“The citizens of Travnik, the wisest in all Bosnia, know more tales than anyone else, but rarely tell them to strangers, much as the rich are loathe to give away their money. One of their stories is worth three of anyone else’s; in their judgment, at any rate “
These words, from the preface of “The Vizier’s Elephant”, ring true when we consider that their author is likely the most well known author in modern Serbian literature. Ivo Andrić, recipient of the 1961 Nobel Prize in Literature for his capital work, “The Bridge on the Drina”, seems to have inherited this natural gift that it seems the people of Travnik, Travničani, have. According to an anecdote from Andrić, It is said that the locals contend that there are only three towns in Bosnia where wise people reside, and Travnik is one of them; however, they never say what the two other cities are.
Travnik, in the centre of Bosnia, is an ethnographically and historically interesting place. It became the seat of Ottoman Viziers and Austro-Hungarian governors, so the town itself has numerous mosques and some examples of Austrian style architecture in its public buildings and Catholic churches. The Catholic Church proselytized actively after the Austrians revived efforts to promulgate their faith in the late 18th century, and Travnik has an important Franciscan friary nearby at Guča Gora, built in the mid 19th century. Up until the mid 20th century, many local Catholics still self-identified as Serbs, ethnically. The Orthodox Serbs of the area only have one church in the town itself, but the surrounding villages were historically their habitation, especially on Mount Vlašić, itself deriving its name from vlah, a term (often derogatory) used by Catholics and Muslims to denote followers of the Orthodox faith, but also in medieval times a general designation for shepherd, which would also make sense for this mountainous area.
Just as Travnik lies at the rough halfway point between Sarajevo and Banja Luka, Vlašić is a kind of meeting point in terms of material culture. Some villages have costumes that clearly belong to the Dinaric type, as would be seen in nearby Bosanska Krajina, but others have the distinct Central Bosnian type, Srednjebosanski tip. This is distinctive style which shares some elements with costumes in both Dinaric and Sava river – Posavina zones.
The Travnik and Vlašić districts overall belong to the wider Dinaric ethnocultural zone when it comes to other ethnographic considerations – farming, traditional architecture, aspects of textile production and many aspects of musical tradition. The costume does stand out. Whereas the costumes of the Dinaric zone tend to be heavy, multilayered, and primarily of wool, the Central Bosnian costume type is light, bright and unique. Costumes of this type are worn in the areas that follow the course of the river Bosna, bounded in the east by the river Drina and to the northwest by the Lašva and Vrbas rivers. Zorislava Čulić, generally recognized as the leading expert on the costumes of Bosnia and Hercegovina, identified within this category sixteen general variants. Whereas other areas of Bosnia and Hercegovina – Dinaric, Posavina – show certain external influences that help make and define them, the Central Bosnian type is perhaps the most unique for this region, taking its influences only from neighbouring ethnographic types within Bosnia.
Characteristic of the Central Bosnian costume type was the bright white cloth called uzvodno platno or beza, produced from mixed cotton-linen or cotton-silk fibres in a fishbone weaving technique called na džever, such that it was textured in vertical rows. The sparkling white of these costumes is truly beautiful, and was found in both women’s and men’s garments. Among women’s costumes there are many variations: some wear an apron, while others do not; a greater variety of upper garments from town to town; distinctive head coverings and manners of tying kerchiefs. Men’s costumes were much more uniform throughout, having wide sleeved shirts, a preponderance for the use of black cloth, and the use of colour to identify ethnicity. For example, wrapping a fez with a long scarf or shawl was common to all three faiths, but red scarves were used by Serbs and Croats, while Moslem men wore striped or embroidered white scarves. Similarly, if gajtan braid was used to decorate a garment, red again designated the Christian population, but green was reserved for Moslems.
Elements that might be seen in a Central Bosnian men’s costume are the following:
Košulja – a white shirt, embroidered along the opening, with an upright collar; sleeves were trimmed with minute picot lace called kerice; the košulja was worn over the pants in summer but tucked into the pants during winter.
Gaće – trousers; a red hem at the ankles was the privilege of the village knez
Šalvare – winter trousers made from a black or grey loose-weave cloth locally referred to as woven “na koca” or “na pruca” (i.e., using a backstrap loom where the warp was supported by a dowel or stick, kolac or prut). Like other men’s trousers in the region, the leg openings had slits at the ankle that could be closed with ties or eye and hook fasteners.
Tkanica – woven sash about 15 cm wide and long enough to be wound around the waist three times, sometimes worn with a regular type of belt over it.
Tkanica od bobaka – festive beaded decorative belt about 3cm in width.
Bensilaj, Benzilah, Silav – different names for a single item: a broad leather belt with metallic decorations and having gaps in which small items could be kept.
Zubun – waist length vest, generally short enough so that it did not cover the tkanica fully, generally made from a thick but fine wool cloth called locally bugarija. (wealthier men wore šalvare made of this as well)
Gunj – a winter jacket, unadorned, generally of black wool cloth or kostret (goat hair cloth)
Čarape – socks knit from dark coloured wool, or in some costumes white; generally knee high, worn over trousers in summer, tucked into them in winter.
Priglavci – half-socks, knit such that the cover the foot from toes to about half the sole; meant to provide additional warmth in winter.
Opanci – most typically the oputnjak type, although by Filipović’s studies in 1937, most men wore black leather or rubber shoes.
Šarpelj – a woven or leather bag for carrying necessities, worn slung across the chest by its strap
Fes sa šalom – older variant of the costume saw men wearing a deep red fes, with a long red shawl or scarf wound around it.
Šubara – lamb fleece peaked cap; by Filipović’s time, this was the more common headgear, the fez having been abandoned after WWI by Christians in Bosnia.
It is harder to distill down a single list when describing the women’s costume, due to differences between villages and faiths. The distinction between Catholic and Orthodox women was much more pronounced in 19th century costume, but there was a somewhat “convergent evolution” over the course of the 20th century. In any case, the basic elements are generally common, with the differences coming in inclusion or omission of specific garments, or in the manner of ornamentation or wearing. The pieces include:
Rubina, košulja – wide, long dress reaching just above the ankles, made from mixed linen, hemp, and silk fibres; long sleeves, and a skirt made wider by inserted panels, klinovi.
Zubun – similar to the men’s, reaching just above the waist, with little ornamentation; found in the older variants of the costume
Jelek – part of the newer variant, a very short vest sewn from kadifa (silk brocade) and decorated with passementerie and lace.
Gunj – winter or festive long-sleeved jacket sewn from black čoja; there were the daily wear types, noseći gunj, with no ornamentation, and the zborački gunj (fair day jacket) worn at village fairs or church and monastery zborovi.
Aljetak – a garment that had fallen out of use by Filipović’s field research, it was a zubun type long open vest sewn from cream white sukno, with gajtan ornamentation.
Pregača – small, roughly 30 to 35 cm square. A fringed colourful type, potkićena, was worn daily and as part of the festive costume, while a fringeless plainer type, nepotkićena, was worn during mourning.
Tkanica – narrower than the men’s sash, and generally of cotton or linen fibre, often with a decorative fringe on one end; lengths varied, according to both preference and village origin.
Pafte – the niello silver buckles worn by Serbian women in many areas; in this district, they tended to be smaller than the large ones seen in Serbia and Macedonia.
Fesić – a shallow red cap, often decorated in beads and silver coins, worn in the oldest times, nineteenth century and early twentieth century, by unmarried girls
Marama, krpa – white kerchief, tied by braided strings, at the nape of the neck; in some villages, the planinska krpa – mountain kerchief – was hemmed in red blanket stitch; in mourning, the kerchief was across the front such that the mouth was covered.
Skvačka – a strap decorated in silver coins that was, in some villages, used to keep the kerchief in place.
Šalić – kerchiefs, industrially made of cotton fabric and printed, usually with floral motifs.
Čarape – socks knit from fine white cotton yarn
Opanci – three types: građeni (homemade, oputnjak type) Visočki (red tanned leather, made in Visoko) and Banjalučki (black, made in Banja Luka)
Nakit – jewelry of various types, mostly silver, was a common adornment, including rings, earrings, large silver crosses and amulets (hamajlije), strings of coins and beads (đerdani, ogrlice, kragne), and pins for caps and kerchiefs (the round igla bašlija and flat igla toplija)
I have only one Travnik costume, all of which I know of was that it came from the village of Turbe (where Serbs are a minority), and that it was worn by an old woman known locally as Baba Petra. It is a lovely piece, one that had been kept in her trousseau for decades. The shirt was in excellent condition despite some yellowing from age, and the short vest clearly had never been worn. The vibrant colours of the apron make it one of my favourite collection pieces. I acquired it in 2014.
Special thanks to Andrej Šakić for the photography for this post.
For further reading:
Andrić, Ivo. (1970) The Vizier’s Elephant: Three Novellas. Gateway – Henry Regnery Co., Chicago.
Blanche Payne Regional Costume Photograph and Drawing Collection. University of Washington Digital Library collection: http://content.lib.washington.edu/payneweb/
Čulić, Zorislava, Helena Volfart-Kojović (1963) Narodne nošnje u Bosni i Hercegovini. Zemaljski Muzej, Sarajevo.
Đukanović Danijela (2013) Kolekcija ženskih košulja s Kraja XIX Do Sredine XX Vijeka Iz Zbirke Tekstila Etnološkog Odjeljenja Muzeja Republike Srpske = Collection of Women’s Shirts from the Late XIX to Mid XX Century from the Collection of Textiles at the Ethnology Department of the Museum of Republic of Srpska. Muzej Republike Srpske.
Filipović, Milenko S. (1969) Prilozi etnološkom poznavanju severoistočne Bosne. Akademija Nauka Bosne i Hercegovine, XVI, vol. 12. Sarajevo.
Popović, Vaso P., Branimir Mašulović (1996) Srpske narodne nošnje – katalog izložbe, Muzej Republike Srpske, Banja Luka i Gradski Muzej, Sombor.
Vasilić Danijela, Vladimir Đukanović (2007) Nakit Od Tepeluka Do Đerdana: Iz Zbirke Nakita Etnološkoh Odeljenja Muzeja Republike Srpske u Banjaluci s Kraja XIX i Iz Prve Polovine XX Veka: Katalog izložbe: Zbirka Strane Umetnosti Muzeja Grada Novog Sada. Muzej Grada Novog Sada.