Босанска Крајина – Bosanska Krajina

Bosanska Krajina is a term referring to the northern portion of Bosnia, bounded by the rivers Vrbas and Sava, and the Dinaric alps in the west. It was a region that for centuries represented the frontier of the Ottoman Empire, abutting directly against the Austro-Hungarian Military Frontier (Vojna Krajina). The word kraj means the end of something, or a region, and “Krajina” is used to designate a number of districts and micro-regions historically inhabited by Serbs (Timočka Krajina, Bela Krajina, Kninska Krajina etc). It is found in other Slavic languages as well; for example, Ukraine is a toponym derived from the Russian v’krajina, “in the outskirts”. Krajina, when applied to any area, has that connotation of being the outskirts, an outlying or remote area. The mountainous terrain of Bosanska Krajina certainly made it difficult to traverse and settle, and in that sense remained remote for a very long time.

Map of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929. Vrbas Banovina is shown in yellow, in the centre left portion of the map.

This region corresponded roughly to the Vrbas Province (Vrbaska Banovina) of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and is just one small part of the vast Dinaric Ethnocultural Zone stretching from Slovenia’s Bela Krajina all the way to Western Serbia. Anthropologist and ethnographer Jovan Cvijic considered the Dinaric zone the most pure representation of Serbian folk culture, unadulterated by outside influences. He characterized both the people and the traditional culture as so closely linked to nature and the karsts, springs, forests and mountains of their territory that it was expressed in their costume, music, tales, and customs.

A son of the Bosanska Krajina, Petar Kočić, wrote a series of articles and stories about his native district, Zmijanje. They were published as a single book, “Jauci sa Zmijanja” – “Lament from Zmijanje”, and with the passing of time this work has only grown in importance as an ethnographic and historic document. It describes his travels In his book, Kočić engages an old villager, Milić Vujinović, in conversation. Milić explains how the boundaries of Zmijanje were once much greater than they were in his, and in our, day:

E, dijete, veliko je jednom Zmijanje bilo! Zmijanjska je međa – Turci vele udut – išla od rijeke Sane pa iznad sela Slatine, pa na Katunište pa na Mliništa – tuj ima kamen mašet – pa od skokova Deli-Radojice na selo Perduve, od Perduva do rijeke Pljeve, pa Pljevom do Vrbasa – đe Pljeva skače u Vrbas, tuj je kamen mašet – pa sad sve niz Vrbas, niz Vrbas, niz Vrbas do sela Jakupovca, od sela Jakupovca okreće međa na Rukati Rast navr Kozare – eno ga i danas! – pa od Rukatog Rasta pravo u Sanu. Eto, to vam je bilo staro Zmijanje prije Kosova!”

“Oh, my child, Zmijanje was once larger! The boundary of Zmijanje – what the Turks call udut =- went from the river Sana to just above the village of Slatina, then to Katunište and then on to  Mlinište – there’s still a marker stone there – then from the waterfalls of Deli-Radojica to the village of Perduve, from Perduve to the river Pljeva [Pliva], then down the Pljeva to the Vrbas – where the Pljeva jumps into the Vrbas there’s another marker stone – and now all the way down the Vrbas, down the Vrbas, down the Vrbas, to the village of Jakupovac, from Jakupovac the boundary turns toward Rukati Rast right into the Sana. There, that was the old Zmijanje, before [the battle of] Kosovo! [1389]

Petar Kočić, Jauci sa Zmijanja, Zagreb 1910.

ZMijanje Map 2
(map from Bugarski, 1985)

Today, the area considered Zmijanje is bounded by the Vrbas River, mount Manjača, and the hills and valleys just north of Mrkonjić Grad. The monastery Gomionica, toward Banja Luka, represented an important spiritual centre for the people of of this district. The height of Zmijanje’s expanse and population was in the 16th century. A rapid decline occurred after WWII when the new communist regime resettled hundreds of families from Zmijanje to Banja Luka and Vojvodina; this was a reprisal against the staunchly anti-communist sentiment and resistance of the Zmijanjci (inhabitants of Zmijanje). Similar resettlements happened in Northern Dalmatia, Lika, Kordun, Hercegovina, and parts of Montenegro, all for the same reason. Even Kočić knew and recorded that Zmijanje was “for many centuries, ethnically undoubtedly Serbian” (“od vajkada nacionalno nesumnjivo srpska”)

To say that the folk costume of Zmijanje is stunning, is an understatement. Again, Petar Kočić, in his short story Sa Zbora (From the Fair) describes the masses of people heading to the monastery zbor at Gomionica:

Stunali su muškarci, a za njima se nizao oveći osuk ženske čeljadi u čistim bijelim rubinama. Kroz ranu, jutarnju svježinu bjelasale su se i lepršale ženske bošče, blještali se i prelivali na mladinskim i djevojačkim punim njedrima svijetli i vlažni gerdani i crvenili fesovi na muškim glavama”

“The men descended, and trailing behind them was a large crowd of women in their pure white shirts. Through the freshness of early morning, the kerchiefs fluttered and shimmered white, the bosoms of young maidens overflowing with the shiny silver coins flashed in the sunlight, and the bright red of the men’s fezes was piercing”

Petar Kočić, Sa Zbora, Beograd, 1905

Zmijanje Benson.jpg
Woman and man from Mrkonjić Grad. Watercolours by Olga Benson.

The basic garment of both men’s and women’s costume is a linen or hemp cloth shirt, the košulja. This cloth was woven on narrow looms, so as a result both were made beginning with a length of cloth simply folded over, with an opening for the head cut through at the fold. For men’s shirts, the cloth was shorter, and the sleeves were simple and broad. Women’s shirts were expanded with the addition of klinovi, triangular pieces sewn into the side of the garment, and a small insert of cloth under the shoulder to make for a more comfortable sleeve. Collector and anthropologist Blanche Payne visited the Balkans in two periods, 1929-1930 and 1936-1937. On her return, she made detailed sketches of the patterns of these shirts.

Zmijanje Payne Patterns
Pattern drawings of dresses and a jacket, zubun, from Zmijanje. Drawn by Blanche Payne c. 1930 – 1937. From Blanche Payne Digital Archives, University of Washington. These and much more can be seen and downloaded there.
Zmijanje Sleeve
Details of a sleeve (L) and bodice (R) of a young woman’s dress, or košulja. L, photo courtesy of Zemaljski Muzej Sarajevo. R, personal photo, 1986, EMB.

Either type of shirt was richly embroidered in cross stitch embroidery, men’s mainly at the sleeve hems and along the front opening, with additional copious embroidery down the length of the sleeve and the hem of the skirt in women’s košulje. The outstanding aspect of the embroidery is that it exclusively made in dark blue or black wool thread. This is only found in this tiny portion of the Bosanska Krajina, and beyond that, only in the far southern microregion of Skopska Crna Gora in Macedonia. The arrangement of embroidery was dictated by tradition, of course: on the bodice, two paired panels called krpice; at the shoulder seams, prerukavlje; on the sleeve hem, zarukavlje; occasionally, the skirt hem, skuti; and the collar, kolijera. This arrangement is also typical in the northern Dalmatian districts of Bukovica, Ravni Kotari, and Cetinska Krajina, which speaks to the migrations and origins of the Serbs in these areas. The hallmark fibre for Dinaric costume is wool, and embroidery was generally done with the finest wool yarns possible. In the interwar period, cotton threads began to be used. Techniques varied, but mainly relied on variations of cross stitch, pokrstica, and stitches that involved counting threads. The most common ornamental elements were rhombuses and polygons known traditionally as jabuke (apples). Arranging them in a cross-like pattern created the krst od jabuka (cross of apples), a usual ornament on kerchiefs.  Border or outline patterns were often done in repeating S or Z shaped curves called mrka kuka (dark hooks) or krivujica (squiggles!). Larger ornaments, for the bodice or sleeve, included đulići (rosebuds), ognjilo (the firesteel), kolo (the ring, technically a rhombus) loza krstačka (vine of crosses), grančice (twigs) and bjelolišće (white leaves, referring to the technique of outlining and filling in a background area, leaving an un-embroidered leaf shaped area). The revival of an interest in perpetuating the embroidery traditions of Zmijanje in the new millenium led eventually to a campaign to have the Zmijanje embroidery recognized as part of the UNESCO world heritage list. This happened in 2014, to the joy of many interested in the heritage and folklore of all Serbs, but especially for those in Bosnia. In turn, to commemorate this, the postal service of Republika Srpska issued the lovely stamps shown below.

Zmijanje Marke
Stamps issued in commemoration of the selection of Zmijanje Embroidery in UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list.

As in all Dinaric zone costumes, the distinction of marital status is very evident. Thus, we can list the parts of the costume of an unmarried girl (maiden’s costume, or djevojačka nošnja) as:

Košulja – as described earlier, an embroidered linen or hemp fibre cloth

Pregača – a woolen apron with long fringe; for girls, woven in bright designs using a technique called iveranje or nizanje; sometimes decorated with passementerie trims, coins, or beads (đinđuvi)

Lizdek, stražnja pregača – a short apron with very long fringe, worn to cover the backside

Kanica – a woolen sash woven on a small heddle loom

Rize – dark blue čoja cloth with silver coins (most frequently the Austro-Hungarian twenty kreuzer coin, locally called the cvancik) stitched to the front of the kanica, for unmarried girls

Zubun – waist or hip length open vest made from woolen sukno cloth, generally white for unmarried girls, darker for brides and married women

Haljina – a heavy woolen garment that has long sleeves and a bodice like a coat, but a wider skirt, worn in winter.

Kapa – a shallow, red felt cap decorated with silver coins.

Upletnjaci – strips of wool or silk cloth, embroidered and decorated with coins, that are plaited into braids

Čarape bugarke – knee high socks, either solid coloured or with knit ornaments toward the upper calf

Čarape skenderke – socks of wool cloth (čoja) that reach above the ankles, decorated in silk  or cotton embroidery and beadwork

Natikače – half socks, covering the toes and about half of the foot; worn in particular with oputnjak style opanci, so that the colourful designs can be seen through the straps.

Prišiv – a rectangle of wool cloth, with embroidered or trimmed edges, upon which silver coins are sewn; it is stitched onto the bodice of the košulja for girls of marrying age.

Đerdan – a necklace of silver coins and glass beads

Gerdan – a long apron covered in silver, representing a girl’s dowry; found throughout the Dinaric zone, and worn on special, public occasions

Pivac pafte – a type of silver belt buckle, ornately engraved, and with a pointed central point reminiscent of a rooster’s crest (rooster is pevac, pjevac or pivac)

Ogledalo – a small mirror suspended from a chain or silk cord, worn hanging from the kanica; meant to thwart the evil eye (i.e., anyone using the evil eye on you will have it reflected back on them)

Opanci – oputnjaši of rawhide, or crvenjaši made from tanned leather by craftsmen

Mlada Zmijanjka
Zmijanjska Mlada – Bride from Zmijanje. (from an old postcard). She has already been given the britva of a married woman. Notice how she averts her gaze and clutches at the mirror, to avoid the evil eye.
Zmijanje Culic Volfart
From Zorislava Čulić’s capital work on costumes from all of Bosnia and Hercegovina, two illustrations by Helena Volfart-Kojović: Left, two girls of marrying age. Right, man and married woman in winter costume.

A married woman’s costume has most of these elements, but with a few distinctions. First, the upletnjaci are usually omitted or if used, are simply coloured wool yarn. The silver jewelry is not worn; in centuries past, this would have been because women of a certain age would have passed them to their daughters by then. The colours of the pregača are more muted, and no additional ornamentation is added to them. The lizdek is not worn, and the haljina may be worn on a regular basis, unlike the young girl’s costume, where it is strictly a winter garment. In the oldest variants of the Zmijanje costume, the zubun of unmarried girls was white, while that of married women was dark blue; in the interwar period only the latter became current. Only married women may attach the britva, a small folding knife suspended on a chain, to their belt or sash. The head covering is the bošča, a kerchief with rich embroidery and a decorative cloth applique strip, called the mavez. For young married women, especially newlyweds who were referred to as mlada until the birth of their first child, the mavez was bright red. This type of kerchief might continue to be worn as long as they were raising young children. For older women, the bošča is still embroidered, but the mavez is dark blue instead. The significance of the bošča is such that it is part of the wedding ritual. After the wedding ceremony, when she has arrived in the groom’s home, female relatives of the groom bring her into the house, remove her cap, braid her hair in the manner of married women, and place the bošča on her head. She is then brought out and presented to the wedding guests as the new daughter in law. This ritual was once so central that the local term for “getting married” is “pokriti glavu” (to cover one’s head).

Zmijanje Stare Raz
Costumes of Bosanska Krajina in old photographs. Upper Left, woman from Zmijanje at the Market in Banja Luka. Upper right, villagers from Zmijanje resting from travel. Notice in both of these photos how clearly one can see the back apron or lizdek, once worn with this costume. Lower, group photo of Sokol Society members visiting Oplenac Church, 1930s. Several men are in the Zmijanje costume, as are three women, centre front and far right.

The men’s costume has some slight distinctions reflecting marital status or age, but they are fewer and less obvious. The men’s costume consists of:

Košulja – linen or hemp fibre shirt, with gathered sleeves (central Zmijanje) or wide sleeves (the remaining areas); decorated with embroidery on collar, at wrists and along the opening

Gaće – pants of linen or hemp fibre cloth

Rubine – a collective term for Košulja and Gaće. The shirt is worn tucked into the pants in central Zmijanje, and hanging over them elsewhere.

Pojas – wide woolen sash, wrapped around the waist up to three or four times.

Šarvale, šalvare – winter trousers of heavy wool cloth, black brown or dark blue, with a slit at the ankles which is closed with hooks or buttons, and decorated with a multicoloured fringe.

Haljina – sleeved, woolen winter upper garment, made of heavy sukno cloth.

Doganj – a version of the winter upper garment made of finer wool cloth, čoja, with embroidered and applique decorations

Bensilah, bensilav – a wide leather belt with gaps and pockets which could hold money, tobacco, or a weapon; worn by married men, of status.

Aljina, Gunjić – a wool cloth vest with embroidery on the front panels; generally worn by boys and younger men, and by older men on festive occasions.

Ječerma, Đečerma, Džamadan – varying names for the same garment, a vest made from fine red wool cloth and decorated with copious metal buttons, rings and plates (toke, alke, ilike)

Gunj, Kožun – a sheepskin vest, varying from waist to knee length.

Šubara – a sheepskin hat, more compact than those of eastern regions

Fes – in the older variant of the costume, a Levantine headgear made from felt, a fez

Šal – a red woolen scarf worn wrapped around the fez

Čarape – knee-high woolen socks knit from dark or light coloured wool

Nazuvci – colourful short socks reaching to the ankles

Opanci – either of the rawhide oputa type or of tanned crvenjaci type.

The right to wear a hat was gained by a young man when had reached maturity or a marrying age. Older married men, or men who were starešina in their extended family, wrapped the šal around their fez.

I acquired parts of a Zmijanje costume from a collector in Banja Luka, in 2011. The apron is from Gerzovo, the dress  and back apron from Stričići, and the kerchief from Ratkovo. The cap is a reconstruction using authentic Austro-Hungarian coins.

Girl’s costume from Zmijanje. Photo by Andrej Šakić, CASA Productions.
Detail of coins. (photo Andrej Šakić)
The back apron, or lizdek, is a very rare costume piece as it fell out of use around WWI
Zmijanje Pregace det
Zmijanje Weaving. L, detail of back apron or lizdek. Centre and right, details of pregača front apron.
Zmijanje Vez det
Zmijanje embroidery, from the bošča and košulja. (photos A. Šakić, A. Stošić)

Sipovo MapJust south of Zmijanje district is the town of Šipovo. This town is located on a branch of the Pliva river, with the smaller Janj, Sokočnica and Lugovačka rivers as tributaries. The area is rich in bronze age settlements, many still unexcavated, the mounds of which are called gradine locally. The Sokol fortress saw battles with medieval Hungarian and Ottoman armies, and it is a region of true natural beauty. I acquired a young woman’s costume from this district in 2012. It has many similarities to the Zmijanje costume, and is a good representation of the structure of so many costumes of the Bosanska Krajina. The main distinctions are: multicoloured embroidery, in a variety of techniques; a longer zubun, like that of the Janj costume; a tendency toward multicoloured fringe and sewn on passementerie on the pregače; the kapa is more ornate, and is retained in the costume of young engaged or married women; the latter also wear a different version of kapa which elevates and shapes the kerchief on the head. The kerchief is held in place by decorative pins.

Janj district costume. Illustration by Helena Volfart-Kojović, in Čulić, 1963.

The Janj type of zubun is very difficult to come by, and initially the provenance of the zubun shown here was told to me as Šipovo, from the collector who sold it to me. Further research has shown it to be Hercegovinian, and is a substitute in these photos for the actual one… until I get one! The costume parts are the following:

Košulja – linen shirt with multicoloured embroidery along the bodice, sleeves and hem

Pregača – woolen woven apron, with long fringes and commercial ribbon trim

Kanica – narrow woolen sash

Zubun – long open vest made from coarse sukno cloth, with braid and embroidery trim at the edges and seams

Haljina, aljak – long sleeved coat garment worn in winter; decorated with red braid.

Kapa – for girls, a cap deeper than the Zmijanje cap, with more ornaments, such as coins, wool tassels and pom-poms; for married women, a thin piece of wood covered with embroidered red cotton cloth, worn on the head and tied at the nape of the neck.

Bošča – Kerchief of white linen, with multicoloured floral and geometric embroidery.

Čarape – knit wool socks, dark or white wool

Natikače – colourful short socks, also knit from wool, but with additional embroidery

Đerdan – a necklace of silver coins, such as thalers (taliri)

Pafte – brass or silver plated buckles worn on the sash

Opanci oputnjaši – the rawhide oputnjak type of footwear.

Sipovo Cela
Partial costume from Šipovo. Photo by Andrej Šakić, CASA productions.
Sipovo Kosulja Bosca
Embroidery details from košulja and bošča, Šipovo.
Sipovo Pregaca
Details of the Šipovo pregača.
Sipovo Zubun
Details of a Dinaric Zubun, Bileća Hercegovina. Acquired in 2012.
Zmijanje Tri Nosnje
Variations of costumes of Bosanska Krajina, L to R: Janj, Zmijanje, Imljani.


Special thanks to Andrej Šakić for his photography skills (check out Casa Productions!) and also to Mr. Dario Drinić, whose pig-headed stubborness  and outright rudeness to me, about the non-existence of the back apron or cap in Zmijanje costume, inspired this post. Аnd also to Mr. Aleksandar Dragic, who can suck it. Izvoli. Inat je, zapravo, najbolji zanat.           ( And yes, there is a story there)

For further reading:

Bugarski, Astrida. Zmijanje. Ed. Radmila Kajmaković. Beograd: Etnografski Muzej, 1985. Exhibit Catalogue.

Čulić, Zorislava, Nevenka Marković, and Nada Tajšanović. Narodne Nošnje u Bosni i Hercegovini. Comp. Helena Volfart-Kojović. Sarajevo: Zemaljski Muzej, 1963

Fileki, Irena. Jednobojni Vez u Skopskoj Crnoj Gori i na Zmijanju. Ed. Mitar Mihić. Beograd: Etnografski Muzej, 1998. Print. Exhibit Catalogue.

“Intangible Cultural Heritage.”  Zmijanje Embroidery. UNESCO.

Karanović, Milan. Nasledna Kneževska Porodica u Zmijanju. Glasnik Zemaljskog Muzeja, Sarajevo (1931)

Karanović, Milan. Ženska Nošnja u Zmijanju. Glasnik Zemaljskog Muzeja, Sarajevo (1926)

Kočić, Petar. “Istinite Mejdandzije.” Petar Kočić: Sabrana Djela. Projekat Rastko, n.d.

Kočić, Petar. Jauci Sa Zmijanja. Srpska Štamparija, Zagreb. 1910.

Popović, Vaso. Narodne Nošnje Republike Srpske. Ed. Branimir Mašulović. Comp. Dušanka Ogar. Muzej Republike Srpske, Banja Luka: Gradski Muzej, Sombor, 1995. Print. Exhibit Catalogue.

“Shirt Sleeves (Zmijanje Embroidery).” Zemaljski Muzej Bosne I Hercegovine. ZMBH Sarajevo, 25 Mar. 2016.