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  • Collecting South Slavic Oral Epic in 1864:Luka Marjanović's Earliest Account
  • Aaron Phillip Tate (bio)

What follows is a translation of Luka Marjanović's preface to a collection of oral epic and lyric songs that he transcribed by hand from singers in northwestern Bosnia and published as a songbook in 1864. Albert Lord described Marjanović as "one of the finest of the Croatian collectors of oral-traditional epic at the end of the last century,"1 though Lord and others have criticized Marjanović's editorial methods. Marjanović is a significant figure in the history of oral epic studies for the reason that he collected an enormous amount of epic songs from singers in northwestern Bosnia during a decade of fieldwork in the 1880s. The collection comprises, in fact, the first major corpus of Bosnian oral-dictated epic manuscripts that we have, and predates Parry's recordings by many decades. Today Marjanović's manuscript collection is kept in the Academy of Arts and Sciences in Zagreb, Croatia.2 The manuscripts were used by editors at the end of the nineteenth century to furnish material for the anthology known as Hrvatske narodne pjesme (Croatian Folk Songs), the seminal Croatian folklore anthology published in Zagreb from the late nineteenth to the first decades of the twentieth century.3 Volumes three and four of that anthology were devoted to Bosnian oral epic, known as "Mohammedan" epic at the time, and were based on the Marjanović collection, though it cannot be said that the two volumes present even a fraction of the material contained within the manuscript corpus itself.

Until Marjanović's work in the 1880s, the Bosnian Moslem tradition had never been systematically collected.4 Kosta Hörmann, an Austrian administrator working in Austrian-occupied Sarajevo in the early 1880s, did indeed publish in 1888-89 the Bosnian songs that he had collected, though the amount gathered by him (and his transcribers) cannot be said to equal Marjanović's contribution.5 As for Marjanović, in the period of his work for the Hrvatske narodne pjesme collection project, it is worth pointing out the number of verses that his team did manage to write down. The results were staggering, by any standards: he and his amanuenses transcribed over 255,000 lines of oral epic between 1880 and 1888. The Marjanović cohort also accomplished a feat that the Parry team6 did not attempt, namely, the transcription of the entire repertoires of two of the best Bosnian singers of the day, Mehmed Kolak-Kolaković and Salko Vojniković-Pezić. Each of the two singers performed more than sixty epics for Marjanović and his assistants,7 and both were mentioned by other singers belonging to the next generation interviewed in the same locale of Bihać and the surrounding area by Parry in 1934.8

Marjanović's collecting activities for the Hrvatske narodne pjesme anthology were organized and subsidized by the Croatian cultural organization Matica Hrvatska, an institution founded in the 1830s by Ljudevit Gaj during the heyday of South Slavic nationalism. At the time of the Matica's founding, the pan-Slavic movement in Croatia was known as "Illyrianism,"9 a movement that strove, in response to Vuk Karadžić's work as well as to political aspirations ascendant at the time, to build unity among speakers of all of the South Slavic languages. Marjanović accompanied the third and fourth volumes of the ten-volume anthology with an informative and colorful introduction that discusses, among other things, the laborious process of oral dictation and the obstacles facing the collection of such voluminous material. His introduction remains one of the best accounts that we have of collecting and transcribing oral epics in nineteenth-century Bosnia, and it is an unfortunate fact that the document has never been translated into any language. Matija Murko praised Marjanović's introduction, first at a meeting in Berlin in 1908 and later in his outstanding Tragom srpsko-hrvatske narodne epike: Putovanja u godinama 1930-32 (On the Track of Serbo-Croatian Folk Epic: Travels During the Years 1930-32)10 for the attention to detail paid by Marjanović to describing the collection process as well as for his insistence on undermining romantic notions...

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