Photo report: Pontic burial/memorial traditions

Photo report: Pontic burial/memorial traditions

Just yesterday, May 19th, was the Pontic Genocide commemoration day.  Pontic Greeks however, have a number of customs, in remembering and honoring their dead; one of which I had the chance to witness and photograph a few weeks ago.

Refugees from Pontus came to mainland Greece on the aftermath of WWI, bringing with them their customs and traditions, some of them dating hundreds if not thousands of years back.  With time, many of them weakened and some were nearly forgotten, as it happens in any society.  But a new wave of Pontic immigrants, this time after the fall of the former Soviet Union, reintroduced them into Greek culture.

One week after Orthodox Easter, at St Thomas Sunday, the tradition is to take food and drink and visit the graves of their departed relatives. This is of course a solemn and simple ceremony, not a celebration; the whole family is gathered, eats and drinks next to, or upon, the grave, talk and remember about the deceased and, upon departing, leave some kind of votive offer on the grave. This often takes the form of painted Easter eggs, since the egg is also an ancient symbol of birth; and rebirth.

In Christian tradition, belief in immortality of the soul is central; thus, this is a type of memorial service. As tradition has it, souls remain on this plane after Christ's resurrection, and depart again at Pentecost; i.e. this is like having the chance to say goodbye again.

It is important to understand this, and several other, traditions followed by peoples of Greek ancestry, although presented in a Christian wrapping, are in fact thousands of years older, stemming from Ancient Greek burial and memorial customs. It's impressive how these people retain them and are determined to pass them on to their children too.

Speaking of people, Pontic people in particular honor hospitality in the best Greek tradition. The stranger is always sacred and welcome. As visitors we were treated to their traditional foods, not to mention drinks (with the mandatory libation to the dead; again a very ancient custom). You would be hard pressed to find more open hearted and hospitable people than these, ready to share their most sacred traditions as well as, sometimes, their pain of loss.

Have a look at the small photo gallery from this day.

Many thanks to my companion in this assignment, photojournalist Anna Pantelia, which would probably do a much better work than me in presenting this. If you don't know Anna, you'd most definitely would; she is one of the most talented young photojournalists we have. She has already gathered considerable international recognition, being official photographer at CERN between 2012 and 2014, having won several international awards, published in top media outlets, and generally being awesome. Point your browser at her official website and learn everything about Anna and her current projects.

(The obligatory gear report: all photos with the Fuji X-Pro2 with the 14mm f/2.8 and the 35mm f/2 lenses. The latter being probably the best "old school" photojournalist lens I have ever used. )

 


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