„Howdy, neighbor“ series – St.George’s Day, the essence of the Gorani people

Out of over 20,000 Gorani people who lived in Kosovo before the war, only 8,000 remained to preserve the Gorani tradition and craftsmanship. Widely known for their oriental delicacies, Gorani kebabs and burek, they leave no one indifferent.

Nestled in the south of Kosovo, near Albania and North Macedonia, and surrounded by beautiful landscapes, lies Gora. It is divided into the Opolje and Gorani parts, one inhabited by Albanians, and the other by Gorani.

“We have our own life, our habits, our customs, our traditions. People used to be engaged in agriculture and livestock farming, now they are employees of the state… there is also trade, and crafts. We don’t have any factories. Most of us are employed in education, health, and the police,“ says Sukrije Alsani, the president of the village of Vranište and village tailor.

Gorani, a Slavic Muslim ethnic group, say that they have no problems with anyone, nor does anyone have problems with them. They are only worried about leaving their centuries-old hearths.

“The biggest problem is there are no people… We work, we mind our own business. We want to survive here in some way. We respect all Kosovo laws, we are not involved in politics or very interested in it,” Aslani adds.

Speaking of the problems faced by the Gorani, a Rapce local, Zecir Zurapi, says that the biggest problem is the lack of jobs.

“But that has always been the case. The Gorani had done seasonal work before, but the men were the ones who did it while the women stayed behind, and I can say that the Gorani women preserved Gora. However, now whole families are leaving, which is very disastrous for Gora. But we are that kind of people, wherever we go, we always return to Gora,” Zurapi says.

In the center of Gora lies the village of Vraniste, with nearly 2,500 inhabitants, while the local primary school is attended by almost 40 students.

The head of the village Sukrija Aslani states that children are educated within the Serbian system, according to the curriculum of the Government of the Republic of Serbia.

“All six primary schools operate according to the Serbian curriculum. There is one secondary school that was moved from Dragaš to the village of Mlike, it also follows the curriculum of the Government of the Republic of Serbia… While there are classes and education, I think it’s the essence of all that, but if the funding from the Republic of Serbia is suspended, it will be followed by a big exodus,” he testifies.

They say that the Gorani are the best confectioners. King Petar I Karadjordjevic, who employed the then famous confectioner Azir Pelivanovic, also enjoyed their specialties.

“They say that we are famous confectioners, caterers – yes, we are. But Gorani are also highly educated, Ph.D. graduates, engineers, and doctors… the last few generations at the University of Pristina in Mitrovica, Gorani graduated first in class, which shows that we are extremely intelligent, smart, and hardworking, in every field. We are successful in all our endeavors. Just let us work,” Zecir Zurapi argued.

Dilber Hocko from Dragas says it’s an old story, passed along for decades.

“Gorani were first known as confectioners and were promoted as such at that time. Now the Gorani are engaged in all professions and sciences. They are well known and respected in every profession. There are famous doctors and engineers, but confectionery is the food that promoted us, people found out who we are and where we are from, where our roots are. Although the Gorani are still engaged in confectionery, it is a craft that promoted us as a community, we are one indigenous community with all the elements of autochthony,” Hocko says.

The Gorani people live all over the world, having replaced their seasonal jobs with permanent residence in the EU states, the region… But on May 6th, all of them gather in one place – Vlaska.

“This is the central celebration in Gora, this place is called Vlaska. This gathering where people meet has been held there for centuries,” Zurapi notes.

The gathering, he adds, is especially important for young people, as a place of first love, a place where engagements, weddings, and so on are arranged.

“St. George’s Day as a holiday is not what some people are attempting to impose on us, saying that we celebrate the Orthodox Patron’s Day, but we celebrate St. George’s Day in the sense of spring because people used to be engaged in cattle breeding, and poverty was rampant, it wasn’t like it is today, and St. George’s Day celebration meant that one saved his family and cattle. The winters were long, they lasted for six months, people were looking forward to St. George’s Day, and that tradition has remained to date.”

St. George’s Day has a special place in every Gorani, wherever we may be, whether we live in Gora or abroad, in Serbia, Macedonia, anywhere, Hocko underlined.

“It occupies a special place in the life of Gorani people. The Gorani will endure and Gora will survive as long as there is St. George’s Day. Someday, if St. George’s Day is not celebrated, Gora will also disappear. St. George’s Day occupies a special place in the life of every Gorani, while this beauty and this enthusiasm exist, the Gora and the Gorani will live. Of course, other factors influence that, such as culture, customs, tradition, and language, but it all pervades on this day – St. George’s Day,” Hocko underscored.

Once upon a time, for Gorani women, St. George’s Day presented a kind of fashion show where folk costumes were displayed, and the celebration was also used as an opportunity for young people to meet. Today, the folk costumes are worn much less, as a result of the modern age.

“Now it’s modern, but once upon a time all the girls prepared their folk costumes, it was a kind of fashion show. They would display the costumes they made during the winter here. Unfortunately, globalization has done its thing, now most of our young people live abroad and come here and buy folk costumes. Some put them on, while others don’t, but we try to preserve this tradition,” Zecir Zurapi says.

“Folk costumes, as folk costumes, are now increasingly less worn. I remember in the past, on St. George’s Day, every girl wore a national costume, especially young girls, a terlik was a must, a black one. Every woman wore a Gorani folk costume. Now it’s rare, folk costumes are mostly worn by girls who are about to get married, in the summer, when they have their weddings. They wear that on St. George’s Day so that it is known that they are future brides,” Aslani explained the long-standing Gorani customs.

Two young people in love, Aljvini Damir and Destani Dina remind us that the tradition has not been forgotten.

Aljvini reveals that he came to Gora from Paris, France, to celebrate the holiday and meet with his fiancé whom he met here.

“To celebrate the holiday, the day of spring, to see my fiancée, to take a walk with her, to show people that we are promised to one another, and that, God bless, there’ll be a wedding next year… We met here in Gora, we have something called a korzo, a promenade, it’s when the girls walk in the middle of the street and the boys stand on the side. She was passing by when I noticed her, I asked her if she wanted us to get to know each other, to talk. We started talking and here we are…” Damir Aljivini said.

Wearing the traditional Gorani folk costume, Damir’s future bride proudly strolled through Vlaska.

“Let’s start from the head, this is a traditional headscarf, this is a necklace, these are sulušnici, there is a shirt as well as an apron, which my mother made by hand, there are socks under it… It’s not about expenses, it’s about values. For us, this is very valuable, and we don’t look at it through money, but through pleasure, that feeling of warmth we experience while wearing this costume,” Dina Destani stated.

We also met Mirbaz Mustafa, an Albanian from Ulcinj, who came to Gora in the hope that he would meet a girl here.

“We came to see how this St. George’s Day is celebrated here, and to take a trip. It would be great to meet girls, there are a lot of girls here, but things are not like they say,” says Mustafa.

There is no celebration in Gora without the zurla wind instrument and the davul. With the first notes, the folk dancing starts. It is customary for girls and fiancées to join the dancing, and for the groom’s side to adorn the musicians.

“This davul is a tradition here, it’s been like that for centuries, my grandfather also played this music, and now I’m playing it. My son also started – if he wants to continue in my footsteps,” says musician Festrim Osmani.

And where there is music, there is a song. This year, too, the Gorani rule was respected: Wherever you may be, come home on St. George’s Day. In Gorani or Naški, as they call their language, it would sound something like: „Ke da si da si, za Djuren doma da si“.

This is the fifth episode in the “Howdy, neighbor” series.

The first episode in the series centered on the lives of Serbs in Cernica, a multiethnic village near Gnjilane. Currently, about 3,000 Albanians and 120 Serbs live there. Read more.

The second episode dealt with the lives of Serbs in the villages of Suvo Grlo, Banje, and Crkolez in the Metohija foothills. Read more.

The third episode examined the lives of Serbs in Babin Most, a multiethnic village in the Obilic municipality. Read more.

The fourth episode highlighted the lives of the Roma in the Roma Settlement in South Mitrovica. Read more.

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