Macedonian Rusalii

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Rusalii dancers from Petrich

The most common name for these traditions is Rusalii.  This name comes from the Slavic equivalent to the Romanian Iele, evil fairies who cause illness during the “dirty days”. The Rusalii traditions of the Aromanians and Slavs in Macedonia have many similarities to the Romanian Căluş. The custom happens between Christmas and 12th Night,  with bands of 20 to 60 young men who form the rusalski družini. In common with the Căluş, no one is allowed to go among them except those who wished to be healed, and the Meglo-Aroumanian version includes a mute dressed in fancy dress. The Bulgarian Eska have one part of group masked, carrying wooden swords, and the other wear large bells and have their faces blacked, this combination of two distinct groups can also be found in Austria.

Some speculate that the name Rusalii derives from the Roman Rosalia festival of the Romanised Thracians, which has its routes in the ceremonies of the ancient Thracians. Term Rosalia occurs in old Bulgarian manuscripts where it is loosely applied to kukeri dances and other rites, all condemned by the medieval church. The earliest documentary reference is by Demetrios Cromatianos (Archbishp of Ohrid) recorded in the 13th century.

The Rusalii dances are found among the Slavs between Jenidje & Vadar, Petrovo and Djevdjlija, and the Eska dances among Bulgarians around Vodeno & Castoria. The Aroumainian Alungucearii or Aruguciari dances take place after Lent, and these have now spread to Dobrogea (Romania) due to  the recent population exchanges. In Serbia the Rusalii of Duboka has some common characteristics with the Căluş and Rusalii in that such as the leader carries sword and they cure sick & carry garlic.

One could speculate the Arnăuţi of Moldavia could be derived from the customs around Macedonia. In Romanian Arnăuţi means Albanian or mercenary, and the dance includes a feature of dances in columns with striking of swords in stylised battle which can be seen in the performances of Rusalii but is not found elsewhere in Romania.  Could this be the remnant left behind by some displaced southern Balkan peoples?


© Eliznik2005, Last updated Aug-06