Three elements of Bosnia’s intangible cultural heritage

Ljiljana Krejic | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Living in a high-tech world, we often forget how our ancestors survived thanks to their manual work, old crafts and handmade products. Alongside the craftsmanship, many artisans were the safeguards of ancient customs and traditions.  Therefore, traditional handicrafts and skills have been protected by UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Among 340 elements protected all over the world, three of them come from Bosnia & Herzegovina, namely Zmijanje embroidery, Konjic woodcarving and picking of iva grass on Mt. Ozren. All three elements of Bosnia's intangible cultural heritage have its unique story, long tradition and unmeasurable value.

Zmijanje embroidery

Zmijanje embroidery comes from the villages of Zmijanje, a region of Mt. Manjača, situated around 40 km on south from the city of Banja Luka. This outstanding dark-blue needlework is considered the oldest hand embroidery in all the Balkan countries. Unlike other embroidery patterns from the region, that are done with the treads of different colors, Zmijanje embroidery uses only one – dark-blue thread on white background. It is made in cross-stitch, which creates an elegant geometric design, and it decorates female clothes (including wedding dresses) and some household items (bed linen, tablecloths). Originally, it was made on linen and hemp tissues, which is today replaced by cotton clothes. The embroidery technique is transferred orally by a group of women engaged in needlework. Some of those handicrafts can be seen in the ethno village Ljubačke doline, near Banja Luka, or in the Museum of Republika Srpska, where you can also buy some souvenirs.

Konjic woodcarving

Konjic woodcarving is one of the old crafts that is still very much alive and prosperous in the small Bosnian town Konjic, only 60 km away from Sarajevo and a bit more from Mostar. The tradition of this artistic skill dates back to the 19th century, but the knowledge was passed through an intergenerational transmission. Surprisingly, the Konjic woodcarving technique didn’t change over time and was skilfully preserved. In Konjic, the most important guardians of this nurtured traditions are two families of woodcarvers – Nikšić and Mulić, who passed the craftwork over six generations. The woodworking might be an old skill, but the artisans from Konjic successfully mix traditional technique with modern design bringing the woodcarving on another level. Since a couple of years, the demand for their handcrafts boomed, and they have been exporting to all continents. If you happen to be in Konjic, try to visit the museum “Mulić Rekord“ and “Zanat workshop“, two best places to learn more about this unique woodcarving tradition. 

Picking of iva grass on Mt. Ozren

That cultural heritage is not only about monuments, buildings and objects but also traditions, rituals and festivities, we can see with the ceremony of picking iva grass on Mt. Ozren. Each year, on the day of the beheading of St. John the Baptist (September 11), people from the villages around Mt. Ozren gather to pick iva herb, well-known for its healing properties. Villagers of all age are hiking up the hills to arrive at Gostilj peak, where they harvest iva herb, that allegedly can cure any disease, hence the local saying “Iva grass – brings the dead back to life”. The ceremony continues with some folklore performances, where many participants wear folk clothes and sing traditional songs. This cohesive component plays an important role in safeguarding the identity of Bosnia’s intangible cultural heritage, and this is why the picking of iva grass on Mt. Ozren was inscribed on the UNESCO List, as one of the three elements in Bosnia & Herzegovina.  

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