“Here, it’s the women who are in charge!” said Rigopoula Pavlidis, singing the virtues of her isolated village on the island of Karpathos, one of Greece’s few matriarchal societies.
Sitting at a desk across the room, painting religious icons, her husband Giannis nodded silently.
“My husband can’t do anything without me, not even his tax return,” smiles Pavlidis as he embroiders a traditional dress in his workshop.
Unlike most patriarchal Greece, the women of Olympos play a leading role in village life.
Isolated from the rest of the Dodecanese island, this spectacular hilltop village has safeguarded this centuries-old tradition, which survived the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century and Italian domination in the 20th.
Until the 1980s, there was no asphalt road leading to Olympos.
Among the traditions that survive is a Byzantine-era inheritance system that gives property from the mother to the eldest daughter, said local historian Giorgos Tsampanakis.
Rigopoula, the seamstress, is one of the beneficiaries of the tradition. She inherited 700 olive trees from her mother.
“Families didn’t have enough property to share among all the children… and if we had left the inheritance to the men, they would have squandered it,” she said.
Greek women traditionally moved into their new husband’s house after their marriage. In Olympos, the opposite happens.
And the preeminence of women is also reflected in their names.
“The eldest daughter took the first name of the maternal grandmother, unlike the rest of Greece, where it was that of the paternal grandmother,” Tsampanakis explained.
“Many women still call each other by their mother’s name and not by their husband’s,” he added.
The role of women in Olympos was further strengthened in the 1950s when men from the village began to emigrate for work – mainly to the United States and European countries – leaving their wives and daughters behind to manage their own affairs. family and their farms.
“We had no choice”
“We had no choice but to work in the absence of men. It was our only way to survive,” recalls Anna Lentakis, 67, as she picked artichokes in the hamlet of Avlona, near Olympos.
A few years ago, Lentakis ran the Olympos tavern. It is now in the hands of his eldest daughter Marina.
“I don’t know if we were early feminists… but I like to say that the man is the head of the family and the woman is the neck,” said Marina, in her 40s.
Anna, Marina’s daughter, is only 13 years old, but she knows that one day she will take up the torch.
“This is my grandmother’s legacy and I will be proud to take care of it!” she says.
But the “feminist” inheritance system only benefits the elderly, believes Alain Chabloz of the Geographical Society of Geneva, who has looked into the subject.
“The youngest sons were forced into exile and the youngest daughters had to stay on the island serving their elders. A sort of social caste was created,” he explained.
Giorgia Fourtina, the youngest in her family and single, helps her older sister in the restaurant and in the fields.
Fourtina doesn’t consider Olympos to be particularly progressive: “It’s a small society where a woman alone in a café is frowned upon,” she says.
Women “are the ones who maintain the traditions,” said Yannis Hatzivassilis, a local sculptor, who created an iconic statue of a woman from Olympus looking out to sea, waiting for her husband to return.
Elderly women of Olympos traditionally wear embroidered costumes consisting of flowered aprons, a headscarf and leather boots.
Treasured heirlooms that form part of a young girl’s dowry, these costumes can cost up to 1,000 euros ($1,077) and require hours of work.
Irini Chatzipapa, a 50-year-old baker, is the youngest woman in Olympos who still wears it every day.
“I taught my daughter to embroider, but except during holidays, she doesn’t wear it because it’s not suitable for modern life,” she says.
Chatzipapa’s 70-year-old mother chimes in: “Our costume is just becoming folklore for the holidays… Our world is disappearing.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)