sealdark.gif (3447 bytes)

Home NL32:1 PRESERVING AROMANIAN (VLACH) NL32:2 Romanian Parliament NL32:3 Community News NL31:1 Recent History of the Aromanians in Romania NL31:2 The Recent History of the Aromanians in Southeast Europe NL31:3 Vlach-speaking vocal music in the Western Balkans: An Introductory note NL31:4 From the Editor: The End of an Illusion NL31:5 Community News NL31:6 PANHELLENIC FEDERATION OF CULTURAL ASSOCIATIONS OF VLACHS NL30_1: Haunted by the Enemy Within NL30_2: A Trek Through Greece NL30_3: Community News NL30_4: The Poetry of Traditioonal Languages NL29_1: Aspects of language and identity NL29_2: Community News NL29_3: Update on the Vlachs NL29_4: Creating a Virtual Museum NL28_1: An Istrian in New York NL28_2: Community News NL28_3: Vlach Women and Modernization NL27_1: Aromanians in Greece NL27_2: Community News NL27_3: Vlachs NL26_1: Misunderstood History NL26_2: Community News NL26_3: Photo of Past Presidents NL25_1: Metropolis and Diaspora NL25_2: Greek Committee NL25_3: Nationalism vs. the Vlachs NL25_4: Community News NL25_5: Kostas Kazazis NL24_1: Sam Tamposi NL24_2: Dr. Socrates J. Asteriou NL24_3: Vlachs Should Ask NL24_4: Community News NL23_1: Aromanians of Macedonia NL23_2: Community News NL23_3: Aromanian Writing System NL23_4: Did You Know? NL23_5: A Tale of Two Countries NL22_1: Albanian Aromanians NL22_2: Map of Albania NL22_3: Did You Know... NL22_4: Nomad of the Balkans NL22_5: Community News NL22_6: Vlachs on the Web NL21_1:The Unwritten Places NL21_2: The Vlachs of Greece NL21_3: Did You Know NL21_4: Vanishing Languages NL21_5: Community News NL21_6: Welshman and Vlach? NL20_1: The Vlachs of Macedonia NL20_2: ST. NICHOLAS BASDANIS THE NEW MARTYR NL20_3: Did You Know NL20_4: The Case of the Vlachs NL20_5: Community News NL20_6: In the Realm Cheese Corn Bread NL19_1: A Newly Discovered NL19_2: Some Recent Greek Views NL19_3: Did You Know NL19_4: The Vanishing Nomads NL19_5: Attention All Members NL19_6: Community News NL19_7: From the Editor NL18_1: The Balkan Vlachs NL18_2: Ziz Zags and Crossroads NL18_3: Appeal NL18_4: Did You Know NL18_5: What's in a Name? NL18_6: Community News NL17_1: Southern Albania, Northern Epirus NL17_2: The Watering Can NL17_3: Friends, Families, and Nostalgia NL17_4: Did You Know? NL17_5: Before the Rain NL17_6: Community News NL17_7: From the Editor NL16_1: The Vlachs in Bosnia NL16_2: Did You Know? NL16_3: The Arumanian Australians NL16_4: Community News NL16_5: Excerpts from Shattered Eagles - Balkan Fragments NL16_6: From the Editor NL15_2: Did You Know? NL15_3: The Tamposi Brothers NL15_4: Community News NL15_5: Letter From Albania NL15_6: From the Editor NL14_1: The Vlachs in Albania NL14_2: Some Extraordinary Vlachs NL14_3: Letters to the Editor NLl14_4: Community News NL14_5: Interview with Dr. Hristo N. Colakovski NL14_6: From the Editor nl12_1: Election Week in Albania 1992 NL12_2: Letters to the Editor NL12_3: Vignettes of Greece and America NL12_4: Community News NL12_5: Vlach Mythology NL12_6: From the Editor NL12_7: News about Albania NL12_8: A Biography of Nicholas A. Sholler, MD NL11_1: Touring the Vlach Villages of Greece NL11_2: Letter from the President nl11_3: From the Editor NL11_4: Community News NL11_5: What's in a Name? NL10_1: "Instant Modernization" in America NL10_2: Community News NL10_3: The Macedonian Romanians of St. Louis NL10_4: Scenes from Vlach Cultural Life NL10_5: Did You Know? NL10_6: From the Editor NL10_7: Vlach Cuisine NL9_1: The Evil Eye NL9_2: Community News NL9_3: From the Editor NL9_4: Portrait of a Family in Baiesa, 1912 NL9_5: Did You Know? NL9_6: Cultural Forum: The Poetry of Traditional Language NL8_1: Putting the Record Straight: Interview with Tom Winnifrith NL8_2: Community News NL8_3: From the Editor NL8_4: Arumanian Drama in America NL8_5: Proclamation: "Vlach Cultural Preservation Day" in New York City NL8_6: Late-Breaking News from our Midwestern Correspondent NL8_7: Did You Know? NL8_8: Cultural Forum: Strangers in Our Own Land NL7_1: The Survival of a Vlach in Anilio NL7_2: Community News NL7_3: Letter from the Editor...And a Reply NL7_4: The Return of the Native NL7_5: Did You Know? NL7_6: Book Review NL6_1: How I Became Interested in my Ethnic Background NL6_2: Without Anger or Bias NL6_3: From the Editor NL6_4: Community News NL6_5: Letter to the Editor NL6_6: The Mighty Water-Wheel NL6_7: Did You Know? NL6_8: Cultural Forum: The Women of Nizhopoli NL6_9: Book Review "Paravuli" by Nicolae Batzaria NL5_1: Memory, Meaning, and the Creative Renewal of Culture NL5_2: From the Editor NL5_3: Did You Know? NL5_4: Community News NL5_5: The ICOANA: Holy of Holies in the Vlach Home NL5_6: Cultural Forum: The Poet George Perdichi NL5_7: Letters to the Editor NL5_8: History of The Society Farsarotul NL4_1: Resurrecting Arumanian Culture NL4_2: Did You Know? NL4_3: Community News NL4_4: Religion, Birth, and death in Baieasa NL4_5: The Young Woman and her Ghiume NL4_6: Cultural Forum NL4_7: Book Review NL4_8: Letters to the Editor NL3_1: Our Diaspora in Transition NL3_2: Did You Know? NL3_3: Book Review NL3_4: A Letter to the Editor...And a Reply NL3_5: A Note on the Contributors NL3_6: The Panagire, as it was celebrated in Baiesa NL3_7: Community News NL3_8: Cultural Forum: History and Folk-Songs NL3_9: Brief Reviews NL2_1: Ethnic Values and Ethnic Identity NL2_2: Did You Know? NL2_3: What's in a Name? NL2_4: Community News NL2_5: Cultural Forum: A New tone for Our Social Discussions NL1_1: Greetings to All of Our Members NL1_2: Nicolae Cican...Initiator and Founder of The Society Farsarotul NL1_3: A Brief History of The Society Farsarotul

THE VANISHING NOMADS

By Miranda Vickers

In mid-spring, empty hillsides in the Greek-Albanian border region come alive to the sound of sheep and goat's bells as the Vlachs, Europe's last semi-nomadic pastoralists, bring their large flocks up from the plains.

The returning Vlachs create a buzz of activity in their remote, isolated villages, which are largely uninhabited in the long winter. Rugs and blankets are unpacked, wood is chopped, ovens are lit, produce and gifts are exchanged and young people are betrothed. At night every house admits the smell of the Vlachs' favorite dish -- pitau -- layers of thin pastry soaked in butter and filled with leeks, baked in an iron dish and served with dark red wine.

For centuries these people have spent the summer months wandering with their animals through the vast, forest-clad hillsides of the southern Balkans, following ancient paths known only to them. But nowadays this lifestyle is threatened, and each spring fewer Vlachs make the journey back to their traditional homes.

The Vlachs, who speak an obscure unwritten language derived from Latin and akin to modern Romanian, claim descent from Roman garrisons stationed in the region. Today 90,000 Vlachs live in scattered communities in southeast Albania, the southwest corner of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and on the Pindus mountains in Greece. Many thousands more live permanently in the towns of the central Balkans, virtually assimilated.

Since the 1920s, Vlachs have settled in Germany, Australia and America, where emigre groups have started societies to try to preserve their unique language by telling folk tales and singing Vlach songs. They organize traditional picnics and sports teams to encourage their communities to avoid assimilation and are a forum for Vlachs to discuss their culture and history.

For those who remain in the Balkans, however, maintaining a Vlach identity is increasingly hard. In Albania, postwar agricultural collectivization destroyed patterns of nomadic pastoral life, forcing many Vlachs to find work in the country's new industrial centers.

But in the remote highlands Vlach culture and language has survived. Shepherds wear the characteristic heavily woven goatskin capes -- which are still much prized as trading items.

With no particularly strong religious identity, the Vlachs' traditional pagan beliefs are covered by a thin veneer of Orthodox Christianity. Many elderly women have a black cross tattooed on their forehead to ward off the evil eye, and their stories of witches and curses are listened to attentively by those with recent troubles. With their parents working long hours, children are brought up by grandparents from whom they learn Vlach customs and the language with its distinctive hissing sounds which have earned them the name Tsintsars, by which they are known throughout the Balkans.

In Shamolle, a mixed Albanian and Vlach village near Korce, the Vlachs provide the inhabitants with milk and cheese with their flocks which graze in the surrounding foothills. And they continue to enjoy many of their traditional pastimes.

"We love eating in the open air. In the summer maybe 30 to 40 people go up into the high ground to have picnics with pitau, wine and musical instruments," said Aspasia Dhuka, a young school teacher who, like most Vlachs, finds it hard to accept a purely Vlach national consciousness. "I know that I am a Vlach," said Dhuka, "but I am also an Albanian." She echoes many educated Vlachs who nowadays speak Albanian with greater fluency than Vlach.

To halt the decline of the language, which has never had an alphabet or any official recognition, a Vlach association was formed in Tirana in 1990. It has 20,000 members; and today many Vlachs hold important posts in wider society -- for example, Albania's ambassador to London, Pavil Gesku, is of Vlach descent.

One of the most evocative places in Albania is the isolated Vlach village of Voskopoje. At first glance it is a typically dilapidated Albanian hamlet, but glimpses of white stone tell of the prosperity it enjoyed in the 18th century as a commercial and intellectual center with decorated Orthodox churches. Its population engaged in all manner of trade and commerce. Despite its success, Voskopoje suffered from raids by bandits. After years of devastation and pillage Voskopoje disappeared, leaving only a handful of shepherds' huts among the sacred buildings. Two centuries later the descendants of those Vlach shepherds live among the ruins of the shining marble streets and huge churches.

Set among rolling hills and rich pasture-land, Voskopoje is now the center of Albania's pastoral agriculture. In the town's dingy taverna, Vlach men huddle in clouds of smoke talking of sheep and goats and planning their winter trips to work in Greece. Most of Voskopoje's men-folk have worked in Greece, many have relatives there, others have brought back wives.

"This was once a major town where Greeks and Vlachs lived together and today we still help each other," said Zguri, one of Voskopoje's oldest residents, as he showed me around some of the magnificent churches slowly being restored by Greek-funded craftsmen.

Across the border in Greece, many Vlachs in the Pindus are barely conscious of being Vlach, thinking of themselves instead as Greeks speaking a strange language. But there are Vlach communities with a strong identity, scraping an existence on the edge of Greek society. At a wedding in Pili, a purely Vlach village in Greece's Prespa region, a group of men were angrily discussing how to protect their livestock from being stolen by hungry non-Vlach Albanian illegal migrants, who wander through the forest to avoid detection by Greek border police.

"We have lost over 20 sheep this winter," said a burly young man standing next to me. He then matter-of-factly described how he had killed an Albanian refugee while out hunting last year. He had stumbled across the unfortunate Albanian asleep in a clearing. After slitting his throat with his hunting knife, he left the body as a reminder to other Albanians not to kill Vlach sheep.

There are several historically Vlach villages in southwest FYROM but today these have a fraction of their pre-war population with many families having emigrated in the 1950s to Australia along with thousands of other Yugoslavs. In the 1970s greater mobility caused more breakups of extended Vlach families as young people moved to the cities of Prilep, Bitola and Skopje, where today, high in the tower blocks you hear mothers shouting to their children in Vlach.

As young Vlachs settle in the larger towns and cities of the Balkans, they hear confusing stories about their origins. Greeks claim Vlachs are descended from Greek women who married Roman soldiers. Many Albanians believe Vlachs to be descended from Thracians who lived alongside them during Illyrian times. Romanians think Vlachs are of pure Romanian stock, having somehow been cut off from the main body of their kinsmen south of the Danube.

nl19_27f.jpg (15298 bytes)

Samarina, 1989: Old Man
(Photo 1995, James Prineas)

The development of a purely Vlach national consciousness has been hindered by the fact that Vlachs have never been able to read or write anything in their language, always being taught to use the alphabet--Greek, Roman or Cyrillic--of the country in which they lived.

"By teaching our children to read and write their own language, we will encourage a sense of unity among the different Vlach communities to work together to preserve our culture," said Tassos Kupatshari, a Vlach from Detroit, visiting relatives in Pili.

To thrive, it seems, the Vlach language must have an alphabet. But there is controversy over the choice of which alphabet to use. So the Vlachs are divided not only by frontiers but also by internal dissent and the curious vagueness many Vlachs profess about their own heritage. Unless agreement is reached on a standard alphabet, the future of the language, and of the culture, is bleak.

Despite the efforts of Vlach associations to preserve their language and customs, there is much uncertainty surrounding the future of the Vlachs. Modern school life is eroding their speech and migration to the towns in search of permanent jobs means many will not return for the annual spring trek back to traditional highland pastures. •

 

(Editor’s note: This article was reprinted with permission of the author, who sends her "best wishes to your Newsletter and to the Vlach community in America." It originally appeared in the 4-10 April 1996 issue of The European Magazine. Ms. Vickers is the author of several books, including The Albanians: A Modern History.)


[Home] [Up] [NL32:1 PRESERVING AROMANIAN (VLACH)] [NL32:2 Romanian Parliament] [NL32:3 Community News] [NL31:1 Recent History of the Aromanians in Romania] [NL31:2 The Recent History of the Aromanians in Southeast Europe] [NL31:3 Vlach-speaking vocal music in the Western Balkans: An Introductory note] [NL31:4 From the Editor: The End of an Illusion] [NL31:5 Community News] [NL31:6 PANHELLENIC FEDERATION OF CULTURAL ASSOCIATIONS OF VLACHS] [NL30_1: Haunted by the Enemy Within] [NL30_2: A Trek Through Greece] [NL30_3: Community News] [NL30_4: The Poetry of Traditioonal Languages] [NL29_1: Aspects of language and identity] [NL29_2: Community News] [NL29_3: Update on the Vlachs] [NL29_4: Creating a Virtual Museum] [NL28_1: An Istrian in New York] [NL28_2: Community News] [NL28_3: Vlach Women and Modernization] [NL27_1: Aromanians in Greece] [NL27_2: Community News] [NL27_3: Vlachs] [NL26_1: Misunderstood History] [NL26_2: Community News] [NL26_3: Photo of Past Presidents] [NL25_1: Metropolis and Diaspora] [NL25_2: Greek Committee] [NL25_3: Nationalism vs. the Vlachs] [NL25_4: Community News] [NL25_5: Kostas Kazazis] [NL24_1: Sam Tamposi] [NL24_2: Dr. Socrates J. Asteriou] [NL24_3: Vlachs Should Ask] [NL24_4: Community News] [NL23_1: Aromanians of Macedonia] [NL23_2: Community News] [NL23_3: Aromanian Writing System] [NL23_4: Did You Know?] [NL23_5: A Tale of Two Countries] [NL22_1: Albanian Aromanians] [NL22_2: Map of Albania] [NL22_3: Did You Know...] [NL22_4: Nomad of the Balkans] [NL22_5: Community News] [NL22_6: Vlachs on the Web] [NL21_1:The Unwritten Places] [NL21_2: The Vlachs of Greece] [NL21_3: Did You Know] [NL21_4: Vanishing Languages] [NL21_5: Community News] [NL21_6: Welshman and Vlach?] [NL20_1: The Vlachs of Macedonia] [NL20_2: ST. NICHOLAS BASDANIS THE NEW MARTYR] [NL20_3: Did You Know] [NL20_4: The Case of the Vlachs] [NL20_5: Community News] [NL20_6: In the Realm] [Cheese Corn Bread] [NL19_1: A Newly Discovered] [NL19_2: Some Recent Greek Views] [NL19_3: Did You Know] [NL19_4: The Vanishing Nomads] [NL19_5: Attention All Members] [NL19_6: Community News] [NL19_7: From the Editor] [NL18_1: The Balkan Vlachs] [NL18_2: Ziz Zags and Crossroads] [NL18_3: Appeal] [NL18_4: Did You Know] [NL18_5: What's in a Name?] [NL18_6: Community News] [NL17_1: Southern Albania, Northern Epirus] [NL17_2: The Watering Can] [NL17_3: Friends, Families, and Nostalgia] [NL17_4: Did You Know?] [NL17_5: Before the Rain] [NL17_6: Community News] [NL17_7: From the Editor] [NL16_1: The Vlachs in Bosnia] [NL16_2: Did You Know?] [NL16_3: The Arumanian Australians] [NL16_4: Community News] [NL16_5: Excerpts from Shattered Eagles - Balkan Fragments] [NL16_6: From the Editor] [NL15_2: Did You Know?] [NL15_3: The Tamposi Brothers] [NL15_4: Community News] [NL15_5: Letter From Albania] [NL15_6: From the Editor] [NL14_1: The Vlachs in Albania] [NL14_2: Some Extraordinary Vlachs] [NL14_3: Letters to the Editor] [NLl14_4: Community News] [NL14_5: Interview with Dr. Hristo N. Colakovski] [NL14_6: From the Editor] [nl12_1: Election Week in Albania 1992] [NL12_2: Letters to the Editor] [NL12_3: Vignettes of Greece and America] [NL12_4: Community News] [NL12_5: Vlach Mythology] [NL12_6: From the Editor] [NL12_7: News about Albania] [NL12_8: A Biography of Nicholas A. Sholler, MD] [NL11_1: Touring the Vlach Villages of Greece] [NL11_2: Letter from the President] [nl11_3: From the Editor] [NL11_4: Community News] [NL11_5: What's in a Name?] [NL10_1: "Instant Modernization" in America] [NL10_2: Community News] [NL10_3: The Macedonian Romanians of St. Louis] [NL10_4: Scenes from Vlach Cultural Life] [NL10_5: Did You Know?] [NL10_6: From the Editor] [NL10_7: Vlach Cuisine] [NL9_1: The Evil Eye] [NL9_2: Community News] [NL9_3: From the Editor] [NL9_4: Portrait of a Family in Baiesa, 1912] [NL9_5: Did You Know?] [NL9_6: Cultural Forum: The Poetry of Traditional Language] [NL8_1: Putting the Record Straight: Interview with Tom Winnifrith] [NL8_2: Community News] [NL8_3: From the Editor] [NL8_4: Arumanian Drama in America] [NL8_5: Proclamation: "Vlach Cultural Preservation Day" in New York City] [NL8_6: Late-Breaking News from our Midwestern Correspondent] [NL8_7: Did You Know?] [NL8_8: Cultural Forum: Strangers in Our Own Land] [NL7_1: The Survival of a Vlach in Anilio] [NL7_2: Community News] [NL7_3: Letter from the Editor...And a Reply] [NL7_4: The Return of the Native] [NL7_5: Did You Know?] [NL7_6: Book Review] [NL6_1: How I Became Interested in my Ethnic Background] [NL6_2: Without Anger or Bias] [NL6_3: From the Editor] [NL6_4: Community News] [NL6_5: Letter to the Editor] [NL6_6: The Mighty Water-Wheel] [NL6_7: Did You Know?] [NL6_8: Cultural Forum: The Women of Nizhopoli] [NL6_9: Book Review "Paravuli" by Nicolae Batzaria] [NL5_1: Memory, Meaning, and the Creative Renewal of Culture] [NL5_2: From the Editor] [NL5_3: Did You Know?] [NL5_4: Community News] [NL5_5: The ICOANA: Holy of Holies in the Vlach Home] [NL5_6: Cultural Forum: The Poet George Perdichi] [NL5_7: Letters to the Editor] [NL5_8: History of The Society Farsarotul] [NL4_1: Resurrecting Arumanian Culture] [NL4_2: Did You Know?] [NL4_3: Community News] [NL4_4: Religion, Birth, and death in Baieasa] [NL4_5: The Young Woman and her Ghiume] [NL4_6: Cultural Forum] [NL4_7: Book Review] [NL4_8: Letters to the Editor] [NL3_1: Our Diaspora in Transition] [NL3_2: Did You Know?] [NL3_3: Book Review] [NL3_4: A Letter to the Editor...And a Reply] [NL3_5: A Note on the Contributors] [NL3_6: The Panagire, as it was celebrated in Baiesa] [NL3_7: Community News] [NL3_8: Cultural Forum: History and Folk-Songs] [NL3_9: Brief Reviews] [NL2_1: Ethnic Values and Ethnic Identity] [NL2_2: Did You Know?] [NL2_3: What's in a Name?] [NL2_4: Community News] [NL2_5: Cultural Forum: A New tone for Our Social Discussions] [NL1_1: Greetings to All of Our Members] [NL1_2: Nicolae Cican...Initiator and Founder of The Society Farsarotul] [NL1_3: A Brief History of The Society Farsarotul]