Gorna Vrabcha Village

The village of Gorna Vrabcha is in Zemen Municipality. It is situated in a mountain region and today its permanent inhabitants are about 50.

In the community’s local memory are preserved some recollections about the Surova custom from before the beginning of the 20th century. People recount that the masquerade tradition was maintained throughout the whole of the previous century.  

The Gorna Vrabcha survashkarye gather every year around Epiphany to specify the roles they are going to play on the feast. The costumes are from many-colored rags, and most of the masks are manufactured from plumage – from hens and ducks.

On 14 January, the masked visit the village houses, and also go to the neighboring villages – Elov Dol, Mureno. The groups meet together and dance the Survashkarsko horo (chain dance). In the houses, the hosts welcome them in the main room with pig’s jelly, mulled rakia (brandy), cooked meat with cabbage. They present them with apples, walnuts, banitsa (cheese pie), buttermilk, rakia, wine, and money.

“They offer the banitsa still hot, and as we have walked all night long, we are rather hungry. We start in the evening of 13 and dissolve on 14 January. At the end we dance a common horo around the fire, which dies out on 14 January”.

The money received on the feast are used for the needs of the group: for buying bells, for maintaining the masks and for manufacturing new ones. The survakari have bought some bells from Uncle Angel (a well-known master of bells in the region of Pernik). They call the bells made by him “Angel’s bells”.

Every year in August the Gorna Vrabcha survakari meet together and organize a party for themselves at St Spas (Ascension) Monastery.

The group of the village has two bolyubashi. Stefan Asenov is elected in 1990. He has been a bell-wearer and a “bride” before that, and says that has not been only a “priest”. He joined the survakari group when 15-years old – then he disguised as a “gypsy boy”. “My father was a bolyubashi as well. My grandfather, Asen Sotirov, is born in 1909. He was a survakar too. He brought his first bells from Serres, Greece, where he was during the War (WWII). Instead of bringing dress materials to my grandmother, he brought bells for himself”.

Stefan remembers that on Surova, the survakari from the villages Dolna Vrabcha, Smirov Dol, Mureno and Elov Dol visited Gorna Vrabcha. The survakari from the neighboring villages also visited people’s houses: “The group from one of the villages goes out, the group from the other comes in”. In our days, in two of the villages the masquerade tradition is already interrupted.

Simeon Simeonov is a 20-year old youth. He starts participating in the masquerade when 7-8-years old. He recounts that when younger, he disguised as a gypsy boy, then he was a bell-wearer, a drummer; he carried the group’s signboard, when they participated in festivals. For already 2 or 3 years, he has also assumed the role of a bolyubasha. In his own words, when young, at the beginning he was afraid from the survakari, but later became enthusiastic to participate in the custom. He provided himself bells and materials for his costume and started disguising.

The young bolyubasha recounts, that there are about 15-20 children in the survakari group. The youngest are 2-years old, while the rest of them are between 5 and 10 years. “They should take care of the tradition in their turn. In the same way as I was still young when he (Stefan Asenov) transmitted his sword to me, I should transmit it some years later. The sword and the whistle are transmitted to the next bolyubasha. The sword is from about 1950. We would not let the tradition fall into decay. If necessary, we would be only the two of us, but we would keep the feast living!”

Recorded in 2019