The Naca of Davoli and the Easter trees: A Calabrian ritual

Mr Francesco Procopio, MA in Archaeology and Conservation of Archaeological Heritage, is a qualified tour guide. Based in Davoli, Catanzaro (southern part of Italy), he works actively in the Heritage Tourism sector.

Mr Evelino Ranieri is an organiser and coordinator of the Naca and a member of the Association Pro Naca.

Introduction

The category of Intangible Cultural Heritage includes rituals, particular skills and knowledge, and also festive events. According to UNESCO, these activities play an important role among communities and groups because they help shape their lives. Keeping alive these activities helps to reaffirm the identity of individuals and also make the community much more cohesive.

This interview focusses on the Naca, a peculiar ritual that takes place every year during the Easter festivities in Davoli, a small village in Calabria (southern Italy).

We are going to discuss this ancient tradition, trying to understand its origin, its preparation and how it is performed in order to analyse and assess its social meaning.

1.Where exactly is the village of Davoli? How many inhabitants does Davoli have? Why is it attractive to tourists?

Davoli is a small village (25 km2) near the principal city of Catanzaro in the region of Calabria. Davoli has a long history and is within the well-known territory of the Magna Graecia, but there are also many historical remains linked to later periods.

The village of Davoli extends from the Ionian Sea to the upland called Serre and is situated between the Melis and Arcinale rivers. Davoli comprises the actual village, better known as borgo, and a wider part which is nearer the coast, namely the Davoli Marina.

The population of Davoli is just over 5,000 and has recently expanded due to commercial activities and tourism. Many tourists decide to visit Davoli for the medieval characteristics of the actual borgo. Visitors are enchanted by the distinctive gates that have apotropaic masks on top of each arch, 29 in total. These gates were originally built in 1676 and then reconstructed soon after the devastating earthquake of 1783. Two monasteries represent another interesting tourist attraction: one is the Basilian monastery, located at 1,000 metres, where there is the stone of S. Antonino; the second one is the Agostiniano-Zumpano monastery dedicated to the Madonna del Trono, which dates back to 1525/65. In addition, the most ancient church is dedicated to S. Caterina di Alessandria and was built in the 13th century. A mention of Davoli is found in an Angevin document dating back to 1272, and it is listed among the 29 casalia (medieval villages) of Squillace. Davoli has beautiful golden beaches and is a popular destination during the summer. However, it must be stressed that Davoli is also known for its cultural intangible heritage tradition which takes place each year during the Easter festivities: the Naca.

2.What does the term ‘naca’ mean?

The term naca, seems to have its origins in the ancient Greek language, the term νάκη meaning ‘sheep fleece’ from which a textile fibre could be obtained. This fibre was used, mainly in agro-pastoral contexts, to create an ancient hanging cradle, very similar to a hammock. It seems that the word νάκα in the Byzantine-Greek language means cradle.

The term naca is also connected to the dialectal verb annacare, meaning to cradle, and is thus connected to an actual oscillating movement. Therefore, the term naca represents the dead body of Jesus Christ laid down on some kind of cradle (figs. 1 -2). In Davoli, there is a statue that is carried by four men in a procession on the evening of Good Friday (fig. 3). The act of walking while bearing the statue on their shoulders results in an undulating movement which seems to cradle (annacare) Jesus Christ. However, there is a lot more preparation involved with the ancient tradition of the Naca.

FIG. 1 DETAIL: STATUE OF JESUS CHRIST – ©️ THE DAVOLI COMMUNITY
FIG. 2 CHURCH OF S PETER: THE NACA  – ©️ THE DAVOLI COMMUNITY
FIG. 3 THE NACA AND ITS BEARERS – ©️ THE DAVOLI COMMUNITY

3.How does the village prepare for Naca?

The Naca is not a simple procession with the statue of the dead Jesus Christ, but it is something deeper that involves the entire community each year.

In order to perform the ritual of the Naca on Good Friday, we need to collect fir trees that must then be decorated in the traditional manner. This involves making coloured lamps called lampioncini in Italian or lampiuni in the Calabrian dialect.

4.Where do the fir-trees come from?

A long time ago, the inhabitants of Davoli used to source the fir trees from the nearby mountains.

Mr Francesco added, ‘Concerning this step, I would like to share an oral witness by an old man, Mr Salvatore, who has unfortunately passed away. Mr Salvatore told me that the men went to the mountains during the night to collect these trees.’ All participated enthusiastically, enjoying a sense of community.

Mr Evelino added that nowadays the fir trees are supplied by a local farm, that also disposes them after the event. The community of Davoli does not pay for the trees but usually thanks the farm with a gift of local produce (fig. 4).

FIG. 4 THE FIR TREES – ©️ THE DAVOLI COMMUNITY

5.How many fir trees do you usually need?

We ask for 100 fir trees that are seven or eight metres tall, which are traditionally delivered on the Saturday before the celebration of Palm Sunday. In the past, the fir trees used to be blessed together with the palms and the olive branches during the religious celebration that Sunday.

Given the number of the trees, it is clear that the number of the lampioncini needed is proportionally high and that a great deal of work is required to make them.

6.Who makes the coloured lamps and what does this process consist of?

Mr Evelino reports that the inhabitants of Davoli are directly involved in the creation of these coloured lamps. In the past, mostly men were involved in this process but recently women have started to be much more proactive.

All the necessary equipment for making the lamps is handmade by the locals (fig. 5).

FIG. 5 THE EQUIPMENT – ©️ E. RANIERI

Each lamp has a rounded base made from cardboard on which a cylindrical-shaped zinc candleholder is placed. A coloured oiled sheet of paper is wrapped around this basic structure. The last step is to add a string to hang the lamp on the tree (fig. 6). The process of decorating the trees is called vestitura, meaning to dress the trees (fig. 7).

FIG. 6 DETAIL OF A LAMP – ©️ E. RANIERI
FIG. 7 THE SO-CALLED ‘VESTITURA’ – ©️ THE DAVOLI COMMUNITY

7.When does the community of Davoli start preparing the lamps?

The preparation takes a lot of time because we first select the lamps from the preceding year that are still useable and then decide how many new lamps will be needed. Therefore, we usually start in January.

8.What do these trees and lamps symbolically represent?

The act of carrying the trees is like bearing the cross of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the tree itself represents a connection between humans and the spiritual sphere and also symbolises the concept of immortality, given that this tree is evergreen. Since the lamps illuminate that sad and oppressive night, they are symbolically indicative of hope.

9.Where does this peculiar tradition come from?

Mr Francesco points out that, despite much debate, the origin of this tradition is unknown. It dates back to the 17th century and was probably imported from Spain. It is said that a priest, Giovanni Domenico Barbieri of Davoli, went to Spain in the mid-17th century to study, and when he came back, he imported the religious cult of two Saints: S. Pietro of Alcantara and S. Teresa of Avila. Therefore, it may be assumed that he could have imported this ritual as well. However, many doubts remain, and future studies may confirm this hypothesis.

10.Can you explain when and how the actual ritual is performed?

The actual ritual takes place on the night of Good Friday at 10 p.m., but the entire day has many events that lead up to the Naca.

11.Can you give us details about these events?

First, from on 1 p.m.–3 p.m., young people (10–15 years old) play a traditional wooden instrument called carice in the streets of Davoli. Another bigger carice is played in the Church of Santa Barbara Matrice (figs. 8-9). This sound symbolically warns the inhabitants that Jesus Christ was going to breathe his last.

FIG. 8 CARICE: TRADITIONAL WOODEN INSTRUMENT – ©️ D. POSTELLA
FIG 9: BIGGER CARICE PLAYED IN THE CHURCH OF S. BARBARA MATRICE – ©️ F. PROCOPIO

At 8 p.m., in the Church of S. Barbara Matrice, the priest gives a sermon linked to the Passion of Jesus Christ, and afterwards, symbolically places the cross in the hands of the statue of the Mother of Sorrow. This symbolises the meeting between Mary and the dead Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, the lamps are lit, and the decorated fir-trees are placed with their height in descending along the road near the Church of S. Peter.

The actual Naca begins at 10 p.m. The most beautifully decorated tree and its bearers open and guide the procession. The organisers and coordinators jointly make this choice based on the arrangement of the lamps and the coloured effect created.

This tree is followed by the statue of the dead Jesus Christ laid down in the ‘naca/cradle’, the marching band, the Cross, the rest of the trees with their bearers and then the community of Davoli. As they walk, everyone sings traditional religious songs, some in the local dialect. Finally, the last tree ends this long procession, which goes through the entire village and the scenic outlying areas.

The lamps decorating the trees illuminate the village of Davoli, creating a magic, colourful night (fig. 8).

FIG. 10 AN OVERVIEW OF THE COLOURFUL NIGHT IN DAVOLI – ©️ THE DAVOLI COMMUNITY

The whole route takes two hours and the tree-bearers, given the considerable weight of the trees, sometimes have to be replaced by others. Usually, the tree-bearers are inhabitants of Davoli who decide to become bearers as an act of faith.

 12.Do neighbouring villages participate in this event?

Yes. Apart from the community of Davoli, other neighbouring villages often take part in the Naca. This ritual is an important event, and nobody in the nearby villages would want to miss it. Many join us with great devotion.

Also, people who are no longer residents in Davoli (because of the general lack of jobs in the south of Italy) like to attend because they are still connected to their village and its traditions.

Tourists also take part with interest, respect and some astonishment.

13.As locals, what does this tradition represent for your community? Why is it important to keep this practice alive for future generations? How does the younger generation get involved?

As locals, we cannot imagine Davoli without the Naca. All inhabitants of Davoli have borne a fir tree at least once in their life. The Naca is loaded with socio-cultural and anthropological significance. It is clearly a part of the village identity and, through its preparation, the community is united by the deepest positive emotions that reach their peak during the night of Good Friday. When all the lamps from the trees have been extinguished soon after the conclusion of the Naca, the community feels regenerated and there is a noticeable sense of local pride in keeping this ancient, inherited tradition alive.

We definitely want to preserve this tradition for the future generations of Davoli. Clearly, a crucial role is played by the locals and by all families who involve their young children in its preparation and performance (fig. 9). Once the children experience the Naca, they automatically continue this tradition.

FIG. 11 CHILDREN MAKE THE LAMPS IN THE WORKSHOP – ©️ COMMUNITY OF DAVOLI

14.After the ritual of the Naca has been hosted as a photographic exhibition in Matera, European Capital of Culture for the year 2019, the municipality of Davoli would like it to be added to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. What are the reasons?

The entire community really would be thrilled if the Naca could be included in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This ritual is an inherited tradition performed by a small community of southern Italy that is highly motivated to pass it on to the younger generations. It is a symbol of our identity, and it is a unique religious and social practice. The Naca is also a tourist attraction and helps the financial development of this small village.

Many visual anthropological studies have described the Naca. For example, the study by the Memorandum Centre of Studies of Cortale (Catanzaro) was submitted to the Sorbonne University (Paris, France) and to the La Sapienza University (Rome, Italy) and was published in the MAV catalogue (Catalogue of Visual Anthropological Material).

The Centre of Studies of Cortale created a documentary directed by A. Simonetta which won the first prize (category A) in the first open competition titled ‘Vittorio De Seta’, which took place in S. Giovanni Rotondo (Apulia) at the end of November 2016.

These studies and the academic interest generated, clearly indicate the considerable importance of this tradition, which needs to be studied, experienced, kept alive, promoted and disseminated all over the world.

THIS VIDEO HAS BEEN CREATED AND KINDLY DONATED TO US BY THE COMMUNITY OF DAVOLI

Conclusions

The Heritage Call warmly thanks Mr Francesco Procopio and Mr Evelino Ranieri for this interesting collaboration of valuable information and also for sharing fascinating photographic material.

What clearly emerges is that the community of Davoli distinguishes itself from other southern Calabrian communities through the ritual of the Naca. This ritual is full of religious significance but also represents a powerful social practice since its preparation involves a considerable commitment from the community. Through the Naca, the community shares common ideas and emotions and, above all, constantly reaffirms its identity. Regarding this matter, the Calabrian anthropologist Teti (2015, p. 83) points out that the religious journey (including processions or pilgrimage) sanctifies the social space, moves away negativities and protects the people who perform it. Therefore, the act of constantly repeating the Naca ritual means social regeneration and making an entire community more cohesive.

Both interviewees confirmed that preparing for the Naca involved the younger generation together with older people who play a crucial role in terms of transmission of this tradition as they teach and supervise activities such as the creation of the lampionicini and also keep the enthusiasm alive. Thus, over many generations, the community of Davoli has been able to transmit and preserve this unique tradition and will most likely be able to continue to keep it alive in the future.

During the interview with Mr Francesco and Mr Evelino, clear evidence was found that the community of Davoli is one of the best examples of ‘being the guardian’ of its cultural heritage (see Kyriakidis 2019) and that the Naca will not be lost.

References

Kyriakidis, E. (2019). A Community Empowerment Approach to Heritage Management 
From Values Assessment to Local Engagement. London: Routledge.

Teti, V. (2017). Quel che resta. L’Italia dei paesi, tra abbandoni e ritorni. Roma: Donzelli Editore.

Teti, V. (2015). Terra Inquieta. Soveria Mannelli: Rubettino.

Interview directed by Dr Barbara Mordà | The Naca ritual has been also discussed by Dr Barbara Morda for the Smithsonian Magazine

READ MORE: https://folklife.si.edu/magazine/naca-procession-davoli-italy

Francesco and Evelino’s feedback on The Heritage Call: We were thrilled to be part of this digital cultural initiative. We enjoyed interacting with Dr Mordà and, thanks to her interesting questions, we could ponder, discuss and widely share our ancient tradition. We warmly invite other people to share experiences and heritage because we can learn from each other and better understand our roots and communal values. Greetings from Davoli!

 

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