Aug 28, 2012

Sevdalinke - Bosnian love songs

The most typical form of urban music in Bosnia is the sevdalinka or love-song. (The name is derived from the Turkish word sevda - love - but in the Bosnian sense it has come to mean a yearning, hopeless, and painful love, doomed, never to be consummated). The broad, ornamented melodies often use oriental scales and chromatic inflections, with a free and flexible rhythm and sweeping arches of melody.
The lyrics speak of star-crossed lovers, faith or betrayal and breathe an atmosphere of regret and resignation. There are tales, possibly somewhat exaggerated, of listeners who were so moved by a particularly impassioned performance that they left the room and shot themselves out of grief.
The origins of sevdalinke lie in the interaction of the musical forms that the Turkish invaders brought with them with the ballads and lyric songs of the Slavs that they found there. Many of the Bosnians accepted Islam much more readily than did the other inhabitants of southeastern Europe, possibly because they had been Bogomils, a Christian sect proclaimed as heretical and attacked by both Eastern and Western churches.
As a result the towns of Bosnia became centres of Islamic culture, and it is believed that some oriental religious melodies known as ilahije were adopted by the townspeople and fitted with new lyrics to become sevdalinke. This does not mean that all sevdalinke were introduced from the East. Many sevdalinke show typically Slav melodic formulae and cadential patterns, and the melody of the celebrated "Kad ja pođoh na Benbašu" has been proclaimed the unofficial anthem of Sarajevo.

Hanka Paldum
Each of the towns of Bosnia or Herzegovina has its own sevdalinka tradition, and their subjects relate to their home-town's particular quirks of history or geography. Zvornik, for example, on the River Drina between Bosnia and Serbia, was was known as the Gate of Bosnia and was, in the time of Turkish rule, the point from which armies were despatched to put down revolts and uprisings in Serbia. Consequendy, many of the sevdalinke from Zvomik deal with loss and with lovers who are never to meet again. One famous song says: "The Drina flows from hill to hill, not with rain or while snow, but with the tears of the maidens from Zvornik".
In contrast, Sarajevo, the capital of the province, was the home of rich land owners and merchants who carefully guarded the honour and marriage prospects of their daughters by keeping them hidden away from undesirable suitors. So many Sarajevske sevdalinke speak of thwarted love. The story goes that young women, forbidden to meet or even see their lovers, would sing of their love through the barred windows of their walled gardens to the young men strolling in the dusk through the narrow lanes of the city. The following is a typical lyric:
A red rose has blossomed
In the lane, there is but one left.
Through that lane my sweetheart passes
And with his horse he tramples the flowers.
Let him, O let him trample them
If he but pass this way more often.
Traditionally sevdalinke were performed to the accompaniment of the saz, a stringed instrument of Iranian origin with a pear-shaped body and long neck. Ideally the singer would also be his own accompanist (women rarely if ever were acquainted with instrumental technique, save for the tambourine-like daire, although they were and are frequently valued as singers). The sound of the saz is  quiet and contemplative and fits the mood of sevdalinke perfectly, but it is a dying art and in Bosnia before the war there were perhaps only thirty sazlije, mostly of the older generation. Among the most notable of the singers were Hasim Muhamerović, Kadir Kurtagić, Emina Ahmedhodžić and Muhamed Mešanović- Hamić, some of whom were also sazlije.

                                                             Nedžad Salković
Far more common these days is the performance of the same songs to the backing of a typical folk orchestra of accordion, violin, clarinet and guitar, with harmonies influenced by (but not identical to) Western models, and less rhythmic subtlety, but retaining the supple and mournful beauty typical of these songs. The old sazlije look down on this style, but there is no doubt that performers such as Safet lsović, Hanka Paldum, Nedžad Salković, Zaim Imamović,  the late Himzo Polovina and others are part of the long and sophisticated tradition.

Aug 27, 2012


2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons salt
1.In the bowl of a standing mixer or a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Let sit for 2 to 3 minutes, until the yeast is beginning to get creamy. Add 2 cups of the flour and stir 100 times in the same direction to combine. Cover with plastic and set in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour.
 2. If making the dough in a standing mixer: Combine the remaining flour and the salt and add to the yeast mixture all at once. Mix together using the paddle, then change to the dough hook. Knead at low speed for 2 minutes, then turn up to medium speed and knead until the dough comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl, clusters around the dough hook, and slaps against the sides of the bowl, about 8 minutes. Add flour as needed. Hold on to the machine if it bounces around. Turn out onto a clean work surface and knead by hand for 2 to 3 minutes longer. The dough should be sticky.
If making the dough by hand: Stir the salt into the dough. Fold in the flour a cup at a time, using a large wooden spoon. As soon as you can scrape the dough out in one piece, scrape out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary, until the dough is elastic. It should be sticky.
3.Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly oiled bowl, rounded side down, then turn so the rounded side is up. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm spor to rise until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.
4.Punch down the dough and let rise again until doubled, about 45 minutes.
5.Line 2 baking sheets with parchment and lightly oil the parchment. Divide the dough into 4 equal balls. Roll or press out to a 1-inch thickness, and place 2 on each baking sheet. Cover with lightly oiled plastic and damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm spot for 30 minutes while you heat the oven.
6.Place a baking stone on the center rack and heat the oven to 450*F. Bake the breads for 20 to 25 minutes, until puffed and light brown. Cool on a rack.

Advance preparation: Follow the recipe through Step 3. Then punch down the dough, form into a ball, oil the ball lightly with olive oil, and place in a plastic freezer bag. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Aug 4, 2012

Bosnian amulets


Among the Bosniaks (as everywhere else in the Muslim world), the religious amulets are written in Arabic characters, but sometimes also by means of various secret writings. Most of the time, they appeared on small pieces of paper (in general rather white), even on rollers (from 5 to 10 cm broad,of variable length, up to 50 cm and sometimes much more, up to three meters), or on varied materials (various kinds of leather, stones, sheets of trees, egg shells, etc.). They contain either Qur'anic quotations, prayers, magic triangles or squares, usually written with a pen made out of reed, the kalam, but some times also with a gold or iron pen, if not with special grass. An amulet can be made for medical aims (fever, tooth ache, psychoses, to facilitate childbirth, etc.), or for practical or emotional aims (to have children, to obtain the love of someone, or the separation from someone, to make the beloved one returns, to know the situation of a absent person, to know the thoughts of someone, to predict the future...).

Apotropaic scriptures (zapisi) also belong to this category. These are shorter  quotations from the Koran, written on pieces of paper usually by  Moslem priests and given to members of the congregation for protection from particular diseases. The hodzas wrote special notes in ink: for healing, for success in business, and to counteract evil spells. These notes, called zapisi, were worn around the neck in a special locket, or sewn into the inside pocket of a shirt, or braided into the hair. Sometimes they were soaked in water and drunk.

If the patient was not cured by the amulets, sometimes, when the conditions could be met, one tried another magic ritual, in particular a form of very peculiar and spectacular magic, that of the dâ'ira, or « djinns convocation ».


                                             OTHER AMULETS

"Ručica hazreti Fatime" or "Hand of hazreti Fatima" - (Anastatica hierochuntica) is a shrub that grows in the deserts of northern Africa and southwestern Asia. It is very hygroscopic and can live without water for a long time.When a piece of the shrub is put into water, it suddenly gets »alive« and spreads its twigs like the fingers on the hand. The hand of hazreti Fatima  was used in difficult childbirth, when it was put in water, because according the principles of imitative magic it was believed that at the same way the mother's womb will widen and the baby will be born more easily.

Oman (Inula helenium L.) is the name of the plant the root of which was used as amulet. Pieces of the root were worn on necklaces by deserted women in order to regain the affection of their husbands.

Amulet (hamajlija) from a village near Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina, start of the 20th century. Three pieces of yew wood, one cowry shell (Cypraea moneta) and two mother-of-pearl buttons sewn on a red silk ribbon. Such amulets were onto children's clothes in order to protect the child from the evil eye.

Aug 2, 2012

Ajvatovica - the "little Hajj"

Ajvatovica is the largest Islamic traditional, religious and cultural event in Europe. Muslims from around the world gathered here, as it is the most important Islamic shrine in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was named after Ajvaz-dedo who was a devout Muslim.

Every year in June, thousands of Bosniaks gather at the holy site at Ajvatovica near the village of Prusac. According to legend, Prusac had problems with water supply.  Ajvaz-dedo found a water spring near Prusac, but it was blocked  with a 74 meters long rock. Ajvaz-dedo spent 40 days praying to Allah to split the rock. On the fortieth morning, following his prayers,  Ajvaz-dedo dreamed that two white rams collided and split the rock.

In June 1990 the Islamic Community (IZ), organized a landmark commemoration of the sixteenth-century conversions to Islam in Bosnia.

Concurrently the IZ symbolically restored the national  Bosniak shrine at Ajvatovica in western Bosnia via massive pilgrimage under green banners of Islam. The pilgrimage had originated in 1463 and had continued as an established tradition until it was interrupted by a police action in 1947. Legend has it that Ottoman religious instructors came to the Prusac area in the 1460s to establish regular instruction and convert local members of the Bogumil "Bosnian Church" to Islam.
On 16-17 June 1990. over 100.000 people made pilgrimage to Ajvatovica to commemorate the beginning of the conversion to Islam in Bosnia. At the mountain shrine where Muslim mystics meditate above the valley of the historic conversion.
Jakub ef. Selimoski (then acting reis-ul-ulema) said: With the help of the Almighty Merciful Allah. With this is the time when we Bosniaks are restoring the right to express our religious identity in a dignified and humane way: this is the time when we restore our traditions and customs in liberty, though being aware of the responsibility and constraints the freedom we have acquired are imposing upon us... Congregating here at Ajvatovica, as our ancestors before us did, we are paying tribute to literacy and education.... We are today also paying tribute to our history and our forefathers.

Bayram in Bosnia

Bayram (spelled Bajram in Bosnian, called Eid in Arabic)— Muslim holiday celebrated twice a (moon) year. The first Bayram is the feast after the end of the fasting month Ramadan or Ramazan. On this Bayram, 1992, the war started in Bosnia. The second Bayram, also called Kurban or Hadz (Hajj) Bayram, comes not two and a half months after the first and is the first and the time when pious people reach the end of their pilgrimage journey in Mecca (and other holy sites).

Ramazan in Sarajevo

For such people the month of Ramazan may be a period of compensation for eleven months of omission. Some will fast for the whole month and many make the effort to fast for the first day or two and on the 27th, the festival of Lejletul-Kadr. At the end of each Ramazan day the lamps of Sarajevo's minarets are illuminated in signal that it is time for iftar, the breakfast. The meal, an especially delicious one, will have been prepared In advance and the minaret lights provoke instant response and rapid consumption of its many courses.

Iftar is a family rather than a neighbourhood affair, but after it, neighbours often gather together to go to the mosque (either a local or a central one) for the prayer service of teravija. They may then attend mukabela, all night Quranic recitation, at the town's largest central mosque.

The final days of Ramazan are the occasion for the payment of zekst and sadekatul-fitr  (Islamic alms) which will be discussed in the following chapter. Members of a household who fast and attend teravija are likely to make these payments not only on their own behalf but on that of other, less observant members of their household.
Ramazan is followed by the three day festival of Ramazanski Bajram, an occasion on which Muslims pay visits to kin and neighbours. Such visits begin with the traditional Turkish/Arabic congratulatory greeting:
Visitor: "Bajram Mubarek Ola! " (Happy Bajram to you! )
Host: "Allah Razula" (As God wills It)
The inevitable coffee is served along with sweet, heavy Turkish pastries prepared for the occassion - baklava, kadaifa or ružica. Both visits and cakes are made even by those who have not fasted and prayed.
About two months after Ramazanski Bajram falls the festival of Kurban Bajram at which sheep are ritually sacrificed. For the week or so before this occasion the hill at the north-east end of town is alive with animals which have been driven into Sarajevo by shepherds from the surrounding countryside. Here they graze and are prodded, appraised and bargained over by potential purchasers. Once vendor and purchaser have shaken hands on a deal, the latter must somehow get the unwilling beast home and there feed and shelter it until the day of slaughter. The presence of so many sheep in so many neighbourhood garden provokes much discussion of and, because of the pervasive spirit of interhousehold competition, deception about, the relative size, quality and price paid for various sheep.
A butcher is invited to kill the animal. Its throat is slit, it expires through loss of blood and is f leeced and quartered. The butcher's work is now done and the carcass is left to its owners who chop It into smaller pieces. Of these, some, including the head and internal organs, are retained for household consumption. Others are given to kin living within Sarajevo. The majority is distributed to neighbours with the formula:
Distributor: "Bajram Mubarek Ola! " ("Happy Bajram to you! ")
Receiver: "Allah RazuIa. Kabulosum.  ("As God wills it. May God witness/accept this good act of yours". ie. the gift of meat.)
Distributor: "Halalosum“ ("My forgiveness on you"). Halaliti = to forgive.
A single street or neighbourhood area will be crisscrossed all day long by the bearers of these small parcels. The meat is said to be given to the male head of household but it is women (or young girls) who make the actual door-todoor deliveries. Thus, as in everyday life it is the economic and socialinteraction of women which unites the neighbourhood, at Kurban Bajram it is their ritual interaction which does so.

The majority of religiously inspired practices fall within this category. I lost count of the number of times I was told that to do X, Y or Z "is beautiful" (Iijepo). To say a fatiha when passing a grave, to fast the ten days of Muharem (Islamic New Year) and many other actions are considered beautiful ones. One extremely important action that falls within this category is the making of the pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca. The Hajj is one of the five "pillars" of Islam and, according to scripture, is obligatory for all Muslims who are able to perform it. Yet in Sarajevo it is treated more as a desirable than as an obligatory act. To go on pilgrimage is so expensive and so far out of the reach of most Sarajevans that there is scarcely occasion to begin to think of it as a necessity. Yet many have the desire, however unrealistic, to perform the Hajj. Returned pilgrims speak of the experience with great feeling, describing the Joy and tears of the moment of arrival in Mecca in moving terms. The title of Hadži, is pre-fixed to their names, or they may simply be addressed as Hadžija. They become objects of great respect, their hands are kissed by others on the occasions of the two Bajram and their opinions sought and valued on all religious matters. Both men and women may go on Hajj, however, a married woman is unlikely to go without her husband, thus gaining a status which he lacks.

Aug 1, 2012

Fortune telling in the coffee cup

The Bosniaks are known by their countrymen as lovers of leisure and conversation. Bosniaks, regardless of age or sex, enjoy group activity and may eat, drink and converse with each other for many hours at a time. Men as a rule associate in cafes, while women visit each other in their homes, accepting frequent offers to join a coffee break which sets the stage for the old custom of coffee-ground divination or falanje u kahvu.

Bosniaks make their coffee in the Turkish style. The rich, fragrant brew is drunk from demitasse cups or the more traditional handleless "fildžan". The thick coffee grounds which settle to the bottom of the cup form intricate patterns when the cup is inverted, the custom when the drinker has had his fill. But the coffee break does not stop there. lndeed, from the moment the coffee is poured, the divination begins, a long process which extends and enhances the coffee-drinking session.

Bosnian coffee-ground divination is typically a three-part process. As mentioned, the divination begins as soon as the coffee is poured. Each cup gets a bit of foam, "kajmak", which rises to the top of the coffee pot in the brewing process. Sometimes the foam forms a ring or heart which float upon the coffee, and these symbols are interpreted variously — as signs of a gift or love, respectively. While the coffee is being drunk, divination subsides and conversation rules. One by one drinkers invert their cups, signaling that they've had their fill and anticipate a round of fortune telling.
Within minutes after a cup is inverted, the grounds trickle down and patterns take shape. The inspection of these designs form the major body of coffee divination.

Sometimes the grounds that flow out of the cup onto a tray or saucer may first be examined and interpreted. Beginning with the most obvious symbols, a good fortune teller can weave a narrative combining insights into an individual's character and the events that await him. Even if there is no real fortune teller among them, most men and women can interpret at least a few symbols to be able to muse over each other's cups.

Symbols representing death, illness and misfortune are usually minimized or disregarded if the least bit hazy. On the other hand, the slightest resemblance of a favorable sign is highly prized. Unmarried girls are generally preoccupied with love and will single out symbols which foreshadow rendevous (the numbers 3 and 7), kisses (coffee smudges on outside of cup), fidelity (dog), and the universal symbols of love – hearts and arrows. Cigarettes invariably accompany coffee and Bosnian girls may manipulate the butts of their cigarettes in hopes that they will reveal the initials of a boy who loves them. The wooden matches used to light cigarettes are also sources of divination. The way they burn are said to reveal whether one's sweetheart is true or loves another.

Married and older individuals are concerned with their children, the material well-being of their family, and their children, the material well-being of their family, and their relationships with their neighbors. Coveted symbols are those representing material gain (a thick clump of coffee grounds), happiness (the sun, letters M, R and S), physical strength (elephant), and steadfast friends (horse). Unfavorable signs are snakes, which represent enemies; fish, standing for worry and anxiety; a camel, meaning a burden of sorrow, doubled if there are two humps.

Aside from these isolated symbols, close examination of grounds may reveal picture- like scenes depicting people and events. Further, the patterns of grounds are interpreted as photograph negatives. White figures are said to be black, and black areas, which are the coffee grounds themselves, are said to be white. Thus, a dark figure (cluster of grounds) may represent a blond individual. Odd numbers are considered lucky, but even ones are unfavorable.

The final stage of coffee-ground divination is the making of wishes. With a finger, an individual presses any area in the cup covered by ground, usually the bottom, and makes a wish.  If the pressure leaves a full circle when the finger is withdrawn, the wish is said to become true. Sometimes the statement of fulfillment is qualified by a symbol or picture that the pressure may form, and any such signs are appropriately interpreted. For example, a wish for a letter may come true if there is a full circle, but not before five days are up if there is a number five within the circle.

Generally, three wishes are granted. Only one wish may be made, but any second wish must be followed by a third. Again, odd numbers are favored. When the wish is work, the index finger is used, while the middle finger is associated with family matters, and the ring finger means love. Any or all three fingers may be used in succession. Many people ignore these distinctions, using any finger for all wishes. When the wish-making is over the fortune telling is complete and the coffee break has finally come to an end. Aside from the procedures mentioned above, there are many superstitions connected with the coffee ritual. Coffee is never poured with the left hand. An individual must drink only from his own cup and invert it himself to make the fortune valid, though he must never attempt to tell his own fortune. Fortunes should not be told more than once a day, and no more than three wishes may be made during a session.