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Sfakians, the people of Sfakia

man from SfakiaThe Sfakians (Sfakianoi, Σφακιανοί), the local inhabitants of the area of Sfakia and the Hora Sfakion town, boast that they are descended from the Dorians who came down to Crete 2,000 years ago. That is why they look different from other Cretans. Here you will find many more tall, fair-haired men and women with light eyes and skin.

The Sfakians were once great sailors and even greater pirates, but they were always great warriors who played a leading part in all the struggles for freedom in Crete.

Many major Cretan risings against the Venetians and later the Turks began in Sfakia. The conquerors never lived here, not only because it was a tough life in the mountains but mainly because they were afraid of the inhabitants, who were used to living free.

Today the Sfakians remain genuine, fine specimens of Cretan manhood, always warlike. There are guns, military or “civilian”, in almost every house. They come out at weddings, christenings and every other celebration. Shots are fired to express joy or just for target practice using road signs. As the Sfakians like to say, “If we had had this level of armament in 1940, the Germans would never have taken Crete”.

The Sfakians, like all Cretans, are friendly and hospitable as long as you do not insult their wives, their pride or their country. This excessive sense of honour is the reason that the vendetta, the custom of revenge and taking the law into one’s own hands, has marked Sfakia more than any other part of Crete, plunging families into mourning and emptying whole villages.

Most people in Sfakia today are shepherds, with some also engaged in farming and, in recent years, tourism. Mass tourism has not come to Sfakia and probably never will, thanks to its mountainous terrain and inaccessibility.

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