Yanni is the head of the largest family on the island of Spetses. He is also one of the most renowned butterfly experts in the Balkans. He is a contemporary of mine, and a friend.
His family has an interesting history. In the early 19th century, his ancestors were shipowners. But at the time, there was a naval blockade implemented by Admiral Nelson. And so a good deal of contreband trade was quietly organised with the French, with the blessing of the Ottoman authorities, if the right bribes were given.
This profitable business was interrupted when the Greeks rose up against the Turks. Initially, the Spetsiot shipowners, including Yanni’s family, were against the revolt, which put an end to their lucrative enterprise, but they were soon caught up in the patriotic spirit and sent their vessels to join in the battle against the Turks.
Yanni’s family found themselves on the same side as the famous Bouboulina, the heroine of Greek independence, about whom I have written a book. She was not originally from the island but had married a Spetsiot and done a great deal for the Greek cause against the Turks. She was an unruly, strong-headed woman.
Her demise came about after her son eloped with the wealthy daughter of a distant cousin of Yanni’s great-grandfather, with the intention of marrying her for a handsome dowry. But the girl’s father, along with armed accomplices, came to demand that his daughter be returned. Bouboulina appeared on the balcony of her house and not only refused to hand over the girl, but copiously abused her father. A shot was fired: Bouboulina was hit in the forehead and killed instantly.
As for Yanni’s great-grandmother, she was so kind and generous and loved by everyone, in her family and on the whole island, that she was known as Manoula, the ‘little mother’. She had a son who was killed by Algerian pirates, a deed she had never forgiven. One day, one of Manoula’s ships, a merchant ship that happened to be heavily armed, attacked another boat belonging to Algerian pirates.
All the men were killed, the women and children travelling with the men were taken prisoner and locked up in the cellars of Manoula’s house, either to work as slaves or to be sold as such.
But the captive children cried and sobbed and made a terrible noise. Manoula was enraged: “They are making too much noise! Drown them!”. And this was done. And so Manoula’s son was avenged.