Who Owns Carnival?
Festive Tradition and Social Stratification in a Contemporary Greek Community
Keywords:carnival, performance, exclusion, guardians of tradition, social class, wage-earners, culture-bearers
In this article, I attempt to shed light on the complex relationship between class stratification and carnival performances in Agiasos, a mountainous village located on the Greek island of Lesbos. Rooted in fertility rites, early twentieth-century carnival there featured a collision of worldviews and attitudes between the “haves” of the village—landowners with strong links to the Church of Holy Mary, that is, one of the most important pilgrimage sites of the Aegean Sea—and the “have-nots,” the working class of the village. Following a turbulent period marked by World War ΙΙ (1939–45), the Greek Civil War (1943–49), and military rule (1969–74), the return to democracy was marked by the emergence of a new white-collar class, consisting of people with academic titles who set about to create and manage popular culture. As a result, the carnival community became informally divided between manual laborers and “the creative class,” the latter of whom appointed themselves the “guardians”’ of carnival tradition, dictating the terms under which the ritual should be performed. Based on fieldwork carried out in the village of Agiasos, this essay highlights the way the economic elite of Agiasos has been using carnival performances to exclude undesirable, unruly individuals from the village.