Balkanfolk News                                                              

XVIth International Festival of Masquerade Games "Surva"
29 January 2006

The International Festival of Masquerade Games “Surva”, held every two years in the town of Pernik, near Sofia, is one of the most important cultural events in Bulgaria.

Surva has been officially organized by Pernik Municipality ever since 1966. Back in 1985 it became an international event and in 1995 the city of Pernik joined the International Federation of Carnival Cities as a full member.

This year from 27th to 29th January, approximately 5000 performers from many regions of Bulgaria took part as well as groups from Ireland, Slovenia, Macedonia, Latvia and Poland, presenting traditions of their ancestors. Their enactments and dancing illustrated deep-rooted traditions of masquerading rites dating back to ancient pagan times when the Thracians and Slavs ruled Bulgaria.

In Bulgarian folklore, the mask is believed to protect the wearer against the powers of impure nature, and against evil. This may explain why many look like fearsome creatures with huge jaws and teeth, horns, tails and snapping beaks. The sound of bells hanging from belts enhances the effect.

Sometimes the mask is not so complicated. Participants from some regions paint their faces black, with charcoal, and use sheep's wool for moustaches and beards.

It is typical for masks worn in the region of Pernik to be made from the wool of sheep, goat's hair, feathers, horns, corn leaves and hemp. Masks from other regions are usually of cloth, wool and dried plants, often decorated with paper flowers.

Groups consist of various different characters. Traditionally, all parts are played by men dressed in carnival costumes.

The opening ceremony on the evening of January 27th concluded with many people dancing horo around a bonfire in front of the Pernik Palace of Culture.

Throughout the festival particpants, dressed in fur hides or traditional women's costumes, acted and danced in front of large audiences. The performances of the masked men, known as Kukeri, were mystical fusions of rhythm, sound and colour. They showed ancient rites, chasing away evil and celebrating the rebirth of life with the beginning of spring and the associated hopes of men for a better harvest and a healthy, happy and good life.

The sight of the groups walking in procession was spectacular. Wearing their unique costumes and magnificent masks, and often accompanied by an orchestra of tapan, zorna or clarinet, for instance, the men moved in their characteristic stride, and the air was filled with the sound of hundreds of bells, and with songs, prayers and wishes. All were evaluated by a jury consisting of ethnic, folk, cultural and other specialists.

Pernik is the only place to see masks from every ethnographical region of Bulgaria and to see the Masquerade Games there is a thrilling and fantastic experience.