The Bosnian Cultural Background

The culture of Bosnia and Herzegovina encompasses the country’s ancient heritage, architecture, literature, visual arts, music, cinema, sports and cuisine.

Music: The most popular traditional Bosnian and Herzogovinian song forms of relatively recent origin (early 20th century) are the Bosnian root music (played with šargija), ganga, the rera and the ojkavica(oja-noja). Other popular surviving forms from the Ottoman era is the sevdalinka. Pop music and rock music are traditionally popular too, represented by famous musicians including Goran Bregović, Davorin Popović, Kemal Monteno, Johnny Štulić,. Talented composers include Đorđe Novković, Esad Arnautalić, Kornelije Kovač, and the many pop and rock bands. Bosnia is home to the composer Dušan Šestić, creator of the current national anthem of Bosnia and Herzegovina and father of singer Marija Šestić, and the pianist Sasha Toperich.

Cuisine: Bosnian cuisine reflects a balance of Western and Eastern influences. Due to almost 500 years of Ottoman rule, Bosnian food is closely related to Turkish, Greek, and other former Ottoman and Mediterranean cuisines. Bosnian cuisine uses many spices, but usually in very small quantities. Most dishes are light, as they are cooked in lots of water; the sauces are completely natural, consisting of little more than the natural juices of the vegetables in the dish. Typical ingredients include tomatoes, potatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, courgettes, plums, milk, and cream called pavlaka. Typical meat dishes include primarily chicken, beef and mutton. Some local specialties are ćevapi, burek, dolma, sarma, pilaf, goulash and ajvar. The best local wine comes from the southern region of the country, Herzegovina, where the climate is particularly suitable for growing grapes.

Marriage: Marriages are not arranged, and love matches are the norm. In 1991, before the civil war, 40 percent of the marriages registered involved ethnically mixed couples. Since that time, mixed marriages have become extremely rare. Despite Muslim sanctioning of polygamy, the custom was practiced in only one region of the country and currently is not practiced at all. It used to be customary for a bride’s parents to give the couple a specially woven dowry rug containing the couple’s initials and the wedding date.

Etiquette: Bosnians are known as a friendly, hospitable people. In Muslim houses, it is traditional to remove one’s shoes and put on a pair of slippers. Kissing is a common form of greeting for both men and women. Three kisses on alternating cheeks are customary. Visiting is a common pastime. When entering a home as a guest, one often brings a small present. Hosts are expected to serve a meal or refreshment.

Religious Beliefs: Forty percent of the population is Muslim, 31 percent is Eastern Orthodox, 15 percent is Roman Catholic, and 4 percent is Protestant; 10 percent of the people follow other religions. Most of the population is not particularly observant, but religion is an important aspect of national identity. Icons, which are images representing Christ, angels, saints, and other holy figures, hold an important place in Orthodox practice and are considered a connection between the earthly and spiritual realms.