I would like to start using the words "mangas" and "mangia" in my blogs. Before doing that I consider my duty to give an extensive and analytic explanation of what this very word means.
One can get a lot of, more or less, likewise explanations here and there. Perhaps it is superficial to declare that, through this post you are going to get the most cool-headed and complete explanation of this word. First, I have to say that I am not interested about the word's etymology. I don΄t want to waste time with quarrels, different opinions etc. I am interested to "dive" into this word. Furthermore, to put words in what the old people (call them rebetes, if you like) meant but were not interested to articulate. I am not going to name well-known names, in order to certify that a was a real mangas though b was not. This is something you can do, if you like. What I want to do is to find the psychological fatigue and result of all that which has been said, in connection to my personal experiences. I believe that some of the most succeeded explanations have been given by a woman, Angeliki Kail, in the preface of her book about Markos Vamvakaris.The shortest and simplest explanation could be, "mangas" is a person who does not bother/harm anybody and dislikes to be bothered/harmed. I understand that this explanation is very vague and "empty". At the same time it is not. It gives a picture of a quiet person, serious and self-respecting one. Such a person respects, automatically, the others. I mean that, a real mangas is not a person who is looking for troubles. On the contrary, he avoids it. A troublemaking person was/is called for dais (bully), but in this case we have another missunderstanding and ignorance of dais very first meaning. We will talk about that another time.When English-speaking people are translating verses of "rebetiko" songs they use the slang word "dude" for mangas. In the glossary of the CD, Rembetica in PIRAEUS, volume II 1933-1937, Heritage HT CD 30, the explanation for the word mangas is: fine fellow, hash-smoking dude, smart operator on the fringes of society.
Let us see how the Cassell's dictionary of Slang, Jonathan Green, Cassell, 1998, explains the word dude 1. [1940.+]a man, a fellow.2.[late 19C+](orig. US)an overdressed, showy person, a fop or dandy...
The LONGMAN DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND CULTURE Longman 1998, explains the word fop = a man who takes too much interest in his clothes and personal appearance...
Neither of the two words, dude and fop have something to do with the pure meaning of the real mangas.
A simple definition for the word mangia is the following, written by Evangelos Papazahariou, Λεξικό της Πιάτσας ΑΡΓΚΟ, εκδ. ΚΑΚΤΟΣ, Αθήνα 1999: mangia, 1. the style, the gestures, the accent, the codes of the people who use the market's vocabulary. 2. bravery, the right male behaviour according to market's* code.
* The word market(πιάτσα ) is used as the ideal picture of the places where ordinary people meet and have different kinds of commercial exchanges. The antique equivalent was the agora.
During the continuous war which was fought from the so-called bourgeois against the unintegrated manges, the word got a negative content. The continuous war ended and the result is a folksy petit bourgeois ideology spread all over Greece... It is also supported that "manges do not exist anymore because the train has crushed them"...
If we see the word through a modern point of view we can simply say that, mangas is a good fellow. By using this rather "empty" word "good" I mean, generally speaking, a fellow who behaves well.
A real mangas is a person who has a simple philosophy about life´s relativity and tries, in proportion to its inner strength and certainty, to not be a victim for different Christian-bourgeois "must". He likes enjoyment (who does not?), he likes the "well being", no matter what. The real mangas has a low profile. He knows when it is proper to open his mouth and when it is not. He understands life, therefore he does not need to be pompous. He understands what the whole thing is about and that makes him a bit melancholic... He respects people and needs to be respected. He is not a coward. He is not afraid to say his opinion and takes the law in his own hands when there are no other choises, when his basic principles are offended. But, generally speaking, he avoids useless quarrels and slippery situations. Exactly what some very intelligent composers and musicians of rebetiko did. Those who were aware of their talent and felt an inner calling. Two good examples were, Markos Vamvakaris and Vasilis Tsitsanis.
A mangas does not need to be poor and a man of the people. He can, as well, be rich (αρχοντόμαγκας), taken for granted that he has lived among people belonging to lower classes. Another way to describe the word mangas is: a person who resists consciously to an established system of unjustice life values . He does not use to fight against them, but he withdraws to places where there are similar people like him. Those places can be the society's margine, the world of the outlaws, the world where mangia exists and rules. I don't believe that this "escape" is what he really wants. It is his defence, it is a reaction dictated by his social surrounding, his life "education" (i.e. experiences) and the way he has worked through them, his expectations concerning the future etc. I am talking about proceedures which every one of us goes through, in an early age, by having a silent dialogue with our heart. The point is which potentialities every human being can imagine, no matter if they are utopic.
The real mangas refuses to loose his identity and dignity, exchanging them with materialistic consuming goods. He carries inside him a serie of everlasting elementary rules which have always been adjusting the relations among human beings. This is his Achille´s heel. When the mangas is a man of the people, he has difficulties to understand that the world around him is changing in a rythm of a barrage. The result is that he comes to a conflict with his surrounding and himself. The consequences are unforseen. For the most, he "withdraws" and he can get into a kind of misanthropy. I am laying two examples of "withdrawal" taken from early rebetiko verses and another one from a Tsitsani´s song when he was tired and fed up:
1. "Is there anyone with a bitter heart so that we´ll be comrades, walk together in waste lands, not meeting people?" (houzam manes, 1930, sung by Kostas Nouros)
2. "I wish I could find an open sea, a rock to settle down, long away from the world, always alone, not seeing people anymore, forget my sorrows, being beaten by the wonds and the waves . Oh God, isn´t a pitty that I´m getting through this?" (Markos Vamvakaris verses)
3. "Even in Hell I´d like to be alone. I don´t either want to love or being loved" (from the song "Even in Hell" by Vasilis Tsitsanis).
One of a real mangas greatest peaks is the so-called self-wounding. It has been a long time since I saw a mangas hurting himself, instead of bursting out and beat somebody who offended him. Self-wounding means to hurt yourself with a knife, knockin the head on a wall or crushing wine glasses or window glasses with the palm of the hand. This magnificent deed reveals quite much of real mangas inner world.
There is not a chance to come to a widely accepted definition of the word mangas and there is no need to. We can, of course, give general definitions concerning what rebetes meant by using it. No matter how superficial it can sound, we, people of today, can define the word much better than those who lived within mangia. We have the necessary amounts of informations and the cool-mind to do it, if we are not "shadowed" by ignorance and an a priori negative attitude towards rebetiko's world. If I would try with one more description/definition of the word mangas it could be something like that: mangas is the person who is resisting an alteration of his personality and the allienation in every day life's "chopped meat machine". Such an attitude is "dangerous" and rejected by the System. The System cannot understand (in the same way Americans cannot understand why the Iraquis are refusing the Western democracy) and is conscious that those attitudes are threatening -even occasionally - especially when they are "epidemic". Ιf the manges of the 30's had reasons to go against the changes around them, those reasons are today magnified. A modern life in a well established and organised country (I am not including Greece, of course), demands a full levelling and a certain allienation from its citizens. If peope had the possibility to see clearly and understand what it is asked for them, they would rather refuse to join the whole procedure. But, through the used method of Mythridatism(see below) they still s join the game...
Through this point of view the meaning of the word mangas is everlasting. It may be that we cannot reproduce rebetiko, but the relations among human beings, no matter how they have changed, still go through the same adventures...
Mythridates = name of a dynasty of Parthian(Persian origin) kings and satraps who ruled in Pergamos and Pontus, between 303-63 B.C. According to a legend, king Mythridates used to eat some poison every day to become resistant, scaring that he would be poisoned.
Mythridatism, (metaforically) method of allienation by continuous, elegant and carefull brainwashing, for example through TV-channels all day and night broadcasting, or the evening newspapers lower level and banality. The brainwashing is much more effective when the human brain is tired and needs to escape...