| Diwan Special issue|
Born in 1946 in Gornji Rahić (B&H), lives in Sarajevo (B&H).
The circumstances under which the most famous Bosniak lyric song – sevdalinka (oriental style love song) was born, took place during the first centuries of the Ottoman Empire in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the neighbouring regions. The ambience of a diverse social life provided fertile ground for its birth. Such an ambience was a characteristic of Bosnian towns in full bloom, with their bazaars, squares and the atmosphere of the čaršija (town centre), during the time that a contemporary historian, speaking of our capital Sarajevo in the 16th century, named ’the golden age.’
The earliest known example of this Bosniak lyric song dates from the 16th century, as written in the preface of the Anthology of Bosniak Oral Lyric Poetry (Sarajevo, 1997, pages 5-8) by Munib Maglajlić. The song in question refers to the history of an ungratified love between Adil, a Bosniak from Klis, and Marija, a girl from the Vornić family of Split. Although not preserved in its authentic version, the love song that a young lover sang to his beloved at Split’s market-place – based on the chronicler’s notes and poetic translation by the Croatian poet, Luka Botić
– belongs, almost for a fact, to the oral tradition whose lyric works, from the end of the last century onwards, have been termed sevdalinka1.
Mula Mustafa Bašeskija’s Chronicle also testifies to the tradition of the sevdalinka in the history of Bosnia: ’In 1194 (i.e. 1780/81), a group of young cadis-effendis: Hadžimusić (Hacimusazade) Abdulahefendioka, Alikadići (Alikadizadeler), mufti’s son-in-law Kurevija (Kurevizade), Ćemerlić (Ćemerlizade), Pinji (Pino-ogli), Abdurahman i Salihaga, Lutfulah Ćurčić (Kurkizade), Mutevelić (Mutevelizade), Sulejman Ablagija, Ismail Handžić, Dukatar, Fazlagić, Cigić, and others – the seventeen of them, would organise, twice a week, so-called sohbethalva gatherings, attended by ćehaja-mehkemas (the elders), mula’s (an imam’s) sons, Isabeg, and a few of their acquaintances and friends. In short, up to seven dining-tables would be laid, with some twenty to thirty plates of various dishes served; they would play a Persian type of flute called the naj, sing sevdalinkas and tell different types of jokes, and all of this would cost about 40-50 groschens.’2
Born in close relation to the way of life in certain town areas, from the Ottoman Empire to the 20th century, the sevdalinka preserved the names of many individuals, mostly of beautiful young girls and young men, spreading news of them, in the form of a local chronicle, to areas far away from its place of its origin.
The expansion of town life as well as the above sohbet parties followed by songs and music, as picturesquely described in Bašeskija’s Chronicle, were, on the other hand, limited by the clearly defined canons of social conduct. This led to the development of specific forms of communication between lovers who, the sexes being strictly separated due to social norms and the way of life, were usually forced to use a mediator for communication, especially for exchanging messages and arranging meetings. The protagonists of epic songs did the same. Focusing on the anticipation of lovers as well as the complex relations imposed by the social reality in which not all options were open to women, provided more than fertile ground for the growth of lyric poetry, full of desire, anticipation and concealed hopes. This song preserved the atmosphere of courting, full of memories of some eminent girls and young men whose grace and beauty were kept alive during a period far longer and throughout a region far wider than anyone might have expected, in view of their insignificance in the places where they came from.
There are many sevdalinkas with local characteristics that praised some famous beautiful girls and young men placed within the local milieu of Bosnian mahalas (Turkish name for town quarters) and the picturesqueness of villages and towns. From Atmejdan sokak (lane), via
2 Bašeskija, Mula Mustafa. Chronicle (1768-1804), Translation from Turkish, foreword and comment by Mehmed Mujezinović, 3rd edition, Sarajevo: Sarajevo Publishing, 1997, page 189;
Tašlihan, Varoš, Bistrik, Vratnik, Trebević, Latinluk, Morića-han, to the expanse of the Dženetić avlija (yard) and the richness of the Bakarević gardens, even today the melodies vibrate, reminding us of the events and human destinies from long ago. We all know about Gornja Tuzla that is ’girdled’ by a snake and about the meadow stretching at the foot of Gornja Tuzla. We also know about Livno with the palace of Firduskapetan, Travnik lit up by a girl’s eye, the acrobats from Gradiška on the Sava River, Višegrad with the unforgettable bridge, Gradačac with the grieving widow of Husein-kapetan Gradaščević and so on.
Most lyric folk songs express certain emotions and moods, present the outline of an event, and some of them even appear in the form of a dialogue. Perhaps it is Muhsin Rizvić, a literary critic, who defined sevdalinka most precisely, defining at the same time its poetic and lyric substance:
’By their poetic character, sevdalinkas contain some essential qualities of ballads, of their darkened tragedy stemming from a painful feeling caused by an occasion or an event. A sevdalinka is different from a ballad because it does not contain a developed and dynamic plot, but only a subconscious event – in both its full conciseness and extensiveness, more as a motive and a resume from which the important feature develops – a sigh of love, as a predestined lyric-erotic outcome. Or, perhaps, it shows the very survival of an event’s outcome, of its important fragment, the one that conveys the full emotional, lyric potential and results in a cry, a scream of desire and of lovers’ pain. Therefore, a sevdalinka is, actually, the lyric monologue of a woman, which in an emotional and subjective sphere follows the implied events in their abstract course and, later, the monologue of her own emotions both as a resonance and a comment on love and life.’3
Sevdalinka influenced the lyric poetry of Bosniak poets of the 20th century to a high degree. Among them, particularly inspired were the following ones: Safvet-beg Bašagić, Musa Ćazim Ćatić, Osman Đikić, Hamza Humo, Ahmed Muradbegović, Hamid Dizdar and Selver Pašić.
3 Rizvić, Muhsin. A Panorama of Bosniak Literature, Sarajevo: Ljiljan, 1994, pages 123-124;
The documentary basis for a study of the Bosniak lyric and poetic tradition today, including both its textual and musicological aspects and, especially, sevdalinkas, as the most representative part of that tradition, are only the rare editions of the texts of the songs or just the texts with musical transcriptions. One such example is a very rare collection of songs entitled Sevdalinkas: A Selection from Bosnian-Herzegovinian Folk Lyrics (Sarajevo, 1944, prepared by Hamid Dizdar). Another example is a selection of 75 texts of the songs with musical transcriptions entitled Serbo-Croatian Folk Songs (New York: Columbia University Press, 1951), prepared by Bela Bartok and Albert Lord. In addition, there is an edition of a collection of songs in four volumes entitled Yugoslav Folk Music (New York: State University of New York Press, 1974), also prepared by Bartok and Lord, based on the textual and ethno- musicological documents housed in the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature at Harvard University (see the web-page: www.fas.edu/mpc). After the Second World War, four books entitled Bosnian Folk Songs, by Vlado Milošević, were published (Banja Luka, Muzej Bosanske krajine, 19541964). The significant oral and literary material, consisting mostly of lyric songs, had been collected over the years by Alija Nametak, and published partly in a book entitled From the Cradle to the Hoe: Lyric and Narrative Songs of Bosnian-Herzegovinian Muslims (Sarajevo, published by the author, 1970). In recent years, Muhamed Žero prepared and published a book entitled Sevdah of Bosniaks, 430 Sevdalinkas with Musical Transcriptions (Sarajevo: Ljiljan, 1995, 450 pages).
Generally, as a form of interpersonal communication of exceptional artistic qualities, today the sevdalinka is almost totally restricted from the public arena. The mass media practically ignore the sevdalinka and almost never broadcast it. At the same time, it has been replaced by something popularly known as newly composed or turbo-folk (derog.) music, whose social context and genesis differ greatly from the circumstances and environment in which the sevdalinka was born and lived. They are, in fact, two completely opposite musical forms, whose aesthetic values can hardly be compared. However, recently there have been some signs of a revived interest in the sevdalinka which should, as a popular artistic form, be presented in a new, rearranged ’outfit’, based on its traditional foundation and enhanced by the use of technical advances provided by the new media technology.
Songs denoted as ballads have been deeply rooted in the oral literature of Bosniaks for centuries. The most famous one among them is certainly Hasanaginica, which Alberto Fortis, a travel writer and a naturalist, published both in the Bosnian language and in Italian translation under the title of ’The Sad Song of the Noble Hasanaginica’, in the first volume of his book Viaggio in Dalmazia (Venetia, 1774, pages 98-104). This ballad has, thanks to the translations into Italian by A.Fortis, German by J.W.Goethe and English by Walter Scott, not only introduced the oral folk literature of Bosniaks into European cultural circles, but has also been the precursor of similar examples from other literatures of the wider South-Slav area. Marking the 200th anniversary of its first edition, Alija Isaković published a significant collection of papers entitled Hasanaginica 1774-1974 (Sarajevo, 1975), dedicated to this famous song4.
The oldest documents about the Bosniak ballad are found, as far as it can be determined, in the Erlangen Manuscript, a collection of poems probably recorded during 1720. Unknown is the path that five Bosniak ballads had to cross to their final housing in the collected papers placed at the University Library in Erlangen.
A ballad is a form of the oral narrative song developed in Europe in the Middle Ages. Its name derives from the Provencal term ballar, meaning - to play. The characteristics of this type of oral song varied, depending on the place and the period of its origin, but its specific features remained constant and, apparently, fundamental. A ballad is, in a word, a narrative meant to be sung.
Writing about the poetic features of the Bosniak ballad, Munib Maglajlić emphasises that this song is characterised by a flat tune, in which Islamic influences mingle with the old Bosnian essentials that have been present from before. It is usually written in decasyllabic or symmetric and asymmetric octosyllabic and thirteen-syllabic verse, and it contains between fifteen verses to two hundred verses. As for its compositional features, it indicates the possibility of comparing a protagonist of an oral ballad with a protagonist of a play, for both oral ballads and dramatic works are characterised by certain tensions following from its protagonists’ opposing aspirations. Much as in a drama, a ballad’s composition develops into five ideally conceived phases of a dramatic plot: exposition, action, raising action, climax and denouement, placing itself in a discrepancy between the ideals and an unfeeling reality.5
Many of the preserved examples express the theme of the main protagonists’ clashing aspirations and the environment that, being in a discrepancy of a longed-for ideal and an unfeeling reality, leads them to a tragic end. There are numberless variations of themes or subject matters of ballads in the preserved documents. One of the constant themes in ballads is that of – treason, such as the ballad ’A Song of the Death of Hifzi-beg Đumišić’; then there are ballads with the usual themes of: two unfortunate lovers whose love leads them to death; a cold-hearted mother who sacrifices her son because of her lover, whom nevertheless the son manages to kill; a loyal young man who is dead and even from his grave grieves for his ’only love’; a daughter-in-law who sensitively prevents her brother-in-law’s sinful intention; a young man who suffers from a girl’s bewitching.
In her essay entitled ’Hasanaginica’: A Contribution to the Study of Oral Ballads’, Hatidža Krnjević-Dizdarević emphasised some basic features of this oral folk song:
’Hasanaginica’ is a ballad whose plot is essentially determined by the specific nature of conflict. It is a ballad in which the conflict is doubled. Hasanaga is not only in a conflict with his wife, but also in a conflict with himself, just as is Hasanaginica to a lesser extent. Their respective internal conflicts are revealed by the internal conflict between them. These two conflicts form two concentric circles that further expand into
5 Maglajlić, Munib. ’Poetic Characteristics of the Bosniak Ballad’, Oral Ballad of Bosniaks, Sarajevo, Preporod, 1995, pages 99-116;
the third one, thus making a plot. The plot is determined and characterised by this double folding. The second distinctive feature of the conflict is its implicitness and in that respect it seems not to be intensive enough. However, the tragic quality of this misunderstanding is then only deepened, because the main protagonists are prevented from meeting directly. This is the source of the huge tension of the final scene, because the protagonists meet then for the first time, after everything has happened without their knowledge and participation. It all happened by means of ominous words and not by an act. The conflict in the plot indicates the desperate state of mind within the protagonists: Hasanaginica said that ’she could not do it for feeling ashamed’, which implies an intimate dilemma and uncertainty about the decision to make; Hasanaga, despite the strict message he sent, shows in the end that he expected his wife to show compassion for their children, which reveals a deep crack within himself. These words supplemented his character with what it lacked, a dimension of the human weakness of hoping, making him more acceptable and human. The duality of the conflict is a result of psychological divisiveness of the protagonists.’6
The tragic denouement at the end of the ballad is paradoxical, yet human and possible: the two main protagonists become subjectively closer to each other, although in reality they have come to a final parting of their ways. What they have in common is a complete tragedy that they not only experience but also watch, and it brings them together at the final moment. At the end, Hasanaga shares his wife’s pain, shaken by the immediate reality. This ballad represents true poetry, and its content is human desire. Mostly it is the desire to set things in motion that is present in Hasanaga, but that desire comes too late. However, to turn the clock back means to reach such moral (and fateful) heights that none of the protagonists is capable of reaching anymore. But the very seeking to attain this goal illuminates the last moments of the tragic end of Hasanaginica.
6 Krnjević, Hatidža. ’Hasanaginica: A Contribution to the Study of Oral Ballads’, Izraz, XXXIII,
4-5 (1973), page 254. See also Oral Ballads of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Prepared by Hatidža
Krnjević, Sarajevo, Svjetlost, 1973;
The issue of the presence of Bosniak epic poetry, as a distinctive unit, in American and West European Slavic studies during the 1930s and later in the 20th century, is closely related to the issue of the Oral-Formulaic Theory which, among other fields of folklore studies, first developed in the USA, at Harvard University, mostly thanks to the research by Milman Parry and Albert Bates Lord, his associate and a successor to his prematurely ended work. At first, the Oral-Formulaic Theory was used in a narrow literary-historical context with the aim of, as was the case with folklore studies in the 19th century, the historical reconstruction of the past that ultimately came down to the attempts to reconstruct the Homeric technique used for composing the two famous ancient epics the Iliad and the Odyssey.
After Albert Lord formulated and presented it to scientific circles in his book The Singer of Tales in 1960, this Theory, based on the foundations laid by Milman Parry, attracted the attention of scientists outside the field of Homeric studies. Apart from generating the emergence of several thousands of different reviews and studies, it attracted attention of both researchers of Old English texts, Biblical and Koranic texts, Old Arabic poetry, Persian and Indian epics, and researchers of Scandinavian sagas, medieval German epic poetry, Old French epic songs and African oral literary works. Such a wide range of this literary-theoretical method relied considerably on the elaboration of oral-literary documents that first Parry, and then Lord and other researches collected mostly from Bosniak singers in Sandžak and other areas of ex-Yugoslavia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the decade prior to the Second World War and during the 1950s and 1960s.
His interest in our oral poetry as well as the reasons his two journeys to ex-Yugoslavia (first time from June to September 1933, and the second time from June 1934 to September 1935), Milman Parry made public in his unfinished essay entitled ’Ćor Huso: A Study of South Slavic Epic Poetry’:
’At first I studied the style of Homer’s songs and realised that this highly developed formulaic style of expression could only be traditional.
However, I did not quite realise at the time, as I should have, that such a style – as Homer’s – had to be not only traditional but also oral.’7
One of the conclusions that, thanks to his fieldwork, he arrived at, Milman Parry wrote in a summary that he, just before he died, prepared for publishing in the Transactions of the American Philological Association magazine, in which he states:
’Traditional heroic songs that Bosnian Muslims sing even today, especially those who live in the area of the Montenegrin border (at the beginning of my research, I only collected songs from that region) usually consist of 4000-5000 verses, and some of them even of 16000 verses. Among them, for the first time, there is a group of songs created by narration and by passing from generation to generation, whose length is equal to that of Greek heroic epics, which indicated that they could shed new light on the epic songs of ancient Greece.
As a result of this, for example, we can see how a singer of a traditional song interrupts his singing, when he needs a rest, and when the narration of the rest of the song should be postponed - till some other occasion.
The circumstances are described under which other South Slavic songs were sung as far as pauses, places, situations, listeners and the time available to singers are concerned. Also, the varying length of different songs is shown, and a capacity of a singer to lengthen and shorten a song. Next, it is explained how these circumstances influence the present way of singing, which was described on the basis of my observations and on explanations that singers, when interviewed, gave themselves.
A comparison was made with the old Greek epic singing in order to find out to what extent our knowledge, acquired by observing the Bosnian way of singing, can be applied to Greek songs, for which such type of evidence, based on observation, is rare. The conclusions drawn from this comparison have significant importance for the theory that aims at the division of the Iliad and the Odyssey into books and chants.’8
7 See: The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers of Milman Parry. Ed. by Adam Parry,
New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 439; 8 Transactions of the American Philological Association, 66 (1935), p. XLII;
Milman Parry’s first-hand knowledge of this tradition, acquired in the region of its origin, was preceded by his study of the previously published collections of songs such as one by Vuk Karadžić, a collection by Kosta Hrmann, and two books of Bosniak epic poetry published by the Central Croatian Cultural and Publishing Society. He was also influenced by the early work of Matija Murko, and by the documents of Fridrich Krauss, an Austrian ethnographer, particularly his essays ’Guslarenlieder’ and ’Von wunderbaren Guslarengedchtnis’ where he explains how an illiterate gusle-player (gusle = one stringed Balkan folk fiddle) can sing and play thousands upon thousands of verses. In late March 1935, Parry described, in one of his reports, the very procedure of his interviews with the singers and the way he questioned them:
’My growing experience and knowledge of people, gusle-players and songs, has taught me methods which will, beyond any doubt, enable me to collect the best material available in the field of South Slavic songs. Especially valuable was my experience in putting together a questionnaire for my interviews with the gusle-players, in which I asked them, into a microphone, about their skills, lives and social environment; so I hope to bring back to America a collection of manuscripts and recordings that is unique in terms of the studies of the work and life of one whole oral narrative poetry. The recorded comment about the song The Wedding of Smailagić Meho, by Avdo Međedović, who sang it in 12000 verses, is matchless in the collections of epic folk songs. The result of my fieldwork as well as its application to the research of other epic poetries will be revealed in a special book entitled The Singer of Tales, which will soon be published within the Harvard University Press’ series ’Harvard Studies on Comparative Literature’. In this book the above issues will be analysed at more considerable length than it has been possible here.’
The first published collection of documents collected by M.Parry and his associate Albert Lord consists of 32 texts of the songs recorded in Novi Pazar, from Salih Ugljanin, Sulejman Fortić, Džemail Zgodić, Sulejman Makić and Alija Fjuljanin. These first texts, together with interviews with singers and English translation, were co-published, in two volumes, by Harvard University Press and the Serbian Academy of Sciences in 1953 and 1954.
In the preface of the book published in 1953, M.Parry’s words were quoted: ’…This collection of texts preserved through oral tradition was not collected to become the material for another book within the already existing comprehensive collections of this poetry, but rather to obtain the data from which some general conclusions could be drawn, which could be applicable to oral poetry in general…
…Not only are we able to follow how a singer puts words, sentences, verses, whole passages and themes together, but we can also see how a whole song lives and passes from one man to another, from one generation to another, how it travels across plains and mountains, crosses the boundaries of a language and, even more than that, how the whole of oral poetry lives and dies.’9
This relatively small work of Milman Parry, whose research was ended by his premature death, was collected and published by his son Adam Parry in 1987, under the title of The Making of Homeric Verse. This edition consists of the previously published and until then unpublished theoretical works, among which an essay entitled ’Ćor Huso: A Study of South Slavic Epic Poetry’ deserves to be singled out. The editor of Milman Parry’s complete works selected and published the fragments of this essay concerning the study of thematic structure and oral performance in general.10
A brief outline of both Parry’s work and his collection of Bosniak epic poetry was given by Albert Lord in his review ’Homer, Parry and Huso.’11
It includes the first seven pages of The Singer of Tales, which Milman Parry left unfinished and which, later, Albert Lord completed and published under his name. Generally, The Singer of Tales is one of the most significant works in the field of studies of oral literature in the
9 This and some other interesting observations, including the description of the recording method,
field experience, interviews with singers and the way of editing texts for publishing, are stated
in ’Introductory Chapter’ in the book entitled Serbo-Croatian Heroic Songs. Collected by
Milman Parry, edited by Albert Lord. Second volume. Novi Pazar: Texts in Serbo-Croatian, with
the foreword and editor’s remarks and with the preface by A.Belić. Beograd and Cambridge,
1953, pages XIII-XXV; 10 ’Ćor Huso: A Study of South Slavic Epic Song’. The Making of Homeric Verse…Oxford, 1987,
p. 452;11 Supplement to American Journal of Archeology, 52 (1948), 34-44;
last few decades, especially in relation to the well-known Oral-Formulaic Theory. The aim of the method applied in this book is to illustrate, by analogy, the presence of oral traditional structures in ancient and medieval poetry, relied on first-hand experience that was based on the study of the examples, mostly from Bosniak epic poetry. In so doing, it also indicates the analogous forms in Homer’s epics, Old English verse, Old French chansons and the Byzantine-Greek epic Digenis Akritas. After the introductory chapter, a learning process of a gusle-player is described. The first phase is listening to an established player-singer, the second phase consists of his own first, often clumsy, singing and, in the end, in his mature phase, there comes his formed art of singing of a repertoire of songs, in which he adds, to a certain extent, his own style to songs.
Also, in this text, there is a chapter entitled ’Formula’ in which Lord takes Parry’s original concept of the stratification of phraseology, in order to illustrate the patterns of the narration in South Slavic epic poetry, adding some factors such as syntactic balance and tune types to show how ’the poetic grammar of oral epic poetry is based, and it must be based - on a formula’. And that formula is, then, defined as: ’A group of words which is regularly employed under the same metrical conditions to express a given essential idea’12.
It ought to be pointed out that after the publication of this work in 1960, a real tide of reviews, studies and essays occurred, all of them dealing with different aspects of this undoubtedly influential work which is today present in all studies of oral folk literature13.
12 Quoted in: Lord, A. The Singer of Tales, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960, p.30. See also: Lord, A.B. ’Formula’, Oral Epic of Bosniaks. Prepared by Enes Kujundžić, Sarajevo: Svjetlost, 1997. 311-363;
13 It is sufficient to notice that the quantity of material that was collected on the basis of Parry and Lord’s theoretical studies created a documentary foundation for the appearance of several bibliographies on it. For example, Edward Hymes published Hymes’ Bibliography of Oral Theory, with the list of study titles that resulted from M.Parry and A.Lord’s work, which was later supplemented by S.Armestead in the publication Modern Language Notes. In 1979, Jaochim Latacz, a Swiss Homerologist, published Spezialbibliographie zur Oral poetry – Theorie in der Homerforschung, (Darmmstadt, 1979), whish is especially interesting because it contains the material of the reception of the above oral-theoretical theory by European scientific circles. The most thorough bibliography of material for the Oral-Formulaic Theory was made by John Miles Foly, an American folklorist, in his bibliography entitled Oral-Formulaic Theory and Research: An Introduction and Annotated Bibliography (New York, London: Garland Publishing, 1985), in
The important part of Parry’s research is his ’discovery’ of a singer named Avdo Međedović, from Bijelo Polje, because in him he found ’what he had been searching for all over the country’, a singer and gusleplayer with an ability to sing songs equal in length to the Iliad and the Odyssey.’ This singer was born around 1870 in Bijelo Polje, Sandžak where he spent his youth and from where he, after having learnt a butch-er’s trade from his father, joined the army from which he returned in seven years. The rest of his life he spent with his family in Obrov, a small village situated on a hill above Bijelo Polje, where he died around 1955.
Both the text of the song The Wedding of Smailagić Meho, recorded by Avdo Međedović, and its translation into English were first published in 1974. The book that contains the English translation of The Wedding is numbered 1 in the ’Texts and Translations’ series of the edition of Parry’s Collection housed in Wiedner Library at Harvard University. The Bosnian edition of The Wedding was prepared by Enes Kujundžić and published by ’Svjetlost’ Sarajevo in 1987. This epic generically relies on the original version of the similarly titled song consisting of 2160 verses, which Friedrich Krauss, an Austrian ethnographer, recorded out of a dictation by Ahmed Isakov Šemić in Rotimije – ’a three-hour walk from the confluence of the Buna River and the Neretva River to the south, on a mountain’, as the singer said himself. The text was published by a bookshop owned by Dragutin Pretner in Dubrovnik in 1886, under the title of Smailagić Meho: A Song of Our Mohammedans. One of the editions of this song entitled Smailagić Meho, published in Mostar in 1925, by Prva Muslimanska nakladna
which about the 700 pages of text present the complete picture of the scientific consequences of the work by the above authors and their influence on Homerology in general and, especially, on the study of the character of oral poetry. The book contains about 1800 annotated bibliographic units that the author collected and presented to scientific circles, based on the material from the libraries in Europe and the USA. In the Introduction of his bibliography he states that the work will be further supplemented after the publishing of the book. In an interview that Dr.Zlatan Čolaković, a researcher of oral epic poetry, gave to Albert Lord, and which was published in the magazine Latina et Graeca, Zagreb, on February 1, 1986, he stated a number of observations that shed new light on the issue of the future and present state of the Oral-Formulaic Theory, which Parry generally outlined and Lord further upgraded and presented in its final form in his book The Singer of Tales; knjižara (M.B. Kalajdžić), probably served as the source of information for Avdo, so that he learnt the song when his neighbour and friend Hivzo Džafić14 read it form this book.
The plot of The Wedding can be briefly summarised as follows: Meho’s family has held a strategic-military position of the alajbeg (provincial military head) for decades. Mehmed-Meho, a young and ambitious man, but without any military experience, tries to convince his father to, due to his advanced age, leave the position of the alajbeg to him. But in order to do that, Meho first needs to go to Buda, to gain the Vizier’s approval for the succession. On his journey to Buda, accompanied by his attendant Osman, he encounters a carriage with Fatima, a young girl who is being taken against his will to marry General Petar – a Christian army leader in Karabogdan. Inevitably, a clash takes place, and Meho manages to free the beautiful girl. Then, Meho finds out that it is the malevolent Vizier of Buda who is to blame for Fatima’s unwanted marriage and who, out of greed, exiled her father to Baghdad and executed most of prominent people from Buda. Now he wants to ally himself with General Petar, against the honourable and noble Bosniaks. Upon arriving in Buda, Meho successfully woos the girl’s hand from her moth
14 Lord, A. ’Avdo Međedović’ The Wedding of Smailagić Meho, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974. Generally, Avdo’s repertoire consisted of 58 songs out of which nine Parry managed to sound-record on the discs, and through dictation he recorded another four songs, among which the most beautiful one in the whole collection, The Wedding of Smailagić Meho, consists of 12311 verses. The material that Avdo presented and that was sound-recorded and written by Parry contains: 319 discs with the total of 44902 of sound-recorded verses and 33653 verses written through the narration. The longest song that Avdo presented was named Osmanbeg Delibegović and Pavičević Luka, and it filled a hundred of then discs with the texts recorded on both sides. The total time of the narration and singing for all the discs is 53 hours. In addition there are interviews with Avdo that fill 180 of discs. The total of recorded material of parry’s collection consists of 4999 discs. Update on the Milman Parry Collection can be found on the Internet (www.fas.harvard.edu/mpc). In relation to the edition of The Wedding, prepared by Enes Kujundžić and published by ’Svjetlost’, Sarajevo in 1987, see the review by Munib Maglajlić The Tales of a Singer from the Balkans and His Heroic Epic’. Sarajevo: ’Svjetlost’, 1987. A review of the book The Wedding of Smailagić Meho. Odjek, XLI, 3 (1988), page 24. In this elaborate text the author tries to emphasise the key guidelines of the epic material that Avdo produced, with the conclusion: ’Because of all that was mentioned, the publication of the heroic epic The Wedding of Smailagić Meho is an accomplishment worthy of attention. A greater number of local Slavists will now, for sure, become interested in the epic poetic material collected at Harvard, or at least for the part that is published, which is the smaller quantity in comparison to what is still in manuscripts and discs. Ćamil Sijarić, a Bosniak writer from Sandžak, published in some of his texts his reminiscences abut Avdo: ’Avdo Međedović: A Singer of Epic Folk Songs’, Život, XXXII, 1112 (1983), 416-423, ’Avdo Međedović – A Folk Singer’. Odjek, XL, 20 (1987), page15;
er, then they arrange the wedding, and also he gets the approval for his succession to the position of the alajbeg. However, from the moment when they agreed to the marriage, Meho, his father and all the noblemen in Kanjiža have been aware that the critical fight against the traitors led by the Vizier of Buda and the army of General Petar would have to take place.
The battle takes place in an epic manner, with a lot of retreats, heroic deeds and superb tactics, especially by Budalina Tale. The bloodshed lasts several days and ends with the victory of the Bosniak army. Meho again appears, wreathed in glory, and General Petar and the Vizier are defeated and executed. The Sultan, in Constantinople, releases Fatima’s father and the other prisoners, and the unforgettable wedding takes place at the end15.
Through many attributes given in The Wedding, Avdo unconsciously related his main character Meho to similar heroes from other parts of the world and other cultural circles such as, for example, Rustem, Dede Korkut, and Manas from Iran, Asia Minor and Central Asia or Digenis Akritas from the Byzantine-Greek cultural area. While studying this song, it would be necessary to compare it with the texts of more significant medieval epics in general, as well as with one of the basic epic themes of, a hero inspired by God, the saviour of the world who rides a magic horse and fights, with his invincible sword, for the rights of the afflicted and deprived ones. In every possible way, Avdo Međedović from Bijelo Polje had a deep and infallible sense for the primordial sources of epic poetry.
However, without the rich tradition that he relied upon, he would not have had such variety of disposable documents for songs in his environment. He learnt the art from a master, primarily his father, who had been deeply influenced by the most famous singer of his generation. His
15 The events described by both versions of The Wedding of Smailagić Meho, the Krauss’ version published in 1886 and the one that was published in Harvard in 1974, took place in the 17th century, around 1668. Kanjiža, a town with an important role in the song because this is where the plot begins and ends, is historically a well-known forth that used to dominate over the area between Lake Balaton and the Mura River in the south-west Hungary. It fell under the rule of the Ottoman Empire in 1009/1600, after a long and exhausting siege, and then, Tirjaki Hasan Pasha ruled it. Buda, another important place where two episodes from The Wedding, fell under the Ottoman rule in 1541 and the Hapsburgs definitely seized it back after 145 years, i.e. in 1686;
name was Ćor Huso Husović, from Kolašin, whose most distinctive characteristic, as a singer, was the ability to ornament his songs. He, according to the note of him by Rajko Medenica at the beginning of his work ’A Blind Gusle-Player Ćor Huso Husović’, was born in Kolašin, and was, undoubtedly, a distant descendant of one of the many widely known bey’s families such as Mušovići, Kaljići, Smailagići, Kajevići, Pijuci, Pepići and others, after whom some of the places in the area of Kolašin16
have been named and, thus, the memory of them has been kept until today.
Avdo’s personal reasons to devote himself to the completion of The Wedding, the influence of prestige originated from the printed version of the story and Avdo’s outstanding skill of singing oral epic songs can all be considered as specific factors that led to the emergence of a unique creation consisting of 12311 verses.
In the Odyssey, there is a close relationship between Odysseus and his son Telemachus, which resulted from a fact that both of them shared the same forms of life experience; and it is the same type of father-son relationship that attracted Avdo so strongly to the song of Smailaga’s son.
Upon reaching the age of baluk (the age when a small boy becomes a man, as old Bosniaks would say), followed by constant proving of one’s manliness through fights with opponents as well as the capability of assuming responsibility in the world of adults, to the fulfilment of the promised restoration of seized authority – there is an obvious correspondence between the ancient story about reincarnation and the plot of The Wedding. The respective stories of Avdo and Homer represent in large part a single story – a Balkanic initial myth, whose more than two thousand years of age was proved a long time ago.
The song of Smailagić Meho can be considered our best Telemachia ever. At the same time, it is such a Telemachia that it is essentially not inferior to the best of what is preserved from the Ancient Greek tradition17.
Translated by Mirza Džanić
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