Are these the first Rebetis ?
I t was probably from this dubious Penal Primordial Sub-cultural soup, that the Rebetiko Ethos, as it has come down to us today was born. God Bless the Justice systems of the world! Where would Ethno-musicologists and music lovers be without them? Probably out of a job and with nothing very interesting to listen to respectively. In any case the prisons at the time were practically always filled with Criminals, Politicals the unemployed the indigent etc. Many of these men had descended from veterans of the War of Independence in 1821. This was a group that constituted a specific class of men, who a century earlier had been instrumental in the successful struggle for Greek independence against the Ottoman Turks. Many of their Fathers, Grandfathers and beyond, had been part of a Class of men known as Klephts, or as they were known in Greece kleftes, which interestingly enough is the Greek term for thief. However the Klepht history is a bit more complicated then that designation might infer and that history is not only interesting , but in point of fact nothing short of fascinating. Some of the stories concerning their exploits were often related with a reverence bordering on that usually reserved for the old Mythology from Antiquity. While the reality of the Klepht history was not exactly quite as Romantic or as Heroic as some of the modern-day Greek Mythology makers or "Spin-Doctors" may have implied. Nevertheless all through the 17th , 18th and 19th century, they were very much a force to be feared and reckoned with by anyone they considered an adversary. Turks, Greeks, Travelers and Tourists and just about anyone else including other Klephts. They could be proud, romantic, mercenary, cutthroat, stupid, murdering, thieving, Heroic, brilliant, generous, duplicitous, loyal, on and on. Name it and at one time or another they probably embodied it. Nothing about Greece is ever simple, ever was or ever will be. The Klephts were very much the flesh and blood realization of that notion and to some extent, personified it with near stereotypical accuracy. However while they could be either this or that depending on the circumstances, the one constant that remained the dominant characteristic in their collective psychology, was independence. "Always and Forevermore"! (The Politically Correct need not apply). They distrusted and absolutely thoroughly detested all outside authority of any stripe, by anyone, at any time and their coexistence with their fellow countrymen, was always a fragile and tenuous relationship at best. During the early part of the 19th century, they usually lived in semi-isolated and mountainous regions throughout the interior of the mainland particularly in the Peloponeese. These were areas not easily accessible for outsiders and thanks to these Klepht Brigands, very dangerous for anyone to be traveling in. However after the War of Independence as Greece slowly began to emerge and evolve into a modern day nation state, much of their "lifestyle" started to disappear. They had usually operated as regional territorial clans and more often then not, had a very "complex" relationship with the new Greek Government. Ironically and in a round-about way, the successful elimination and downfall of the Ottomans they had been so instrumental in bringing about, had in large measure also brought about their own eventual demise. This was primarily due to the fact that the various economic "contributions" made to the local Klepht chieftain by the local Pasha assigned to that particular territory had now been eliminated. Klepht Chieftains often had something of a "friendly business arrangement" they had decided might be mutually beneficial to all governing parties concerned. A "negotiation" for this type of business "arrangement", might have gone something like this....
Klepht Chieftain speaks : ( who coincidentally just happens to bear a striking and uncanny resemblance to Mr. Marlon Brando )
" Greetings Exalted Pasha so and so. Welcome to the Ancient and mysterious land of Hellas, land of the Ancient Gods and as well as of the humble soil upon which I rest my weary head. I know that you are a very busy and powerful man and I promise not to take too much of your very valuable time. But I thought it the wise and honorable thing, to come and personally pay my most honorable and humble respects to you and in your honor, oh most Exalted and most Honorable Pasha. You see I feel it is part of my Civic obligation to you as well as my responsibility to the Great Empire you so well represent , to inform you my very good friend and most Honorable Pasha, that these hills you see before you and from which many of us try and toil to earn an honest and humble living, are crawling with murderers , thieves and scoundrels. You can never trust these Greeks, I know them well and I just happened to notice that your army is not enough in number to always guarantee the personal safety of you and your most honorable and respectable Holy Court. But I, Don Vito Odysseus Kolokotronis Lucabrasi Androutsos, though I am a very old and poor man, am about to "make you an offer you can't refuse". Because of our profound mutual respect and close personal friendship, as well as for our common interests, after all we are both respectable family men. I can and I will, use what little influence I may have, to absolutely guarantee that no one will ever violate you, your family, your Harem, your soldiers and especially your weak and over extended supply line, upon which all your provisions, survival and very existence depend. I will help to insure all these things , as well as anything else your Exalted, Holy and most powerful Pasha has judged to be of great personal value and importance. You and I will always be able to count and rely upon our close personal friendship and mutual respect. All that I humbly request in return, is that you might see fit to show me a little "consideration", say four times a year, so that I may be in an even better position and even more able to provide this assurance and to guarantee, that the strength of this personal friendship remains as strong as if a bond made by blood and that your stay here in the land of Hellas will be a happy and most memorable one. One that you and your family will always treasure and cherish for all the many long years of your precious life. May you live a thousand years , Yasou Pasha " !
The local Pasha was understandably always very grateful and appreciative for this type of "domestic hospitality" and to show the Klephts just how much he valued and appreciated their "friendship" and "support" as well as the "genuine concern" displayed for his personal safety and collective welfare, usually and enthusiastically was more then happy to show that appreciation and on a quarterly basis. In other words the Kleftes cleaned up !
This somewhat contrived extortion scenario, while obviously created for the benefit of your entertainment and amusement dear kind and gentle reader, was in fact concocted with only half a tongue in cheek. While these types of "arrangements" probably did not take place in quite that Old Chicago/Hollywood fashion, it still may not be too far off the mark. The reality was that all through the Ottoman period extortion, graft, bribery and corruption in general were among the most effective methods employed in ruling any occupied territory the size of mainland Greece. Let alone most of what is today almost all of Eastern Europe. It still is. This was especially true, in areas where the natural terrain made a region all but impossible to control with military force alone. Areas such as Roumeli and especially locations in the southern Peloponeese (particularly in the Mani province), are good cases in point. The Ottoman Turks absolutely detested going in there for any reason at any time. It was much easier and far less costly for all parties concerned, to come to some kind of "arrangement", with the regional Klepht "Godfather" and simply become part of and contribute to " the local economy". It was easy, it was safe, it was practical and most important of all, it worked. For the Ottomans to have tried and rule such a large area by force alone, would in all probability have been catastrophic for them. Unfortunately for the Klephts, when the Sultan was finally relegated to the Historical Dust Bin by time and tide, so was this very lucrative income. It was this type of income as well as various resources derived from the pirating of ships along their coast, that made the various Maniot Clans quite wealthy. However after the 1821 Revolution and as time went on, the political influence of the Klepht Brigands gradually diminished. The old war veterans and Chieftains died out and a number of their descendents were forced to either move to the city or eventually immigrate. By the end of the 19th century they had for the most part become something of an idyllic Anachronism. But their uncompromising spirit and particularly their legendary code of independence (as well as a few other things), remained intact and to some extent, had successfully permeated and shaped the Collective Psychology of the slowly emerging Hellenic state. Even more significantly for our purpose here, it is quite plausible that the traditional Rebetic attitude toward authority, may have had it's genesis with this particular spirit as a derivative of this Klephtic Code of Independence and their overall distrust of authority in general. This "code" would eventually manifest itself in behavioral attributes, that would eventually become part of and personify some of the more rebellious and "colorful" characteristics of Rebetic lore.
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