Jul 30, 2006

The Third Match (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Fr. Ivo Sivric's 1982 book, The Peasant Culture of Bosnia and Herzegovina, describes Catholic courtship and marriage in a poor, mountainous region of what was Yugoslavia. I've reviewed another part of the book in a previous post.

Sunday afternoons are for the purposes of diversion, entertainment, and courtship of the peasants. Fr. Sivric notes that one of the favorite songs of the region contains the words, "At the gathering after Sunday Mass, a girl appealed to me." Gatherings of young people also take place during the long autumn and winter evenings, when they are expected to work on special projects together, such as husking corn. These social gatherings are filled with "singing songs, telling jokes and stories, and reciting epic poems." The boys refer to these gatherings as girl-searching-and-watching parties. The boys are always urged to marry girls they know well.

Christmas is a special time for courtship because of the special religious celebrations that are arranged in the different towns. After Mass, the adults talk and the boys throw apples at the girls in which they are interested. A girl shows her interest in a particular boy by trying to catch his apple. The apple-throwing is accompanied by circle dances that are lively and loud. Parents watch from a distance.

The young people choose whom they wish to marry. Peasant sons are reminded by their parents to judge a girl by her mother, and girls are told that "integrity marries a girl off." Engagements are solemnly performed in the presence of a priest, and are preceded by a visit of the bridegroom's father, uncle, and one or two villagers to the home of the girl's parents. This meeting ends with an interview of the girl to determine whether she is freely willing to wed.

The bride is the center of attention through the engagement period, the two- or three-day wedding feast and during the weeks following the wedding. She is reminded of how much she is loved and how she is expected to sow this love as a main respondibility of her wifely vocation. Great meaning is attached to sexual intimacy, and premarital relations are regarded as immoral. If pre-marital intimacy occurs, the couple is committed to marriage, especially if a child is born.

Marriage in this peasant culture serves as "a means to perpetuate and embody humanity and Christianity." The ancient social customs surrounding courtship, engagement, and marriage produce a low number of divorces and marital infidelities in this peasant region.

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