On Sunday, December 17 the Panipirotiki Enosis of New South Wales held a commemoration event to mark the 220th anniversary of the Dance of Zalongo.
The Dance of Zalongo refers to the mass suicide of women and their children from Souli that occurred in the aftermath of the invasion of Ottoman troops on December 16, 1803.
About 60 women were trapped near the village of Zalongo in Epirus, who decided to turn towards the cliff’s edge and die with their infants and children rather than to submit to the Ottoman troops chasing them. According to tradition they did this one after the other while dancing and singing.
A member of the Panipirotiki Enosis of NSW committee, Evangeleah Plakias came up with the idea earlier this year to remember the heroic Souliotes and the tragic events that took place in December 1803. Evangeleah was told of the story of The Dance of Zalongo from a young age and it captured her attention for many years.
Earlier this year, Ms Plakias also had the privilege of going to Zalongo.
“To walk up the mountain these women climbed carrying their children, to see what they saw before giving up their lives, to imagine what they were feeling in that moment, to think of their last thoughts, to stand in the shadows of our ancestors, to understand the story and the sacrifices the women made, this location was much more emotional and meaningful,” she said.
“It’s not just a monument, it’s a symbol of freedom, courage and how they never gave up their lives to the Ottoman Turks, they chose when to die.”
With the help and support of the committee, Ms Plakias put together a very moving and impressive event on Sunday and was proud to share the story of the Souliotes.
Attending the event was the Consul General of Greece in Sydney, Ioannis Mallikourtis; Bishop Christodoulos of Magnesia; Chair of the Greek Festival of Sydney, Nia Karteris; President of Pontoxeniteas NSW, Maria Anthony; President of the Athenian Association of NSW, Cathy Valis; Kalymnian Association of NSW representative, Irene Tsenkas; and all the Panipirotiki Enosis committee. Many members and guests also attended the event which was free for all.
Emcee for the event was George Tsitos, Assistant Secretary of the Panipirotiki Enosis of NSW.
On the day, Bishop Christodoulos read out a message on behalf of Archbishop Makarios of Australia. This was followed by a message from Mr Mallikourtis.
Ms Plakias spoke and shared the story of the Souliotes.
“For every mother in Souli, a code of honest and free life applies: ‘my child is a child of Souli and if Souli survives, my child will survive. If Souli is conquered, then let my child and me die.’ The choice for all the Souliotes was to be free. They died at their own hands rather than be captured, tortured, and enslaved by the Ottomans.”
Theodore Premetis shared his ancestor’s story, while a welcome speech was made from the Panipirotiki President Mr Nick Siakafas.
A short video was played showing what Souli and Zalongo looks like now and showing scenes from old movies of the Souliotes.
Ms Plakias choreographed a dance performance and practiced with the dancing group for weeks. The girls who performed were Mia and Zoe Karatasas, Alexandra Delis, Victoria and Eleni Lambousis, Katie Plakias, Kerrie Markantonakis, Rikki Bolafas, Christina Iwannidou, Kiki Mousiadou, Irene Tsenkas, and Ioanna Diamadis.
A theatrical piece was performed by Mary Vartzoumas, Stellios Mallikourtis, and Christina Iwannidou.
A special video tribute was also made in Greece by Kostantina Touni and Tryfon Anastasiou. The purpose of the song was to reproduce it and honour the Zalongo sacrifices. The moving piece captured everyone’s hearts and left people in tears.
The event was a huge success, and all the audience was deeply moved by the story and the performance.
Ms Plakias was proud to have been the one to bring the story of the Dance of Zalongo to life, and even more proud that the event was such a success.