Part of the intent of this blog is to help educate those people with an interest in folklore or some aspect of Balkan heritage and tradition. It’s interesting how enduring that idea of heritage can be. Thinking back to high school, where we had a decent sized Slavic population, we could rattle off not only one another’s ethnicities but also their origins, geographically. For example, just among my Serbian friends, I knew Jelena was ‘from’ Strmica, Neda was from Vrbnik, Željko from Bosanska Kostajnica, Dara from Josipdol, etc etc – but, we were all born in Hamilton. That connection to a place our parents came from was somehow present in us, whether or not we had even ever visited it. Moreover, we knew it accounted for differences in our vocabulary, what our mothers cooked at home – all of those things that we came to know as distinct for ‘our’ regions.
This passing knowledge was actually hinting at something bigger that ethnologists already knew, and we (at that age) had yet to discover. If you look at the Balkans, you can see patterns of similarity or unity of culture. You can find, for example, isoglosses – borders between dialects; you can see where, in the big picture of Serbian and Croatian language, the words for “what” are što/šta, ča, or kaj; where the architecture of homes tends to be similar, and where the costumes are similar. These areas of commonality are sometimes bigger or broader than geographic or historic divisions, and sometimes very nuanced within themselves. They are called ethnocultural zones.
Within each of these zones, a variety of factors – historic, religious, environmental – have influenced the material (pottery, costumes, decorative arts) and non-material culture (songs, folk tales, dances, folk beliefs) to develop in similar ways. Now, there are a variety of ways to divide up the Balkans into these zones, and like anything else in the Balkans, ethnographers will insist that one or another way is the right one. Moreover, the zones change or shift when you look at some specific aspects; hence, we can identify an overall ethnocultural zone, but find that within it, two ethnochoreological zones (zones of commonality of dance forms) meet or overlap.
I’m going to try, over the course of a number of posts, to address the general ethnographic traits of those parts of the Balkans where there is or has been a Serbian population over the centuries. The first to really try to categorize Serbian traditional culture was Serbian anthropologist Jovan Cvijić. His captial work, The Balkan Peninsula and the South Slavic Lands (Balkansko poluostrvo i južnoslovenske zemlje), in which he discusses what he terms cultural belts (kulturni pojasi) is still a standard for students of Balkan anthropology and ethnology. Cvijićs zones generally coincide with the ones outlined by the noted Croatian ethnographer, Milovan Gavazzi, in his work, The Origins and Fates of Folk Traditions (Vrela i sudbine narodnih tradicija). These zones often follow geographic landmarks or divisions (i.e. the Alpine Zone, the Adriatic Zone) and traverse national borders (i.e. the Šop Zone, or Šopluk).
I’ve found that, when it comes to costume, there are different considerations to keep in mind, as compared to using the zones for other aspects of material culture. I’ve produced several maps over the years, and these two, I believe, are a good representation of how to classify Serbian folk costumes:
It should be noted that both Gavazzi and Cvijić analyzed the entire Balkan peninsula, including all of its South Slav cultures. My maps generally cover the areas where Serbs live, but would also apply to Croatian costumes (Adriatic, Pannonian, Dinaric) Slovene (Alpine) and Bulgaro-Macedonian (Šop, Vardar).
I’ve also made an interactive map using the online tool Thinglink (highly recommend it to anyone in teaching!). This map has interactive links to videos or audio files that will give you a good introduction to the diversity of Serbian traditional culture. Red tags represent traditionally Serb-inhabited areas; Black tags are for Urban culture among Serbs; Blue tags are for diaspora enclaves, areas where Serbs are a minority living among others. You can access the Zones of Serbian Traditional Culture here.
As the blog evolves, I hope to dedicate posts to each of the zones individually.