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“South Slavic Blood & Honey Oral Memory Traditions”


The Balkan region is best known for the wars crisscrossing former Yugoslavia. It is not just the recent Balkan war that afflicted former Yugoslavs, prior to the Balkan war historians studied Eastern Europe’s plight under the rule of Russia for decades after WWII. If we stretch a few hundred years into the past, we would discover the former Yugoslav region enduring a five hundred year rule by the Turkish Ottoman Empire ending in the late 1800’s. A conspicuous conclusion resulted in that despite the severe isolation and suffering, the South Slavs who lived through brutal governing entities did not erase or mar their millennium aged oral memory traditions.

Categorized in these topics: Blood & Honey Female Social Justice Feminine Matrix and Female Culture Kolo Trauma Format Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Social Memory Women's Trauma Issues

What is so resilient and resourceful within the South Slavic oral memory traditions that is easily perpetuated throughout the generations despite the numerous wars, conquests or other formidable obstacles? It presents as another narrative to involve an intensified learning application that if added to modern era academia, education programs and training breeds an extraordinarily different global perspective of conceiving the world as indivisible.

Especially, significant, the South Slavs managed without a written alphabet until the late 1800’s. One result of having a late start on the Latin alphabet, the Serbo-Croatian language has the status of being the most perfect written language in the world according to many linguists. In a spatial fashion of having the perfect written language, translating the South Slavic language provides a startling insight to millennium aged words and terms that has not been doctored with our modern era twenty-six lettered alphabet. Language is a dimension of oral memory traditions that preserves permanence of life well lived or meaningful and is cherished through the rituals and practical daily life and especially that of a mother beginning the stages of language with her infant.

In translating the word ‘Balkans’ we will envisage rather than understand how the world is interconnected with oral memory traditions as it relates through metaphors and movements while integrated into language and our way of life-culture. We can view this with the literal translation for Balkans as meaning ‘Blood and Honey.’ Blood and honey describes an intimate narrative, if not emotion, affective lives of those that are not alive today but their memories is symbolically preserved in the term Balkan. The term blood and honey describes diverse life experiences and the ability to transform trauma events through intensified learning applications into wisdom.

Language and word origin provide a worthy lineage spanning over forty to fifty thousand years, the time languages are developed. Much like the literal translation of the word Balkans, language and linguistic studies offer a perspective of how cultures conceive their world and remain an oral memory historical record of memory and past lives. With the millennium aged oral memory contexts, the Mesolithic through the Neolithic way of peaceful living is visible preserving their forged pro-social connectivity for collective communal living. The South Slavic collective communal living possessed not just wisdom from surviving but the ability to heal themselves and their communities through embracing change, adaptation and a storehouse of invaluable thriving not surviving skills.

Oral memory traditions conveyed for thousands of years rituals, commemorative ceremonies, and birth and death performativity, domestic organizational processes to include husbandry and agriculture. Either through song, folk dances such as the round dance called Kolo for South Slavs, textiles to embroidery, any and all movement of the body as it revolved in their life world was illuminated so as to have the memory applied in present day. The importance of passing down the life experiences of ancestors is a learning intensive classroom. In a sense what you learned at your mother’s knee or at your father’s side at a craft meant life lived meaningfully preserved in the oral memory traditions. Human rights education becomes more authentic and a reality when incorporated at the same site of parenting behaviors and the domain of oral memory traditions that according to neuroscientist Daniel J. Siegel “moves us beyond our individual sense of a bodily and time-defined self as we come to feel a part of a larger whole.”

Facilitators are Mothers and your brain

Observed in the linguistic and neurobiological sciences, the origins of language and the perpetuation of language are primarily nurtured by mothers. Recent studies by neuroscientist Allan Shore peers into the attachment bond between mother and child while remarking on the critical brain development that occurs early in life before the child can speak in words. Basically, it is proto-communications, Shore’s ‘right brain to right brain’ where symbols, iconic representation occurs, has the mother central in providing a safe and nurturing learning intensive classroom for the fetus and infant. Since language consists of words, the origins of both words and language fully documents a long term memory expression as a continuous body of wisdom passed on between generations and inclusive of present day communications.

Language and words provide a medium that can be recalled and vividly remembered, an important tool in learning applications. Language could not exist without the human neurobiological system-our brains or the nurturing from mothers. Neuroscientific studies reveal how the brain develops in the first years of life with the gestation period as being equally important to develop neurobiology systems and the brain. Without this extremely intricate and complicated neurobiological process, and its perpetuation, languages would not be fostered resulting in the loss of intensified learning capacities or what can be termed as evolution and education.

The term Blood and Honey has concatenation, interconnectedness of meaning with salient dimensions of a cultural landscape; time, space, meaningfulness and expression. The iconic representation of blood portrays the capacity to symbolize life and possibility necessary for the development of intensified learning environs.

Blood is alchemically transformed into honey according to the South Slavic oral memory traditions. Honey is referred by South Slavs as succulent nurturing harmony and peace best illustrated by the metaphoric female’s ability to breastfeed-the symbolic process of turning blood into milk-honey.

While we championed women’s human rights, their very biological processes are deemed “dirty or unclean” by major religious institutions, wars are played out in her womb becoming a tomb and her role is stereotyped as being non-essential or without value. Within the term for Blood and Honey, is a landscape of value, a movement towards one living, breathing organisms, life in the Balkans in past for women and mothers was honored. We can take in the archeological artifacts some four thousand and older in age of the Madonna and her body to symbolically capture the how language paired with art, clay forms to their houses enabled a temporal integrations for immortality, permanence paired with impermanent but repeated throughout the generations known as oral memory traditions.

Our foremothers and mothers are charged with the responsibility for evolving species we are today. The way this was performed was aligned with the biological processes which were also revered if not worshipped. In living in an authentic fashion meaning one is inclusive of the body, mind, brain processes brings in a perpetually updated oral memory traditions narrative to be instructed for present and future generations. The interesting feature of oral memory traditions is how a crisis or trauma filled event is but a window into nurturing wisdom, (honey) to continually evolve and education future generations.

Evolving is a result of intensified learning applications and if we review mythologies and fables, their metaphoric messages appear to live on in myriad of sciences such as Jungian analysis, neuroscience to Somatic Psychology. Human rights education for females begins with the ability to treasure the originators and purveyors of oral memory traditions, women, mothers, who manifest culture and can instruct how life is lived. Rare in human rights curricula and humanitarian efforts is there a matrifocal employment in education, research or mandates. Yet, in the fables and archeomythological accounts, an engendered narrative exists to help all to enter into states of well-being and harmony across the globe.


After three catastrophic wars in one hundred years, two world wars played out in former Yugoslavia, the South Slavs are ingrained with intergenerational trauma, a disjuncture and rupture from enacting blood and honey South Slavic ancient practices. It was not until the Balkan War (1991-1993) ceased that human rights were considered and placed into the aftermath of war legislative bodies. For instance, no laws concerning child abuse or domestic violence was present in former Yugoslavia. Nor are the child abuse laws and domestic violence codes enforced in the aftermath of war.

With blood and honey referring to the South Slavic millennia aged practices that once forged peaceful communities and harmonious life experiences through oral memory traditions, modern era has graphically altered abilities to evoke substantive meaningfulness of past life experiences. As a result, the South Slavic oral memory traditions are vulnerable, a breeding ground for intergenerational trauma transmission perpetuation fueling more war victims and perpetrators. Essentially, war victims and perpetrators cannot comprehend human rights with the trauma based injuries as it is now attended to throughout many interdisciplinary fields. The rape camps in former Yugoslavia flourished to eradicate any notion of female human rights and now pales in comparison to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for sexual abuse/rapes.

Trauma is known to be psycho-biological with scientific studies giving rise to evidence that traumas can alter our DNA and affect the fetus through the first years of life where the brain develops at its highest rate. The human rights for females and children, let alone the fetus, are negligible across the globe. Given that South Slavic oral memory traditions involve the body movements since bodies interact with natural and cosmic forces, the one hundred years of war, the cognitive neuro-behaviorism of trauma treatment disdaining any emotional or affect adds insult to trauma injuries.

Neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp purports that “cognitive science must re-learn that ancient emotional systems have a power that is quite independent of neocortical cognitive processes.... These emotional substrates promote cognitive-object relations, optimally through rich emotional experiences.”

What is meant by “ancient emotional systems” by Panksepp is the age of our brains, such as the limbic region known to be millions of years old. Various parts of the human body have origins found in fossils and across species. If we trace the butterfly’s beating wings, we find that it is the origin for muscles pumping the human heart. Plants have thousands more DNA code than humans while chimpanzees have ninety-eight percent of human DNA.

The limbic system of the brain, begins wiring in gestation and throughout all of a life span, constantly growing however, this region of the brain has heightened diligence for danger, threats and harm. The process begins in uteri where language has not formed and throughout early childhood. Steeped in proto-expression and proto-communication, the Limbic system is highly responsive to emotional and affective experiences for purposes of survival and intensified learning environments.

Yet, much of education applications do not consider the neurobiological system wiring for learning nor the rich cultural practices that house emotional expression through remembering, meaningful social interactions and observances. Lynn Meskell’s research provides the best description and example of having the body, mind, brain evident in ancient cultures’ practices stating that the “The entire notion of personhood, situated temporally and spatially, is a component of innumerable cultural institutions and practices….both worlds were porous, and both contexts of existence possessed a shared substrate.”

Instead what we have in our academic institutions is a ‘teaching at environment’ as opposed to a learning space or intensified learning facilitation. Restricted with many legal impacts and administrative burdens, teaching remains as the only tool available in our academic environments but it is removed from the instructional, learning applications that assist teaching efforts.

The body and the neurological network require the bridge or translation of their proto-communications to catch up to instruction not teaching. Teaching is an invaluable resource but it is not meant to stand alone. When coupled with body, mind, brain, learning is ignited and in the very process of somatic inclusion human rights is practiced and experienced. Something as simple as a lullaby, childhood nursery rhymes and her songs or chants that many women and mothers perform across the globe are but human rights curriculum and sensitive somatic instructions for developing children’s minds.

Learning and storied instructions found in narratives of life experiences are a deep engagement with myth and the past that the current generation and future generations benefit from. Learning environments and female, if not mother’s human rights, for thousands of generations were able to provide expression without a computer, library or school system. Of late, the past five thousand years or so, violence became a norm and the appallingly adverse and turbulent history in the Balkans has threatened the intangible heritage intricacies found in their folk round dances called kolo, songs, daily life practices and rituals.

Healing Trauma fosters Peace

Blood and Honey term attests to the South Slavs’ enhanced memory for emotional experiences that operate at relatively subconscious levels primarily found in the Limbic system of the brain, known as lower levels of the brain.

Neurobiological studies, also, give evidence to the right cortical hemisphere of our brains as being primarily involved in processing images and symbolic representation. The broadly shared and broadcasted shared cultural heritage and intangible heritage is according to Milne Holton and Vasa D. Mihalilovich’s book Songs of the Serbian People, “may well extend beyond the limits of Slavic Europe… for much of what is to be found in poetry is the product of a preconscious that is historically and linguistically shaped.”

The oral memory traditions speak and bond with the right cortical hemisphere of the brain in a vast array of daily applications for the South Slavs. An example of living applications occurs in the aftermath of war, the South Slavs in Novi Travnik, Bosnia have instituted the kolos, the folk round dances for the summer on Friday nights weekly. Dancing shoulder to shoulder with elderly to small children, the diversity is held sacred proffering a peaceful space with harmony. The very old tradition of the deseteric, a ten-syllable poetic canting by singers or “guslari”, who recite with a one string bowed instrument called gusle is metrically patterned as the kolo dance. The latter reveals the holistic application and use of mnemonic social intangible heritage through perhaps the earliest applications of folk psychology and body inclusive therapies.

The Kolo: Women’s Cross Cultural Collaboration non-profit based in Olympia, Washington, has worked with the Bosnian South Slavic war and war crimes survivors since March 1999. Treatment for trauma and self-sustainability training, the curriculum occurs in their bio-culinary (knowing the herbs and medicinal properties of plants) arts, handiworks, gardens and the dancing of their kolos or the circle format. The circle of women exchanged their wealth of knowledge and intergenerational trauma features that needed healing usually over their bakery goods and a demitasse of thick Bosnian coffee. As we can see, the applications of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, a body-oriented talking therapy that integrates verbal techniques with body-centered interventions in the treatment of trauma, attachment, and developmental issues and neuroscience were already embedded in their oral memory traditions.

During the Balkan war, the kolo was rarely danced. Most South Slavs when asked if the oral memory traditions continued during the war, they would reiterate the danger of doing so with the violence exploding in their life world. However, an interesting story that is universally repeated by the women especially, speaks of how groups of peoples came together and shared whatever they had. No fighting amongst themselves for precious foodstuff or blankets. The women marveled at how training for this process was not done prior to the war, yet, it seamlessly unfolded for a majority of war survivors time and time again throughout the war.

A grandmother spoke of the significance of passing down her grandmother’s way of housekeeping, rearing children and growing the garden as a way of knowing as opposed to having it taught. Pointing to her wood burning stove in her kitchen and almost every kitchen in the former Yugoslav region has a wood burning stove, she described the oral memory traditions as having learned from the prior two world wars but began much earlier than her grandmother’s memory of war. Keeping warm and/or being able to cook food was but another element of converting or transforming the violence and wars into peace. It was not so much about being prepared for war but prepared to keep warm in the brutally cold alpine winters and to cook. This is a repeated distinction made continually by the war survivors.

Many of the Bosnian South Slavic war survivors noted that the farmers fared best during the war and did not suffer the starvation bouts as they did in the towns. “Modern life with my microwave and the grocery stuff at the corner is what killed most of us in the city, “reported Sana Koric, leader of the women’s kolo in Novi Travnik, Bosnia.

Memory and Meaningfulness Encoded

Relativity few know the fundamental role of memory for South Slavic peoples have produced pronounced feats of prodigious oral memory traditions without the aid of computers or a teleprompter. The recitation of thousands of lines is performed often by blind female singers or elderly males plying a one string gusle while canting in a measured and rhythmic ten syllable prose. The rituals and oral memory traditions encode nurturing peaceful and meaningful experiences in tandem with the neurobiological wiring present in human bodies and right cortical hemisphere of the brain. Reviewing the Neolithic, if not Mesolithic aged songs and prose express a relationship with all of life maintains a view of the universe wired for seeking connection and human rights a natural given. It is only in recent history that the ten syllable prose is about the wars and tragic loss-pure Victimology.

Meaningful experiences are laden with emotional affective structures, ingredients of peace and harmony. With neuroscience just beginning to incorporate the significance of emotion and affect, human rights education -often performed in times of great stress and trauma- is more so processed in a prevailing and privileged status of verbal or conscious cognitive approaches and policies featuring a reliance on higher cognitive brain functions. Lynn Taggart’s recent book The Bond, Connecting through the Space Between Us, reports, “I discovered other societies that live very differently from us, with a world view more in keeping with the findings of new science” are missing a critical first step. Human rights education in the aftermath of conflict or wars as a form of humanitarian aid is best performed through daily living applications with the mindfulness of human neurological development and the female’s gestation to child rearing.

These cultures conceive their life world as a communion and a perpetual intensive learning where awe, wonder, and curiosity foster meaningfulness in how they are as opposed to being told how to do things. The latter circumvents or calms the Limbic Brain system to survive at all costs. Learning is not just about doing rather, it is a coupling of being and doing with relations of their life world. Most programs in humanitarian aid such as drinking water to agriculture are filled with intensified learning scapes and are prime examples of peacemaking efforts. In this fashion, the application of human rights for these programs is already embedded and not just a law to uphold.

Law and Governing Entities- Memory issues

The educational realm to the legislative and governing arenas has not included the human neurobiological systems and ancient cultural practices deeming it not as integral for educational applications or self-sustaining. We have only to observe the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal records, listing the victim’s recall and memories into trial transcripts remarkably detailed, dated and catalogued line by line. To have a linear robotic recall is not possible with the human brain and human processes for memories. It may be possible with technology but most of the world does not own a laptop or an iphone. The impact for the South Slavic oral memory traditions is that they are unable to operate in the same recall in the rule of law or judicial proceedings and even in educational venues. The International Criminal Courts and War Crimes Tribunal have been discoursing about the difficulties with witnesses for testimonies and rule of law venues.

With scientific research constantly revealing the neurobiological process of memory is not one that has a line by line vivid factual recount of events, science once again, validates the South Slavs’ understanding that memory is meant to be layered and developed into a narrative so as to lend meaning after critical life and death scenarios. The South Slavic oral memory traditions are essentially our neurobiological process that demands wholeness not segmenting and can play a critical role in ongoing peace efforts and human rights education within the neighboring disciplines of psychology neuroscience for the treatment of trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Involving human rights education produces a mutually enriching interdisciplinary communions centered on the primacy of affect and emotions in the prevailing human condition. The latter induces meaningfulness and the involvement of pro-social affective expression of collaboration, diversity leading to living the memory of harmony and peace in the current generation as opposed to hatreds, violence and war.

Memory has mutability allowing for multiple and even conflicting versions of what happened to co-exist in its re-creation of social memory. Relevant for peaceful methods that utilize empathic communications allowing for multiple versions of social memory is diversity held in alliance with local communities that ripples into the global cultures. For instance, mythological recounts of fables, legends and fairy tales speak to the active memory process as an ongoing intergenerational practice that is carried forward into the future lives and events. Memory is in a sense, a mega library archived with every single life experience as researched by Carl Jung’s collective consciousness.

Obstacles- PTSD, Intergenerational Trauma

The obstacle for learning applications and education with today’s catastrophic traumatic events concerns memory disorders. The neurobiology of PTSD is twin to major depression having the difference of being more so a stress-induced syndrome. Both PTSD and major depression affect memory. Avoidance symptoms to include amnesia, the complete lapse of memory, or a reluctance to narrate the traumatic event.
Too many examples exist of memory disorders blocking learning applications. However, taking the most reoccurring commentary from Bosnian South Slavic war survivors paints an in-depth understanding. A young adult Bosnian female expressed her observance of watching the slow death from both remembering and forgetting in her family and community that “supposedly survived the war.” Another Novi Travnik man, father of two, dragged on his cigarette declaring, “It was better during the war than now.” His comment was highlighting how memory appeared to be erased prior to the Balkan War and what memories were experienced during the war contained inclusion of the soma and collective communal events that do not exist in the aftermath of a cataclysmic war. A common remark among Bosnian South Slavs is a clique on why they drink- We drink because there is a tomorrow. Before the war, they drank to commemorate or celebrate their oral memory traditions.

The political perspectives carried out into policies and rule of law, or human rights education are exactingly processed without any cultural memory or geographical narratives. Working on the issue of trauma has recapitulated the features of narrative memory in which all possible cosmic and microcosmic world view communicated and conspired recollections into a remarkably malleable potential to heal local communities. While the Dayton Accord, 1991 was performed as a charter to bring peace to the former Yugoslav region, the signatures of peaceful emissaries did not realize the erasure of South Slavic ballads and oral memory traditions of the South Slavic geographic regions that was divided as a result.

We can view this with the war crime deaths of Srebrenica male relatives during the Balkan War was known as Bosnia prior 1991 signing of the Dayton Accord. According to the Yugoslav Tribunal, the Srebrenica war crimes were committed by the Serbs of the Republic of Srpska towards Bosnian Muslims. Echoing the perspective that what was once known as Bosnia for thousands of generations especially in oral memory traditions is now certified as Republic of Serbia according to the Dayton Accord.
As a result, despite the intention to carve out peace in the Balkans, the policies and peace treaties disrupted the South Slavic oral memory traditions and geographic landscape orientation often observed in references to the Mother Church, and the land as Moist Mother Earth. Somewhere in this, respect for the mother was lived and paramount. Could it be that the violence towards women, war crimes such as rapes forms an undercurrent of the largest obstacle and global crisis be based on a lack of respect or devaluing her role in mothering, and child rearing? Is this why the helping aid response to refugees is sorely lacking in policy and mandates falling short of what Julie Mertus’ case study for the humanitarian challenge cites 87% of refugees worldwide are women and children?

The Srebrenica Bosnian Muslims war crimes survivors struggling with the interpersonal neurobiology of psychopathogenesis and perhaps trauma dissociation cannot adapt to the new borders infringing on their indigenous past so that it can be utilized as a way to transform their present circumstances. What has resulted is the prevailing thought by Srebrenica war crimes survivors that the ruling entities and rule of law have Serbs killing Serbs, not Serbs killing Bosnian Muslims. This is certainly not peaceful living with the need to blame and hate. Families, who remembered their Bosnian genealogy are disenfranchised or dislocated since what was Bosnian geographically prior to 1991 is now referred to as Republic of Serbia. Thousands of years of mythic memory narratives are shadowy forms perhaps even fueling the next outrage of conflicts and hatreds as opposed to the peaceful intentions imparted by the Dayton Accord.


Investigating deeper as to how easily South Slavic peoples were infected with intergenerational trauma pointed towards a wealth of cultural vestiges and meanings in antiquity’s folkloric practices still evident in their lives, a perfect opportunity to invest in intensified learning for human rights education. The South Slavic millennia aged practices that once forged peaceful communities and harmonious life experiences through oral memory traditions are vulnerable to intergenerational trauma transmission and are rarely present in human rights education formats.

The reality of South Slavic oral memory traditions inclusive of the soma and the body movements interacting with natural and cosmic forces is an example of intensified learning applications not reliant on just words, paper or linear structures. The ancient form of sensorimotor psychotherapy evident within the South Slavic oral memory traditions is based on the working knowledge of the human neurobiology system. With this rich resource available for human rights education, the inclusion of South Slavic oral memory traditions and those across the globe can easily produce intensified sensorimotor psycho-educational learning environs.

Recommended Reading
Archaeologies of Memory, Editors Ruth M. Van Dyke and Susan E. Alcock. Blackwell Publishing
Current Opinion in Neurobiology 2000; 10:211-218
From the Realm of the Ancestors, Joan Marler, Editor, Knowledge, Ideas & Trends, Inc.
The Healing Power of Emotion, Diana Fosha, Daniel J. Siegel, Marion F. Solomon, W.W. Norton & Company, Chapter 5, p. 112
Songs of the Serbian People, From the Collections of Vuk Karadzic, translated and edited by Milne Holton and Vasa D. Mihailovich, University of Pittsburgh Press.
War’s Offensive on Women, Julie Mertus, Kumarian Press


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