Chasers of Evil
The kukeri, called also dzhamali, babugeri, mechkare, startsi, survishkare, stanchore, chaushi, etc., are the Bulgarian pursuers of evil. Their task is wiping off evil and daemons from the world, making the latter a quiet living place, chasing the cold, instigating fruitfulness, good offspring, health, and luck in people’s homes. They are showing up in transitional times, when change, the advent of a new state is expected. Such are the non christened days between Christmas and Voditsi (December 25 – January 6) and the days before the Great Lent – between Mesni Zagovezni (Meatfare Sunday, a.k.a. The Sunday of the Last Judgment) and Sirnitsa (Cheesefare Sunday, a.k.a. The Sunday of Forgiveness).
Men only are participating to kukeri processions; they’re masked, dressed in various beast furs turned inside out, their belts loaded with cow bells, knives, and other hardware. The more frightening their appearance, the more successfully they would accomplish their mission. Favourite characters are the bridegroom, the priest, the sponsors, the father- and mother-in-law, the grandma, the grandpa, the gypsy bearward. A real commedia dell’arte performance takes place. To invoke fertility and health, the kukeri are enacting ritual (figurative) gestures like tilling, sowing, etc.
A procedure is activated for the inclusion of this unique Bulgarian tradition, along with the International Festival of Masquerade Games held annually in Pernik, in the UNESCO Non-Material Cultural Heritage List. So far, the only Bulgarian inclusions into the list are the matchless Grannies from Bistritsa and nestinarstvo (firewalking).