Kanapinis: Return of the Hemp Man


Posing with the Hemp Man

 

Kanapinis: Return of the Hemp Man

What if I told you there was a day where from sun up to sun down you were not only offered but expected to eat delicious fried pancakes with more toppings then one could imagine?…

A day where everyone in town dresses up in folkish costumes to gather in the towns square in a mardi gras party like atmosphere…

A day where dancing, singing, carnival games and strong drinks are all not only expected they are the norm…

Now what if I told you this glorious day’s anticipation builds to a battle where the victor is always the Hemp Man?….

What if I told you… This day is real…


Užgavėnės participants Salantai, Lithuania 1923

Lithuania was one of the last European holdouts to practice Paganism. Subsequently the area was also one of the last to adopt Christianity. With such strong ties to the past, ancient traditions hold strong…

Užgavėnės in Lithuania is much like its counterparts around the world, Carnival or mardi gras, but this festival has held much more of its Pagan roots with one enticing addition…  Hemp!

The Festival of today begins much like carnival, the day before Ash Wednesday. In Pagan times the festival was held on the Vernal Equinox.

 


Užgavėnės costume with doughnut type pastry called Baronka/Riestainis around the neck, it just keeps getting better and better…

 

Swarms of festival attendees are dressed in costumes portraying devils, witches, goats, the grim reaper, gypsies and other folk like characters meant to scare away winter, usually with a smile.

A large parade through the center of town begins the festivities. Parade marchers are dressed as whimsical characters with a often buxom woman named ‘More’ being the main attraction…

‘More’ is the female representation of winter. Her effigy is paraded as the finale at the height of the parade.  Children and passers-by laugh at ‘More’, beat her with sticks, and throw snowballs at her. Goats beat ‘More’ with their horns, cranes and storks peck at her, gypsies tell her fortune, demons wait for her “soul” in shadowy stances….

Its the devils and witches however, that defend ‘More’… Not to be, the party continues!


Užgavėnės participants Salantai, Lithuania- Febuary 25, 1936 (notice ‘Hemp Man’ with his strands of hemp in his hand)

Songs with chants like “ziema, ziema bek is kiemo!” literally meaning “winter, winter get out of my yard!” ring through the streets…

The music, dancing, eating, drinking and general merriment all climax with a great battle between two central characters…

Lašininis (translated to fatso or porky) is the male representation of Winter, hated by the gathered crowd he shows up to free his female counterpart ‘More’… Suddenly one man is brave enough to stop him…  Its his rival… Its… Hemp Man!

Kanapinis (translated as Hemp man or Hempen man) as the male representation of Spring, steps forward to meet his foe Lasininis to the cheers of the crowd…

Its always a hard fought battle but in the end, Hemp always wins…


‘More’ and ‘Lasininis’ female and male effigies of winter at Užgavėnės festival.

Not enough hemp in this festival for you? A closer look at the Užgavėnės games played might change your mind…


The black flies daiktas- flea, a Užgavėnės game

The black flies daiktas- flea, is a Užgavėnės game using a hemp sheet to toss the ‘black fly’ to the gathered crowd waiting to catch it. A good ol’ game of toss-up/heads up, hempen style…

Next we have the ‘True friendship išraiška- fight’, a Užgavėnės game where standing on stumps, 2 participants using hemp sacks, filled with of course hemp, pummel each other to knock the other off.  Hemp laying the smack down, carnie style…


True friendship išraiška- fight, a Užgavėnės game

As the night draws near, a effigy of ‘More’ is gathered around and lit ablaze.  As ‘More’s’ bonfire burns to the crowds cheers, winter is finally beaten, giving way to spring and the beginning of the agricultural year.


Užgavėnės festival burning ‘More’, female effigy of winter

Traditions don’t end with ‘More’s’ bonfire…

In some area’s the taller the flames, the taller the next years hemp crop will be…

The next day, superstition says to bury some of the ashes from the fire in the soil of the coming crop field. Doing this will protect the crop from bad demons during the coming season…


Užgavėnės participants Salantai, Lithuania- Febuary 25, 1936 (notice ‘Hemp Man’ with his strands of hemp in his hand, second from left)

As a society we move forward further and further away from our hempen roots,  I suggest we all remember the Pagans of old and all burn More!


Man celebrating Užgavėnės while grilling, 2009

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