People often ask why I am so intent on preserving costume pieces and helping others learn more about them. One of the major reasons I do so is because costume pieces are tangible pieces of the past, and in that sense, tangible evidence of the existence of a people.
The costume I’ve chose for this blog post is, to me, particularly important in this sense. Tetovo, a city in the northwestern part of Macedonia, lies on the slopes of the Šar Planina mountain range. On the other side, in Kosovo region, Serbian villages persist and form one of the struggling Serb enclaves on the mountain. In Tetovo and the surrounding area, a similar situation has occurred for both Macedonian and Serb villages, where Slavs have become a minority.
Tetovo has a long history, and a peppered and often disputed one. It lies in the Polog region, which has upper and lower divisions. (Gornji i Donji Polog). Serbs once lived throughout Polog, their settlements scattered, following the Vardar river from its source near Gostivar in the west, past Tetovo and its villages, Jegunovce to the north of Skoplje. The Šara mountain range defined the northern edge of Polog.
Polog was home to some interesting figures in Serbian history and culture. Petar Novaković, called Petar Čardaklija, was from the Gostivar area. He was one of the first statesmen of an emerging Serbian state during the First Serbian Uprising (1804 – 1812). The ethnographers Toma Smiljanić – Bradina and Jovan Trifunoski were from the region, as was the artist Mladen Srbinović. But to me, the most wonderful of Tetovo’s children was the golden-voiced Mara Djordjević. Mara spent her life divided between Tetovo and Priština, and is best remembered as the singer who preserved and promoted folk songs of both districts, singing for Radio Priština and later for Radio Belgrade. She performed with a folklore ensemble while living in Priština, and recorded records in Belgrade, all while raising her two sons. So it was a housewife that brought many beautiful, never before recorded songs to light, inspiring many other singers to build a repertoire of these beautiful songs
The ethnographer Milenko Filipović noted that in 1921, Tetovo had a roughly even split between Orthodox and Muslim citizens, the latter being a slight majority. Tetovo itself had four Orthodox churches at the time. Among the Orthodox, in six parishes, there were Slavs, Aromani, and Roma. Filipović was particularly interested in the persistence of the Slava, the patron saint’s celebration most closely tied to Serbian ethnic identity. He noted that the locals had an expression, “sve može da bude osim da čovek napusti slavu” – “all things are possible, except for a man to abandon his saint’s day”. The local custom began Slava celebrations on the eve of the saint’s day, locally called kana, from the verb kaneti, to invite. The household sends a boy with a flask of plum brandy to go to houses and invite guests. To accept the invitation, one would drink a shot of brandy, saying “Fala vi, neka vi je srećno!” (Thank you, may it be joyous!); the boy would be given a small token, an apple, a pear, a string of dried figs, etc. On the day of Slava (also known locally as služba), the main gate of the household was opened and remained wide open until the days after slava (paterice). Filipovic recorded many traditional toasts for Slava, and an unusual song sung at the dinner table, a counting song or razbrajalica that lists Orthodox religious images from 1 Christ to 12 Apostles. This song was a unique Slava tradition of the Tetovo Serbs. Of particular importance to all of the Orthodox in Polog were the feasts of the Dormition and of the Nativity of the Mother of God. (Aug. 28, Sept. 22). Celebrations on those two days occurred at the monastery in the village of Lešok. Aromani families all celebrated Dormition as their family slava, as well. Toward Gostivar, in western or lower Polog, the focus of summer panadjuri or sabori (saint’s day fairs) was the monastery of St. John, Sv. Jovan Bigorski.
Today, a few hundred Serbs live in the Polog region, scattered mainly in Gostivar, Tetovo, Jegunovce and Tearce townships. There is a concerted effort to destroy the history of the region’s Slavic populations, in print and electronic media, to justify the almost total displacement of Slavs by the Albanian population which is the present majority. As usual, our monasteries, churches and graves stand as witness to our past, but ethnographers, musicians, folklore ensembles can document it and bring it to life in song, dance and costume.
The Polog costume reflects its district in many ways. There are commonalities with costumes of Kosovo, Mavrovo, Kičevo and even Kukesh in Albania. Between Serbian and Macedonian costumes of eastern Polog, there was no real difference or distinction; the western Polog Serb costume is less elaborate than the Macedonian ones. The materials reflect both the rural and urban economies; Tetovo in Ottoman times was a trade centre, and goods of both east and west passed through it regularly. In the festive and bridal costumes of Polog one could find homespun klasnja wool cloth from the village, silver jewellery made in Ottoman style by local craftsmen, kerchiefs of silk, damask and satin from both Venice and Constantinople, all together.
The parts of the costume in Tetovo district:
Košuljče – short cotton shirt with a decorated bodice
Košulja – long linen shirt with elaborate embroidery
Jelek – long open vest with velvet bodice, decorated in gold thread srma
Klašenik, Sajče – vest worn over the jelek, made of rolled white wool cloth klašnja
Skutača, pregača – woven apron
Kolan, kolunče – leather belt, meant to keep the two vests in place
Nametuški – jewellery worn pinned to the vest
Upojaski – jewellery worn pinned to the sash
Podbradnik – passementerie strap worn under the chin, to keep kerchief in place
Šamija – kerchief made of the striped linen cloth known as srpsko platno
Ćustek – bead necklace, consisting of hand-strung tiny beads called manistra
Stramnik – decorative cloth tucked into the sash
Čarape, kalčini – knit socks
Opanci – leather footwear
The parts of the costume in Gostivar district:
Košulja – long white linen shirt, minimal or no ornamentation
Klašenik – open vest made of natural white klašnja cloth
Opregač – woven woolen multicoloured apron, worn almost like a skirt
Šamija – kerchief; stambolska (from Istanbul) or resajlija (with fringes, rese)
Ćusteci – manistra bead necklaces
Brisalče pembelija – decorative handkerchief
Preniz – kerchief decorated with srma, sequins and coins
Pafti – decorative buckles
Kalčini srmeni – socks knit of wool intermingled with srma
Opanci – leather footwear
Specific to the bridal costumes of Polog is the sokaj, a decorative headdress. (see centre illustration below). These watercolours were the work of Marija Malahova for the capital work, Macedonian Folk Costumes, 1963.
These are just two representations of costumes in the Polog district. There are many others, all very elaborate in number of garments and jewellery. Particularly beautiful are the Macedonian costumes of Debar and Drimkol. In Tetovo itself, the urban costume similar to that of Prizren or of Pristina would have been worn by wealthier women. Along with the village costumes highlighted here, they may have become museum relics, but they are witness to the historic, and continued, presence and unique, authentic culture of Macedonians and Serbs in the Polog district, despite the whirlwinds of events.
For further reading:
Filipović, Milenko S. (1931) Porodična slava i slične slave u Tetovu. GEMB vol. 6, pp. 15 – 27
Kličkova, Vera. Malahova, Marija (1963) Makedonski narodni nosii. EMM Skoplje. Ill. Olga Benson, Marija Malahova.