THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

07 June 2018

EAP and International Archives Day

9 June is International Archives Day –  This year's theme comes from the ICA conference “Archives: Governance, Memory and Heritage” to be held in Yaoundé in November. How could EAP miss the opportunity to highlight some of the earlier projects it has funded around the world, starting in the host country for this year’s conference - Cameroon.

EAP051 was awarded in EAP’s very first round of grants and was based at the Bamum Palace Archives digitising documents written in the indigenous writing system – Bamum. The results of the project have helped the community to rekindle their interest in cultural patrimony. There has been a resurgence in learning the script, which had been previously on the decline.

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For the next round of funding, I have chosen the project based at Tuvalu National Archives (EAP110). Climate change in this cyclone-prone area has made these documents vulnerable to complete destruction.

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In 2008, we funded the initial phase of a major project digitising the Buddhist archive of photography based at Luang Prabang in Laos (EAP177). The images cover 120 years of photography and it is thanks to the highly venerated monk, Phra Khamchanh Virachittathera, who collected these photographs for more than 70 years, that this archive is now available.  

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The following year, we supported our only project in Lesotho (EAP279), where the project team digitised the Matsieng Royal Archives. The ceiling to the archive had collapsed, leaving the material exposed to rain. This, of course, meant it was an ideal candidate for EAP support.

EAP279 Lesotho

I must not ignore the sound projects that have been funded. In 2010, ‘Vanishing voices from the Uralic world’ (EAP347) was awarded; sound recordings for archives in Russia (in particular Udmurtia), Estonia, Finland and Hungary. There are 39 languages from the region and the 6,000 sound recordings are available online containing endangered languages and dialects.

EAP347

My quick tour finishes in Columbia (EAP650), with a project based at Caloto Viejo (Old Caloto), the administrative capital of a wide region including Native American groups, European settlers, their enslaved Africans, and maroon communities formed by escaped slaves. These documents are critical for the understanding of Afro-Colombian history. It seems appropriate to end this blog with a photograph of archivists ensuring the safekeeping of material for the future.

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10 May 2018

Endangered Urdu Periodicals

This blog post has been written by Mr Nasir Javaid, grant holder for EAP839. The material has just been submitted to the EAP Office and it will be online later in the year.

EAP839 produced digital images of rare Urdu periodicals from the 19th to the first half of the 20th century in order to preserve and make them available to researchers. During this period the project team has successfully produced 3,832 issues. Urdu journals played a significant role in the development of Urdu literature, especially fiction, religion, history, poetry and culture of the South Asian region as a whole, particularly in Pakistan and India. If someone wants to write on the development of fiction or religious literature, they should refer back to these rare periodicals. Literature on Urdu criticism also flourished through these periodicals. Numerous books that were published later also drew content from these periodicals. Some of the best novels available in Urdu were first published in parts in Urdu journals. These periodicals also remained the primary source of advertisements for all major trade brands of that time. A large number of prominent writers and society figures gained popularity through these periodicals.

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Humayn, May 1935

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Baby Powder advertisement, August 1951

Unfortunately, the highly acidic paper used has made this literature highly vulnerable. It is rare to find complete runs of even the most important Urdu periodicals. Some of the publications have vanished; others are on the verge of extinction. Through digitisation and online presentation it becomes possible to access the publications, overcoming obstacles of location.

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Taj, October - November 1924

Urdu language, now spoken by more than 60 million people worldwide, was the lingua franca of 19th century northern India. It was a common medium of mainstream communication when mass printing culture began. It was also the primary South Asian language used by colonial rulers for administrative purposes during the early British Raj. Previously it was very difficult for researchers to find full runs of the first Urdu periodicals. Further, tensions between Pakistan and India have made it very difficult for scholars to complete their research in topics requiring materials published across the national borders.  Making the rare Urdu periodicals accessible online will help improve scholarship on both sides of the border. During this project we have received many requests for copies of these digitised journals from India. The Endangered Archives Programme is making a major contribution towards the preservation of cultural heritage in countries, such as Pakistan, where the governmental support of such initiatives is not a priority.

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Humayun, January 1945

This project has enabled staff in Pakistan to develop professionally and to attain levels of performance in the field of technology never before attained within a Pakistani library. Project staff have not only learned to preserve and digitise, but also have become expert in the listing and cataloguing of periodicals. It was our fortune that while scanning these journals we had a chance to see and learn a lot of interesting articles and advertisements on different aspects of social life. Through this project the Mushfiq Khwaja Trust for the Advancement of Knowledge and Culture has developed exceptionally strong and close working relationships with the contributing institution in Pakistan and shared knowledge and skills with those partners.

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Ismat, May 1928

The Urdu literary journals have a long publication history some of these have been published continuously for more than a hundred years. It was not an easy task to locate the issues, even family members of the founder, editor and publishers of these journals have only limited numbers. When we digitised these journals they were incredibly pleased that we have preserved the legacy of their ancestors. On occasion, when they need an article they would contact us and also referred other people to us.

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Political cartoon, Avadh Punch 1886

The Mushfiq Khwaja Library and Research Centre was also the archival partner on EAP566 resulting in 8635 issues of rare Urdu journals with total number of 615000 images having been digitised. No other institution in South Asia has extensively worked to preserve Urdu journals to this extent.

17 April 2018

Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations

Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations is a practical guide for those about to embark on a digitisation project and it has just become available online. It is aimed at those who are planning to apply to EAP for future funding, but hopefully the advice will have wider appeal for anyone about to start a similar project.

It has been a joy working on this publication and I hope that people will find the information within its pages helpful. The uniqueness of the book lies in the advice given by those who have taken part in EAP projects and I am extremely grateful for their contributions. But of course, since submitting the draft manuscript to Open Book Publishers, I have received more images of projects being carried out in the field. Although it was too late to include them in the publication, I thought I would share just some in this blog to show that  projects continue to work successfully throughout the world, often in very unique circumstances.  

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EAP935: digitising archival material in northern Ghana

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EAP951: working on Tristan da Cunha

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EAP1005: a portable set-up for Cham manuscripts in Vietnam

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EAP1042: working with the Cisse community in Senegal

16 March 2018

The Manuscripts of Mali

The fabled city of Timbuktu has attracted frequent media attention over the last few years. During the occupation of northern Mali by Al Qaida linked extremists in 2012 the destruction of mausoleums to local Islamic saints in Timbuktu caused an international outcry and resulted in a UNESCO funded rebuilding project after the recapture of the city in 2013. The extremists also burned around 4500 manuscripts from the Ahmed Baba Institute as their last act of defiance before the French and Malian forces re-conquered Timbuktu. Already during the Jihadist occupation many thousands of manuscripts had been transported in secret to Bamako in the now famous rescue operation organised by the Timbuktu librarian Abdel Kader Haidara. This swashbuckling tale has been the subject of two international best-selling novels, The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu (2016) by Joshua Hammer and The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu (2017) by Charlie English, as well as countless articles and documentary films. Timbuktu, ante bellum, was a thriving city of tourism and the centre of over fifty private family libraries which have now been moved to Bamako where the manuscripts are receiving conservation treatment and are being digitised by SAVAMA, an association of Timbuktu libraries led by Abdel Kader Haidara, which has received international funding from the German, Dutch, Luxemburg, Swiss and Norwegian governments as well as the Ford Foundation and many other sources.

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Certain important libraries in Timbuktu declined taking part in the rescue mission to relocate to Bamako. Instead they chose to hide their precious manuscripts in secret desert hiding places in and around Timbuktu: these include the Imam Essayouti, Al Aquib and Al Wangara manuscript libraries, attached in turn to the three ancient mosques of Timbuktu: the Djinguereber (built 1327), the Sankore (built soon after) and Sidi Yahya (1440). Together they compose what was known as the University of Timbuktu. The British Library, through the Endangered Archives Programme and in partnership with the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in Minnesota, USA, is now undertaking the digitisation of these libraries in situ in Timbuktu, where work is underway in the Imam Essayouti library since October 2017, and will begin in the Al Wangara in April 2018.

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Imam Ben Essayouti with Sophie Sarin

Al AquibThe Imam of Sankore at the Al Aquib Library, Timbuktu

Al WangaraThe Al Wangara Library

Although the main concentration of Arabic manuscripts in Mali was undoubtedly in Timbuktu due to its position as the most important trading city of the Trans-Saharan trade route since the early Middle Ages, other Malian cities also boast large deposits of ancient Arabic manuscripts: Djenné in particular. It is situated some 500 km south of Timbuktu in the Niger Inland Delta of Central Mali and was also an important city of trade and scholarship and one of the gateways where Islam first penetrated Mali in the 13th century. Djenné is a repository for thousands of manuscripts which have been kept by families for centuries. In 2009, the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme ran a Pilot Project, which concluded that Djenné’s manuscripts provided a suitable source of material for the mounting of a major two year digitisation project. This was the first in a series of three consecutive major projects, which finally came to an end in October 2017, when in the region of 400,000 images had been achieved from the 8,500 manuscripts which are currently stored in the Djenné Manuscript Library.

Library front Djenné Manuscript Library

Malian manuscripts deal in the main with traditional Islamic subject matter such as Hadiths (traditional sayings and stories attributed to the Prophet Mohammed), Islamic Jurisprudence of the Malikite School, religious poetry and sermons etc. There are also frequent philosophical expositions, mainly on ethics and logic as well as many manuscripts dealing with the Arabic language and grammar. There is history, correspondence, and astronomy which is normally treated as inseparable from astrology. A large proportion of the manuscripts, particularly in Djenné, fall under the label ‘esoteric’; incantations and magic formulas which purport to tell the future or influence the course of events by the use of phrases from the Qur’an in combination with the manipulation of vegetable matter or animal sacrifices. These sorts of practises are frowned upon by certain factions within Islam and some believe that this may possibly have caused the destruction of the manuscripts in Timbuktu by the fundamentalists who derive their Islamic creed from the Wahhabist school of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The involvement of the British Library through the EAP in these projects in Mali continues to be instrumental in safeguarding these manuscripts. In the case of Djenné not only in digital form but also in providing a physically safe environment for the storage of the documents, which had previously been kept in very precarious situations in the family homes, susceptible to the vagaries of the climate where during the rainy season violent rainstorms often cause destruction to the fragile mud buildings, and insects are a continuous hazard.

Fig 9 MaliDigitising in Djenné

However, the menace for the manuscript collections in both Djenné and Timbuktu lies not only in the threat of physical deterioration; the political situation is very unstable. There exists an uneasy truce in Timbuktu, but Islamic extremists are encamped in the surrounding desert and attacks on the city are frequent despite a very large UN peace keeping force.  Similarly, the escalating security crisis in central Mali is making the future uncertain for the Djenné Manuscript Library. State presence is withdrawing from the area as frequent attacks from local Islamic fundamentalists target state employees at institutions such as gendarme guard posts and schools. The Mission Culturelle, as the representative of the Ministry of Culture is a potential target and by extension the Djenné Manuscript Library. So far neither has been targeted, but the situation is volatile. The fact that the Djenné collection of documents has now been digitised and that copies exists at the British Library and also at the National Archives in Bamako means that although the original copies continue to be kept in troubled central Mali, at least the vast majority of manuscripts have now been saved for scholars in digital form, and the Timbuktu manuscripts from the three famous Timbuktu University Libraries are now also on their way to being digitally preserved for posterity.

Written by Sophie Sarin, grant holder of five EAP projects based in Mali: EAP269, EAP488 (Over 2000 manuscripts newly online), EAP690, EAP879 and EAP1094

 

From September 2018, the British Library will be showcasing the projects carried out in Djenné in the form of an exhibition to be held along the Second Floor Gallery. There will also be accompanying events related to Mali during the autumn, so do check the Library's What's on page later in the year. 

12 February 2018

World Radio Day: Recordings from the Endangered Archives Programme

World Radio Day has been held annually on 13th February since 2012 following its proclamation by the UNESCO Conference. The following year the United Nations General Assembly formally endorsed this proclamation and adopted it as an official ‘International Day’ to be celebrated on the anniversary of the establishment of United Nations Radio in 1946.

It is celebrated as a way of showing the continuing importance of radio around the world. The UN Secretary General António Guterres, speaking in the build-up to World Radio Day 2018 states,

“Radio reaches the widest audience in the world! In an era of dramatic advances in communications, radio retains its power to entertain, educate, inform and inspire. It can unite and empower communities and give voice to the marginalized” 1

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Whilst the Endangered Archives Programme is more widely known for digitising vulnerable collections of manuscripts, books, newspapers and other written or visual based mediums, we have also funded a number of audio digitisation projects. Several of these are available to listen to now on BL Sounds, including two important collections of digitised radio archives from Iran and Micronesia. For this post celebrating World Radio Day we thought it would be a good opportunity to highlight these two collections and feature a few of the recordings from the thousands that are available for you to listen to freely.

Micronesia - Endangered Micronesian recordings (EAP115)

This eclectic collection of sound recordings from Micronesia were digitised with the help of the Micronesian Seminar (MicSem), a research-pastoral institute founded by the Catholic Church in 1972. The project team were made aware of hundreds of audio tapes sitting on the shelves of government radio stations throughout the region that were in danger of being lost. These tapes contained a rich and diverse collection of recordings played on local radio from the 1950s right up until the early 21st century. Many had already been lost or destroyed, some through theft and others damaged in natural disasters. These low-lying islands are regularly threatened by typhoons and some are already seeing the consequences of climate change. Many of the islands have already lost land mass due to erosion caused by rising sea levels, some are likely to disappear completely within the coming decades, and others have even been lost altogether within living memory. The threat of typhoons, rising sea levels and the usual factors that endanger vulnerable archives – poor storage conditions, theft, pests, humidity, decay and degradation of the original medium, etc. – uniquely placed these radio archives in need of preservation.

The project mainly digitised recordings from government radio stations in Majuro, Marshall Islands; Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap, Federated States of Micronesia; and Koror, Palau. The project team also digitised recordings from a number of private radio stations, including V6AJ on Kosrae, and some from former Palau national congress Senator Alfonso Diaz’s private radio station (WWFM). Other sources for recordings include private individuals and the Liebenzel Mission and Catholic Church media studio in Chuuk.

The recordings feature a wide variety of musical styles and chart the evolution of music in the region, with recordings ranging from traditional music, religious chants and hymns, to acoustic rock and reggae songs. Given the importance music has on the islands, these recordings can give some context into the cultural evolution of these island societies.

 Over 7000 recordings available to listen to here.

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 CEAP115/2/71/2 - Danpei Youth Christian Association, Ai Koun mehlel kapakap nan mwehdiwelo

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 CEAP115/4/80/2 - Unnamed girls from Woleai, A happy celebration song

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 CEAP115/2/71/2 - Danpei Youth Christian Association, Ai Koun mehlel kapakap nan mwehdiwelo

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 CEAP115/1/158/6 - Mobil Team Youth, Non ai nonom on fanufan

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 CEAP115/2/122/6 - Black Ruru, Ese wor mwo emon lukun en

Iran - The Golha radio programmes (Flowers of Persian Song and Poetry) (EAP088)

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Abdolvahab Shahidi with accompanying musicians  © Golha Project

The Golha radio programmes were broadcast on Iranian National Radio between 1956 and 1979 and consist of a mixture of musical pieces, poetry, and literary commentary. They were the brainchild of Davoud Pirnia, a one-time Assistant Prime Minister who harboured a deep love for Persian culture and its rich literary and musical traditions, and who devoted himself to producing the Golha programmes upon his retirement from political life in 1956. The foremost literary, academic and musical talents of his day offered Mr. Pirnia their collaboration and support, and many of the greatest Iranian vocalists of the twentieth century saw their careers launched on these radio programmes. The programmes constitute an unrivalled encyclopaedia of classical Persian music and poetry. Over 250 poets were introduced to the general public at the time of these broadcasts and they helped to reintroduce and preserve Persian classical music and poetry.

Prior to the digitisation of the Golha radio programmes, these recordings were previously inaccessible to students and scholars of Persian poetry and music. The original tapes were scattered between a number of different archives and private collections with no single archive containing all recordings. The Iranian government withheld access to their archives of music broadcast before the 1979 Islamic revolution, especially those which feature female voices (which all of the Golha programmes contain). Because of the regime's ideological stance to this type of music in particular, it was unlikely they would have committed the resources needed to preserve these recordings. Thanks to the hard work of the EAP088 project team, this important collection of recordings is now saved and freely available both on BL Sounds and the Golha website.

The first of these series of programmes, Golha-yi Javidan (Immortal Flowers of Song and Verse), began its broadcast on March 21 1956 and it concluded, as did all further episodes, with

“This has been an immortal flower from the peerless rose garden of Persia Literature, a flower that shall never perish. Good night”

(In ham goli bud javidan az golzar-e bi-hamta-ye adab-e Iran, goli ke hargez namirad. Shab khosh!).2

 1296 recordings available to listen to here.

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CEAP088/1/2/1 - Gulha-yi Javidan 1

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CEAP088/1/4/29 - Gulha-yi Sahra'i 29

1 World Radio Day Message from UN Secretary General, Mr António Guterres

2 LEWISOHN, J., ‘Flowers of Persian Song and Music: Davud Pirnia and the Genesis of the Golha Programs’, Journal of Persianate Studies (2008) 1, 79-101

 Robert Miles, EAP Cataloguer

19 January 2018

Endangered Penguins in the Endangered Archives

20 January is ‘Penguin Awareness Day’. Although it does not seem to be an official observance carried out by any particular environmental organisation, the date is becoming popular. It isn’t surprising as many people around the world find these peculiar birds truly lovable.

For some light diversion on a Friday, I thought I would try and find out if there were any photographs of penguins within our collections and low and behold there were! It is not surprising that they all came from EAP755, the Heinrich Sanguinetti Archive and were taken by Annemarie Heinrich, a German who settled in Argentina after the First World War. Many of the pictures were taken in 1958 during a visit to the Isla de los Pingüinos (Penguin Island), located 21km southeast of the city of Puerto Deseado.

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The breed of penguin found on this island is the Magellanic, which is a South American variety and named after the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan who first set eyes on them in the 16th century. Very sadly, these birds are classified as a ‘Near-threatened species’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 

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EAP755 contains images of both adults and fluffy chicks. Many seem to be hiding from the photographer's lens.

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Not all of the photographs were taken on the island, there is also one taken in Buenos Aires zoo of two penguins being fed by their keeper.

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16 January 2018

Doctoral Research into the Migration and Settlement of Liberated Africans

Each year, the British Library organises Doctoral Open Days, with the aim of helping students explore the Library’s collections. Two years ago, I met Jake Richards at an Asia and Africa focused Open Day. I am absolutely thrilled to share this blog post, the first to be written by a PhD student using EAP material as part of their research.

In April 1839, J. B. Hazely, an official in the Liberated African Department in Freetown, Sierra Leone, requested that his colleague, S. Thorpe, ‘with all possible speed, send up to this Department six able Boys, capable of speaking English, & fitting to be placed on board Her Majesty’s Brig of War Harlequin’. The Harlequin was one of several Royal Navy ships that patrolled the Atlantic to suppress the slave trade. Naval ships intercepted hundreds of slave ships in the nineteenth century, and transferred the embarked slaves to particular ports where they would be declared free from slavery, and then apprenticed for up to fourteen years – a process which labelled them ‘liberated Africans’. The Liberated African Department Letter Books, digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme, contain correspondence between departmental officials, Royal Navy officers, and missionaries who were involved in different stages of this process of ‘liberation’. As Hazely’s letter reveals, the six boys would work to suppress the slave trade from which they or their relatives had recently been rescued.

Eap284_liberated_african_dept_letterbk_1837_1842_216EAP443/1/18/6 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [22 Aug 1837-15 Feb 1843]

Sierra Leone handled around half of the approximately 200,000 slaves rescued after Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 – more than any other location in the nineteenth century. Britain’s colony in Sierra Leone had begun twenty years previously as a site not much larger than Freetown, established as a home for black soldiers and sailors who had fought for Britain during the American War of Independence, plus Maroons from Jamaica and freed slaves from Nova Scotia. After 1807, colonial governors and the Church Missionary Society founded a series of villages outside Freetown to manage the influx of liberated Africans, and appointed managers, such as Thorpe, to run them as part of the Liberated African Department. Many of these villages still bear their English-sounding names: Hastings, Kent, and York.

Eap284_liberated_african_dept_letterbk_1842_1847_050EAP443/1/18/7 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [1842-1847]

The Letter Books suggest that the managers combined jobs as administrative heads, magistrates, and experimenters in labour patterns – a local social engineer before ‘decentralisation’ became a buzzword. One of the most noticeable patterns of experimentation was a division of work and opportunities according to whether the Department identified a liberated African as male or female. Managers distributed male apprentices to naval ships, to the West India Regiments, and to settle Tombo (or Tumbu) on the southern fringe of the colony. Although girls went to school, some women were married off soon after arrival, including several ‘Eboe’ women who were presented with husbands soon after disembarking from their slave ship at Freetown’s Liberated African Yard in 1838. Sometimes women worked for ‘respectable married women’ to learn domestic skills until they were eligible for marriage, as a letter from April 1842 attests. The Letter Books give only glimpses of the other work women did beyond the oversight of village managers, such as food hawking or market selling. The lack of choice in deciding labour and domestic relationships may seem surprising, but many contemporary workers in Britain had similar constraints on their choices. The Letter Books continually remind their reader that there were many gradations between enslavement and free labour, and that the processes of moving between them were unpredictable and halting.

The EAP is a cherished window into documentation at the frontier of historical research, and I am grateful to the archivists and researchers whose EAP grants made these sources accessible, to Jody Butterworth for telling me about them at the BL’s Doctoral Open Day for the Africa and Asia collections in 2016, and to the staff who ran a wonderfully helpful open day.

Jake Christopher Richards (University of Cambridge) is conducting doctoral research into the migration and settlement of liberated Africans around the South Atlantic, c. 1839 – 1871.

If you are interested in attending this year's Open Day, it is on Monday 22 January 2018.

19 December 2017

Bulgarian Christmas and kissing of the ritual bread

Our last blog of the year has been written by Rossitza Atanassova, Digital Curator at the British Library. I can’t think of a lovelier way to finish the year than have a colleague and friend reminisce about her childhood using images from EAP103 held at The Ethnographic Institute and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Science, Sofia.

Christmas Eve (Badni vecher) is central to the Bulgarian Christmas celebrations and is associated with many customs and rituals. On Christmas Eve families prepare a traditional festive dinner of vegan dishes, including the ritual bread (pita or pogacha), cabbage leaves stuffed with rice (sarmi), white butter bean stew, dried fruit compote (oshav), pickled vegetable salad and pumpkin pastries. Other produce – onion, garlic, honey, wheat, fruit and walnuts – are also laid on the table, to ensure rich crops in the New Year. Historically rural households would sprinkle dung, sand, wheat grains, hay and coins on or around the dinner table. This was due to their symbolism for the well-being of the household, fertility and abundance of crops, orchards, vineyards, livestock and domestic fowl. (Slaveykov p.13)

Gathering the whole family at Christmas Eve to share this simple symbolic meal is one of the most intimate and honoured Bulgarian traditions. At the start of the meal the eldest member of the family would light incense and pass it round the room and over the meal as a sign of protection from misfortune for the household. It falls on the eldest man in the family to bless and break the ritual bread, saving the first piece for the Virgin Mary and distributing a piece each to all members of the family. The early 20th century photograph (below) of a family from the village of Petrich near Sofia captures the moment of kissing the ritual bread as it is held out by the elder in the family. The symbolism of the bread in this ceremony is captured so well by the photographer, as it occupies a central place in the image with all three generations of the family showing such reverence and hopefulness as they huddle around it. There is so much intimacy and spontaneity in the photograph, with the grandfather staring solemnly at the camera, his son or son-in-law enjoying a glass of home-produced rakija and the younger children looking furtively around.

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I have such fond childhood memories of the Christmas Eve preparations at home when I helped my mother and grandmother to knead the ritual bread and decorate it with the Nativity scene and the sign of the Cross. It is a tradition I have passed on to my children and year on year they are excited about making together the ritual Christmas bread. There is a great regional variety in the shapes and decorations, many of which reference agricultural activities such as ploughing, shepherding and winemaking, as well as Christian symbolism. Some examples of ritual breads can be seen in the EAP103 archive, and the Ethnographic Museum has an important collection of stamps used for decorating ritual breads, such as this Nativity Scene stamp. It is traditional to hide a coin in the Christmas bread and whoever finds it is said to have all the happiness and success in the New Year.

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On Christmas Eve, groups of boys and young men (koledari) visit the houses in their neighbourhoods and villages, singing auspicious verses about prosperity and well-being. These welcome guests exchange traditional greetings with the families and give their blessings to every member of the household. In return the Koledari receive gifts of food and ritual ring-shaped breads, often made by the young women in the family, which they string on the wooden sticks they carry.

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On New Year’s Day it is customary for children in Bulgaria to carry tree branches (survachka), traditionally decorated with dried fruit, popcorn, breads and wool, and to recite blessings for family and friends in exchange for a coin or other gifts. As a child I loved the festive atmosphere in Sofia with stalls selling survachki decorated in red and white paper. This custom continues the joyful and hopeful Bulgarian Christmas celebrations and tradition which the photographic archive gives us such wonderful glimpses of.

EAP103_1_3_18-aeimP4772_LEAP103/1/3/18/198 and EAP103/1/3/18/200 (market for survachki, decorated sticks for Christmas or New Year’s Day, Sofia, early 20th century)

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 The EAP team would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and the very best for 2018.

 

Bibliography:

Slaveykov, Racho, Bulgarian Folk Traditions and Beliefs, Sofia, Asenevtsi Trade Ltd, 2014

Vasileva, Margarita, Koleda i Surva: Bulgarski praznitzi I obichai, Sofia, Darzhavno Izdatelstvo Septemvri, 1988