The culture heritage in Rastak is not just a fairy tale
Existence in traditional manner
The Rastak tradition has been cherished for years. In this reportage we present two ways of cherishing it: preserving the old folk dances through records made by professional and presenting and selling hand-made souvenirs with folk motives.
If you want to come to Rastak you need to pass 11 kilometres to the northeast of Skopje, as well as four villages (Singelik, Stajkovci, Cresevo and Bulacani). After you have reached about 700 metres above the sea level from Skopska Crna Gora you come to Rastak from where you can enjoy the full view of the Skopje valley. The Rastak inhabitants are very proud of their place, even those who due to economic reasons have become "citizens", spend their free days or at least their weekends in their idyllic village.
The desire to become familiar with the tradition that made this village become well known has brought us to Rastak. We wanted to record the inhabitants' efforts to preserve that tradition and upgrade it through the new generations of the Rastak inhabitants.
The Rastak folk group is one of the oldest in this region. It was founded in 1932 as part of the Hawk Association "Rastak". In the beginning, the folk group consisted of male singers and dancers only. The girls became group members of the group in 1935.
The dancers and the singers had an extraordinary talent, the group never lacked folk dancers or singers because Rastak was a real nursery of singers and dancers. The witness of that is the interest of the three-member expedition which in the far 1936 visited Rastak in order to study the songs and dances from this region. Some of their impressions were published in the newspaper "Politika" on 26 June 1936. "Every living soul between the age of three and ninety-nine sings and dances, and they are all dressed in one's Sunday best. In Rastak we saw the most beautiful dance. I will never forget the elegant posture of the dancers, their strength and the refinement of the movements, as well as the rhythm of their swinging. Among them, I felt like being in an English village", said Ms Mod Carpeles from the three-member expedition.
Trajko Popov - the famous leader of a ring-dance
The leader of the ring-dance of the folk group from Rastak, Trajko Popov left a mark that follows the group in its conquest of domestic, but also the European audience. "Trajko Popov was our greatest dancer", says the 79-year-old uncle Vele Jovcev, one of the members of this group. "When I was a child I used to go round the dancers feet", recalls he. "Trajko leaded the ring-dance and I was messing around, back and front. Suddenly he grabbed me in his hands and continued to dance with me. He was very strong. Once they competed with the zurla players to see who will endure more, that is, who will give up first. Trajko went through the whole village dancing, and the zurla players lagged behind", says uncle Vele, remembering those times.
One of the most remarkable events is the performance at the Festival of Folk Songs and Dances in Hamburg, Germany in 1937. The folk group from Rastak was supposed to represent the Kingdom Yugoslavia. They say that before they appeared on stage voices could be heard among the audience saying: "What can these simple peasants show"? But when they appeared and started their dignified dance, all dressed in their local colourful costumes, the dancers conquered the hearts of all present. They returned again and again on stage trying to answer the endless applauses. And among all those European countries, they won the third place.
The dancers of this group were very much appreciated. Uncle Vele remembers the offer he received after the performance at the Kolarcev National University in Belgrade to be the choreographer of the Cultural Artistic Association "Kosta Abrasevik". "I could not take such a big step", says he, "I worked at the post office, life had its own course here in Macedonia". Later, Uncle Vele received an offer to be an instructor in Tanec, too, but he decided to remain in the post office, although he says, dancing has always been his greatest love. "I danced in front of comrade Tito", says he, "I was young, I wanted to dance and I still do", Uncle Vele continues his story and stands up to show us some steps of the Rastak dance.
CAA "Trajko Popov"
For the Rastak inhabitants there was nothing more natural than naming their cultural artistic association by the famous leader of the ring-dance, Trajko Popov. They cherish the traditional Rastak dances. "We would like the games to be remembered forever", says Jovica Kostovski from the civil society association "Cultural Centre" Rastak. "Therefore we got in touch with the Institute of Folklore "Marko Cepenkov" from Skopje. Assisted by the old folk dancers from the Rastak folk group we will authentically perform several dances in front of an ethno-musicologist: "Potrcano", "Postupano", "Lesna lisa", "Ibraim Odza", etc. The ethno-musicologist will record them and so they will remain kept forever", adds Kostovski.
Business in the spirit of the tradition
We continued our conversation about the rich Rastak tradition in a slightly different direction, existential, I would say. Our host, Trajanka Smilevska, introduced us into the Smilevski family business. It all started with the OSCE seminar, where the whole process, from the elaboration of the idea to the setting up of a business, was discussed", says she. "At that time we were thinking about what we could start that does not need big investments, because we did not have a lot of money. Trajanka is a former worker in "Slavija". After her 13-year work in Slavija had ended due to the bankruptcy of the company, she changed several other posts which were not "real jobs". "We liked the idea for producing hand-made souvenirs. However, I had to learn how to weave, and that was not really a problem. The weaving mill where I weave the woollen rugs is nearly 30 years old, it is not big and I soon learned to work on it", says Trajanka. What she makes now are woollen rugs which are then used for making bags, cases for mobile phones and glasses, etc. The patterns are inspired by the cultural heritage of the Rastak region, or, generally, by the Macedonian cultural heritage.
We asked Trajanka how she promotes her products and we found out that they were presented on a web-site. "Thanks to that site", says Goce, Trajanka's son, "media from Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina and Poland became interested. They visited us and made a reportage about our family business. Their reportages brought us interested buyers from abroad", tells Goce, a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Skopje. At the moment he is trying to collect the necessary documents so that they can export their products.
More than a family business
There is a considerable interest for the products, and in long terms it would mean providing material security not only for the Smilevski family, but also for several other families in Rastak. "In order to meet the requirements, we have to provide another weaving mill", says Trajanka's husband. "Our progress also means that there will be job for a few other women in the village. ", adds Trajanka.
For the time being, the Smilevski family remains with the initial range of products, but that does not mean they are not considering expansion. "The most important thing is that we "stand on our feet", and than we will see. We would like to make complete costumes, which is a bit more complicated and we leave it for some time in future".
While you are talking to the members of this family, everything seems accomplishable. They present the new ideas for their business with such lightness that it seems to you they have almost realized them. We say goodbye to them hoping that their family business will grow as lightly as that and it will be heard of widely like the Rastak tradition.