Episode 16

The Future of Folklore in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Published on: 13th August, 2023

In this episode of the podcast, ! we are delving into the vibrant world of folklore in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country where culture and tradition play an essential role in its identity.

Dita Bajrami-Vrbanjac, the current Director of the folklore troupe based in Travnik, and passionate folklore enthusiast, explains the fascinating realm of Bosnian folklore.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, each major ethnic group has its unique way of portraying and preserving folklore, making it a colourful tapestry of tradition. Dita, shares her profound connection with folklore that dates back 34 years. From her first encounter with traditional dances, she has become an integral part of her group, currently involved in directing.

The essence of Bosnian folklore lies in its ability to inspire and motivate, and for Dita, love is the driving force behind her dedication. The aspects of identity, expressed through traditional music, costumes, stories, and lyrics, are what fuel her passion to preserve and promote this cultural heritage.

However, in the face of modern technologies and changing lifestyles, there are challenges to the continuation of folklore. Younger generations, engrossed in social media and digital distractions, are becoming less engaged with this rich tradition. Thus, there is a need to work on instilling the value of folklore in young minds, as it is essential for understanding one's roots and cultural heritage.

Bosnian folklore is a unifying tradition that transcends ethnic boundaries. While there might be different ethnic groups, their folkloric traditions share common roots and elements, weaving together the diverse cultural fabric of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The preservation of traditional costumes, intricate and handmade, poses a challenge as fewer skilled artisans remain to pass on this invaluable knowledge. Once the older generation of skilled costume makers fades away, the future of these unique costumes may be at risk.

Financial support is crucial in maintaining the cultural identity of the region. With government and local council funding, dance troupes can thrive and act as cultural ambassadors, showcasing Bosnian tradition to the world. Traveling to various locations and participating in folklore festivals helps to preserve and promote the cultural heritage of the country.

To encourage young individuals to actively participate in preserving and promoting folklore, Dita suggests joining a dance troupe or participating in activities that involve a team spirit. Such experiences not only provide opportunities to learn traditional dances but also instill valuable life skills and foster a sense of national pride.

In the end, the future of Bosnian folklore lies in the hands of those who genuinely love and cherish this cultural treasure. As the torchbearers of tradition, it is their responsibility to ensure its preservation for generations to come.

Thank you for being a part of our podcasting community, and we look forward to bringing you more exciting content in the future.

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Transcript

00:00

It's an Englishman in the Balkans podcast. It's a very gloomy day here in my part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have rain outside the window. If you can see behind, uh, it's not looking to summary. I'm joined today by somebody that I met in the very recent past. It's Dita, but I'm a, I hope I pronounced that correctly. She lives in. Travnik.

00:28

and she gave me the most fantastic tour of her hometown. But we're not talking about Travnik as a town today. We're talking about folklore. And for those that don't know, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as far as I'm aware as a foreigner, folklore plays a very important role in the culture of the country. Each of the major ethnic groups has their own way

00:57

of portraying and describing their folklore. I'm going to be talking to Dita today to find out more. Why? Because she knows a lot about it. And I hope that you'll get something really cool to take away from today's podcast. And also, when you come to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, you'll try and find out where some of this is actually happening so that

01:28

experience it. Now, I normally have this straight question, which I think works. And people have said, yes, it really does. My first question today is who is Dita Bajrami-Vrbanjac? How could I describe myself or give an answer to that question? So it's very hard when you need to talk about yourself, but I'll try.

01:58

When it comes to folklore, Dicta is someone who probably doesn't know how to live without it, because I've been a part of it for almost 34 years now here in Travnik, shortly in Sarajevo while studying.

02:27

So my story goes back to the:

02:58

as you call it directing, maybe that's the one that I like the least, unfortunately, because I like dancing and performing on stages more than directing the truth. So my life is related to folklore in a way that I don't know how to live without it. So when it comes to folklore, it's...

03:28

my true and genuine love and something that I truly enjoy doing. I live folklore. I can't say I do it. What aspects of Bosnian folklore and the culture inspire and motivate you, because you are passionate about it, to both preserve and promote?

03:57

the culture and the folklore itself through your dance troupe. In other words, what makes you want to get up every morning, think about it, do it? You said just now that it's part of your life. Without it, there is nothing. What really inspires you? I have to say that a very important word, love, is something that motivates me.

04:26

whatever I do. So it's a part of folklore also. Love in the first place is something that motivates me. When it comes to the aspects of our culture and folklore.

04:43

I may say that.

04:46

The aspect of identity is something that especially motivates me. Identity shown in music, traditional music, when it comes to folklore. Then everything else that goes with it. Costumes, stories told by the performance, lyrics that we have in these traditional songs, but in some broad sense.

05:18

Boston culture has never been an individualist culture, if I may say so. It has always been a culture where some other things were significant like bonding, gathering, socializing. Where some...

05:40

necessary values emphasized both through formal and informal education and

05:51

Some other things that are related to identity are important. I must say that we can't learn anything about folklore during our formal education. So only if you get to be a part of an association or a true or a group of people.

06:20

that values the tradition, that's the place where you can learn something about folklore. Well, folklore as a word can be related to tradition or heritage. It somehow goes together. You can't talk about folklore without mentioning tradition, culture, heritage, and the other way around. When I've been out and about in the country and I'm always fascinated when I come across

06:50

a folklore festival or I'm walking through a town or city streets and there's a troop dancing with the accompanying music. I always look at the people that are observing and I normally, I don't know, I assume that the local people are there in that location. It seems that everybody is invested in it.

07:20

There's a crowd of shoppers, they suddenly stop, they want to watch it and they find it.

07:28

A very pleasant, a very exciting experience, I have to say, because you can see on their faces. But in the country, as you just said, it doesn't necessarily mean that everybody is invested in folklore. In other words, not every child will do it. Is that a correct thing to say that not every child will do it? It's just those that feel passionate about wanting.

07:57

to do this activity, these dances and these songs? Yes, I must agree with you because...

08:08

I've already told you, my mom took me to rehearsal 34 years ago. Maybe if she hadn't done it at that point, I wouldn't have been here today. So not every child will know everything about folklore or be a part of it or get to know our tradition in this way. But we need to work on it.

08:38

because it's a part of our identity.

08:43

I often say that

08:46

To know where you are going, you must know where you come from. And that's related to tradition. Although we have troubles with these modern technologies, modern lifestyles, generally, modern generation, because somehow they...

09:13

adult value tradition in the way that maybe my generation did or even older generations. Somehow traditional values have weakened among young people. And through folklore, maybe we can and we are trying to strengthen.

09:38

it. Tradition. Children learn by observing older people, by observing their sisters, brothers, relatives, family members, teachers, trainers. If we show them what to value and how

10:08

Tradition generally is. It is something that we pass on through generations. You can't learn about it. It's cool. When we were together, walking around for three hours in Travnik, not so long ago, we went into the castle and you took me into a circular building within the castle, which had a museum in it.

10:37

And when we went in there, there were traditional costumes from the various ethnic groups that live around the Vlasic mountain. And you explained to me that where I thought that it was one type of person that lived on the mountain, there were three different groups of people who dressed differently. And you told me dance.

11:08

differently. So my next question for you is the folklore in Bosnia and Herzegovina a singular tradition? Are there just three traditions for the three major ethnic groups in the country? When it comes to folklore,

11:32

We are in the area that's called Dinaric area and rural tradition is somehow one kind of tradition with different ethnic groups maybe. Some ethnic groups share some traditional elements, although

12:00

they have their own identity. So I can't say that they are different traditions. I would say that we have one tradition or at least one root, traditional root, and that we come from it. And our costumes, although they are different as you could see here in Travnik,

12:30

they still have some similarities.

12:35

So I wouldn't say that we're made of different traditions, but we have maybe one tradition. It's very hard work to use a tradition. So we have different elements of our Bosnian tradition. And Bosnian tradition means diversity. We are all united in diversity. So that's the beauty of it.

13:03

We all speak the same language. When you are directing your troupe, if I can use that word, is it an easy task to create the choreography for a dance troupe? As I say, from an outsider, I am always fascinated about how everything goes together.

13:30

seamlessly how everything has been to me really rehearsed so that the performances, the...

13:42

Showing off of this tradition through dance and song is very powerful. It must be a difficult task for you to do that. Or do you have a library of a repertoire that you can always go back to? Well now when you're mentioning it, we have 18 choreographies on the stage.

14:12

a quite big number. And all these choreographies were put on stage a long time ago. They are authentic and they are original as they were put sometimes during the 70s when we started with this troupe.

14:42

we are only practicing the same choreographies over the years. We try to put some new on the stage, some new choreographies. But today, it's very difficult because they cost a lot of money. We need to have a pretty much amount of money to put in your choreography to pay someone to do it for you. I'm not a choreographer still.

15:09

I just practice with the members and I also have other members who do it. They train them. So we're doing something that some generations did previously also. And they are always the same.

15:32

Practice makes perfect. Today, it may be a technology.

15:39

does damage to new generations because they are very, how to say, lazy maybe. They spend a lot of time on their phones, social media. They don't move a lot. And we have pretty much troubles with small children coming to...

16:09

start performing and dancing when they want to become a member of our troop, then it's very hard to, especially when they're very small, to make them memorize which leg is left and which one is right. How damaging is it really?

16:39

digital technology could have a serious negative impact on folklore. And if there's no folklore, that means that's the start of the decline of the culture. So if we put those together, it is entirely possible, one train of thought, to say that unless something is found to counter this with young people, that the culture could

17:08

disappear in 50 years, as you know it.

17:28

abuse it. I don't know how to put it.

17:34

related to folklore. From the point of view of social media and

17:42

profiles that our members and all of us have on social media. Uh, we can, and we use it very often. Promotion. Then some people, as you have said, you walk around the street or you go and see a performance, then you probably take a photo of it, you, uh, sell a video and you post it on your profile. That's.

18:12

That's something very good to promote. Folklore, maybe unconsciously people do it. So in the way, it can be very helpful for us from this side being a part of some true association.

18:31

from some other point of view, when you have young people spending a lot of time on their social media, it's-

18:44

very hard to activate them to come and dance, to leave their phone somewhere, to leave their social media profile somewhere, and to focus on dancing. So that's something that we are struggling with. But it can be used for promotion, for marketing. If you use it well,

19:14

then technology can help you and social media also, but there is a bad side of it, like in every other aspect. When we were in that museum and looking at those costumes and you were describing to me about the differences, I'm always fascinated about the intricacies of the costumes

19:44

that the dancers wear, both male and female. And I've now got to the stage where I even say, we were in this part of Bosnia and they weren't wearing that. Why is that? Tamara is not in a position of knowledge to tell me the differences. But the costumes that your dance troupe wears and other dance troupe people wear.

20:11

they are something that you cannot buy off the hook in a department store, in a shop. So how difficult is it in this day and age to find people with the skills to create these costumes that are so absolutely intricate and fascinating? I must say that maybe in Travnik we are still happy

20:41

older ladies doing it very well, they can take one of our costumes and make the same one. So they are very skilful. The problem will be when they unfortunately pass away. And if young people don't learn how to do it, then...

21:10

In a couple of years, nobody will be able to get another costume because that is also something that goes from generation to generation. You've seen the lady in the old town, she's weaving and she's told you that her grandmother taught her how to do it.

21:38

So it's not something that you learn at school also, something that you may learn at home from an older member of your family or from your neighbour or maybe a lady like this one in the old town. Maybe we should do something on that also in Bosnia or in the Balkans generally because

22:07

other countries like Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia.

22:13

They all have the same problem with folk war and troops and costumes. So we're happy to have a couple of old ladies that can do it for now. But I can't say that in the future the situation will be. I'm not an optimist. These costumes are very expensive. So you can't buy them in stores.

22:42

As you have already said, when you order that, it's something that's handmade and it costs a lot of money. So for example, if we in our association or troop, if we don't have money, we can't buy it. We need support, financial support. In Banja Luka, and this is...

23:09

slightly off topic in a way, but very relative. There is a boat called the dajak that is punted up and down the river Vrbas. I know. And the dajak has or did have only two families that handmade, handcrafted those boats. It is now down to one family. And when I spoke to a member of that family, I said

23:38

what happens if your son doesn't pick or your daughter even doesn't pick up this very traditional skill to make these boats, what will happen? And he said, it's all over. I put the question to him, I won't quote his name, but I said, but surely the city must do something about this because it's the city's culture and the city...

24:05

or the management of the city is responsible for the maintenance of the culture. Do you think that if people could stimulate their city or town management, that might happen because they are the keepers of the city's money. So can the city, can the town councils help financially? Should they help financially? Yes, of course. And I think that each city or town in Bosnia,

24:35

has a part of its budget.

24:39

that goes for culture and sports.

24:44

That's how we get in my troop some money. They partly financed us. They find a way to give us some money. Uh, but the amounts that they are giving and that they plan in their budgets, they're not enough. The amounts of money are not enough for everything that

25:14

Each member deserves each troop deserves and association because maybe now I'm not being humble but we are maybe the best ambassadors of our country or town or city when we go outside Bosnia and show some other people.

25:43

other nations, other countries, what we have in Bosnia, what they preserve, what's our tradition. Maybe that's one of the most important reasons why

25:58

Every level of government or local government, I don't know, we have Canton.

26:08

They support us, I must say that. They support us financially, but sometimes that's not enough because we have a lot of things that we can offer, that we can show. And we probably represent Travnik and some villages around Travnik that we perform a choreography from that village.

26:38

the best way we can. Nobody can do it better than we. How often do you actually travel? And Tamara said, you have to ask Dieter this question because Tamara spent seven years in Canada and there was in the province where she was living.

26:57

She was living in Winnipeg. I can't remember the Canadian province that Winnipeg is in, but they had Folklore-Rama and she said it was amazing to see dance troops coming from Greece, from a home country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Traveling to Canada is a stretch, I would imagine, but how often do you manage to take your troop outside of the country to promote Bosnia, as you say, is so important? Before this.

27:25

word that happened in Bosnia, the Bosnian conflict during the 9th test. Our troop

27:33

travelled more, I must say that. And my colleagues, all their colleagues, they traveled around Europe. They even visited England. They were...

27:49

very often traveling outside at that point it was Yugoslavia. But now, as I have said, we need money for everything. Today, when you want to go somewhere, you need money for accommodation, for the bus, some things that we

28:19

cannot pay sometimes and that's when that support.

28:25

comes to the surface. That's the point where we see who supports us. A month ago, in June, the youngest ensemble went to Serbia, to Zlatibor, and they had a great time. They were there for two nights, three days, and they had a great time.

28:54

they will probably remember till the rest of their lives. And when it comes to folklore, it's just dancing. Or people in Bosnia to say, it's very hard to translate in English, but they say, oh, you just dance the coral. You don't do anything else, but that's all it is. Because if you are a part of a troop, folklore,

29:24

to traditional dances, then you become very skilful in some things. We educate members to be adroit, to learn how not to be afraid to have a public appearance to perform publicly.

29:54

meet other members of other troops. They have some new friendships, they develop different skills, as I said. So it's very important to, if I may say, to invest in folklore troops, because we are trying to make good people in the first place.

30:23

And for all of that, you need money. If you don't have it, if you don't have money, you can't travel. And traveling is something that's always related to folklore and traditional dances, people always related folklore of traditional dances, associations with traveling, and that was something that motivated them to become members of traditional.

30:53

It's so that they travel often outside Bosnia, but we at least try to, for example, next weekend on Sunday, this weekend, on Sunday we are performing in Fojnica.

31:16

Next weekend we are in Sarajevo, small children, small numbers. We have different groups of different ages. So at least we try to travel around Bosnia. It's cheaper. You mentioned about the dance troupe going to Zlatibor and you said that

31:44

some of the experiences that they will have had will stay with them for the rest of their lives. What is, this is a very fast question, so please bear with me, what is Dita's most powerful memory of her time as a younger member of the dance troupe? So I remember traveling to Turkey.

32:11

It was not long ago. It was:

32:21

And I will never forget that we had to spend, I think, six hours in Bulgaria because policemen took our drivers to check something and everything else was great. But that's the memory that stays forever in my mind.

32:49

But we, even in that situation, we had some great time. We were singing because we didn't have any problems. We were just waiting. So we were doing something we know how to do best. That was singing and dancing in the street while waiting. So passersby were looking at us.

33:19

Like who are these people? Dancing industry. They took some photos of us. We were probably very interesting to those passing by. When we finally got to Turkey, then we were like nine days in Turkey, not in Istanbul, from the other side in a smaller town called Yalova.

33:50

Our accommodation was in a camp with different troops from all over the world. And it was great. We've been talking for about 40 minutes and I know that your time is precious, but my final question for you while we're talking about all of the

34:14

relative part of folklore from the way that it's part of the culture to the possible really not so bright future. I'd like to ask you what advice you would give to young individuals, young people for example, that stumble across this podcast, most probably from the country or the

34:44

the neighbouring countries, what advice would you give to young individuals today who wish to pursue or be actively involved in preserving and promoting folklore and the culture, the cultural heritage of where they come from? I've been working with young people for many years now and the one thing that I have learned

35:14

They hate being advised by anybody on any topic. I would recommend them to be actively involved in a troop if they want to promote tradition.

35:36

I would always recommend activities that include more people, not individual activities. You like, you have individual and team sports. The more the merrier. If you're in team sport, then it probably gets more interesting. When you have a team of people, then it's probably more interesting. So I would always recommend activities that include more people.

36:06

In this case, if we're talking about, when we're talking about folklore, then activities are also music, great time, they include traveling. It's a special feeling when you can represent your country.

36:32

You must feel it to know what it is. So you can learn different skills as a part of the ascent through.

36:46

Then we very often have activities that include a studio of modern dances in Travnik. For young people living in Travnik, it's very good to be a part of this folk work too. And probably all around Bosnia, different towns and cities, these folk work troupes

37:16

dance troupes, they have some activities and probably are being a part of projects where they can learn a lot of things. It's not just come and dance. It's more than that. It's always more than that. So the meaning of the word folk and lore, they tell you enough that it's more than dancing.

37:48

And also I must add something before we finish. I want to go back to the point where we discussed support, or local governments, councils, and different people, businessmen, important people, parents, everybody who can give us support. If...

38:17

We, or those, or everybody who genuinely love traditional dances, decide one day that they don't want to sacrifice their time for it, everything could be lost. Because to be a part of a traditional dance troupe,

38:42

Regardless of the role that you're playing in it, everything could be lost if you don't love it. So the future of folklore somehow lies in all of us. We are all responsible for preserving it. Of course, those who love it, they will try hard to preserve everything that they have.

39:14

We're not.

39:17

got this role a year ago. As you say, directing the troop, managing it.

39:26

That happened because older people had to retire. So somebody had to continue doing it. If I didn't accept the rule, I can't say what could happen.

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An Englishman in the Balkans
Find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina
Encouraging people to find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Welcome to "An Englishman in the Balkans" podcast, hosted by David Pejčinović-Bailey.
In this podcast, you'll get a unique look at life in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the eyes of an immigrant. Each episode, David shares his experiences living in this often misunderstood country, and introduces you to some of the interesting people he's met along the way.
From exploring the rich culture and history, to discussing the challenges and joys of immigrating to a new country, this podcast offers a thoughtful and engaging look at life in the Balkans.
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About your host

Profile picture for David Pejčinović-Bailey

David Pejčinović-Bailey

I am a podcaster, living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sharing my experiences of living in this often misunderstood country.