"Men are fighters. Who would protect us? Everything else has to be taken care of for them. That is what women are for." So says Milena, one of ten women one hundred years old or more who in this oral history offer a rare look inside the traditional tribal culture of Montenegro. Interviewed by Zorka Milich, herself a descendant of Montenegrins and a fluent speaker of their Serbian language, these articulate centenarians explain what life was like for the women behind Montenegro's warriors.
Milich's ease with the women of the country of her parents' birth makes possible intimate and lively conversation where shyness and reserve with outsiders are the norm. They talk about their relationship with their husbands, their experience of childbirth (which women often underwent outdoors or in a barn, sometimes alone), the pain of losing a son to war and not being able to grieve openly (pride that he gave his life for Montenegro was the "correct" response). And they give eyewitness accounts of historic events - the Balkan Wars, World War I, and World War II - as they played themselves out in this remote and barren country the Montenegrins call Crna Gora, or Black Mountain.
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Zorka Milich is associate professor at the State University of New York, Nassau Community College.From Publishers Weekly:
Centenarian women in Montenegro, eh? It may seem a little eclectic, but in fact the recollections of 10 aged women reveal a fair amount about the misty, distant past and the very real present. These women are the living remains of an archaic culture, as Milich says in her introduction (``entering the third millennium A.D., much of tribal Montenegro lingers on as a living reflection of prefeudal Europe''). Although the interviews were conducted in 1990, before fighting in neighboring Bosnia had begun, these seven orthodox Serbians, two Muslims and one Catholic reveal a sometimes surprising mix of hostility and tolerance (the German army comes off well; the ``Turks,'' i.e., Slavic Muslims, don't). All the women, though, are bound by their common hardship: in the patriarchal society they describe, a woman's sole worth is her ability to produce sons; otherwise, she works hard and has no voice. Milich tends to offer her subjects the same few questions, some eliciting dully similar answers--e.g., it becomes obvious early on that nobody kissed before marriage. Other questions (What do you think about your position in society? How about the women warriors tantalizingly mentioned in the introduction? Did any women rebel?) go unasked. Milich, herself of Montenegrin descent, doesn't stint in describing the women's hardship, but she also seems to buy into the idea that this system was an evil necessary to the country's survival (``the embodiment of the Montenegrin male, spawned by a system reliant on strong, brave warriors for its preservation''). Which may be true in part, but it is also undeniable that this bellicosity led to internecine blood feuds that took their own toll on the country.
Copyright 1995 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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