As can be expected, many centuries of Greek history have enriched Hellenism with a great deal of folklore. Some of these customs can be traced back to antiquity, while others originated after the prevalence of Christianity. Many of these cultural practices, which the Greek immigrants brought with them to Bloemfontein, endure even today. These customs can also vary with regard to different regions – for instance, certain Cypriot habits are unfamiliar to people from other Greek regions, and vice versa.
In this study, the emphasis will be placed on Greek traditional music and dances, as well as on food – two very important expressions of the Greek mode of life that are directly related to the joys and sorrows of life.
1. Greek traditional music and dances
Greek folk dances are invariably linked to the Greek music associated with them. For the Greeks, the sounds and rhythms of this music express their very essence: their dreams, their sorrows and their joys. Common themes include love, politics, war, lamentation, etc. There are hundreds of traditional Greek folk dances. The following six are the most popular amongst the Greeks of Bloemfontein:
(1) Syrtos (open circle or couples): An ancient dance performed in all Greek areas, but chiefly on the islands. It is a light-hearted dance, and the dancers’ movements mimic the waves of the Aegean Sea.
(2) Kalamatianos (open circle): A variation of syrtos.
(3) Tsamiko (open circle): A stately, warlike dance that was originally danced only by men.
(4) Hasapiko and Hasaposerviko (open line): Lively hopping-style dances. A combination of these two dances, called syrtaki, became famous worldwide when Anthony Quinn danced it in the 1950s movie Zorba the Greek. During the Olympic Games of 2004, the whole world “reinvented” this dance as the spectators were constantly dancing it in the stadiums of Athens.
(5) Tsifteteli (one or two people): Similar to a belly dance.
(6) Zeimbekiko (solo): An intensely personal dance, executed with great restraint and control. The steps are improvised, making each dance different.
Naturally, Greeks who immigrated to Bloemfontein were familiar with these dances, and every gathering in a house for a social occasion and dinner was invariably followed by dancing until late. When the Greeks later acquired their own community centre, great celebrations took place and dancing continued for five to six hours non-stop.
Bloemfontein-born children were taught how to dance by the older people in the community – indeed, they showed much enthusiasm for this. For instance, Mrs Fatsea remembers that, when her aunt came from Greece in 1955, she and her sisters locked her in the lounge and refused to let her out unless she taught them how to dance. Later, Mrs Fatsea herself – in turn – taught these dances to younger children.
Father Manolis’s wife, Maria, methodically taught traditional dances to the Greek children from 1983 to 2001. A total of 60 children attended her informal dancing school, “Arion” (named after the famous ancient cithara player). They performed on various occasions to the wide audience of the city, garnering much praise and winning numerous prizes in several competitions.
2. Greek food
Greek food is an integral emotional part of the Greek ethnic identity, and one of the most satisfying traditions. Greek cuisine is a blend of old and new. The old goes back to the sophisticated Athenians, while it was also influenced to a great extent by the cuisine in neighbouring Eastern countries.
Since the first immigrants reached Bloemfontein until today, several traditional Greek recipes have been handed down from one generation to the next unchanged. A few alterations have probably crept into the food preparation style, but today even young, South African-born Greek ladies are familiar with Greek cuisine, having learnt it from their mothers.
When the Greek Community began organising functions and inviting the local high society, they showed much appreciation for Greek food. Strangely enough, though, a Greek restaurant was never established in the city. A possible explanation could be the relatively high cost of the food preparation, or perhaps “cafis” were both an easier and a more profitable type of business. In 2004 the Greek teacher, Georgios Katoleon, published a 2005 calendar devoted to traditional Greek recipes for the Greek School of Bloemfontein. Over a thousand copies were distributed with great success.