L’arte dei pastori/ I arte tos sambatàro/ The art of shepherds
The universe of crafts practiced by men is also an authentic art form, born in ancient times when it was necessary to produce tools and utensils for daily use, the creation of which was guided by an ancestral kind of craftsmanship, inherited from the early Greeks: the ability to transform naturally-available “poor” materials into authentic masterpieces. Clay, wood, iron, and even the stomach of a sheep were worked on to become amphorae, pots, pans, tableware, musical instruments.
One of the noblest expressions of “male” handicraft is the so-called “ shepherds’ art“, namely, woodcarving. During periods of rest upon the mountains, where they accompanied flocks to graze, the shepherds used to carve various objects, thus giving rise to a distinctive form of craftsmanship. The products are varied, all linked to agro-pastoral activities: from sheep collars, ta cuddhària, to sticks, some called raddhìa, straight others capìnte crooked; stencils for confectionary called plumìa, cheese moulds formaggi known as musulupàre, from musulùpu, a typical delicious fresh cheese made from goat’s and ewe’s milk. Then there is nappo, a typical container used to measure units of flour; beautiful briar pipes, which, in the past represented a flourishing industry; flutes, the sulàvria, made from cane and played in olden times in the woods to keep the wolves and the inevitable “spirits” at bay, with the ceramèddha, bagpipes – the flute’s irreplaceable companion at events that pace the lives of the Greek Calabrians – the bag of which is made from the stomach of a goat. Among the other musical instruments we wish to mention is the tamburello [tambourine], a wooden frame over which the skin of a goat or wild cat is stretched. Little discs of tin, that vibrate as the tambourine is beaten and shaken, are set into the frame.
The shepherds’ art produce also a series of implements used by women: from the conocchiaI [distaff], inside of which a small stone was set so that the annoying noise it made would prevent women from falling asleep at the loom , to corset bones and the looms themselves. The carvings on these items, as well as well as being of artistic value are also highly symbolic and absolutely faithful to tradition. Then there are the spindles, which with the plumìa and musulupàre, emblematically represent the Graecanic woodcraft.
The patterns notched patiently into these artefacts belong, essentially, to the Byzantine tradition and are palms, rosettes, lozenges, also in compound patterns, hound tooth and, above all, Greek crosses, which we find on all items, except the cuddhària [spoons]. In the patterns of Byzantine origin, used even by the Greek speakers of today, we come across echoes of the facies stentinelliana, of the Neolithic era, for example the recurrence of diamonds containing a cross with a dot at the centre, which may represent the eye of consciousness. The designs are therefore essential and geometrical, abstract and full of lofty symbolic value; figures with essential shapes that intertwine, giving rise to high-quality artistic expression, complex despite their sobriety.
Source: Artigianato Greco Calabro, Teresa Pietropaolo – Collana Parco Culturale della Calabria Greca