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Mealtime - Interwar years in Travnik

Copyright © by Alan Grant
View from the fortress

One of the most detailed studies of peasant life in Yugoslavia between the wars was made by an English woman named Olive Lodge. She spent large amounts of time in the country between the two world wars and her book appeared at precisely the moment that much of the world she described was about to vanish forever – in 1941. Unfortunately her book is mostly forgotten and has long been out of print, although it is easy to find an original edition on the internet. Lodge paid particular attention to the lives of women, right down to a detailed account of the different types of contraception used at the time. This excerpt forms part of her description of mealtime, and includes a particular reference to Travnik. At that time many peasants still lived in zadrugas, or family compounds in which work and land were shared. The domaćin was the head-man of the zadruga and a sofra a low round table for eating off:

Before and after meals a girl goes round, pouring water from a pitcher over the hands of all, and presenting the drying towel, beginning with the domaćin. Moslem men and women usually eat separately. In many parts of Bosnia (Travnik district), among Christian peasants, the men have their meals at one sofra, the women at another, and the children at a third, sometimes in the same room, though the women and children often eat by themselves, as do sometimes the young unmarried men. They have to wait until the men have finished before they can eat up the remnants. Their table is seldom as well supplied as that of the men.

In the zadruga the mesarija was the woman in charge of the duties and chores:

At the end of meal the mesarija removes the sofra, and stacks the dishes ready for washing up in the morning. Cows have been milked as soon as they came home, after dusk, either by the mesarija or by one of the other stay-at-homes. Soon after supper each mother puts her children to sleep on rugs on the floor of her own room; and their elders do not stay up late. The peasants sleep very soundly; and seem not to need long hours of slumber. In autumn and winter the evenings are longer; and they may even be snowbound for days. The accumulated repairs and odd jobs are done; new carts and ploughs are fashioned; and they often gather round the great hearth or stove, singing songs and telling traditional tales of saints and heroes.

Peasant Life in Jugoslavia. Olive Lodge. 1941.
[p. 102 / Seeley, Service & Co]

January 2007
Tim Judah

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  2. Istanbul: Swimming across the Bosphorus
  3. Salonika and the Jews
  4. Salonica: Slaves and Trade
  5. Thessalonika: 1923
  6. Ohrid: Rise and Fall
  7. Tornado of Dust - 1944
  8. Awake Romania - 1989
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  10. Nis: War Capital, 1915
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  12. 1996: Serbia Calling
  13. Belgrade Train Station - 1964
  14. Srebrenica: Vengeance
  15. Srebrenica: Blood
  16. Srebrenica: July 1995
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  42. Romania: 1914
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