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The Arguments and Evidence That Today’s Macedonians are Descendants of the Ancient Macedonians (part one - folklore elements)

Minorities in the Balkans ELEMENTS OF ANCIENT MACEDONIAN FOLKLORE IN MACEDONIAN SOCIETY AND CULTURE FROM THE 19TH AND 2OTH CENTURIES

The significance of folklore as one of the most important elements of the culture of a nation is a topic that, in our opinion, does not warrant special consideration. The folklore of a nation documents its identity. There are no nations without their own folklore. Actually, folklore is a reflection of the soul of a nation.

As part of our on-going discussion we will review elements of Macedonian folklore (recorded chiefly in the 19th and 20th centuries), which were present also in the culture of the ancient Macedonians. It is known that the folklore of any nation has its roots in the history of that nation. For instance, an old English legend could not possibly sing the praises of a Chinese emperor (and claim him to be an ancestor of the English people), or describe in detail a Turkish custom (and maintain that it is an “English” custom) etc. This is an absurd proposition. Hence, the many examples of Macedonian folklore, examined as a whole or through individual elements that describe or glorify the ancient Macedonians or elements related to their material or cultural existence, cannot be understood in any other way than as the cultural heritage from the ancient Macedonians. This constitutes undeniable and irrefutable evidence that the ancient Macedonians are ancestors of the present day Macedonian nation.

It is clear that many folklore elements found among the ancient Macedonians and present among the Macedonians of the 19th and 20th centuries were also present among some of the neighbouring peoples (and beyond). But there is no serious basis to believe that the Macedonians from the 19th and 20th centuries inherited these elements from a neighbouring people, and not from people who lived on the same territory, ie. the ancient Macedonians. Ultimately, there are no other explanations for this. Either the Macedonians from the 19th and 20th centuries inherited these folklore elements from the indigenous, ancient Macedonians, or they adopted them from some neighbouring peoples. But how could they have adopted these elements from foreign, neighbouring peoples, when in those times the Macedonians rarely came into close contact with them? (At least not as close contact as the continuous contact they had with the ancient Macedonian culture through their ancestors). Thus, anyone who would assert that the Macedonians from the 19th and 20th centuries did not inherit these elements from their ancient ancestors would have to claim that they inherited them from a foreign nation. This would require proof that some foreign nation gave the 19th and 20th century Macedonians these elements, if they did not come from the ancient Macedonians. It is highly unlikely that they could do this.

In addition, we will refer to empirical evidence that shows that the Macedonians had minimal contact with the cultures of the neighbouring peoples in the 19th century (let alone before that). It is sufficient to examine reports of foreign visitors to Macedonia in the 19th century. One finds that all of them are astonished to come across Christians in Macedonia. For instance, Bosnian folklorist Stefan Verkovich, whose work is mentioned in more detail later in the book, wrote that when he first came to Macedonia he was very surprised to find out that, as he put it, “Slavs” lived there. Verkovich admitted that not only in Serbia, but also in Bulgaria, intellectuals in the 19th century were not aware that there were so many “Slavs” in Macedonia. Regarding this, Verkovich wrote:

“Until 1860, not only here in Serbia, but also the Bulgarians themselves were unaware that there were Slavs living in Macedonia!” (Verkovich: “Macedonian Folklore”, Makedonska Kniga, Skopje, 1985, page 348. Published in Macedonian.). Similar comments were made by the prominent Russian intellectual, traveller and chronicler Victor Grigorovich, who visited Macedonia around 1845. He was very surprised to discover that the most common name there was Alexander.

There is also testimony by the prominent Serbian intellectual reformer Vuk Karadzich revealing that he knew almost nothing about the population in Macedonia. And in his work “The Life of Stiepan Verkovich (1821-1894)”, published in Zagreb in the Croatian language (1982, page 266), the Croatian historian Liubisha Doklestich wrote the following: “In the autumn of 1858, Vuk Karadzich through J. Sharafich requested Verkovich to send him some ethnographic data about Macedonia, which was almost completely unknown to him”.

Later in the same work Doklestich wrote that in the 19th century, the rest of Europe knew almost nothing about Macedonia: “…In 1892 Verkovich began to systematically engage in something else. That was the collecting of geographic and ethno-demographic data about Macedonia... because this information about Macedonia was unknown to the European public”. To a large extent this was true in the opposite direction as well. As the European and neighbouring peoples knew almost nothing about the Macedonians in the 19th century, so the Macedonians, especially the great majority of them who did not have an opportunity to travel, knew very little about the culture (customs etc.) of the neighbouring peoples. An interesting testimony comes from the Greek newspaper “Neologos”, which was published in Constantinopole and was fairly accurate concerning the Macedonians. An article published in an edition from 29.04.1892, commenting on attacks against Macedonian intellectuals and activists in the Bulgarian press, “Neologos” clearly pointed out the reason for this conflict between the Macedonians and Bulgarians in the 19th century. The author stated that when those Macedonians who thought of themselves as “Bulgarians”, after going to Bulgaria and familiarising themselves with the real Bulgarian culture, recognized the differences in Macedonian culture. Realizing that Bulgarian culture was different than Macedonian, they began to raise their voice in demand of publications in their own language. About this the article reads:

“The Bulgarian newspaper ‘Svoboda’ vigorously attacks the Slavo-Macedonians in Bulgaria and intimidates them. And why? Because the Slavo-Macedonians, deceived, leave their ancestral homes and move to Bulgaria, where after they become familiar with the Bulgarian people, their language, character and customs, and after they realise that they are foreign to them, they recognise the deception and begin to work out their own language, publishing various periodical journals in it”.

It is evident that the neighbouring cultures were foreign to the Macedonians, just as the Macedonian culture in the 19th century was unfamiliar to the foreigners that visited Macedonia. From our present perspective this seems difficult to comprehend. But if we try to imagine the reality of the 19th century, when Macedonia was under Turkish Feudal Law, with no electricity, no developed transport or media, and except for the stray foreigner, rarely meeting anyone from outside. In addition, there were so many Turks living in Macedonia, that it is not surprising that many in the neighbouring countries (even the intellectuals) were unaware that there were other people living in Macedonia besides the Turks.

This is one proof that Macedonians in the 19th century, and certainly before that, had almost no substantial contact with the cultures of the neighbouring peoples, let alone widely adopting elements of folklore from those cultures. There are certainly such elements in Macedonian folklore in the 19th and 20th centuries that are not recorded among the ancient Macedonians, but which are found among the neighbouring peoples. However, these are mainly universal motifs that are present in the folklore of various peoples for any number of reasons. One of these is the genetic predisposition of the human race. For example, the motif of the struggle between good and evil is a motif common to the whole of humanity, and one that is present in the folklores of all nations on earth because it is the genetic predisposition of humans (to be good or evil). In addition, such universal motifs are related to religious beliefs. Thus, similar motifs are found among nations with the same religion (certainly in accordance with the history of that religion) etc.

But besides all of this, it is clear that there are also specific folklore elements in every individual nation that were transmitted from generation to generation to the present day. There is a good deal of Macedonian folklore (poems, tales, legends, etc.) dedicated to some of the ancient-Macedonian rulers or public figures. There are also some elements, especially in the tales, that undoubtedly have their roots in the ancient period in Macedonia. We will mention some of these later in the book. At the same time, in the interest of space, we will not be presenting the full content of all of these Macedonian folk tales , but we will only mention their existence. We will pay particular attention to and elaborate on the motifs in the folk tales that have an ancient Macedonian origin.

The Descendants of Alexander the Great of Macedon
by Aleksandar Donski
Shtip/Sydney 2004

247 pages, ISBN 0 9581165 5 3

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