Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

VI. The Vlachs

5. Women the Conservative Force in the East
 

The explanation of the failure of the Greeks to absorb the Vlachs of Macedonia, despite the influence of their Church, their commerce, and their schools, is to be sought, I suspect, in the position of the Oriental woman. She is the conservative force in the East, unchanging from generation to generation, simply because she is still almost totally uneducated. The men of a Vlach household may acquire an easy and even literary knowledge of Greek, and prefer to use it in their intercourse with one another. But it is only in the present generation that the women have begun to go to school, and Vlach persists because it is the language which they first teach to their children. There is, of course, nothing approaching the rigidity of the harem system among the Christian women of the East, but Turkish influence has had its part in delaying their emancipation. In some of the more savage towns of Northern Albania no Christian woman will venture into the streets without a veil as close and forbidding as any Moslem Yashmak. The Bulgarian peasant woman seems to feel herself inadequately clothed unless she has swathed her mouth and chin in the kerchief which she binds about her head. In the home her place is one of decent and timid retirement. She will not sit down at table if a stranger be present. Her place during a "call" is to hand round the jam and the raki, but she rarely joins in the conversation. She is in no sense the companion of her husband, she has no social place as the


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hostess. [1] In the larger towns, where one might have expected the growth of something like a middle class with Europeon habits and conventions, the presence of the Turkish population perpetuates the past. The streets are thought to be no place for a respectable Christian woman. There is always a bare chance of violence and something approaching a probability of insult. The native women accordingly keep indoors as much as possible, for the outer world is for their imagination a place in which Turkish soldiers lie in wait to hurl abuse at them. It is supposed that European costume, and above all European hats excite the Turk's peculiar sense of humour and even arouse his fanaticism. I have known young ladies of the present generation who keep marvellous hats and jackets, of what is supposed to be the European fashion, in locked trunks, which they exhibit on dull afternoons to callers. But outside the shuttered house and the closed courtyard they dare to wear nothing but the traditional costumes of their race. Even in Monastir, where all the townsmen wear European clothes, and every tailor calls himself a Francoraftes, it is surprising how few of the wealthier native women venture to wear their Salonica finery. In the bazaars and

1. The position of women in the East is a subject on which one is apt to form hasty judgments. Certainly they are everywhere treated as the recognised inferiors of the men which in nearly every respect, even in point of physical beauty, they undoubtedly are. This is more noticeable, however, in lands still under Turkish rule. During 1897, when Athens was crowded with refugees from Crete and Thessaly, who were fed at public tables, I noticed that the men and women from Thessaly sat down together, whereas the Cretan men were served first, and the women only after their lords had dined. I have often felt indignant on meeting a peasant family on its travels, the man riding, the woman afoot. But really this is due to some queer tradition of female modesty for which the men are not to blame. Two wounded girls from a village left our hospital in Ochrida, cured, but still delicate, and we provided pack-horses for them. Nothing, however, would induce them to ride, and in reply to our questions they would only say that it was "incorrect." The Bulgarian folk-songs of Macedonia prove that a delicate and quite refined sentiment may be felt by the young men during courtship. Our own peasant-ballads are not always so pretty. The Bulgarian songs also talk of the wife in a strain of familiar humour as the ruler of the house. The "subjection " of the women, which strikes a stranger most unpleasantly, is largely a matter of manners and forms.


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even in the quasi-European shops of the main streets one meets few Christian women, excepting always the peasant women of the villages. Shopping is done by the men or by the servants of the family, and social intercourse hardly goes beyond the gossiping of neighbours. Even for European ladies it is thought scarcely respectable and scarcely safe to venture out of doors without the escort of an armed Albanian cavass but this is no doubt due, in part, to a desire to maintain their prestige, and the men are also rarely to be seen alone. These customs and conventions, which may seem trivial enough, have in reality a profound influence on Christian society and even on Macedonian politics. Women who lead this secluded life, cut off from intercourse with any larger circle than their family and neighbours of their own sex, inevitably live in the past and conserve the past. Modern commerce, modern schools, railways, and those national movements which link the men of a Macedonian town to the free life of one or other of the emancipated states beyond the Turkish frontier, have little influence on the stagnant and secluded existence of the home. Here, for example, is one reason why, during the centuries when educated Vlachs, Albanians, and even Bulgarians imbibed Greek culture, spoke and wrote the Greek language and thought of themselves as Greeks, the women retained their own idiom and their own traditions. Had the Greeks spent the same pains on educating the women of Macedonia that they took to Hellenise the men, the whole Balkan Peninsula might have been Greek to-day. Generation by generation the children of these artificial Greeks learned at their mother's knee a native and non-Hellenic tongue. They might despise it as a patois, they might be ignorant of the very alphabet in which it should be written. But despite themselves it was in this patois that they were forced to express their most intimate thoughts, their most human emotions. It only needed an impulse from without, and the revolt of nationalism which the women had unconsciously prepared found an echo in the very fibre of their minds. Tardily the Greeks are realising their mistake. There are now secondary schools


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for girls which are doing their best to Hellenise the Vlachs of Monastir and the Albanians of Koritza. But the social conditions of this Turk-haunted land are against the enterprise. The girls marry early and leave school early. They cannot abandon the patois of their mothers. Greek is for them the language of a distant and masculine outer world beyond the closely guarded home, and while that world is closed to them its language is a superfluity, a mere elegant accomplishment. I have seen the excellent Greek school for girls at Monastir where Vlach maidens are painfully taught to construe their Xenophon. The ludicrous mistakes of grammar which one heard in the lower forms were enough to show that the teachers were drilling these children in a foreign tongue. It is easy to taboo every word of Vlach within the schoolroom walls. But outside on the steps when Urania quarrels with Aspasia over her broken doll, she expresses her feelings in fluent and natural Vlach. And what is true of the Vlachs is equally true of the Albanians. I knew a wealthy commercial family in Koritza which showed the several strata of Hellenisation very clearly. The mother was a dignified old lady who dressed in native costume and knew no word of any language but Albanian. The sons, merchants and bankers, spoke excellent Greek, which had, however, a stilted and classical tinge that they would never have acquired in the nursery. The daughters of the house wore "skirts and blouses." They had passed through the Greek High School; but that was some years ago. To-day they know about as much of Greek as the average middle-class girl at home knows of French, and are quite as shy of venturing to express themselves in it.
 

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