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      Bosnian Traditions Bosansko Sijeloî: A Bosnian Coffee Party
the country bosnians in iowa cultural roots bosansko sijeloi
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Image of Map of Bosnia and HerzegovinaBosnia-Herzegovina
Bosnia-Herzegovina is a small country (just over 20,000 square miles). Like Iowa, it is a land of rolling plains and hills bordered by two rivers. Unlike Iowa, Bosnia occupies a small area on the Adriatic Sea and includes some mountainous regions. Major cities are the capital, Sarejevo, and Zenica, and Banja Luka, where most citizens reside. Before the 1990s wars, Bosnian and Herzegovina was a highly multicultural society with 40% inter-ethnic marriages.    TOP

Bosnia and Herzegovina represent a unique cultural crossroads and first emerged as a political entity in the 10th century. Judaism, Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism, and Islam have all put their stamp and their conflicts over the region. Greco-Romans, Image of The National Flag of Bosnia and HerzegovinaOttoman Turks, Slavs, and Austro-Hungarians have exerted their political influences and rule from the 10th through the 21st centuries. After the end of the First World War, the Geneva Treaty separated Bosnian and Herzegovina from the Hapsburg Empire and united them with Croatia and Slovenia as well as Serbia into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenians. In 1941, Bosnia and Herzegovina came under the control of Croatia and fought against the fascists in World War II. After the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina became a republic within the Yugoslav Federation. In 1992, after the disintegration of Yugoslavia following the 1990 elections, Bosnia-Herzegovina was internationally recognized as an independent country.

From 1992 until just recently, however, war raged among the region's Serbian Orthodox (Eastern Orthodox), Roman Catholic Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed or displaced as a result of the war. Refugees fled to camps in Switzerland and Germany, and tens of thousands came to be resettled in the United States, particularly in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.    TOP

Bosnians in Iowa
Image of Europa Market storefront in WaterlooToday Iowa is a new home for more than twelve thousand Bosnians. Between 6,000 and 7,000 are settled in Des Moines and Ankeny. Approximately 4,500 live in the Cedar Valley Area, in and around Waterloo. Smaller Bosnian communities exist in Iowa City and Davenport, where folks gather mostly around sport and cultural clubs. It is hard to find a large company in Des Moines or Waterloo that doesn't have an employee who speaks Bosnian. Bosnian books can already be seen on bookshelves in libraries, schools, and bookstores. Bosnian music, dances, and food are well known. And there are Bosnian stores, restaurants, and coffee bars in both Des Moines and Waterloo. Although it is impossible to totally recreate one's traditions in a new country, people make adjustments and substitutions and eventually change from Bosnians to Bosnian Americans.     TOP

Cultural RootsImage of Shoes on rug; Bosnians remove their shoes before entering a home
Not surprisingly, Bosnian food, music, dance, and handcrafts all demonstrate the influence of traditions from Central Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Turkish cilim (rug) weaving techniques, European crocheting and knitting, Middle Eastern and Balkan dance and music, and a blend of cooking and baking methods make it clear that Bosnia was and is a multicultural society. Social customs such as leaving one's shoes at the entrance to private homes and mosques reflect Islamic practice, while the traditional greeting of friends and relatives with a light embrace and kisses to both cheeks seems more European.     TOP

Image of Nisveta Pehlic enjoying coffeeBosansko Sijelo (Bosnian Coffee Party)
"Coffee time is a really special time, if you come to our home and you're not offered a cup of coffee, well that is something wrong." — Aldijana Radoncic

Image of Coffee cups on handmade laceOne cannot enter a Bosnian house without being offered coffee, which like British tea, means a small meal and not just coffee! Elaborate homemade pastries, talk, singing, and women's handcrafts are all a part of the more elaborate and very social women's get- together. Bosnian coffee itself, which is made like Turkish coffee (grounds are boiled and allowed to settle) and served with lump sugar and slightly sweet candies, is strong, thick, and served in small cups like espresso. Coffee parties provide a time to sit down, rest, and catch up on local events and family matters.    TOP

Image of Ivanka Husovic rolls out dough for pitaFood
Bosnian food particularly shows a range of multicultural roots. Considered part of the woman's sphere, cooking is at the core of family and social life. Based on its method of preparation, food is divided into three groups: grilled food (beef & lamb), cooked dishes (stuffed peppers, stews, hot-pot), and soups as well as baked foods (breads and pastries). Eating meat, Bosnians believe, ensures good health. And like many Eastern and Central Europeans, Bosnians cannot imagine a meal without baked goods. Other typical foods are cevapcici (ground beef or lamb mixed with spices, shaped into little sausages, and grilled), bosanski lonac (a slow cooked stew of meat and vegetables, cooked and served in its distinctive vase-shaped ceramic pot), sarma (grape or cabbage leaves filled with ground meat, rice, and spice mixtures), and pita (a sweet or savory strudel-like pastry filled with combinations of meat, cheese, or fruit), which is served with kimac, a slightly fermented and thickened cream.    TOP

Image of Bosnian accordian playerDance and Music

Music and dance are part and parcel of Bosnian social life. As in many Eastern bloc and European countries, folk music and dance are taught to children in school; young adults are encouraged to study folk dance and music at university.

Image of Bosnian folk dancers from KUD Kolo of Waterloo

Folk festivals and competitions between performing arts groups were a major part of Bosnian life, and amateur groups called Cultural Art Societies were common throughout the republic. Required to perform the dance, music, andsong of Bosnia, Croatian, and Serbia, they were often not permitted to specialize in the traditions of only one group. In Iowa there are two folk dance groups, Sevdah in Des Moines and Image of Bosnian folk dancers from Sevdah of Des MoinesK.U.D. Kolo in Waterloo. The adult leaders of both of these groups encourage their students to study the language, song, music, and culture of their former homeland as well as the traditional dance. Bosnian musicians in Iowa can be heard in bars and at social events. The bands play social dance music, and young and old join in traditional line dances that weave their way around the dance floor. There is usually a minimal barrier between audience and band, so patrons enthusiastically join in with the singing of popular and traditional songs.    TOP

Image of Bosnian hands crocheting laceCrocheting, Weaving, & Knitting
All Bosnian women learn to make fine and intricate crocheted lace and to knit either in school or from their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. No Bosnian house is complete without its lacey doilies, which rest on the backs and arms of couches and chairs, on shelves under knick-knacks, and atop the family television. Crocheting lace is extremely time consuming, so lace pieces are generally created for family and very close friends; rarely does anyone sell this precious gift of time and self. Image of Bosnian cilim weavingSlightly less common as a handcraft is knitting, which is generally used to create socks and mittens in geometric patterns that resemble those of Scandinavia and Germany. Cilim (rug) weaving is definitely becoming an endangered art. As refugees, very few Bosnians were able to take precious family cilim with them when they fled their homeland. Since the end of the war, travel back and forth has been possible again, however, and traditional cilim, tightly woven of fine wool, can more frequently be seen in Bosnian American homes.    TOP

Text by Riki Saltzman. Photos by Will Thomson, Bill Lockwood, & Riki Saltzman.

the country bosnians in iowa cultural roots bosansko sijeloi
  food dance and music handwork  
  lesson plans resources traditional artists  
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