Kukeri: Ritual, Carnival or Theatre
The Kukeri practices have survived from pagan times and are still performed in multiple villages all over Bulgaria. During the Winter months as well as around Lent, men and women covered in goat skins and monstrous masks chase the evil spirits away. The group of goat-skinned figures is followed by “funny men” dressed like women who stage satirical scenes commenting on present social issues such as presidential elections or price inflation. Kukeri thus fuses seemingly contrasting performance elements such as ritual, social satire, and the Medieval procession—most of the satirical scenes are staged on moving carts or trucks.
Methodologically, my study of Kukeri applies the performance studies paradigm, as outlined by Richard Schechner, and uses it both as a method of knowing, or an episteme, and as providing a definition for the subject of my study. Performance studies as a field exists at the intersection of other disciplines such as theatre, anthropology, sociology and gender studies to name only a few. In my study, I present Kukeri as a performance incorporating theatrical elements such as improvisation, costumes and sets. I also assert that the same way performance studies, as a paradigm exists on the border of disciplines, Kukeri exists in between ritual, carnival and amateur performances. The Kukeri practices themselves construct multiple identities and perform them accordingly. I analyze specific case studies in which one and the same participants engage in ritual activities in their own villages on New Year’s Day, then later in the year participate in carnival processions in the streets of the cities hosting masked games, and also perform amateur plays enacting the Kukeri tradition on festival stages.
Keywords: Kukeri, Bulgarian Masked Rituals, Bulgarian Mummers
Doctoral Candidate, Department of Theatre and Film Studies, University of Georgia