M A S A R A «Մ Ա ՍԱ Ր Ա» -
by Vahe H. Apelian
On October 20, 1906 Miss Effie Chambers, the beloved the missionary of Kessab, alluded to masara in her letter to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in The United States on whose behalf she was doing mission work among the Armenians. The letter pertained to the schools in Kessab.Before elaborating on the headline of this article it is worth to note that Miss Chambers
another school that was supported jointly both by the local Kessabtsis and The American Foreign Mission for preparing students to further their
education in Aintab. Undoubtedly many became beneficiaries of this joint venture, among them Dr.Avedis Injejikian as his son Gabriel attests.
It would not surprise me that Dr. Albert Apelian and Rev.Bedros Apelian were also beneficiaries of this college level preparatory school.
The other of these six schools was for the girls. The school was entirely supported by The Foreign Mission. This school is so telling as to how open Kessabtsis have been in matters of gender and education that over 100 years ago they let a foreign mission run a school to educate their daughters. Not every community in the Ottoman Empire, as Kessab was part of it then, whether Armenian or not, whether Christian or not would
have been so open to trust their daughters to be educated by a Foreign Mission. Miss Chambers also writes that Kessabtsis have been supportive to her and have lent a helping hand to her. However she also voices a complaint in the same letter and sends it all the way to her Board in America letting them know that getting the students attend school in the fall gets difficult. I quote her:
“The first part of the term is greatly interrupted by gathering in the vineyard
products and the making of molasses, which is a sort of general good time for
everybody, makes it difficult.”
Miss Chambers is not a Kessabtsi therefore she does not know the term of what she describes as the “making of molasses” is in fact what Kessabtsis call masara and that it remains to this day a “sort of general good time for everybody”.
What is a massara?
It would almost not be possible to find someone who claims to be a Kessabtsis who does not know what massara is and yet it may be that newer generation born to a Kessabtsi parent who has moved elsewhere may not have heard of the word or not attended to its preparation. Massara remains one of the major social events that bindKessabtsis together.
Massara is “making (grape) molasses” but it is not a chore, however tedious the preparation is. It is rather a time to be merry. The process starts with collecting grapes for the vines. I would not be surprised that parents looked for the help of their children who would be the more agile to climb and reach the grapes up on the far end branches of vines wrapped on trees high above. It would not surprise me also that the kids in turn made ample use of their parents’ disposition to skip school. I sure would have been tempted as well.
grapes are completely juiced. The juice flowing from the trough is collected in a container. The remaining pulp would be a good source of nutrition for the animals.
The grape juice that contains the earthly clayish dirt is placed in a deep container and warmed. The dirt settles down taking with it all non-soluble components in the grape juice leaving a clear supernatant above it that is collected and placed in a container that would have a shorter rim and place it over fire. There were designated ovens for the process. The juice is then heated by burning wood until it is cooked well enough to be syrupy.
The process takes hours. It gives time for the people to sit by the fire, relax, chat while periodically replenishing wood to keep the fire going. Throughout the heating process the grape juice being cooked is constantly scooped with ladle made from gourd and checked to make sure that the juice is heated no longer than needed.
Once it is determined that the grape molasses, Kessabtsis call eroup-is formed it is
molasses, the prpor. In order form foam and maximize the foaming, the hot molasses is scooped with ladles made of gourd, poured from a distance through a perforated metal plate attached to a wooden handle back into the container creating yellowish foam thick foam that covers the hot grape molasses.
The best way to taste prpor – which means foam - is by scooping it with laurel - gasli – tree leaves. Some would simply snatch a leaf from a gasli tree branch and fold it to taste the prpor. Others, specially the kids, would have been more inventive having shaped different kinds of wooden spoons with the gasli leaves while waiting for the masara to complete and have the prpor to taste.
October 20, 1906, the day Miss Effie Chambers dated her letter, turns out to be a Saturday. It is the 293rd day of the year that makes it in the later part of the year when the masara would have already commenced or would be commencing soon. The word has much, much changed since then, especially for the Armenians who would experience the Genocide six years later.Amidst all these changes, masara has remained.
To this day Kessabtsis hold masara not so much for preparing stable for a rich source of energy for the winter ahead, as it was done once; nor it is prepared nowadays for commercialization, as it was done once with the surplus. Masaras nowadays are done for keeping the tradition and the social bonds going on among the Kessabtsis in and outside Kessab.