Numerous historical sources and scientific arguments suggest that these authentic Highlanders were Serbs before Islamization in the Ottoman Empire. Emperor Dušan mentions them in 1348 in the founding charter of the Monastery of the Holy Archangels. Even today, they speak Old Serbian, with other linguistic influences. There, in Gora, in their valley in the outskirts of Mount Šara, they preserved picturesque customs, culture and an undisturbed awareness of their identity. Many of them work in Belgrade and travel home every Friday. Unfortunately, since the establishment of the international protectorate in Kosovo and Metohija in 1999, about 65 percent of Gorani have emigrated

Text and Photo: Mina Bajrami

The fact that I am a Goranian has often been very difficult for me, mostly because people in Serbia confuse Gorani with Albanians, or they have never heard of them. During my upbringing and schooling, I often had to explain to people who Gorani were and what their origin is, but I also realized that many Gorani have different explanations of themselves. This motivated me to do more research and dedicate my master’s thesis to that topic. Below you can read basic information about the origin, religion and customs of Gorani people.
The Balkan Peninsula has always been a crossroads and an area of ​​interest of the great world powers. Numerous wars were waged in these areas and various administrations were established, which had a great influence and left traces. During the Ottoman rule, many things took root, from the language and customs to traditional dishes. Many people, out of desire or compulsion, converted to Islam and learned Turkish and Arabic. After the period of Ottoman rule, the peoples of this area were left with diversity. They were divided according to religion, ethnicity, dialect, which increasingly caused discord and misunderstanding. Thus, there are several different ethnic groups living in Serbia who do not differ from Serbs so much in language as in the belief that they are different.
Gora is a mountain valley in the southernmost part of Serbia, on the tripoint between Macedonia and Albania, with an area of ​​385.6 square kilometers. It stretches south of Prizren, on the outskirts of Mount Šara. In the southwest, it has a natural border with Albania, Mount Galaič. For centuries, this area has been inhabited by Gorani or Goranci, an ethnic community that speaks Old Serbian language and mostly adheres to the Islamic faith. Gora and Gorani arementioned for the first time in history in the charter by which Emperor Dušan founded the monastery of the Holy Archangels near Prizren in 1348, and gave it the villages under its possession. At that time, Gorani were already a separate ethnic group, due to their geographical position and isolation from the rest of Serbia, but they were Christians. Their later Islamization was inevitable, but it created a buffer zone between Serbia and Macedonia on the one hand, and Albania on the other, and thus prevented the complete Albanization of Kosovo and Metohija. Over the centuries, various changes have taken place and borders have shifted. According to present-day census, Gora has twenty villages within Serbia, nine villages in Albania and three in Macedonia.

Origin. Scientists have been focusing on the origin of the Muslim population in the South Slavic area since 1878, since the Austrian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the theories is that Muslims of South Slavic origin are in fact descendants of the long-extinct religious sects of Bogumils who converted to Islam. Others believe that they come from the Romanized and semi-Romanized Illyrians and Celts, while some believe that Muslims are descendants of the Islamized Serbian nobility. The same opinions prevail when it comes to Gorani. Some claim that they are ethnic Bulgarians, some that they are Macedonians, some that they are Serbs, and some claim that they are descendants of Bogumils.
As for the theory that Gorani are of Bulgarian or Macedonian origin, the only criterion is a series of linguistic similarities. However, numerous historical sources indicate that Gorani were ethnically Serbs before Islamization. If anthropological, anthropogeographical, ethnological, ethno-social, philological, folklore and other criteria are taken into account, Gorani are today a separate ethnic group and cannot be merged with any other nation. Today, 80 percent of Gorani declare themselves as such, while the rest have opted to declare themselves as either Albanians, Serbs, Bosniaks, or even Turks. Regardless of which nation they chose to belong to, the characteristics of the Gorani indicate that they are of Slavic (Serbian) origin. To corroborate this, convincingly say that the fact that they speak the Old Serbian language, which belongs to the Slavic languages, contributes the most to that theory.

Language. Goranian dialect, or naški (”our language”), as Gorani call it, is a specific Slavic language system. The dialectal micro-differentiation of Goranian speech indicates that it originated from a mixture of northwestern Macedonian, Šar-Serbian and Metohija dialects. The very position of that area has made Goranian speech preserve many archaisms and remained aside of the linguistic innovations of the neighboring dialects, but also to develop features that are of a local character. Although it is believed that Gorani had greater contact with the Turks than Serbs, from a linguistic point of view, they remained faithful to their Old Slavic roots. For example, the word dvor has always been used for the ”yard” instead of the Turkism avlija, the word ložica is still used for spoon, and kleć for basement. Goranian language is simpler than Serbian in terms of grammar, it has only three cases and three tenses that are most often used today (perfect, present and future), and can be said to be most similar to the one we call Macedonian today.

Activities and migrations. The main occupation of Gorani in the past, due to the geographical position suitable for it, was cattle breeding, especially in villages at higher altitudes. However, in the second half of the 19th century, this activity declined as anarchy appeared in the Turkish Empire, so the Albanians from the nearby area of Lume started stealing their herds. Nowadays, cattle-breeding is scarce, and that mainly in higher-altitude villages, such as Restelica. In addition to cattle-breeding, Gorani people are famous bakers, pie-makers, kebab-makers and jewelers, and they are also famous for making boza. The most famous pastry-shop in Belgrade is called ”Pelivan”, and was founded by Milić Pelivanović.

Gurbet. Extensive emigration of Gorani began in 1950s, in search of work elsewhere, the so-called gurbet. It is still not possible to determine exactly when the gurbet started, but it is believed that this need arises when the livestock activity declines, namely when herd thefts began. The bombing of Serbia by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999 also contributed to the migration of Gorani. Prior to that event, 17,000 Gorani lived on the territory of Gora. According to data from 2001, 11,000 Gorani remained in Gora. A large number of the inhabitants of Gora move to Belgrade, even more to the countries of Western Europe, and now they are numerous in Austria, Germany and France, less in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Luxembourg. Those who live abroad return to Gora in the summer months and during the six-day St. George’s Day holidays. However, because of all this, there are fewer and fewer Gorani in Gora itself, many homes are empty throughout the year, which suits Albanians who are now trying to inhabit Gorani villages.

Gorani Wedding. One of the main occasions for gathering of Gorani in Gora today is actually the search for a boyfriend or girlfriend, because it is not desirable for them to choose a spouse outside the community. Given the fact that Gorani are scattered all over the world, mixed marriages can be seen today, which are not always well accepted.
A Gorani wedding lasts for three days. These days enfold as follows:
On the first day of the wedding, called den za kvasec, the groom and his family go to the bride and bring her a cake. This cake symbolizes the numerous offspring that every wife should give to her husband.
The second day is called zaterbog. The groom then goes out in the early morning hours, accompanied by zurnas and a tupan (a drum-like musical instrument), and passes through the village inviting all the villagers to join him in merriment. This is followed by a lunch at the groom’s, and then the celebration continues. They go again to the main square. If the bride is from the same village as the groom, she goes out with her family and joins the celebration. She then wears a traditional female costume that has additional embellishments, to distinguish her from other girls and women. If the bride is from another village, the groom goes to her house with his family with tupan and zurnas. In both the first and the second case, this act is called alјištari (the closest translation would be ”wedding guests”).
After the second part, which ends in the early evening, the bride changes her scarf and vest. Instead, he puts on a lighter scarf and rkiće. Unlike the vest, rkiće is longer, has long sleeves and is dark red. When the bride is ready, she sits in the corner of her room (in Goranian: ćuše). While she is sitting, guests come to see her and wish her luck. A couple of women from the village known for their beautiful voice sing high-pitched tunes, improvising verses as they go. These verses mainly refer to good wishes for the future, and sadness for leaving her parents. This act is followed by mašala, where once again they go out on the main square and dance a kolo (circle dance). Upon the end of all the described events, knarice take place in the house of the bride – the act of decorating the hands with henna (kna in Goranian). All bride’s friends and relatives gather and help each other with this decoration. This marks the end of the second day of the wedding.
The third day of the wedding, pomanešta, is the day when the bride is specially made up and dressed in clothes of a married women. After she puts on make-up and dresses, thebride stands in one part of the room and the family members say goodbye to her, giving her gold and money. Then she goes out, with a red scarf over her face, and rides a white horse. And so she goes to her new home. Members of her family walk behind her, while in front of her are the groom’s relatives who came to lead her, and the father-in-law is also riding a horse on this occasion. The groom stays at home waiting for the bride. When she reaches the doorstep, the bride waits for one of the members of her new family to circle the bread in front of her face three times, symbolizing a home where food is abundant. Then the groom lowers the bride from the horse and carries her across the doorstep, and one of the older members chooses a boy who will be passed three times above and below the horse, which symbolizes the desire for the bride to give birth to many male children.
Although the wedding officially lasts for three days, the third day is followed by voda (”water”) – the bride in her new clothes leaves the new house, accompanied by two or three married women, and goes to the village fountain holding two jugs in her hands. This part is also accompanied by a tupan and zurnas, and a kolo dance is formed and danced all the way to the fountain. There, the bride fills the jugs with water, and everyone who wants gets in line and waits for the bride to give them water to wash their face.
In the past twenty years, another day, called music, has been added to the part of wedding ceremony described above. This is an indication of the introduction of modern customs into Gorani tradition. The bride wears a wedding dress, the groom a suit, the other guests also put on contemporary clothes, and that evening is spent dancing on the main square, with a band and contemporary music.

Holidays. Gorani holidays can be divided into Islamic and non-Islamic. The Islamic ones include Ramadan fasting, which is very much respected in Gora itself. It is followed by Bajram (Eid ul-Fitr) and Kurban Bajram (Eid al-Adha). The largest non-Islamic holiday in Gora is St. George’s Day (in Goranian: Đuren, den Đuren).
The celebration of St. George’s Day begins on the daybreak of May 5th, when people go to fill the water at a certain place. Then willow twigs, flowers and herbs are collected and placed in water when the family members bathe, and that day is called travke (”grass”). In the old days, an egg was also placed in the water in addition to flowers, but today that detail is no longer present. In the past, swings were made on this day on which girls swung, and boys made flutes or borije from willow branches. On St. George’s Day itself, on May 6th, everyone in Gora goes for a walk to Vlaška, one of the large fields. The following day, May 7th, people go for a walk to another field, Rabečke livade. Just like weddings, this holiday is also accompanied by tupans and zurne, as well as modern music. Nowadays, this holiday is considered ideal for meeting of boys and girls.
All these customs are slowly disappearing, due to global modernization and the fact that Gorani are scattered in other countries. Still, the hope remains that all these customs and Goranian language will be preserved and passed on to the next generations.


Women’s traditional dress
When it comes to clothes, Gorani have remained faithful to their tradition. The details of the costume change over the years, but it remains an essential element of a traditional wedding. Women’s traditional dress consists of the following parts: a long linen shirt over which nogajce – long wide embroidered trousers – are put on. It is followed by skutača, a type of skirt that wraps around the waist, and is supported by a puas (belt), usually white, embroidered and decorated with various patterns, bordered with multicolored pearls. Over the first shirt goes džube, a hand-embroidered white vest made of felt and silk. Women who have recently married wear anterija over the shirt – a colorful coat with edges embroidered with white thread, and over all that they wear a black knee-length cloak, terlјik.


Male clothes
It consists of the following garments: white or black benebreg or benevrek (specially cut trousers, which can be seen today among Macedonians, Vlachs or in the south of Serbia), white shirt, opanci folk shoes with cords, embroidered socks and mintan, which is in men’s traditional clothes name for vest. A flat white hat is worn on the head, as well as a decorated scarf that is wrapped around the head in a particular way, up to one half of the hat (mandulјka).


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