Local Customs and Folk Tradition
One of the components for shaping the general cultural image of the region is the existence, maintenance and treatment of the living heritage, which contains the various segments of the local myths, spoken traditions, ancient legends, rituals, seasonal rites and customs related to wedding and funeral ceremonies and religious holidays. Containing in itself the extract of the folk beliefs throughout the centuries, these elements reflect the specific “myth” of the local population, embedded in the sociological concept of modern living. Cherishing the living heritage, which follows the ancient forms of folk traditions through the contemporary culture, represents one of the important features of the cultural identity of this region.
In the existing literature, both expert and popular one, there is a rich fund of information on the folk tradition of the region whose richness and variety have been subject to admiration of travel writers and chroniclers, and have become part of the research of many historians and ethnologists. Originating from the religious music heritage, which in certain areas has ancient chronology and reaches the medieval period, the folk heritage of this region has developed in several types of traditional singing, whose sounds have been kept as a music tone of the contemporary folk events. Exceptionally inspirational shepherd, wedding, and migrant workers’ songs, love lyric poetry and rite melodies, as well as the instrumental matrix for folk dances, represent valuable heritage from the remote past time of folk tradition. The characteristic music heritage of the region lives even today through performances during the period of seasonal rites and days of religious holidays.
The event that could best define the genuine forms of traditional customs in the region and the devoted care for their continuous maintenance is the magnificent ritual of the Galichnik Wedding Festival (Galichka svadba), the Ramadan fast accompanied with ethno music, the traditional celebration of “Vodici” (Baptism of Jesus), as well as following the traditions of other ceremonies (weddings and circumcisions).
Celebration of Ramadan Bayram
In the Islamic religion, Ramadan is the holy month which is the ninth in the Lunar year and every year it moves 10 days back in time. As among all Muslims, also for the Macedonian Muslims from the region of Reka this is the holiest festivity.
The holiday itself is a strict obligation – fardh of every Muslim. Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islam in which the revelation of the Quran was in the year 610. The Ramadan Bayram holiday is celebrated after the end of the holy month. The strict fast is kept throughout the period of the holy month. Bayram is a holiday which celebrates the spiritual and physical purification.
In the region of Reka, the very day of Bayram celebration begins with a Ramadan-Bayram prayer, after which people go the cemetery to pay respect to deceased ancestors and the close ones. Congratulations on the holiday begin afterwards, firstly to the elderly (by kissing their hand), and then to the rest. Younger people always pay the visit to older ones.
For the celebration, the traditional dishes for Bayram are prepared and served on the day (Bayram meat, alanditi and baklava). The celebration lasts for 3 days and throughout this period people visit and congratulate to each other.
Exclusive event for the celebration of this holiday in the region of Reka is the announcement of sunrise and sunset (after, i.e. before the announcement of the khoja) with zurlas (woodwind instruments) and drums which are played all night. This custom takes place during the whole Ramadan fast. The zurlas and drums at Ramadan in the region of Reka give a special mysticism to the entire fast period, although this custom has a strictly practical purpose: to announce the end of the fast, i.e. the beginning of Ifar – the dinner, and in the morning to announce the beginning of the fast.
“Vodici” – Baptism of Jesus
The celebration of “Vodici” has a special importance for the Orhodox Christian population living in the territory of Mavrovo National Park. As the most impressive example of the customs which are part of this holiday we can describe the Celebration of “Vodici” in the Vil. Bitushe.
The celebration of winter holidays related to “Vodici” and St. John’s Day in Bitushe represents a tradition created for generations and accepted by all generations. The celebration includes everybody present in the village, the people of Bitushe, guests and friends of Bitushe, and the celebration mainly takes place in the homes of the former and the new hosts (“kumovi”), inside and in front of the church of St. Archangel Michael, and in the cultural center. Celebrating the “Vodici” and St. John’s Day festivities begins on Saint Athanasius Day (“Tanasovden”) on 31st January, when the new hosts give their word that they will receive the cross the following year. This ritual takes place in front of the church of Saint Archangel Michael in the presence of all Orthodox Christians in Bitushe. From that day, the new hosts start their preparations because the following year their homes will host the visitors.
The official beginning of the celebration is on the holiday Saint Vasilij’s Day (“Vasilica”) on 14th January, when the new hosts in the presence of a large number of people from Bitushe go to the springs to fill water for making bread. Filling with water takes place at “Vasilica”, at dawn, as soon as the day begins. Everybody returns to the houses of the new hosts where the first loaves of bread are kneaded while singing the Saint John’s song “Welcome St. John”. Also, people drink brandy (“rakija”) made of cornel as a symbol of the beginning of the festivities.
On 17th January in the morning, the so-called “zovachki” (messengers) of the former hosts invite for giving the host role. The invitation is performed in all open houses in Bitushe by a prearranged order, starting with the neighborhood Ranchevci until the outskirts of the village. That evening, visitors gather in the home of the former hosts in order to accompany the hosts who take the crosses to the Saint Jovan Bigorski monastery. The former hosts are accompanied from their houses by all the people present in Bitushe by singing the song “Farewell St. John” to the place Lajkovec where, after saying goodbye, the women return home, and men go to the Saint Jovan Bigorski monastery. There, together with the hosts from the other villages, they attend the “tying” of the cross, and afterwards the evening service and the blessing of St. John’s holy water – “ajazmo” until the early morning hours when all the hosts return to their villages.
Apart from the hosts from Bitushe, the hosts from Rostushe, Trebishte, Velebrdo, Janche and other villages come to the monastery. The hosts with the two crosses tied together with a bunch of basil return to Bitushe so that at Lajkovec they are welcomed by the people of Bitushe, in order to take from the holy water – “ajazmo” from which they drink and wash themselves.
On 18th January – “Vodokrst” (Twelfth Night), the new hosts go from house to house starting with the home of the former hosts. In all the houses there is a table set with lean meals, they cut St. John’s bread and leave from the holy water – “ajazmo”. After visiting all the houses, the tied crosses are returned to the church of St. Archangel Michael where they leave them overnight in the vessel with holy water. The crosses remain in the home of the new hosts during the whole year except for two nights, the night between 17th and 18th January, when they stay at the Saint Jovan Bigorski monastery, and the following night at the church of Bitushe. On 19th January – “Bogojavlenie” (Epiphany), after the bell tolls, everybody gathers at the church for a morning service, and then, by raising the flags and other relics, people go along the way of the crosses – “Krsti”. The road along the crosses is strictly determined, and leads from the church to the ditch (the river Bitushka). This ritual is performed by singing religious songs, the women sing: “We carry the crosses, we pray to God”, and men sing the hymn “In the Jordan River”. On the bridge of the river Bitushka, the priest performs the ritual of great blessing of the water, followed by throwing the cross into the cold mountain waters of St. John in the river Bitushka, from where the most courageous and the happiest ones take it out. By performing the great blessing, all the waters are blessed. From there, women and girls who will be the so-called “kumstarki” dressed in traditional costumes of Bitushe, go to the homes of the new hosts according to family or friendship relations, in order to start the procession of becoming hosts from the house of the new hosts to the churchyard. There, they proudly dance the ceremonial St. John’s traditional folk dance of “Vodici”, by holding boards with traditional bread of Vodici. The men follow this part of the celebration served with cold home-made brandy (“rakija”) and snacks (“meze”) consisting of raisins and candy. As part of being a host, in addition to the loaves of bread brought by the women, there is also the curd cheese carried in a copper pan by an elderly woman and yellow cheese which is carried in a can by a man. They are given to the people together with the bread inside the premises of the cultural center. Afterwards, all the present people participate in a folk dance by the sounds of the zurla and the drums.
The new hosts accompanied by their closest relatives go to the church to take the cross. In the evening, they go to the house of the former hosts in order to congratulate them on giving the host role. They all carry a loaf of bread wrapped in a scarf. On the same day, the families that celebrate the holiday “Vodici” – Baptism of Jesus (“Jordanje”) expect visitors, and people also go to the houses where members got married within the year between the celebrations of “Vodici”.
Celebration of Kurban Bayram
Together with Ramadan Bayram, it belongs to the group of the holiest festivities in the Islam. The holiday Kurban Bayram is in the last Islamic month Dhul-hijja, which in translation means the twelfth month, the tenth day of the Lunar calendar according to Islam. In this month, the Muslims perform the pilgrimage to the holy places of Mecca and Medina. The name of the holiday Kurban-Bayram represents giving animal sacrifice after completing the pilgrimage. The Quran, the most important holy book of the Muslims, was revealed for the first time in the holy month of Ramadan and its writing was completed after 23 years, in the month of Dhul-hijja. Kurban Bayram actually celebrates the completion of the Quran.
There are three important religious events related to the days of Kurban Bayram:
- End of the revelation of the Quran
- Performing the “hajj” (pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina)
- Slaughtering the animal sacrifice “kurban”
The ritual itself of celebrating the holiday begins with a prayer for Kurban Bayram early in the morning, and then people slaughter (give to God) the animal sacrifice “kurban”. The “kurban” that is given is usually either a ram or a sheep.
Before performing the sacrifice, the prayer is said. Then, the meat is given to friends and neighbors, to the poor, and one part remains for the family.
The rest of the customs are the same as the ones for Ramadan Bayram.
Wedding Ceremony in Dolna Reka
In the lives of the people of Reka, the wedding ceremony has an important place as a tradition with a range of specific folklore characteristics typical for the Macedonian people.
The food and dishes related to the several stages of the wedding (from the engagement to the first day after the wedding) are very specific, they are not altered and give the wedding a particular characteristic of the region of Reka, which could not be seen in other areas.
During the engagement, there is an interesting custom being practiced since the past in the villages of Reka. Namely, the matchmaker carries in the armpit a scarf of a deceased person (whose jaws and head were tied with the scarf – an Islamic funeral custom from Reka), and also carries a lump of sugar, since going for a good deed. The role of the scarf is of magical significance, meaning: “As the deceased person can speak, thus the father of the girl to speak, and to be like tongue-tied”. Also, the matchmaker constantly stirs with the fire tongs in the fireplace or the room (the stove) and the logs would make sparks so that the family gives the girl. Sunday evening before Monday, and Wednesday evening before Thursday are considered as good days for matchmaking.
Usually, the wedding is considered on the day when they take the bride. According to it, the wedding is a ceremony which is made on the side of the groom, since in the region of Reka, the bride’s side is not obliged to bear expenses and to make wedding dishes. The bride can also elope, and in that case her father-in-law makes the wedding for his son. The wedding is obligatory only for the groom’s side.
A few days before this ceremony, from the side of the groom’s father and mother, they send the so-called “zolemi” (callers). They are either children or adults who go from house to house in the village and in the neighboring villages, address the people with the words “My father sends his “salaam” (greetings), we are inviting you to a wedding”, and announce the day of the wedding.
All the wedding preparations are completed. On the very day, early in the morning they slaughter a large animal (an ox, a young bull, or a cow) depending on the number of houses that are invited to the wedding. The meat is cut before the beginning of the wedding and is placed in the boiling cauldron.
The following traditional dishes are cooked for the wedding: stew, meat, pilaf, and halva. The wedding mainly takes place in the open, from the morning hours until late at night. The inevitable part of the wedding is the traditional music from the region of Reka with zurlas and drums.
Circumcision of the male children of Islamic religion is an obligatory religious rite which is performed at the age from 5 to 8.
At this religious rite among the Macedonian Muslims in the region of Reka, there is a special attention paid by making a celebration – the same as a wedding. That is why the circumcision is called a small wedding, and the guests are treated to traditional dishes, the same as it has been done for centuries. The ceremony of circumcision itself begins with inviting the guests, while singing folk songs.
A few days before the main ceremony, the closest relatives are invited to the ceremony called “Decorating the cap”. Usually women attend this ceremony and they sing traditional songs from the region of Reka.
Before performing the ritual of circumcision, the child goes around the village on horseback, and together with the child is his uncle – “daje” (if the child doesn’t have an uncle from his mother’s side, it can be from his father’s side, or any other close relative).
After completing the circumcision (which used to be performed by the barber, and today it is performed in a medical institution), the parents organize lunch and invite relatives and friends to a great celebration. The dishes are identical with the ones for the wedding including the essential music of Reka with zurlas and drums.