The village of Kovachevtsi is only 25 km from the district town Pernik. Its history and culture provoke one’s interest and its nature attracts hundreds of tourists. The National Children’s Ecological Complex brings life to the whole region. In the neighborhood are ‘Pchelina’ dam and the Bread House, where the experience is like in a fairy tale…
Most fascinating is the feast Surova on 13 and 14 January, when the whole valley of Svetlya river resounds with the roar of thousands of bells. That is the reason they call it ‘The Valley of the Masks’. The central settlement in it is Kovachevtsi and any other masquerade group passes this way to greet the local survakari and residents. The Municipality’s door is widely open and the Mayor joyfully greets the masked. On the square, there is a big roasted pig and beside it all day long they offer wine and rakia (brandy).
A great part of the village inhabitants participates in the local masquerade group. Once, some decades ago, only men were involved, but today many women and children also disguise and put bells on their belts. One of the young girls, invited for an interview, puts off her mask and says: “I don’t care how the custom looked like centuries ago. Throughout the year I wait for that day, I made myself several masks and I am going to take part. It brings great joy for me and I would not replace it for anything else. I feel like playing and I will play! And as for children…, children are even more enthusiastic about the Surova. If you try to persuade a small child not to put a mask, because in traditional past children did not disguise, the child will cry all over the day… Let all those who like the feast put on masks!”
Most of the survakari make their masks together – they come back from work, gather in one of the premises of the old municipal building, retell some jocular stories, exchange jokes and work on the masks some months before Surova. They do not compete which mask will be the best. Some of them are from animal leather, horns and tails; others are from bird’s feathers, pasted closely to one another like in a carpet; but all of them are rather beautiful. The woodcarver Kamen Yankov also helps in manufacturing the wooden faces. It is not only a vocation and love for him, but an irresistible passion as well. The survakari costumes are from many-colored bands, and the heavy many-voiced bells are tied to the waist. They elect the leader of the group, the ‘bride’, the ‘bridegroom’ and the ‘priest’ on a special gathering. Some years ago, the leader was the mayor himself and everybody joked with him, that the leadership of the masked survakari was more difficult than being a mayor.
The survakari group of Kovachevtsi visits many of the surrounding villages, dancing together with the hosts around the fire and enjoying their hospitality. On 14 January, however, it is always in its own village in order to visit all the houses and to wish health and good luck to their hosts. Everywhere people impatiently anticipate them, the doors being widely open, the tables piled with ritual meals – banitsa (cheese pie), cabbage with meat, jelly – and no one letting them out. The ‘bear’ maules the adults for health and tries to frighten the young, and the bear keeper plays the rebec and invites everyone to the horo (chain dance) in the yard outside. And in this way, all day long, in every house. Some of the survakari take off their heavy masks, because the village is big and they might get tired, but the youngest and the children carry them until the end to remain unrecognized…
In the end of the day, both the survakari and the hosts who welcomed them are on the square for the common village merriment. It lasts until midnight and no one is in a hurry to go home, because the next Surova is far, far ahead – as late as the next year. And for the most beloved feast this is quite a time… For that reason in the very center of the village a museum called ‘The Valley of the Masks’ is opened and everyone who is willing that the custom is preserved for the future generations brings in it interesting exhibits.
Recorded in 2019