Mani, where we live, is that middle finger of Greece pointing south toward Africa, a strange country of rocky headlands and deserted tower houses.
In the past, the Maniots had a reputation as brigands and bandits, and the whole peninsula used to be known as Kakovouna, the bad mountains, or the land of evil counsel. The chief occupation of the maniot families seems to have been feud, and these feuds were not merely quarrels, but shooting wars, vendettas, which could persist through generations.
It seems that only boys and men fought. Male children were referred to as ‘guns’. It was generally safe for women to move about during hostilities. As late as 1870, in the village of Kitta, a detachment of regular troops was called in to put down a particularly protracted affair.
But old habits die hard. I was speaking to an elderly woman in a village not far from where we live. Her family had been involved in a feud with a rival family for generations, and though the killings had ceased in recent years, she still sent her sons to live in America to ensure their safety.
The population of Mani is much smaller than it was, many of its original inhabitants having emigrated, to Australia and elsewhere. Weekenders from Athens renovate the old tower houses, and in the summertime German camper vans cruise the narrow road that loops around the coast.
An Athenian friend of ours told us that, years back, one group of Maniot families’ intent upon emigrating only made it to the port of Piraeus. These families now run the dives and brothels along the waterfront. On occasion they shoot one another, in the time honoured fashion.