On the eve of St George Day celebrations, Romani people gather at the Carica wellspring in Visoko to make wishes for the coming year. It is their day, Ederlezi or Đurđevdan, the beginning of a new season reincarnated through the mystic potency of Saint George, Saint Elijah and Prophet al-Khidr, the Green One, but, in the words of Hasiba, a Romani woman from Visoko, it is everyone's day and all Bosnians celebrate. This tradition, well known beyond the Mediterranean basin, is embedded into the earliest memories of the Bosnian Roma. Toponyms argue towards medieval sources, and while the many clues seem to indicate a strong link to the yet impalpable schismatic Bosnian Church, these seasonal rituals certainly have a prehistoric heritage.
Never was I welcomed as warmly as in this narrow passage of Carica bursting in greenery and fountains on both its sides and leading towards a grand field which spreads like an atrium to hold the merry congregation. Elderly attempt to keep up a pace with children in the mountaineering efforts to find the right branches of drijen (European Cornel) and žara/kopriva (nettle). Melina and Hasiba teach me to tie small red ribbons onto the unoccupied branches of drijen, repeating: 'I welcome health, forsake malady'. Each further ribbon imparts a well-defined wish for loved ones onto the thriving shrubs. Children run around stinging each other's legs with nettle leaves. Their games are sometimes interrupted by a quick visit to the spring, where they disappear into a crowd of women splashing their faces with water and throwing three driblets over their backs. For good luck... Young brides wanting to get pregnant gently lash themselves with sallow. I hear them rhyme: 'Ove godine s vrbom a dogodine s trbuhom', 'This year with sallow, and the next with a belly'.
After a short visit home, dusk is beginning to settle over the Romani neighborhoods on the hill of Križ, a synthesizer and a couple of large speakers are placed on the central intersection and the crowd slowly grows. 'I don't know why Roma people always live on hills', Melina ponders upon her native landscape, 'but we always do'. I conclude that it's a culture of 'basking in the sun', but the moon soon had a comment upon my thoughts. Tomorrow I will learn that it was the night of perigee, when the moon is closest to the Earth and thus seems substantially brighter and larger than usual.
A few men start up a fire which instantly creates a circle of focused audience. Motion starts from the hips and follows the rhythm rather than the melody. A woman in a blue shirt and a few preteen girls with clusters of fake ducats around their waists await no invitation. Their dance is as heart-warming as the flames. My new friend Melvin, a 14 year old karate expert, proudly points to his sister: 'I taught her everything she knows'. It's not long before my friend Alma and I are dragged into the circle. We dance with the children. Kolo, the 'wheel dance' is too synchronized for us. Others join hands, revolve around the fire, as another full moon enters another good season.
Thanks for sharing this, Safet. This is one of the most interesting times of the year around this part of the planet, particularly when we try to somehow analyse this, a paradoxical situation when you consider that it is, in a way, a celebration of the trans-rational, and the dyonisian, from the very koranic story of khidr and all of the other local traditions and archetypes it has merged with along the way.