Among Serbian folk songs, no river is more sung about than the Morava river. It is described as “moje selo ravno” – “my village in the plain”; “tiha reko” . “quiet river”; on the other side of the Morava (“s one strane Morave…”) one sees the prettiest girls; it floods its plains, it is cold, it is in places murky and in others clear. This river is the central line of Serbia proper, and gives its name to an ethnocultural zone that roughly stretches from the eastern banks of the Great Morava, to the Drina, the Southern Morava and the Danube. Within the zone, there are microregions, localities with specific variations on the general cultural hallmarks of the broader zone.
The Morava zone is where we find the region of Šumadija, or “woodlands” (from šuma, forest).
The costume of this region is sometimes offered up as an example of “the” Serbian folk costume, in the same manner that the Greek Evzoni and Amalia costumes are the “standard”, or Croatian Posavina or Šestine. Naturally, this is an oversimplification in each case – all nations everywhere show variations in costume, some more and others less. I like to call this the touristification of folk costume; in other words, the one you would see on a postcard or souvenir. In a sense, there is nothing wrong with that, but it belies the sheer complexity of our textile heritage as well as kind of cheating on the concept of the ideal or unique folk costume.
So, lets break down the typical Šumadija costume elements, and see how unique they really are.
The woman’s costume typically consists of an embroidered shift (košulja), over which are worn a densely pleated skirt (suknja plisirka), vest (jelek), apron (kecelja) and sash (pojas). Footwear are embroidered knit socks (čarape) and opanci, the distinctive curl-tipped leather or rawhide footwear of the region. The men’s costume consists of an embroidered shirt (košulja), woolen pants (čakšire or bridž pantalone) or linen ones in the summer, a vest and jacket (jelek, anterija), sash and footgear comparable to the women’s. Headgear for men was typically a lambskin šubara or wool-cloth šajkača; women wore kerchiefs (marame) depending on age and marital status.
Nothing could be more Serbian, right? I mean, we even sing about it: “jelek, anterija i opanci, po tome se znaju Srbijanci!” (jelek, anterija, opanci – these are how you recognize someone from Central Serbia)
Well, not quite. If we look at the origins of these costume pieces, we can see something very different:
Jelek: entered into Serbian costume by way of Ottoman influence, at first augmenting and then later supplanting the ancient Slavic garment, the zubun. The zubun is seeing a revival among folklore ensembles, but was only actually retained as part of folk costume by Serbian women in Dinaric regions and the more remote portions of Morava and Timok zones.
Kecelja: used to be a heavy wool apron, woven in a specific technique (klečanje) and always geometric in design. The costume we know has an embroidered apron, generally velvet, sometimes wool, with elaborate floral embroidery. Similar embroidery is on the košulja, also having replaced geometric designs. These are post WWI novelties, influenced by the Pannonian zone just across the Danube.
Plisirka: prior to the turn of the 20th century, totally unknown in the zone’s costumes. Back aprons, either simple flat ones or elaborate folded ones (pargari) were in use prior to WWI. They survive as elements of other Morava zone costumes, but not Sumadija’s. The plisirka is actually an urban clothing element modified to village production modes and materials.
Anterija: represents only a subtle shift in costume. The men’s traditional jacket (gunj or koporan) was less ornamented but similar in cut, style and cloth. Again, this is an adoption of the Ottoman anteri.
Čaksire: replaced the Turkish influence poturlije as the trousers of choice for men in the region. The material remained the same, generally heavy wool cloth.
Šajkaca, Bridž pantalone: both entered the folk costumes during the Balkan Wars and WWI, as they were part of the military uniform of the Principality and later Kingdom of Serbia. Bridž is from the English word britches.
There are many variants within the Morava zone throughout the microregions. Pomoravlje (i.e. Požarevac, Svilajnac, Ćuprija districts), Mačva (Šabac district), Dragačevo (Guča district) are just a few, each showing some influences of other zones such as Pannonian and Dinaric.
You can access an interactive description of the Morava zone costumes here.