Zemen Town

The town of Zemen is situated in Pernik District and is the administrative center of Zemen Municipality. It is located on the two banks of Struma River in a small valley, which leads to the Zemen defile.

According to some old people’s accounts, there is a memory about the Surova custom ever since their ancestors. In the older times, the surovakari were in small groups and on the holiday, every group visited the houses in its neighborhood. Those groups consisted of about 10–12 people and then among them much the same there were ‘bride’, ‘bridegroom’, ‘bear’.

In our days, the survakari groups in the town are two. One of them belongs to the culture center (chitalishte), where the participants in the masquerade gather. There they also manufacture their masks. Usually they start gathering in December and everyone manufactures a new mask for himself or repairs his old one.

The Zemen survakari’s masks are decorated with feathers, but there are also some, which are manufactured from wooden hollows. On a photo from the 1970s can be seen that such wooden masks were made some decades earlier as well. Once the costumes of the masked were variegated, and now the costumes of the one group are from white and green rags, while the ones of the other are from many-colored rags. In the group of the culture center, young people and children predominate and everyone produces one’s own mask. “It is a great delight for the children. They come in the chitalishte and manufacture their masks. They themselves gather the materials needed, and go around the woods, collect feathers, etc.”

In the afternoon of 13 January, the survakari gather in the culture center, disguise themselves and start going around the town. They reach the center and there they light a fire and dance, and the people go out to watch them. After that, they start visiting the houses. The town is big enough and for that reason, they visit only part of the homes on 13 January. In the morning of 14 January, they start again visiting the rest of them.

“The elderly people bear the tradition in their hearts; they prepare and are willing the survakari to visit their home. In some houses, people welcome them inside, as it was once – with a table with meat and cabbage, rakia (brandi), pickles, meat jelly. This is traditional for that holiday. And people just prepare and wait for them. That is what the holiday means!”

Sometimes, when some other groups invite them, in the evening of 13 January, the survakari visit other settlements as well. And groups from the neighboring villages also visit Zemen, for example the survakari from Peshtera. It is already known that the year to come the survakari from Sirishtnik will visit Zemen.

More than ten years ago, in the town of Zemen they started a biannual Municipality Survakari Festival. It is organized by chitalishte ‘Svetlina [Light] – 1924’ with the support of Zemen Municipality. The organizers’ objective is to arrange a feast for all the survakari groups in the region of Zemen and thus to encourage the safeguarding of the masquerade games in the area, where the number of the village inhabitants constantly diminishes and where in some depopulated villages unfortunately tradition has already died out…

Recorded in 2019.