Пољаница – Poljanica

Poljanica is the area centred around the upper course of the Veternica river, a tributary of the Southern Morava river. As it flows towards the city of Leskovac, it passes through a gorge (klisura), and the villages there constitute a smaller microregion called Klisura, or Veternička Klisura. Mountains separate it from the rest of the Vranje district, the historic region called Inogošt or Vinogoš. Towards the west, mount Golak separates Poljanica from Kosovo.

Map of Poljanica

At the time Rista Nikolić visited the area on behalf of the Serbian Ethnographic Journal, this mountain represented the border between liberated Serbia and the Ottoman Empire. In the early 20th century, Poljanica belonged to the Leskovac municipality. This was based on the lay of the land, since the Veternica river flowed toward that city. After the second world war, it became part of the Vranje municipality, based on proximity. Needless to say, the inhabitants of Poljanica have a bit of an identity crisis when telling people where they’re from: Vranje, or Leskovac? My own father’s village, Strešak, is by straight line distance closer to Vranje, but he always used to say that he was from Leskovac. Rista Nikolić was told repeatedly by locals that Poljanica belongs to Leskovac (“Poljanica ide u Leskovačko”) and the inhabitants considered themselves Leskovčani. Underlying this, there is an apparent awkwardness when discussing the two cities with locals. Nikolić and others note that Poljaničani are known for being hard working. Perhaps this also influenced their declaration of origin, when asked. Generally, Leskovčani see themselves as harder working, and look on Vranjanci as somewhat lazy; Vranjanci, on the other hand see themselves as bon vivants and think Leskovčani don’t enjoy life enough, that they’re boring sticks in the mud. After the second world war, Poljanica became part of the municipality of Vranje, and people now generally identify more strongly with Vranje as a result.

Young Lieutenant Stepa Stepanović

People often think that, with the Rebellions of 1804 and 1815, Serbia was fully liberated. In reality, those rebellions (plus Hadži-Prodan’s rebellion of 1814) were really just the first step. The Serbian South, including Kosovo, remained Ottoman until after the Balkan wars, 1912-13. In between that time there were many small, local rebellions that slowly chipped away at “The Sick Man of Europe”, including one in Poljanica. In 1841 locals began to rebel against the Turks in guerilla warfare (čete) and the Serbian Army Šumadija Corps arrived in 1846, under the leadership of General Jovan Belimarković and then Lieutenant Stepa Stepanović. This was a key step in the eventual liberation of Vranje in 1848.

When Rista Nikolić surveyed Poljanica in 1902-03, he defined what he called “Prava Poljanica” – “True Poljanica”, which included the villages and towns of: Biljanica, Vlase, Golemo selo, Golema Luka, Gradnja, Drenovac, Dobrejance*, Donja Oruglica, Drezgovica, Dragobužde, Kruseva Glava, Lalince, Lipovica, Mijakovce, Melovo, Oruglica, Ravni Del*, Roždace, Sikirje, Smilović, Stance, Strešak, Trstena*, Urmanica, and Uševce. He separated the villages of Tumba, Studena; Barje, Kaluđerce, Oštra Glava, Mijovce, and Dupeljevo as belonging to Klisura (with some uncertainty about Ravni Del). Some of these were Albanian villages at the time (see asterisks), but it is worth noting that he encountered Christian Albanians in Lalince, Ravni Del, and Donja Oruglica, the lattermost being “latini” – Catholics. The ethnic demographic shifts that happened during and as a result of the Serbo-Turkish wars were multiple. For example the village of Lalince was in the distant past entirely Serbian, but then Albanian Christians were settled by the Ottomans, until Serbian resettlement happened again. My own grandmother’s great uncle, Ivko Ristić, moved from Strešak to Lalince after the liberation of Poljanica in 1878. As a result of Yugoslav politics after WWII, more shifts happened and today a number of them have unfortunately become almost entirely Albanian villages.

Collection of images of Poljanica and Klisura. Click to enlarge.

Poljanica and Klisura villages were of the scattered (razbijena sela) with houses clustered in groups called male, from the Turkish mahale – neighbourhood. Male were generally separated by natural features like streams, or by pastures or fields. Outside of villages families had trle, work settlements with kolibe, small cabins for shelter and storage of tools for milking livestock, harvesting fruit, etc.

The language in Poljanica is different from other southern regions including Vranje Morava valley. It is not as deeply influenced by the Torlak dialects of the east, and is closer to standard Serbian. In pronunciation, they have no fleeting -a (“swallowed -a”), i.e. ostan, not ost’n (stay), zubun, not z’b’n (long vest). Poljaničani do not use possesive “na” i.e. not kuća na Stevan Gojkov, but kuća Stevana Gojkova; not majka na Lena, but Lenina majka or majka Lene. They have a tendency towards -e in the Dative case, instead of -i, i.e. reci majke instead of reci majci (tell your mother), ode kuće instead of odoh kući (I’m going home). In Poljanica there’s an unusual substitution of -đ where -d properly appears: ajđemo instead of ajdemo (let’s go), jeđi instead of jedi (eat).

Nikolić noted that it was a very devout population, and he recorded the presence numerous churches throughout the district. He noted that they were particularly mindful of fasts (postovi), with the women boiling all wooden cookware in large pots prior to the beginning of Lent in order to rid it of all traces of animal foods. The family slava is a household’s major annual celebration, with St. Nicholas and St. Michael the Archangel being the most frequent winter feasts (zimske slave) and St. Elijah and Dormition (Velika Gospojina) being most common of the summer holy days (letnje slave). Village slave, locally called krste, are very important socially and religiously.

Dobrejance Crkviste
Crkvište shrine in Dobrejance.

Villagers would go to each others’ krste, which included: Lalince – Pentecost, Duhovi; Strešak – Ascension, Spasovdan; Urmanica – the Saturday prior to St. Peter’s day, Bela Subota; Mijakovce – St. Lazarus, Lazareva Subota; Dobrejance – St. Gabriel the Archangel, locally called Gorešnjak; Trstena – St. George, Djurdjevdan; Kruševa Glava – Dormition, Velika Gospojina; Studena – St. John the Theologian, Sv. Jovan Bogoslov; Tumba – St. Constantine and Helena, Cari. The places where churches once stood are called crkvišta and are respected and visited as shrines of a particular saint’s cult, e.g. Prokopije, the highest mountain peak by Golemo selo, would have a gathering on St. Procopius’ day at the foundations of an old chapel.

Unlike in neighbouring regions, apostasy (turčenje, poturčenje) was unheard of in Poljanica and Klisura; in the 1902 survey, people knew only anecdotally of some individuals in the town of Vlase. The importance of the Orthodox faith to identity is evidenced in the folk song “Džam Stojanke” (Fair Stojanka džam is a turkism for glass, hence as delicate and bright as glass)


Nikolić, Cvijić, Vukanović and Zlatanović all speak to how exceptionally musical the population was. Oddly, while Zlatanović (writing in the mid twentieth century) records many gusle players, Nikolić claims not to have encountered a single one. Perhaps this is evidence of revival of an ancient instrument by reintroduction; Zlatanović recorded unique versions of gusle epics on old themes common to other regions’ repertoires. The gajde (bagpipes) were a particularly important musical instrument, and were present at all celebrations such as the early morning gatherings called ranilo on St. George’s Day and St. Nicholas’ day, weddings, krste, zavetine

Some songs collected by Nikolić and Zlatanović illustrate the predominance of mythological and love themes. The deer is a creature associated with mystic good fortune and love, and appears in the song, Sadila Stana Bosiljak (Stana was planting basil):

Like the Vranje south Morava area, much of the songs that deal with matters of the heart are not romantic, but are of heartbreak, or even cautionary in tone. In “Božano bela, crvena” (Božana, fair and rosy) a friend questions why Božana has given a token of love to a thief:


“I just want to meet a nice guy”…. Goes for the bad boy who breaks her heart. Universal love problems apparently never change.
Poljanica folk songs stand out in recognizing that young men are not immune to the pangs of love. One young man admires his love from afar:

In the song “Srce mi boluje” (“My Heart Aches”, a variant of a wedding song from Kosovo), another young man suffers from a problem others would envy: three girls like him, and he can’t decide which to choose. He thinks he’ll die from this dilemma:

Finally, when all the pieces come together, and the honeymoon is over, one young bride finds out that she didn’t just marry her man, she married his family too. In “Nevesta ide na vodu” (The young bride goes to fetch water) she laments:


In Poljanica, the costume is not called nošnja, but ruvet. Most of the elements came from materials produced at home, which is locally called samotkajka. The basic fibres are hemp, cotton, wool, and goat hair – kozina or kostret. Very little of the costume is made from commercial fabrics or trims, such as silk gajtan and jacquard passementerie (širit) purchased for decorative elements. Oldest male costumes were of white sukno. Nikolić interviewed elderly men who continued to wear such dress and they recalled only white costume in their childhoods and youth. Used to have toske (fustanella type kilts) etc. Later, clothes made from dark fabrics, or crna dreja, came into use. By the time of Filipović’s fieldwork, this costume variant had completely died out, the last wearers having died by 1915.
The turn of the century male costume consisted of:

Košulja – usually of cotton cloth, of simple pattern and with no ornamentation.

Čakšire – in the past, made of white sukno cloth but later darker brown or black; the white ones were wider and looser in pattern,

Jelek Donjak, Grudnjak – “lower” vest, thin sukno, white brown, worn over the shirt; older variants of the vest did not fold over, but after WWI this style was adopted (influence of Leskovac)

Mintan – brown sukno, long sleeves, instead of donjak

Jelek Gornjak – “upper” or outer vest; open, not folding, trimmed with braid and čoja applique, and having a high collar (lowered later “po šumadijski”)

Pojas – wide woolen, generally of one colour, red (alen) or indigo blue (civit), up to 5 m long.

Gunj, gunjče – a simple jacket with long sleeves; waist length, made of klašnja except for those intended for work, or worn by shepherds which were from coarse goat fibre, kozina or kostret.

Dolama, Mintan – long sleeves with braid trim, diagonal slit pockets and a short upright collar; a knee-length winter or festive garment.

Gunjar – long sleeves, mid thigh length; winter garment, often the garment of shepherds

Čarape – dark maroon, deep yellow, black base with embroidery

Šubara – an older type, made from astrakhan sheepskin

Šajkača – newer type, Serbia’s military cap

Poljska kapa – literally “field cap”, also worn in Leskovačko polje; a black knit cap for every day wear, especially in the Klisura

Silav – wide leather belt which by Nikolić’s time was only worn by older men, from the Serbo-Turkish wars (1876 – 1878)

Taračuk – a primitive but functional goatskin bag

Torba – a smaller open bad woven from kostret

Opanci – soled type, with a lighter coloured upper, and a darker tanned leather sole

stare muske nosnje
Two nineteenth century watercolours by Nikola Arsenović, showing old variants of costume from villages just beyond Poljanica. L, village of Zladovce near Vranje, shows the white variant of costume, with heavy gunjar or dolama. R, village of Brestovac near Leskovac, showing a dark cloth variant that Nikolić encountered. The costume in Poljanica reflects influences from the two centres of influence closest to the region, Leskovac and Vranje.
poljanicani 1
Illustration of Poljanica costume with older elements. L to R: Young man wearing šajkača cap, mintan jacket and dolama, carrying woven torba; Shepherd wearing šubara, donjak vest, gunjar coat, carrying goatskin taračuk; Older maried woman wearing kolija over jelek, with darker coloured zapaska and futa; Younger married woman wearing dolama over jelek, with bright coloured zapaska and futa. (illustrated by A.S., 2018)
psaca paskac family
Founders’ composition showing family of the nobleman Paskač, L to R: Wife Ozra with grandson Uglješa, Paskač holding a model of Psača Monastery together with son Vlatko Paskačić, and Vlatko’s wife Vladislava (in a skirt evoking futa designs) flanked by younger son Uroš and older son Stefan. From Monastery Psača.

Like male garments, most of the female costume elements were produced from homespun materials. Women used to wear Kosovo-type elements such as bojče krpa and saja, but by the turn of century this had changed. Several other outer garments made of klašnja had also fallen out of use. By the time of Filipović’s fieldwork, this was still only being made in the more remote villages of Poljanica and no longer being made in Vranje Morava valley. (He also notes that the preferred klašnja was galička klašnja, made in Galičnik). The real works of art are the woven skirts or fute. Although less ornate than those of Pčinja district, and more subdued in colour than those of Leskovačko Polje, this garment is found throughout the Serbian south, with variants that to a familiar eye can tell district or village origin. The long, woolen skirts with their vertical stripes harken back to medieval Serbian weaving. The founders’ fresco (ktitorska kompozicija) from monastery Psača shows the family of the medieval nobleman Paskač. His domain was a district called Slavište that stretched from Poljanica to Kriva Palanka. Paskač and his son Vlatko funded the building of the monastery as a dependency (metoh) of Monastery Hilandar on Mount Athos. In the fresco, his daughter in law, Vladislava, is shown wearing a skirt that bears the patterns that we still recognize as a futa, deep red interrupted by vertical white-barred stripes.

The elements of female costume in Poljanica and Klisura are:

Košulja – simple white shift sewn from linen or hemp, later cotton, with no embroidery

Futa – heavy woollen skirt, wrap around with drawstrings; generally darker coloured for older and married women (dark striped or purple – morave, moravljike), brighter reds (alene, alenice) for girls; often decorated with silk gajtan braid at the hem.

Zapaska – a woven apron, of wool, hemp or mixed fibre with vertical stripes; young women’s aprons often had silk and srma metallic wire woven in, as well. Like the futa, they were decorated with vertical stripes and originally had no additional ornamentation. The zapaske of Poljanica differ from Leskovac aprons in that they are longer and wider, and also differ from Vranje Morava valley costume where aprons are not worn at all.

Jelek, gunjče – short vests; women often wore more than one, layered, i.e. one of thin cotton or commercial cloth and another of thicker brown or black čoja cloth.

Dolaktica – fell into disuse by the turn of the 20th century, but akin to that worn in nearby areas of Kosovo; white klašnja cloth with gajtan and čoja applique trim. Open bodice, with short sleeves reaching roughly to the elbow.

Bojlek, bojelek – a long open vest made of lighter material, usually hemp or cotton; a lighter, summer garment worn over a jelek.

Pojas – very wide woolen sash, up to 25 cm, often with additional embroidery for festive wear by younger women; made on a red or black base with vertical coloured stripes. Worn to bind the bojlek and futa, with zapaska over it

Mintan – long sleeve jacket made of čoja, generally a winter garment.

Kolija, Dolama, Džube – various names for a group of similar garments made of white or taupe klašnja (kolija or dolama) or black klašnja ( for the džube); sleeveless, hip-length open vest of the zubun type (although the word zubun is not used locally).

Šamija, tulben – cotton kerchief; white, yellow, or olive green (zejtinljava)

Čarape – knee high sockes, darker shades of wool for married women, brighter reds for girls

Opanci – various were worn: the open rawhide vrnčan type with long binding straps, as well as the soled tanned leather type.

Kundure, kundre – tanned leather shoes, worn only by married women initially; they were given their first pair on their wedding day.

Pafte – generally only worn on festive occasions by younger girls

Žuta Igla – square or triangular pendant with coins, brass, niello silver, gold.

It should be mentioned that many of these garment names are also the names of levantine style garments of urban costume. This leads to some confusion and hesitation, even among natives of the region, when speaking of their ruvet. Filipović encountered this, even as late as 1960. Whether this arose as a 20th century problem (resulting from greater communication and cultural contact between Poljanica and the rest of Serbia) is hard to say. Nikolić does not note any such confusion among his informants, but does clarify terminology for his readers on several occasions. Poljanica’s relative isolation preserved unique, and sometimes redundant, terminology well up until modern times.

Vladislav Titelbach’s drawing of a woman from the vicinity of Vranje, wearing her kerchief tied in the tulben manner. On a cold day, apparently.

Poljanica costume is hard to come by for a variety of reasons, but you can lump them into two categories: history and tradition. The looting of villages by various foreign armies throughout the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries destroyed or stole much of this material heritage, and a great deal of it was lost through the tradition of setting aside one’s wedding day clothing for one’s eventual burial. (neither of these is unique to Poljanica, but it seems to be foremost reason here rather than elsewhere Serbs live). The pieces I have from Poljanica were acquired from true Poljaničani, Dragoljub Stošić from Trstena (now living in Vranje), and Predrag Milošević from Lalince (now living in Leskovac) (see? Poljanica Identity Crisis alive and well). Mr. Stošić sold me a type of futa called an alenica, bright red for young girls, and a dark vest made of čoja. Mr. Mihailović offered me his grandmother’s bojlek, košulja and pojas – I am honoured to preserve it in her memory. The dark futa and zapaske were from a collector in Niš.

Poljanica Udata
Older woman’s costume comprising summer thin cloth jelek, hemp cloth bojlek, and dark coloured pojas, all from Lalince; dark-base zapaska from Golemo Selo; futa can only be seen peering from beneath bojlek – it is black with dark red stripes, from Trstena. The hemp cloth košulja is from Trstena. Kerchief is cotton, zejtinljiva olive green colour. Married women ofter carried a folding knife or britva tucked into their pojas. This was both a symbol of her status in the household, an object of protective magic, and a practical tool.
Poljanica Details 1
Some details of the older married woman’s costume, including the britva (L) and the futa (R) which was not visible in the full costume due to layers of garments.
Poljanica 4
Details of (L to R) the married woman’s costume vest, and her heavy wool zapaska; the unmarried woman’s zapaska of lighter cotton and hemp fibre, with gold thread.
Poljanica devojka
Young unmarried woman’s costume, comprised of cotton košulja from Smiljević, vest and futa from Trstena, and brightly coloured zapaska with gold srma interwoven and trimming the edges. The futa and pojas are very long, making it difficult to dress without assistance. The šamija is cotton cloth, in a pale yellow colour. The pojas has a decorative pin, and around her neck the woman wears an amulet or amajlija. It is a silver box which contains a mystical text (prayer, bible verse, psalm) and is then soldered shut.
Poljanica Details 2
Some details of the young woman’s costume. The vest and the futa are both richly decorated with thick gajtan braid, something totally absent in the clothing of married women. The same is true of the use of gold thread in weaving the zapaska, or gold passementerie on its borders. Both the amulet and the pin are of niello silver.
Poljanica 3
Details of the silver amulet and pin which are part of the younger woman’s costume.

What was interesting about my dealings with Dragoljub and Predrag was that from our first contact, I was embraced as family… in fact, this has been my experience whenever I have met people from Vranje and Leskovac areas. Making the connection has helped me feel closer to my father’s region of birth, something I never quite felt as connected to simply because of circumstance. My mother’s Dalmatian family were numerous, while my father had none; only he survived the second world war. He adopted my mother’s family truly as his own. Also, given that he spent his teen years and young adulthood in Užice – Čajetina region, he tended to speak more of it than Poljanica. I never really tried to pry more out of him, because clearly it was not something he wanted to speak of very much at all. After all he went through, especially during WWII, I can’t say I blame him. But it has meant that I knew a lot about my mom’s family and her region, and even visited them, but I had nobody to visit or seek out in Poljanica. After my father’s death, the call of Poljanica and of Strešak has only gotten stronger, and I do hope to see it one day.

For Further Reading:

Arsenović�, Nikola, Mitar S. Vlahovi�ć, and Bosiljka Radović. National Costumes of Serbia in the Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade: Water-colours by Nikola Arsenović, 1823-1885. Belgrade: Magazine “Jugoslavija, “, 1954. Print.
Cvijić, Jovan. Balkansko Poluostrvo. Edited by Mihailo Maletić, Srpska Akademija Nauka i Umetnosti, first publication, 1922; edition 2000, SANU Belgrade.
Filipović, Milenko Beleške o seoskoj nošnji u Vranjskom Pomoravlju. Glasnik Etnografskog Muzeja u Beogradu vol. 22-23, pp. 159 – 169. Ethnographic Museum of Belgrade, 1960.
Nikolić, Rista T., and Svetozar Tomić. Poljanica i Klisura: Antropogeografska ProučŒavanja. Edited by Stanoje M. Mijatović, Srpski Etnografski Zbornik, 1905.
Trifunovski, Jovan. Etnografske beleške iz Vranjske Kotline. Glasnik Etnografskog Muzeja u Beogradu vol. 20. pp. 166 – 181. Ethnographic Museum of Belgrade, 1957.
Vukanović�, Tatomir P. Vranje: Etnička Istorija i Kulturna Baština Vranjskog Gravitacionog Područja u Doba Oslobođenja Od Turaka, 1878. Edited by Petar S. Jovanović, vol. 13, Radnički Univerzitet u Vranju, 1978.
Zlatanović, Momčilo. Poljanica. Edited by Svetozar Stijović, Učiteljski Fakultet Vranje, 1998.