Jour. Anth. Inst.


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A youth, Stevo, cousin of my guide, died in Manchuria (he was with the Russian army), when I was living at Dugi do. The poor lad had been in his grave six months when we got the news. But (with the exception of course of the burial) all the usual rites had to be carried out.

The boys were sent out to all the villages to tell all the tribe the day fixed for the mourning. We roasted and ground the coffee at our house. My tribe has made a rule to give no rakija (spirit). The old mother of Stevo was not told of his death, but sent on a visit to her married daughter, that she might not see the funeral preparations till all was ready. I was horrified at this, but was told that if she knew she would begin to cry at once, and that as she was very old she would then be too exhausted to wail in public on the proper day. On the morning of the day we went to the house of Labud, Stevo’s elder brother, and there a trpez or table was arranged. That is, in default of a body to mourn over, a dummy is made. Coat, waistcoat, knickerbockers, white gaiters and leathern sandals are laid out on the table in the semblance of a man and girded with the sash and weapons. A cap is laid where the head should be. I have seen this more than once. The forlorn emptiness of the man’s actual clothes give an almost more poignant idea of loss than the actual corpse. Early on the day of mourning . . . they all met up by the church, and came in procession, all the men first and then the women. When within a hundred yards or so of the house they raised the death wail; an awful wailing rhythmical chant. You can hear it miles away . . . :

Le, le, s’nama Stevo, moji brate; Le, le, s’nama krilati brate, [etc]. Woe, woe to us Stevo oh my brother; Woe, woe to us, my winged brother!

The cry is taken on a quick breath which rapidly becomes a convulsive sob. The procession arrives in a state bordering on frenzy. I knew most of these people well. I confess I was almost terrified when they dashed into the little dark cottage; I was just inside the door. I went indeed as one of the family. The men hurled themselves into the room. I ran into the corner or I believe they would have gone right over me quite unconsciously. They danced madly in front of the trpez, leaping a yard from the ground, thumping their heads and breasts with their clenched fists, and yelling frightfully. The tears streamed from them. They threw themselves on the dummy body, almost fighting to kiss it. Behind the table was the aged mother supported by her two married daughters. The younger, a most beautiful woman, had ripped her face down with her nails and, sodden with blood and tears, was, with her mother and sister, singing the praises of the dead boy. These songs are improvised, but contain a great number of stock phrases (they are called tuzenje).

The men were allowed some five minutes (a howling orgy of grief), then Pop [priest] Gjuro, who was master of the ceremonies, cried, "Brothers, you have wept enough. Make place for others." They withdrew, some reeling with exhaustion. Pop Gjuro caught all those that were far gone and handed each a cup of strong black coffee as a stimulant. The women came in next and the same ceremony was gone through, but they did not jump. The three women behind the table sang incessantly in a kind of awful possession, apparently unconscious of all that went on.

And so, village by village, came the whole pleme. And not only the people on the spot, but all the married relatives, even those from Cetinje, a long four hours’ tramp across the snow.

The odd part of this is the mechanical way in which tears are caused by the mere fact of le-le-leing (naracanja). The Vrbica men mostly did not know the poor boy’s name and had to be coached in the details before beginning to wail, but within a minute or two of beginning they were sobbing bitterly. Coming home people compared notes as to who had cried best.

In former days when the Montenegrins shaved their heads and wore a long crown lock only, it was customary to cut off this lock and to throw it into the grave. Women also cut off their hair. I have seen a long tress of a woman’s hair fastened to the wooden cross on a grave in the Herzegovina.1

1Durham, M.E.n/an/an/an/a, "Some Montenegrin Manners and Customs," , 39: 92–93.


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Chicago: "Jour. Anth. Inst.," Jour. Anth. Inst. in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2023,

MLA: . "Jour. Anth. Inst." Jour. Anth. Inst., Vol. 39, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , 'Jour. Anth. Inst.' in Jour. Anth. Inst.. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2023, from