In Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe, around the time of the New Year, people dress up in home-made masks and costumes and celebrate a pre-pagan ritual that has different names according to the region - Malanka, Pitsarai, Jocul Ursului (bear dance), Capra (goat) and Cerb (deer). Steeped in folk tales, this ancient tradition is very much alive across eastern rural communities.

Though still dominated by young men who dress up in vibrant costumes and fashion grotesque masks for their Malanka outfits, increasingly young women have been taking part as well, hiding their gender beneath their brash outfits to stake their claim to this ancient tradition. The revellers wander around their villages, from house to house, warding off the evil spirits of the year that is about to finish. Singing songs and reciting poems, these groups of men can also be found making a nuisance of themselves in a playful way, accosting village people and using their flamboyant masks to scare bystanders.

Historically carnivals like Malanka were an opportunity for people to step outside their social and economic status and pretend to be someone else, someone imaginary, for a day. The poor can pretend to be rich, the young to be old. The play-agression is part of the carnivalesque tradition of dispelling evil spirits and releasing tension and aggression in a controlled manner - an age old ritual played out in traditions across the world. According to Ramin, though he doesn't believe in evil spirits he does believe "in traditions like Malanka [which] can help us free ourselves from the bad, destructive forces in our heads."

In the past, Malanka masks would represent characters from village life such as the priest, the haidouk (local freedom fighters), the bride or the old man and old woman. Today, these characters can often be adapted to modernity as in part of northern Romania where some of the masked men represents smugglers and criminals and the rest perform the role of law enforcement. Some of the younger participants have started to make masks out of more modern materials, something that is still frowned upon by traditionalists. Increasingly the younger generation is making Malanka its own, introducing characters from contemporary life and politics.

During socialist times, when the practice was strongly discouraged, Malanka outfits could be used in subtle political commentary and still serve to ridicule politicians and public officials to this day. Nowadays Malanka has become an important part of community building in ageing communities of the countryside and young people come back for winter holidays to take part, eager to preserve this ancient and raucous tradition.
powered by infradox.com