Cyprus Traditions and Literature


From the point of view of traditions, Cyprus appears as a survival island of the centuries-old contact between Turks and Greeks, merged into a typical Mediterranean culture in which Venetian and Muslim contributions converged. One of the most evident and interesting phenomena of Cypriot folklore is precisely the continuity, sometimes in changed forms, of ancient customs, a reflection of the beliefs or customs of pagan eras. A limiting example of this amalgam is offered by the Limbambaki, a kind of sect that officially professes Islam but retains the Christian use of baptism and circumcision. Among the manifestations connected with the different religious beliefs, Orthodox is the annual pilgrimage to the great monastery of Kikkos, typically Muslim are the anniversaries celebrated at the sanctuary (Tekke) by Umm Haram. For the Orthodox, however, the main celebration is Easter, during which the icons are carried in procession, veiled on Holy Thursday and decorated with flowers in the following days. Carnival is also a festival with an ancient tradition, especially in Limassól, where the celebrations last for ten days and end with a large parade that parades through the streets of the city. Among Muslims, the conclusion of Ramadan is very important, celebrated with the four days of Kurban Bayrami. Of a certain importance are also the festivals related to flowering or harvesting. English domination has given the country a western aura, but deeply Cypriot customs persist, especially in small towns, such as celebrating weddings and funerals with large parties, or the persistence of superstitious beliefs about the evil eye and the evil days. Also noteworthy is the traditional heritage of music and dances, a mixture of Greek and Turkish forms, however, which have remained distinct in several cases; Greek popular music is the most coherent and consistent and does not present forms that are distinct from the Greek tradition itself. Very common on the island is in fact the syrtos, a circular pattern dance very near relative syrtaki Greek. One of the best known forms of contamination of the two traditions is offered by the dance called karsilamades, the most widespread on the island (Greek adaptation of a Turkish dance). In reality these traditions have absolutely similar characteristics in the North and in the South, among which the only real difference are the terms with which they are designated. According to animalerts, folk costumes are very ancient those of the Karpaso peninsula; some men’s costumes of Turkish origin are interesting. Artistic craftsmanship is still practiced with genuineness of techniques and decorations: hand-woven fabrics by Phiti, silk and cotton works by Yialousa (fabric called itare), Lefkara lace, Kornos clay vases, Karpaso baskets. On the island, the Cyprus Handicraft Center in Nicosia plays a great role in the preservation of these craft traditions, which safeguards the maintenance of traditions by offering the possibility even to the youngest to learn and experience traditional crafts.

Cypriot cuisine is rather rustic and simple, based on grilled meat (especially mutton); lamb skewers (kebap) are famous. The use of pilaf rice, sour milk and various types of cheeses is widespread. The most popular dish in restaurants is meze, a succession of dozens of dishes based on meat, fish, vegetables, cheeses and sauces that exhibits the best of Greek, Turkish and Cypriot culinary traditions in a single meal. Among the desserts, candied walnuts are typical, obtained by immersing the fresh fruits in a lukewarm grape juice (sojukko). Among the wines stands out a fine passito (commandaria), usually sold, even abroad, with the name of Cyprus wine. From the remains of the harvest, the Cypriots also obtain zivania, a sort of high-alcohol whiskey.

Cyprus Traditions


In the field of ancient Greek literature there is no specific literary production of Cyprus: Stasino (handed down to us as the author of Ciprie) is the only local poet known to us. A more defined physiognomy has instead the Cypriot literature of the sec. XIV-XVI, expressed in a neo-Greek dialect with peculiar characteristics, but substantially inserted in the neo-Greek literary flourishing of the areas of western influence (Peloponnese, Crete, Rhodes, Cyprus, Heptanese). The oldest document in Cypriot dialect is a collection of laws, the Assizes of the Kingdom of Cyprus (1390). Then follows the Description of the sweet country of Cyprus, entitled Cronaca, by Leonzio Maceràs, and its continuation by Giorgio Bustrònios, who is a much less gifted writer (16th century). As for the poetic production, in addition to popular songs (paraloghès etc.), there is a songbook of 156 learned compositions, mostly translations (Petrarch and Petrarchists, Sannazzaro etc.) or variations on themes of manner, which represents the first experiment of use of the dialect for literary purposes. The conquest of Cyprus by the Turks (1571) interrupted the literary evolution: we have received a Lament for Cyprus in 777 decapentasyllables (16th century) and the works of Neòfito Rodinòs (a biographical lexicon of Cypriot characters, printed in Rome in 1659, and theological writings). Contemporary production in Greek (19th and 20th centuries) is an integral part of neo- Greek literature. We cannot speak of a Turkish Cypriot literature different from that of Turkey if not at a folkloric level and only for the presence of a Greek dialectal lexicon.