Probably the oldest Carnival custom in Naxos, Koudounati takes place in one of the most beautiful villages on the island, Aperathos. The custom takes place on the Sunday of the Carnival, the last day before Ash Monday and the beginning of the Great Lent.
As usual, I made sure I would arrive at the place quite early, so I would have enough time to learn more about the custom, the place and time that the custom will start and if there is a house in the village where everyone gets dressed and prepares for the event. I had already visited the village a few days back and had learned that the custom starts at around three in the afternoon. So I visited the village a tad after eleven o' clock.
Luckily enough, just as I arrived at the traditional cafe in the central square to have a Greek coffee, I met the guy who owned the house where everyone would be getting ready for the event. He had been in the village's bakery which was down the winding alleys, only about two hundred meters away, baking golden, smelly rustic loaves of bread. He told me that everyone will start coming at maybe around two in the afternoon and myself and my company were welcomed to visit and take pictures along the way.
The house was a two-story one and had a small backyard. The hosts had already provisioned for plenty of local semi-sweet red wine and small bites of local cheese, olives and casserole beef to offer to all guests.
At around maybe three to four in the afternoon, everyone had got ready to start the event. Koudounati (bell bearers) wear a fur hooded coat and tie several pastoral bells around their waist. They hold a large wooden stick, symbolic of the phallus, which they use it to hit one another or bang in on the ground to "wake up" the earth and make it fertile. Most of them wear a kind of fez on their head.
Other characters are also present in the custom, including the musicians, a bear with its tamer, a bride and a groom and other village figures. A man is dressed as the bride and a woman as the groom.
After everyone goes down the winding alleys from the house to the central square, a big ritual dance takes place, where the Koudounati bang their bells in the rhythm of the music by the bagpipe and drum. This is a really tiring sport, as the bells around their waist are rather heavy and you can see everyone exhausted by the effort. In order to take a rest, groups are changing place with each other. There is a group of grown-ups and a group of children. There is also the group of the remaining characters, who are around the couple to be married and play the role of the wedding guests. These people start a circle of dance, only to be interrupted again by the Koudounati.
The custom goes on for maybe half an hour and the square is really packed with people. After Koudounati finish with their dance, they go off to the village's graveyard which lies at the village's entrance to pay respects to their deads. The event is finished just before sunset.