The Tree of Life is known throughout Indo-European cultures, with ancient roots. Slavic cultures are no exception; the Tree of Life had robust meaning in both Pagan and Christian culture. Alongside its ritual and religious use, this symbol entered every aspect of Slavic and Serbian decorative art, from stone and wood carving to weaving and embroidery.
If someone ever asks you to give them a lesson in the complexities of Balkan history, diversity of Balkan ethnography, and fluidity of Balkan linguistics, just point them to Vlasina and Krajište. It’s got it all.
Apologies for my absence. The demands of my job have kept me from posting new things on the blog, but I assure you that good things are coming. I’m actively researching, restoring and taking photos for upcoming posts that I hope you will find interesting.
Jewelry and adornment are as old as humanity, and our species has been very imaginative in creating unique, beautiful and sometimes bizarre ways to enhance our appearance. Often jewelry can be a cultural identifier, such as the neck rings of Padaung women, or the nose piercings of the Indian subcontinent. For the Balkan peninsula, one cultural identifier would have to be pafte, a piece of jewelry that is both beautiful and functional.
When the Slavs arrived in the Balkans in the seventh century, the many river valleys made for tempting migration routes. While tame and fertile, these canyons and flood plains were flanked by imposing but protective mountains. One group of them crossed the Danube and followed the Timok River in its winding course through the mountains that make up the modern-day Serbian and Bulgarian border lands. These tribes became known as the Timočani.
Leskovac and its surroundings have been part of the Serbian state since its emergence in the early middle ages. From the rule of an unnamed Serbian Prince, whom Constantine Porphyrogenitos describes as being a vassal of “Emperor Heraclitus, when Bulgaria was under the Romaion” (i.e. before the establishment of a Bulgarian state). The Leskovac district, then known as Dubočica, was under the rule of the Vlastimirović princes through the 8th to 10h centuries, and under Stefan Nemanja, it became part of the state of Raška in the 12th century.
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. Continue reading
Although this blog’s primary focus is costume and the textile material culture of the Serbs, I do hope to address other aspects of folk life, traditions and customs. Previous posts have shown easter customs and tools for the processing of wool; this time, I’d like to look at a specific type of wood carving, the kepčija.
There’s a Serbian folk song that says “jelek, anterija i opanci, po tome se znaju Srbijanci” – “jelek (vest), anterija (jacket) and opanci (shoes), this is what Serbians are known for”. In a specific sense, i.e. the styles of these, this is very true; in a general sense, not so much. The garments are the result of centuries of foreign influences. But what about those shoes? Continue reading