Frequently the source of a custom creates controversy, and its paternity creates disputes among some places which claim its origin. From what we know, “Kouppa” except for Nisyros today is occasionally danced in Tilos and Kardamena (Kos). The adoption of a custom is neither unfair nor certainly constitutes theft. Rather, it is a proof that this custom finds place on human needs and as such widens, spreading and is established as a genuine folk heritage. Its value lies precisely in the power to multiply during its sharing.
A custom, which combines perfectly the intense religious feelings of Nisyrians, with entertainment. It involves the famous dance "forward (empros)", with which the Nisyrians have always been entertaining themselves. Whilst entertaining though they were also strengthening the finances of the monastery of Panagia Spiliani, its role in the economic and social life of the island was dominant. Among the Monastery’s various duties, lay the responsibility for the smooth operation of the island schools, a task which required significant amounts of money. It seems therefore that this Nisyrian dance offered the chance for the collecting of a significant amount of money thus allowing the monastery to meet its financial obligations. No one can determine with precision when this particular custom came to be. Nevertheless one should seek its roots in the distant past. What seems important, yet positive, is that the custom is still active today with religious reverence. More specifically. On the evening of August the 15th, the day that celebrates the monastery of Panagia Spiliani at Mandraki Nisyros, everyone gathers in the «trapeza», the dance floor, for the evening feast which always begins with "Kouppa".
Kouppa is known as a deep cooking utensil, which in that specific case is a kind of a sacred vessel, into which men are dropping their donations, honoring in that way the woman whom they chose to lead the dance, holding her. The name "Kouppa" slowly prevailed as the dance in which only women participate as dancers, with a few men participating as an exception. In the old days, the position at the forefront of dance is defined neither arbitrarily nor accidentally. A strict etiquette was followed, according to which the priest or the abbot of the monastery made the start giving the mayor the right to choose first. At his suggestion, the representative of the church offered the “Kouppa” to his mother, wife, daughter or any woman the first citizen of the place felt worthy of this great honor. Nowadays this ritual has flagged. But only that. After the start of the dance, “Kouppa” passes hand to hand from one woman to another. As the woman gets the forefront dancing place, the man who honors her, throws donations in the “Kouppa” she is holding. Characteristic of the older and the recent years was that Nisyrians of diaspora, especially from America, situated on the island, threw in the “Kouppa” many dollars (it is characteristic the fact many of the men were trying to hold one dollar’s banknote, so that the quantity they were throwing, would seem plentiful). Their goal was to fulfill their vow to Panagia, to come back each year and dance in Her Honor, as such, filling the “Kouppa” with money. The choice of the woman who leads the dance is a declaration of various emotions, the 'sponsor' feels of her. For older ladies that means a natural demonstration of respect. Mothers, grandmothers, in-laws, godmothers, teachers enjoy taking the “Kouppa” appreciation, recognition, the '' respect '' acquired with the maturity and long-lasting contribution through their role. For married women, this habit is an affirmation of the dominant position they hold in the hearts of their husbands. For daughters, it is an expression of parental love and affection. For single women, especially in earlier times “Kouppa” was an opportunity for men to express their preference and love feelings. At those times, the chances of approaching the desirable opposite sex were not many, and young men by donating money during the “Kouppa” dance had the chance to deliver heart messages, the “free” girls were awaiting eagerly. Many couples have made the beginning of their life together starting from “Kouppa”. These couples consider the foundation of their marriage the blessing of Panagia and have usually lived in harmony, making often emotional references to the custom that brought them together.
For each Nisyrian girl was ardent desire to dance as many times as possible during the “Kouppa” feast, since in the closed community of our island this option is considered as a confirmation and an expression of sympathy, admiration and love towards her. The dismissal of a girl from the “Kouppa”, during older times, meant in a certain sense a kind of insultand humiliation. That's why the men who knew that, did not allow any woman of their kin, or simply any familiar of them, to be exposed socially, nor hurt, of course, tasting the bitter feeling of rejection. The final result, of course, was that dancing kept up for hours until every girl had the opportunity to dance.
It can be said that, at least during the old days, the young girls of the island, in their majority, deservedly took the cuppa and the leading of the dance without egoism, but with morality, authenticity, unpretentious beauty and the freshness of their age. Back then those virtues were really appreciated and attracted the opposite sex in volumes.
After the dance the money was handed over to the monastery committee for counting. The final amount is announced festively by an allocated person and then offers begin mostly from people absent abroad as well as by those present. People applause enthusiastically not only for bids, but also for the continuation of this custom and consider the final result, as a collective achievement for which each one had a personal contribution. According to each person’s capabilities. But always in good spirit, with generosity and pride. Wherever you find the Nisyriians of diaspora, they carry in their minds and souls memories of our festivals where the fun is spontaneous, tireless and where all the people participate.
Faith and commitment to traditional values guaranteed for everyone his/her own post in society. The participation at community events were a source of genuine and positive emotions which fought against and were always defeated misery and isolation. Despite poverty and destitution, all hearts remained open. Everybody stood together during good and bad days. This eased of their burden and strengthened the will for survival.
Today the custom of “Kouppa” prevails over all other big festivals on the island. Besides the feast of 15th of August in Mandraki where it started, “Kouppa” is nowadays danced in all the villages. Specifically: On September the 14th during the feast of the Cross at Argos. In Pali June the 30th during the Holy Apostles fest. In Emporios during the Kyra Panagia feast on the mid-August and on November the 9th during the Taxiarch feast. In Nikia on September the26th, during the Saint Theologos and November the 21st during the Presentation of Virgin Mary feast.
Yet in other cases as well, “Kouppa” is danced for example during the summer of 2013 at Evangelistria Monastery, during a fund-raising event for the protection of frescoes in the monasteries of Arma, Sion and Diavatini. Therefore, it is obvious, that Nisyrian customs are not only maintained but are still invaluable life style both for the residents of Nisyros and for diaspora.
This paper, mainly based at Mrs Erene Chartofyli-Theodorou presentation under the same title, during the symposium of "Stegi Grammaton kai Technon Dodecanese" in July 2013.