Wandering around Chios Mastiha villages in the autumn Featured

If you visit the villages of Mastiha (Chios Gum Mastic) at this time of the year in Chios island, Greece, you will come across a familiar image: women mastiha producers, and also men, of all ages are gathered in small groups at the alleys and corners of the village with large traditional sieves full of the recently gathered mastiha. They have already started the long copious process of cleaning the product. The aroma of mastiha fills the narrow village roads at Pyrgi, Mesta, Kalamoti and the rest of the 24 villages of mastiha.  

The first step of cleansing is the “tahtarisma”, that is the sifting of the product in order to separate the mastiha from leaves and soil. The next step is the cleansing in cold water, some even wash it with sea water and then the mastiha is laid out to dry.

After the product has dried, traditionally women take over. Using pointy small knives they clean each and every small piece and granule of mastiha from dirt and soil that may be stuck on it. This is a process that starts now, in the autumn, but depending on the workload and the time they devote to the cleansing, it may go on until spring.

This part of the cleaning process is done in groups. Companies of women gather to work together, while at the same time they exchange news and tell stories and jokes. This is their way to have fun during the difficult and monotonous process of mastiha cleaning.

Solidarity and cooperation between mastiha growers is characteristic of the social organization at the villages. For example, there is the tradition of “danikes”, which means borrowed. According to this tradition, a woman would ask her friends to help her with the cleaning then she would reciprocate. This goes for other agricultural tasks that one might have trouble completing in one’s own. However, it is a big disgrace if someone accepts help but does not reciprocate.

Another tradition which shows the power of women’s networks at the villages of Mastiha are the “syntrofisses” (meaning “comrades” or “companions”) at Pyrgi village. According to this tradition, a teenage girl’s mother would ask an already existing group of girls to accept her daughter in their group or company. The other mothers would talk it over with their daughters to decide whether they would accept the new girl in the group. The syntrofisses would meet daily to provide mutual support, work together and go out together.

Similar companies are found nowadays while wandering around the villages of mastiha. As the Mastiha villages are built as castlevillages, there is not enough room for the houses to have yards and patios, so people use the streets in front of their houses instead. The ladies of the Mastiha villages, despite their hard labour,  will welcome the visitor who passes from their street while they are working, cleaning the mastiha. They will show them the process of cleaning and will even pose gladly for a photograph.

Mastiha cultivation, which is basically unaltered during the centuries, has been inscribed in UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage. If you would like to experience the mastiha cultivation, you can contact Chios Tourism Department at the e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information or you can contact one of the specialized agencies in Chios island that provide experiential tours.

Sources:

The Chios Mastiha Growers Association https://www.gummastic.gr/el/mastixa-chiou/paradosiaki-kalliergia#katharisma

Zacharopoulos C., Barbikas E. (n.d.), Chios Mastiha PDO. Historic and folkloric references. The Chios Mastiha Growers Association

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