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Ethnographic exhibition in Sofia presents symbols of fertility from North Macedonia

The richness and diversity of cults and fertility rituals in the Balkan region can be seen in a museum exhibition from the Republic of North Macedonia. It has been arranged in five halls of the National Ethnographic Museum at the Knyaz Palace in Sofia and will remain there until mid-January 2020.

In one place, more than 50 exhibits from antiquity to the present could be seen, which illustrate the human desire for posterity and ensuring home and family security. Part of the exhibits includes documentary film excerpts that take the visitor to ritual centers in Bulgaria’s neighbor, linked to the cult of fertility. Folk art is also intertwined in the present exhibition. Folk songs, tales, riddles and legends add to the impression of the importance of the topic in the collective consciousness of people. One can also see the images of the hen and egg - a universal symbol of life and fertility.


"Red Rooster and Black Hen: Fertility Cults, Rites, Customs, and Beliefs" is the title under which the exhibition is presented, created by three museums in Skopje.

The exhibition is very interesting because it brings together the efforts of colleagues working in different fields of folklore and ethnography, who are exploring the subject and now we have gathered together to present you a very interesting project, says curator Jovan Šurbanovski, ethnographer from the Republic of North Macedonia.

“It has been a complex exhibition to organize because two institutions have worked on it – the Archaeological Museum and the Ethnographic Department of the Skopje Museum, as well as specialists from the Faculty of Ethnology and Anthropology. They all present the same topics, but viewed from different angles. I hope that the audience in Bulgaria will also be interested to see the topic of fertility, the way it is represented in folklore. We ethnographers cannot point out an object that is more valuable than the rest. But the way they are linked together and the context in which every detail is presented are the most important in order to get the topic fully understood.”

Along with prehistoric figures, ancient pottery and lamps, the exhibition also contains numerous objects used during carnivals, weddings and other holidays and ceremonies dedicated to the transitional moments in nature and human life.

"Red Rooster, Black Hen" is an exhibition that has a slightly different perspective – it elegantly and subtly touches on erotic representations in traditional culture, says Dr. Iglika Mishkova, an ethnologist at the Institute of Ethnography and Folklore Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.


“Everyone can find something interesting here. The topic of fertility is very elegant and simple, but at the same time gives information about each of the elements from ancient times to the present day. We ethnographers know about these artifacts as in the Balkans we have many things in common, so it is difficult to surprise us, but the way in which exhibits are selected and presented is very interesting. The first thing that the majority of the audience will be interested in is seeing the figures of the Mother Goddess, which basically resemble a house at the bottom. Fans of erotic folklore, which includes songs, tales, stories, riddles, legends, rituals, etc. would also enjoy the exhibition. We think that our ancestors were very strict, serious people and erotic hints were more secretive, but they exist in folk songs, as well as in the cults that had been performed. To this day, one does everything to secure a healthy offspring, to provide food and to have a house. These are the most human things that are repeated everywhere.”


English: Alexander Markov

Photos: private library