Waiting for Elijah
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Waiting for Elijah

Time and Encounter in a Bosnian Landscape

Safet HadžiMuhamedović

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eBook - ePub

Waiting for Elijah

Time and Encounter in a Bosnian Landscape

Safet HadžiMuhamedović

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Waiting for Elijah is an intimate portrait of time-reckoning, syncretism, and proximity in one of the world's most polarized landscapes, the Bosnian Field of Gacko. Centered on the shared harvest feast of Elijah's Day, the once eagerly awaited pinnacle of the annual cycle, the book shows how the fractured postwar landscape beckoned the return of communal life that entails such waiting. This seemingly paradoxical situation—waiting to wait—becomes a starting point for a broader discussion on the complexity of time set between cosmology, nationalism, and embodied memories of proximity.

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Informazioni

Anno
2018
ISBN
9781785338571
Categoria
Anthropology
Edizione
1

PART I

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TIME AND ITS DISCONTENTS

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CHAPTER 1

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SCHIZOCHRONOTOPIA, OR ELIJAH’S PITFALL

Epoch is time; literal time is the representation of time through its own alienation.
—R. Wagner, Symbols that Stand for Themselves
Epochs make, epochs break.
—Proverb from the Field
Facing time in the Field prompted me to ask again Roy Wagner’s questions: ‘Are there different kinds of time, or merely different ways of counting time? Does time have a structure, as a clock does, or does it merely seem to have a structure, because a clock has one?’ (1986: 82). I approached this as an ontological problem, shifting to understand how time is conceptualized in a specific context, rather than assuming a priori that I know its measure. This chapter posits that, in the Field, there are indeed distinct, even conflicting times, seldom primarily structured by the clock. Understanding their discrete qualities is a matter of looking into the spatialities – their proximities, distances and trajectories – as well as the discursive and affective contents they facilitate.
One local proverb, from the long list that Eno, my host in the Field, kindly prepared for me, read: Vakat gradi, vakat razgrađiva. Now that I need to translate it, I benefit greatly from the context in which I came to know it. The Bosnian word vakat comes from the Arabic waqt, meaning ‘time, period, moment or instant’ (Wehr 1976). A highly literal translation of the proverb could be ‘Time constructs, time deconstructs’, or ‘Time makes, time breaks’. Vakat is not abstract time, however. It is qualitative and critical, like the Greek kairos, rather than quantitative and linear, like kronos (cf. Crowley and Hawhee 2004: 45). It is the time of something or for something. Vrijeme is another Bosnian word for time, but, unlike vakat, it can also denote the weather or the passage of time – time as some invisible substance – an infinitely long tunnel. Vrijeme can pass, but vakat is always fixed, whether in the past, present or future. Thus, the vakat in the proverb might better be translated as ‘epoch’, a determinate period with a particular, overwhelming quality that becomes apparent only in retrospect. Roy Wagner (1986: 85, 86) has traced the idea of epoch through its Greek meaning of ‘stoppage’ or ‘cessation’. It is a self-defined ‘piece’ of time, ‘impervious to the direction, movement, and subdivision of literal time’.
In narratives about the Field of the past, my interlocutors would nostalgically conclude: ‘Such was the vakat . . .’, or, referring to the strangeness of the present day, lament: ‘What can you do, such vakat has come!’ For them, it expressed an understanding of historical episodes with both desirable and undesirable qualities, but only insofar as they occur within a predestined existence. I do not wish simply to locate vakat within the religiosity of my interlocutors, but rather to recognize its intangible force as a condensation of life’s episodes into an ethos that is both time- and space-specific. It references a body of discursive practices that produce the dominant time–space relationship. These epochs, as the proverb reminds, are doomed to be swallowed by their own temporality. Vakat is time with a mortal face. It determines what can and what must be done, whether it is the cyclical harvesting of crops, fleeing into exile or the reconstruction of evermore-cyclically destroyed places.
Mikhail Bakhtin (1981) coined the term ‘chronotope’ to indicate the indivisibility of spatial and temporal categories, admittedly only with regards to its function in literature.1 Time, he noted, ‘thickens, takes on flesh’ and ‘space becomes charged and responsive to the movements of time, plot and history’ (ibid: 84). I employ ‘chronotope’ as a heuristic device to think of the divergent social currents in the Field. Chronotope is a discernible alliance of time and space, a time ‘thickened’ in a landscape and a set of practices and relationships, a space articulated through a time of specific quality. Each chronotope has its own story.
Lives of the Field tell many stories. Their actors can (or have to) function within more than one and even in apparently contrasting chronotopes. Unlike Bakhtin’s literary image of ‘man who is always intrinsically chronotopic’ (ibid: 85), I argue that people and landscapes are sometimes trapped between discursive timespaces and thus ‘schizochronotopic’ (from the Greek Σχίζειν – skhizein – ‘to split’).2 I have encountered two salient overarching chronotopes as ‘collective themes’ in the Field. They both relied on certain kinds of past and laid claims to the Field’s future. One is told through proximities, the other through distances between religious communities. The first theme, which I call the ‘Gacko sacroscape’, embodies the cycle of life. The second one, or the ‘Gacko ethnoscape’, propels itself through the cycle of death. I will turn to the problem of their convergence later in this chapter. For now, I want to make a brief separate visit to each of these chronotopes in order to outline some of their main performative elements and locate the nodes in the landscape through which they claim authority. This will allow me then to compare the qualities of the time–space relationships that pervade them.
Gilbert et al. (2008) have already argued for what they called ‘temporal multiplicities’ in Bosnia:
Indeed, many with whom we work seem to experience and occupy multiple temporalities, often simultaneously. As people mobilize latent chronotopes in interactions, they draw on the moral valence, authority or identity embedded in different temporal horizons. . . . Anthropology in the region presents evidence for how people live within and in terms of temporal multiplicities, and how these overlapping temporalities nonetheless cohere in a sense of self. (ibid: 11)
Jansen’s continued engagement with the temporalities of postwar Bosnian landscapes, particularly his Yearnings in the Meantime (2015), reveal both the possibilities and the limits of comparison across the various Bosnian contexts. The constitution of desires for and discourses regarding ‘normal lives’ in his case study of Dobrinja, a suburban apartment complex in the capital, is different from the transitions occurring in a (post)pastoral karst field located on the margins of the state and in the interstices of several intrastate borders. Yet, the temporal ‘fractures’ and ‘entrapments’ are evident in both landscapes (see HadžiMuhamedović 2016).
The grid desires that Jansen (2015) aptly described for Dobrinja are, in the Field, much less a matter of lives ordered by the workings of the state and much more a concern for lost ‘normality’ of the annual cycle ‘gridded’ by the traditional calendar. As if describing the situation in the Field, he noted: ‘The “ought” was thus opposed to the “is” but intimately related to the “was” (Jansen 2015: 39). People in Dobrinja performed their desires for ‘normal’ lives by waiting for the bus (and the visibility of the state’s order); people in the Field waited for Elijah (and the visibility of the community thus structured).

Sacroscape: Ilija and Alija Share the Sun

The first collective chronotopic theme rests upon the images of life in the Field as structured by the traditional calendar, but swallows into itself everything that was disturbed by the 1990s war. It signals a pastoral landscape, where even the difficulties of the day-to-day have an enchanted inflection. Thomas Tweed introduced the term ‘sacroscape’ to argue for certain types of spatial and temporal religious flows that transform ‘peoples and places, the social arena and the natural terrain’ (Tweed 2006: 62). They are not to be conflated with sacred or religious space, because they are not exactly manifestations of any particular doctrine or form of piety, but rather traces, as Tweed notes (ibid). They are amalgamated traces of immeasurable lengths of time and widths of space. They presented to me a constant ethical problem in thinking about the temporal and spatial scales of research (see Prelude to Part II). Was it appropriate to relate my findings to the name of a nation-state? If not, which other designations might be better suited?
My recognition of the Field’s sacroscape as Bosnian does not preclude a wider or narrower designation, but rather highlights some common traces in a constant flux of existence. The Field’s sacroscape is thus a bundle of intimacies collectivized by the proximity of humans (and nonhumans) to each other as well as their relationship with the cosmos as the supralandscape. As such, it does not follow the boundaries of ethno-national religious exclusion. The Orthodox Christian, Muslim or Gurbeti defined their identities in the Field through more or less the same body of practice and belief, whilst maintaining certain modes of differentiation.
When I first descended into the Field, it was winter. We drove in through Čemerno, filmic mountain peaks whose name evokes sadness and distress, perhaps because of the difficult nature of the pass. I was breathless at the sight. As the bus rolled down, a capacious karst field opened suddenly before us. It was my first encounter with the Field. It seemed endless. The snow-covered land had lost the strong outlines of the horizon, melting it into the sky.
I experienced this descent many times afterwards, but the first one has lingered through the memories of its excitement. I thought, this is what one imagines when uttering the word ‘landscape’. It seemed stated, uninterrupted, almost paradigmatic, and I lost focus on the detail. It took me a substantial while to notice the image of Draža Mihailović, the infamous Second World War general of the Serb royalist guerrillas (Četniks), on the wall of the bus stop, the ruined houses or the nationalist graffiti around the town. It still seems possible to me to arrive at one bus stop, but two different places.
The snowy Field may present the visitor with a picturesque image, but it is nonetheless a formidable obstacle for those who know what it yields. One of my interlocutors had to use improvised skis to reach his house and, the year I was there, a helicopter bringing supplies to cut-off villages crashed and broke up. The few, mostly elderly, postwar ‘returnees’, used their homes only during the summer. They had to leave each autumn, fully aware that life over the long winter really depended on a well-prepared household. There had to be plenty of food and herbal medicine for the humans and the cattle, as well as wood for heating. Half of these supplies needed to be preserved by Tryphon Day (Tripundan), on 14 February, which was considered to be the middle of winter. Even getting to school was difficult, as Osman, one of my interlocutors, recalled from his childhood; mothers would give children newspapers and matches to ward off hungry wolves coming down from the forests. Most social interaction would cease and the livestock were confined to the stables.
Imagine this landscape starting to change, to wake up from the frost. There is a complete transformation of both the land and of social activity. In the sacral calendar of the Field, 7 April saw the first important shared ritual. It is called Blagovijest, literally ‘Glad Tidings’. This is the Feast of the Annunciation, according to the Julian calendar. The uncertain horizon begins to melt and the earth reveals its humane form. To mark this change, children from the villages would seek out the highest hilltops and light tall bonfires around the Field in the evening. Their flames, breaking into the dark, abstract space and communicating with each other, signalled a shared approach to the landscape. These panoramic gestures have faded into the darkness of time unravelled by the war.
The meaning of the Blagovijest fires may be drawn from another local proverb: ‘The Annunciation – and the cattle into gluttony!’3 Or, in Bećir’s version, ‘The Annunciation, glad tidings – the cattle into gluttony and the herdsmen into coma!4 Children herding the animals to pasture would sing this rhyme. Their mothers would knit them woollen bags and load them with food to last the entire day. Nezir remembered this well:
When I was little – and my mother had seven of us – we would all look forward to Blagovijest. We were excited at the prospect of lighting the biggest bonfire. And by the fact that the following day we would be taking the cows and sheep out to their first pasture after the harsh winter days. And, because our mother would bake pogača [a type of rich, leavened bread], with a boiled egg in the middle on top. It was our tradition. On the eve of Blagovijest we would run around and gather large piles of wood to compete with the surrounding villages, both Serb and Muslim. Whose fire would stand out best in the evening light, whose flames would grow tallest?
The Annunciation, as the point of entry to the ecological cycle, already exhibited the multiple layers of the Field’s time-reckoning. Evans-Pritchard’s (1939, 1940) discussions of the Nuer people’s concepts of time bear great resemblance to the Bosnian sacroscape (and, I imagine, the annual cycle of many other pastoral communities). He likely made the mistake of arguing for a significant difference between Nuer and European time-reckoning. His famous distinction between ‘oecological time’, as a reflection of the human relationship with the environment, and ‘structural time’, as human beings’ relationship to each other (1939: 189), cannot be easily recognized in the Field, as its social relations are part of the overall rhythm of the environment. A dark Field lit up in the same colours of fire expresses its ontology; neither simply syncretic nor anti-syncretic, it reconciled difference and sameness in its own way.
The annual cycle shaped human activities and various sorts of economies, which in turn structured relationships. Sacrospace was, first and foremost, connected to function and proximity, but was more fluid than ‘sacrotime’. Time was an indispensable organizing element of subsistence and, as such, had a much more defined structure. As Alfred Gell (1996: 17) noted, such time is ‘concrete, immanent and process-linked, rather than being abstract, homogeneous and transcendent’; each part of the year was elucidated through the tasks required. Such time does not have the same value throughout the annual cycle. A rough sketch might divide the year into a long, arduous and uneventful winter (for Nuer, this is the dry season) and a warmer part, when all important human and nonhuman activity occurs (see Evans-Pritchard 1940: 102).
Spring’s entry into full swing, on 6 May according to the Julian calendar, is marked by Đurđevdan/Jurjevo, George’s Day. This is a pan-Bosnian festival, but also exists in various forms throughout the world of springtimes. It focuses on...

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