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Karagkiozis and I. By Annemiek Pas January 30, 2013

Posted by usbngo in Older Posts.

About eight months ago, when I went on a roadtrip from the Netherlands to Greece, I had my first contact with Karagkiozis. We were visiting a friend, who is musician and who made a very nice version of the Karagkiozis-intro song. I fell in love with the music, and I learned about the tradition through some Greeks of my age who have been grown up with performances of Karagkiozis, the main character. They were so enthusiastic that immediately I wanted to become a Karagkiozis-paihtis. Only later I realized that this road is long.



The first step to take, is to get to know more about this peculiar character called Karagkiozis, or Karagöz in Turkish (a combination of the Turkish words kara = black and göz = eye).He is the main character of the tales told through Turkish and Greek shadow theatre. There is a large white screen and behind it there is a Karagkiozi-paihtis, the puppeteer who dances and moves the puppets while doing the voices of the characters. On the other side of the screen the moves are visible, with color and clear shapes, but still a reflection of what happens behind the scene. In this way many different stories are told which are meant to entertain adults and children.


Shadow theatre came from far and travelled a lot before Karagkiozis  finally arrived in Greece. They say that this form of theatre originally came from China and Mongolia, from where the nomadic people (including Turks) living in the Mongolian steppetook the tradition and brought it slowly to the west. Additionally to these nomadic people, most probably also the gypsies have been helping to bring this form of theatre to Persia.Both the nomadic people from Mongolia and the gypsies have been living in Egypt, India and Anatolia, leading to a cultural exchange. The first time that Karagkiozis as a character showed his face is unknown, but as mentioned before it most probably came from the nomadic Turks who also gave this name. Karagkiozis also appears in some Arabic cultures; his oldest remains were found in Egypt andTunisia,and at the beginning of the 20th century Karagiozis was the main character of shadow theatre in Algeria, known as Karangus, where he was used to revolt against the dominant power of the French. As a result, the French even banned all Karagkiozis performances but they were still performed secretly. Actually throughout the history of shadow theatre in general and Karakgiozis in particular, it is believed that Karagkiozis performances have been used for political reasons as well, by making fun of the current political situation and mostly against the oppression of the people.


During the Ottoman Empire the Turks brought Karagkiozis with them to Eastern Europeduring the 16th century and as such it came to Greece. Here, the Karagkiozis performance is still a very alive tradition, whereas in the rest of the countries it disappeared almost completely. When Karagkiozis was settled in Greece, the characters needed to be redefined in order to fit to the Greek reality. The person that transferred the Ottoman Karagoz into the traditional Greek Karagkiozis was Mimaros, or Dimitrios Sardounis. He is considered the founder of the modern Greek shadow theatre. The adapted characters were perfectly shaped in order to make fun of the Greek society at that point in time. He changed the sources of Karagkiozis, the clothes and created the basis for the voices in a way still used these days. There is the urban legend explaining the voice of Karagkiozis himself: while Mimaros was performing Karagkiozis, he had an inflammation of his throat. Because of this, the voice of Karagkiozis himself became kind of rough and dry. This voice was so popular among the audience that all the following puppeteers used and still use the same kind of rough and dry voice when playing the character of Karagkiozis.


In Thessaloniki, there are more or less even Karagkiozis-puppeteers of which I have spoken one in person: Dimitris Karoglou. Dimitris is Karagkiozis-puppeteer for three years now, in Thessaloniki where he created his own company ‘SkiasOnar’ which is providing performances all over the city and beyond. Dimitris became a puppeteer when he went to Athens, where he had followed a seminar on theatre and puppeteering in general. During this seminar, the teacher of the shadow theatre-section told him that his brother –Kostas Athanasiou- was looking for an assistant to learn everything from this art, the moves, the voices, the characters, the tales to be told. In the case of Dimitris, he became the assistant of Kostas Athanasiou who was his master (according to him one of the best puppeteers of Greece) and taught him everything throughout the shows. Dimitris favourite tales to play are those that his master was performing the most. This shows that the connection between master and assistant is quite important in shaping the new puppeteer.


When I asked Dimitris who of all the characters is his favourite one, he said ‘there is no favourite character; I am all the characters and they are all me’. But then, he also mentioned‘of course the main character, Karagkiozis, is my favourite. Because he is the totality of all the characters that appear, all the others are a part of his combined characters. I like playing him, he is the crossroad of all the stories. He is everything.’ While playing, Dimitris said, he is playing the characters as himself while being a bit outside of himself. As if he is the witness of himself playing the characters while he becomes one with the figures. Dimitris referred to the I-I of Grotowski, a kind of out-of-the-body experience in which you see yourself being another person, putting your own personality in playing a character, while still being aware of who you are and where you are.


Beside the puppeteer, there is also the need for an audience for whom to perform. When Karagkiozis came to Greece, it was mainly a form of theatre used to make fun of the Greek society. As such it started as an adult-entertainment though slowly it became also for children, and it developed to be family-entertainment as it is nowadays. There are many different stories that are appealing to both adults and children. Also, since language is an important instrument for this theatre, it is important that the audience understands the jokes that are made, resulting in laud laughing. Because this laughing gives important positive feedback to the puppeteer, it is necessary to receive it in order to feel confident behind the screen. SkiasOnar had a performance in the Xenonas, the refugee house in the centre of Thessaloniki. Here, even though the children understand and speak Greek, the reactions were different than he used to receive from native Greek speaking children. 


However, even though I do not speak any Greek, it is still very interesting to watch a shadow theatre show. I have attended a few by now, and I have been laughing, because in the end not everything needs language to be understood. The movements, music and sounds used in shadow theatre are very appealing. You can find more information on SkiasOnar on Facebook:


For more information on Karagkiozis, see also the following links:

–          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karagiozis

–          http://books.google.gr/books?id=zo5os6d0rvMC&pg=PA132&lpg=PA132&dq=karaghiozis+algeria&source=bl&ots=jvRm-IrSOg&sig=_Z1gNkUJc5wa7ACnUKoYDjodfMQ&hl=nl&sa=X&ei=1B_5UJmuDcXXswac6oHICQ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=karaghiozis%20algeria&f=false

–          http://www.athensguide.com/art/karagiozis/

And for the Italians speaking people: http://www.mondogreco.net/teatroombre.htm




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