Sunday, September 6, 2015


The Nomads of the Balkans: an Account of life and Customs Among the Vlachs of Northern Pindu (Methuen&Co., London 1914; excerpts from pp.7-10), by A.J.B. Wace and M.S. Thomson


Among the Vlachs the national movement began in the 1867; it was originated by natives of Macedonia but help was soon procured from Bucharest which became the centre of the movement. Roumanian elementary schools were founded in several of the Vlach villages and afterwards higher grade schools were started in Yannina, Salonica, and Monastir. Eventually in 1905 the Vlachs were recognized by the Turks as forming a separate ‘millet’ or nationality. This however brought no real unity as the Vlach villages are widely scattered and many from their position alone are too closely connected with Greece to wish to take a course of their own.

The movement however in the first instance was of an educational kind, and the purely political aspect it has at times assumed has been produced entirely by the opposition with which it was met.

Greek opposition at first was confined to exerting pressure by means of the church, but in 1881 when Thessaly and a considerable Vlach population came under Greek rule Roumanian education had to retire northwards and the situation became more acute. The theory had by that time devised in Greece that the Vlachs were Vlachophone Hellenes, that is to say racially Greeks who had learnt Vlach. The arguments then and since brought against the Roumanian schools were curiously inept; it was urged that they taught a foreign language, and were staffed by Romanians and not Vlachs.

As far as the language is concerned Roumanian has a close connection with the Vlach while Greek has none, and in the lower forms of the Roumanian schools the Vlach dialect is used to some extent.

Both schools equally in most of the Vlach villages were financed from outside and in recent years at least most if not all the school-masters employed have been Vlach and not Roumanians. It is interesting to note that the perfectly valid argument that the Vlachs had been rapidly becoming hellenized was not used at all.

In 1903 the Bulgarians of Macedonia revolted against the Turks; the fighting was fiercest between Klisura and Krushevo districts now allotted to Greece and Servia, and the revolt was suppressed with fire and sword and wholesale brutality. One result of this rising was to show the Greeks how much Hellenism had declined and Bulgarian propaganda increased since the beginning of the Bulgarian church and schools some 30 years before. Consequently with the approval of the church a committee was formed in Athens to hire bands to send into Macedonia to enforce the claims of the Hellenism and destroy Bulgarian schools and churches.

These bands were largely composed of Cretans and often led by regular officers, but any ex-brigand was sure of a ready welcome. Similar bands meanwhile had been dispatched from Sofia to gather all Bulgarian villages into the fold of the Bulgarian church and nationalism, In the bitter blood and bloody struggle that followed Vlachs were soon involved, for the Greek bands were ordered to turn their attention to the Roumanian schools as well. Threats soon reduced the number of the Roumanian party, several of their schools were burnt, many of their more staunch advocates were murdered and their homes and property destroyed. One result of this was that Vlach bands soon appeared on the opposite side, but from their numbers and position were compelled to act mainly on the defensive. In July 1908 with the proclamation of the Ottoman constitution this campaign ended and comparative peace followed. One result of the recent wars has been that Roumanian has secured from all the Balkan states educational and religious freedom for the Vlachs and the continuance of Roumanian schools where they are desired. This should put an end for ever to the peculiarly mean squabble in which the Vlachs have been concerned.

Owing to this deplorable dispute it has been extremely hard for any one to acquire information about the Vlach villages. As Weigand found many years ago when the quarrel was in its infancy and no blood had been split any one enquiring into Vlach dialects was viewed with the utmost suspicion and liable to be told the most fantastic tales. Thus on one occasion we overheard the school children being ordered to talk only Greek as long as we were present; in another village which we were assured spoke only Greek, Vlach proved to be the common tongue. Nearly all modern Greek books and pamphlets on the Vlachs which might otherwise be of extreme interest and value are owing to their political theories almost entirely worthless. Political philology has shown that Kutsovlach means ‘little Vlach’ and that a ‘little Vlach’ means one who is mostly a Hellene.

This result is apparently reached by deriving the word first from kuchuk and confounding it with the meaning of koutsos.

Another work purporting to be a sober historical enquiry ends with the wish that our foes may hate or better still fear us. Such literature can hardly be taken seriously, but at the same time its authors, often hellenized Vlachs, posses a knowledge of the country that no stranger can hope to acquire.

Roumanian books on the Vlachs like the Greek are not impartial witnesses. From the nature of the case however they are less liable to fantastic theories; as regards the language they often minimize the number of the Greek loan words in common use, in history and in folklore Rome plays a larger part at times than is either likely or possible and the number of the Vlach communities are calculated on a liberal basis. Estimates of the population are extremely doubtful; the Turkish figures take no account of race and are only concerned with religion, so that a Greek may mean a Bulgarian, Vlach or Albanian member of the Patriarchist Church.

Nationality too in the Balkans is still in a state of flux; and classification according to the descent, language or political feeling would lead to different results. To take an simple case from Greece itself; by descent nearly all the Attic villagers are Albanians, a linguistic test would still give a large number of Albanians for comparatively few have entirely adopted Greek. Yet if they were asked to what nation they belonged the large majority would probably answer Greek, and al would be Greek in politics and ideals.

A Greek estimate made before political troubles began put the total number of Vlachs at 600,000; later Greek estimated give usually a much lower figure. An enthusiastic Roumanian has proposed 2,800,000, but other Roumanian estimates are more from about 850,000 upwards. Weigand who has paid more attention to the subject than any other traveler puts the total of Vlachs in the whole peninsula at 373,520.

This seems to us to err on the side of the moderation, for it is based largely on the calculation of five persons to a house which from our own experience of Vlach villages is well above the average. Including as Vlachs those who learnt Vlach as their mother tongue we should estimate the total at no less than half a million.

Of these however some will now be using Greek and others Bulgarian in everyday life and their children will not know Vlach at all. Quite apart from questions regarding which involve politics, information of any kind is difficult to acquire. At times courtesy towards the stranger which especially in the villages as we have good reason to know is very real indeed, demands that all answers should be adapted to the questioner’s assumed desires; on the other hand there is a deep-rooted belief, by no means confined to the villages, that all strangers being credulous the most fantastic answers will suffice.

Once in the early days when our knowledge of Vlach was small we arrived at a Vlach village which had just reunited after a winter in plains. All around were talking Vlach; we were welcomed kindly by the schoolmaster who spoke to us in Greek. “We only talk Vlach when we first meet again after the winter” were almost his first words. It was not till a month later that we heard another word of Greek.

It is perhaps necessary to add that no dragoman or interpreter has ever been with us on the journeys; most of our wanderings have been made alone and of those many on foot.


The full book can be read at ( )