Bela Voda Quarter

Pernik’s Bela Voda Quarter is only 4 km from the center of the town and is situated on the two sides of the main road Sofia – Kyustendil.

On 13 January in the evening around the fire in the central part of the settlement the whole population gathers to play and have fun with the masked survashkari. Here they are called mechkarye. The masks of the disguised men are particular, zoomorphic and with many faces. They are made in such a way that every scary face may open its mouth and show its big teeth. That is why they are called “zevala” (“gapers”). The most favourite mask, with 12 faces, the locals have called “zmey” (“dragon”). Months before Surova, a few of the participants in the masquerade under the leadership of the long-standing survashkar Itso Bumbaro gather in the hall of the old culture house (chitalishte), which the locals call mechkarnica (literally “bear house”; in fact a workshop), to fix the old masks and craft new ones. Itso is a master craftsman and teaches the younger how to put together the base, where the frame bends and branches, how to glue the animal leathers, how to put the teeth, what paint to use. The youngest helpers gather leathers and horns from the village, bring the teeth, prepared by the carpenters of the local mine, put together the bells, implicitly listen to the older mechkarye and receive love and joy from the contact with tradition in return.

The crazy dance around the fire goes on until late at night on the 13 January. But on the 14 (Surova) every house expects the mechkarye, because their visit is taken as a charm for well-being. If they do not go in some of the houses, the hosts would be upset. So, the group divides into smaller groups and goes to different neighborhoods. The “nevesta” (bride), the bridegroom and the musicians with some of the mechkarye go to one neighborhood, the “priest” and the “sexton” go to another and the “bear” with the “bear keeper” go to a third and the bear mauls there for good health. The whole group with all its characters visits on Surova the houses where for years several generations have disguised and continue the tradition with the participation of old and young members and the children as well. This way the whole region resounds with the hundreds of bells, dances take place in the yards, gifts are distributed.

At dusk, the whole group gathers at the “mechkarnica”, participants take the masks off, sit together and happily discuss the visits and the gifts. The money, which the hosts have dropped in the kettle, the saddlebags, the fiddle and in the “bride’s” bag, the group invests in new masks, costumes and bells. Part of it, after a common decision, is donated for helping ill, very poor or lonely old people of the quarter. Some of the funds are also put aside for the celebration on St. George’s day. The survashkari help the local cultural house and it helps them.

On the next day, the young participants and the children clean up the hall “mechkarnica”, arrange the masks and sprinkle them with protecting chemicals, lock the doors and look forward to the next Surova.

Recorded in 2018