλιά κι ανατριχιούν τα δάση; And why are the birds flying away and the woods shuddering?
Οι Γερμανοί πλακώσανε κι ουρανοκατεβαίνουν Germans are swarming over Crete, descending from the sky,
με μηχανές και με φωτιά την Κρήτη πλημμυρίσαν. With machines and with fire they overrun Crete.
- Κρήτη, στα μαύρα θα ντυθείς, στα σίδερα θα πέσεις. - Dear Crete, dress in black, in slavery you'll fall.
Πάλι τση Κρήτης τον αητό κρούσταλλα θα σκεπάσουν. Once again the eagle of Crete will be covered with ice crystals.
Μα θάρθει μέρα λαμπερή να ξαναλιώσουν πάλι. But some shining day in spring they shall melt again.


A variant of the above song is as follows:


Παιδιά κι είντα 'ναι η καταχνιά και τούτη η κατσιφάρα; What is this fog and this haze, my friends?
Οι Γερμανοί πλακώσανε κι ουρανοκατεβαίνουν. Germans are swarming over Crete, descending from the sky.
Απούχει άρματα ας βαστά κι απού δεν έχει ας βρίσκει. If you have weapons, grab them. If not, find some.


The rizitika songs are not only "battle songs". There are also many love songs:


Μάνα, λούγε με, μάνα μ', χτένιζέ με, Mother, wash my hair, comb my hair,
μάνα στο σκολειό, μάνα μ' μη με μπέμπεις, Mother, don't send me to school,
κι άρχοντες περνούν, πεζοί και καβαλλάροι. Noblemen are passing on foot and on horseback.
Μα ένας νιος καλός και διωματάρης But a young man who is handsome and elegant
μου παιζογελά και κάνει μου το νάτος. Playfully smiles and flirts with me.
Μάν' αν τόνε δεις να του ζηλέψει θέλεις. Mother, if you saw him, you would get jealous.


and "teasing songs":


Αυτές οι Καψοδασιανές έχουν καλόν αντένι, The women in Kapsodasos have a nice habit,
κι ανέν και πάει και κιανείς του κάνουν και ραέτι. If you go there, they will serve you a great meal.
Μα εσείς των Πατσιανοτισών θα σας το πω κι ομπρός σας, But you women from Patsianos, I' ll tell you frankly,
εγόγια ντου του νηστικού που θάρθει στο χωριό σας. woe to the hungry man who comes to your village.


The neighbouring villages of Kapsodasos and Patsianos are close to Frangokastello on the southern coast of Crete.

and songs of thanks:


Μα γώ θωρώ την τάβλα μας, κι είναι καλά στρωμένη I'm looking at our table, and it is well-provided
με μόσκους και με ζάχαρη περιτριγυρισμένη, Everywhere there is meat and sweets.
ας είν' καλά απού 'στρωσε κι έβανε το μαντήλι, Long live our host who set the table,
κι έκατσαν γύρω τριγύρου οι γ εδικοί και φίλοι. Around it family and friends have taken their seats.
Κι απού την εμαργέλλωνε τρεις γύρους με τα πιάτα Three times the dishes were served,
και με κανάτες δεκαοχτώ και με ψωμί πιτήδειο. Eighteen jugs we had and delicious bread.


An example of one of the tis stratas wedding songs that was sung when the bridegroom and his friends set out for the bride, could be as follows:


"Δώσε μας, μάνα, την ευκή να ξεκινήσ' ο γάμος." "Give us, mother, your blessing, so the wedding can begin."
"Η γι ευκή μου μπρος κι οπίσω σας, δεξά σας και ζερνά σας, "You have my blessing in front and behind, to the right and to the left,
να πάτε να μου φέρετε τη νύφη του παιδιού μου, Now go and bring back my son's wife,
να 'ναι από καλή σειρά κι από καθάριο αίμα." may she be of a noble family and have noble blood."
Ευκή γονιού αγόραζε και στα βουνά προπάθιε Get your parents' blessing and go to the mountains
και του κυρού σου ώστε να ζεις καλά τα λόγια κράθιε. And remember your father's words, then you will live well.