Greek Nomadic Herders lived in the Hills - Liberty

Friday, September 29, 2023

Greek Nomadic Herders lived in the Hills


Kostas Papastavrou and his goat on top of Mount Koziak, part of the Pindus Mountains in mainland Greece Photo: Vasileios Tsiolis.

Every spring, an ancient sacred migration of humans and goats takes place in the shadow of the mountains of the Thessalian plains of central Greece.

Brothers Kostas and Efthymios Papastavros, together with Fotini, the wife of Kostas, walk with 800 goats from the winter pastures of the plains to Mount Koziakas. A journey of about 30 miles takes two days.

The family is descended from the Vlachs, nomadic herders, and breeders who have existed in Greece and the Balkan regions for hundreds of years and practiced herding, moving livestock from one pasture to another seasonally.

Kostas Papastavrou and his goat on top of Mount Koziak, part of the Pindus Mountains in mainland Greece Photo: Vasileios Tsiolis.

Papastavros' day is long and arduous, starting at 5:30 am when the goats are hand-milked before being put out to graze. Twice a day, the raw goat milk is hauled along dirt roads to the processing plant before returning home and getting up early the next day to start the process all over again.

"It's exciting here," says Kostas, a mountain of pine, walnut, and chestnut trees. It is on the lush slopes of the hills where the herds graze and drink from freshwater streams where the family spends the summer.

Our mountains are rich in water and have lush vegetation, perfect for herd survival,” says Efthymios.

Kostas argues that all labor, from childcare to milking, is evenly divided, with no specific gender roles. "They are the other half of us," he says of the women in the family.

But this nomadic and historical existence is in danger. Kostas describes how other nomads had to sell or slaughter their livestock in the face of rising energy costs. He says that farmers and nomads like him desperately need more government support, requiring significant investment to improve the mountain roads used to transport milk.

Kostas is playing with her baby after milking her goats in the morning. Costas cutting bread for a family lunch in a makeshift summer barn.

In 1925 there were about 13,700 pastoral families [according to a survey done by the Agricultural Inspectorate that year]. Nearly 100 years later, more than 3,000 migrant groups remain in Greece. Break out of the tradition of moving seasonally by walking between lowland and highland meadows. "

Despite growing difficulties and a shrinking community, Costas can't imagine another life.

"It's not easy for me and my family to move away from the herd. Goats are part of our lives, part of our family," he says. "We sleep next to them and breathe the same air." But I can't imagine my son being able to follow in his footsteps without government intervention.

Fortini with stirred milk of the day. Fresh milk is delivered to the processing plant twice a day.

The lack of investment in his agricultural lifestyle and the perception that pastoralism is an inferior profession is one reason why it is becoming unsustainable.

“People say nomads are uneducated, uneducated, and unable to do other work,” he says. You have to love your animals and love your job. I am very proud of what I do. "

The wedding of Kostas and Fotini at St George Orthodox Church in the village of Chrisomilia in Koziakas. Fotini performing a traditional dance at a wedding reception.

The Kostas also take great pride in the rich history of the Vlachs, participating in the traditional weddings and baptisms that accompany the herding, as well as the dance, music, and festivals that take place in mountain villages. doing. “Vlachs was always kind and generous,” he says and is determined to pass this spirit on to his children.

The knowledge, understanding, and deep love of the land, passed down from generation to generation, will eventually save him if he does nothing to protect the livelihoods that have existed for centuries in the mountains and plains of Greece. "I don't know if it will be preserved after our generation," says Costas. "We are probably the last ones."