Serbia along with five other republics, was part of Yugoslavia before its breakup in 1991. The northern part of the country is a fertile plain, with the terrain becoming steeper and steeper towards the south. There rivers have cut steep canyons through the mountains. The Danube, one of Europe’s most important waterways, runs through this country, exiting by way of the Iron Gates––a spectacular gorge whose canyon walls reach up to 488 metres in height. Serbs are the nation’s largest ethnic group, constituting approximately two-thirds of the population, followed by Hungarians and Roma. The official language is Serbian, although minority groups speak their own languages, including Albanian and Hungarian or Slovak.
The family is at the centre of Serb life and although the traditional zadruga system, in which a kin group of several families owned and farmed common land, has changed, loyalty to one’s family and the protection of its honour are still important values. A family’s patron saint is honored during the slava, a festive occasion during which each family hosts an open house for everyone. Special foods are prepared and shared with family, friends and strangers for up to three days. Kumstvo (god-parenting) remains a common and important tradition. Another endurng custom is the zapis, a sacred tree that is to be found in most villages. A cross is carved into the tree’s bark and renewed every year during a special celebration. Zapis are part of commemorations held throughout the year to mark village life, even serving in the past as places for weddings or baptisms when the village did not have a church building. Serbs are warm and pragmatic people to whom humour in communications is essential. Serbian epic poetry has also been important in cementing the national identity and recording historical events. New works are still being published. It is customary that the gusle, a single-stringed instrument, be used to accompany recitations of these epics.
Historically, the Orthodox Church had a major influence on the arts of Serbia. Byzantine influences are evident in the country’s monasteries, some of which contain magnificent frescoes and icons. During the 19th and 20th centuries, however, Western artistic movements began influencing the nation’s architects and artists. Among the creative aspects of the culture, traditional dress occupies an important place because of its role in daily life, its significance for ethnic identity, and its artistic and aesthetic value. The country is known for its costumes, characterized by a great diversity in form and decoration. These colourful apparel are essential parts of the national folk dances, including the Kolo, a circle dance.
Serbia is also known for its kilims, or rugs, made in the town of Pirot for over 4 centuries. Artisans continue to produce exquisite lace, embroidery, leatherwork as well as pottery.
Serbs have been living in Canada since the 1850s, settling in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Recently, because of unrest in their homeland, the number of Serbs immigrating here has increased. As of 2011, there were over 80,000 Serbs living in Canada. They have contributed to Canadian culture in a variety of ways. They have constructed many Serbian Orthodox churches built in the traditional Byzantine style, established numerous Serbian folkloric dance ensembles and founded athletic organizations.
Sponsor: Serbian National Shield Society of Canada | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons