Bosnian-Herzegovinian Identity and a Unique Story Woven into Kilims

Photo: Lida Sahafzadeh/Unsplash

In the past, woven kilims and other handicraft carpets were a reflection of a family’s reputation. The more skilled young women were in handcrafts, the wealthier the household. Today, however, things are different.

Traditional Bosnian carpet making is on the verge of being forgotten, despite having been a refuge and form of occupational therapy for some during and after the war. Every Bosnian carpet (ćilim/kilim) tells a story, interwoven with love and respect for tradition.

The BosFam Association brings together women, most of whom are from the Podrinje region and were displaced by the war and genocide to Tuzla, where they found peace in making kilims. These women told their stories with wool thread as they waited and hoped for their loved ones to return from Srebrenica and other parts of the region.

“At that time, schools in Tuzla had been turned into refugee centers and were full of women and children. Bosnian women aren’t accustomed to sitting still. Aware that women from that part of the country are skilled in handicrafts, I thought it would be good to bring them together and divert their thoughts to some extent,” said Munira Beba Hadžić, president of the BosFam Association.

Instead of relying on traditional Bosnian carpet motifs like gugutka and kornjača, BosFam members created original designs, incorporating parts of themselves into the carpets. The first 15 kilims bear the names of their creators—Nura, Esma, Muniba, Fatima, and others.

Hadžić says that well-made carpets can last up to 300 years. Given that carpets can last for generations, the women crafted a memorial carpet in memory of all the victims of the Srebrenica genocide.

“After we’re gone, we want the carpets to continue to tell stories and preserve the memories of the genocide victims,” explained Hadžić, noting that they wove 20 names into the first carpet of loved ones who disappeared in Srebrenica.

Among their other creations, Hadžić, a teacher, highlighted a carpet bearing the names of 25 fellow educators who were killed in the genocide, as well as carpets dedicated to the killed youth, victims’ families, women, and victims from Bratunac. All of the carpets were donated to the Memorial Center in Potočari and are now part of a permanent exhibition.

Nevertheless, Hadžić worries that there may be no one to continue the story and carry on the tradition of carpet weaving, which is being suffocated by a lack of institutional support. Questioning the state’s priorities, she emphasizes that supporting carpet weaving is definitely not among them.

“It’s easier to get funding for a conference than for employing women and preserving tradition,” Hadžić remarked.

After we’re gone, we want the carpets to continue to tell stories and preserve the memories of the genocide victims. Photo: Ramo Tučić

Two Months to Make One Carpet

The process of making a carpet begins with preparing the wool, which is dyed, followed by setting up the base on the loom. Threads are formed through which colored wool is threaded, using a pattern of even and odd numbers. After that, the wool is compacted, and when they want to change the color of the wool, they cut the thread and continue with another color. At the end of the weaving, the carpet is shaved.

Hadžić notes that carpet weaving requires talent, and a skilled weaver is one who can weave with both hands. “A good weaver needs about two months to make a carpet,” said Hadžić.

Fusing the Contemporary and the Traditional

The Bosnian carpet is claimed by many. The Sarajevo Film Festival has been leading the struggle to preserve this tradition and since 2019, has replaced the typical red carpet with one inspired by Sarajevo carpets dating back to 1930. In this way, they manage to achieve a blend of the traditional and contemporary, demonstrating respect and love for this heritage.

The effort to safeguard this tradition among youth is exemplified by Emir Avdić from Dubrava near Tuzla, who preserves tradition with novel methods. In the process of making carpets, he employs a modern tufting method, pressing wool onto canvas with a specific tool or tufting gun.

“I know how much kilim-making really nurtures tradition. Recognizing the importance that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers placed on the handmade production of all household items, especially kilims, I realized I can make carpets with traditional kilim motifs this way,” explained Avdić, who is among the few young people committed to this craft.

The president of BosFam believes that young people are increasingly less interested in continuing the tradition of Bosnian carpet making. “It isn’t attractive to young people, it’s not instant gratification.  If we had a little more support from the authorities, perhaps there would be more interest,” said Hadžić, emphasizing the need to preserve this tradition, which she grew up with, and believes the younger generation should inherit.

Ramo has a bachelor's degree in journalism. He is employed at RTV Slon Tuzla, and in addition, he is PR for several companies. Ramo is versatile, and is recognizable to the public as an award-winning painter. He has several solo and group exhibitions behind him. He also sings and is an active member of the BKC TK Vocal Ensemble.

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One response to “Bosnian-Herzegovinian Identity and a Unique Story Woven into Kilims

  1. Dr. Danica Anderson

    In early 2000, the Kolo Sumejja Novi Travnik women war crimes and war survivors and I met with the BosFam women. My textbook was published in 2023.

    South Slavic Women’s Transgenerational Trauma Healing Through Oral Memory Practices.
    Women War Crimes and War Survivors
    South Slavic Women’s Transgenerational Trauma Healing through Oral Memory Practices: Women War Crimes and War Survivors explains that Kolo-Informed Trauma Treatment is a clinical, cultural, psychological, and neurobiological approach that draws upon the rich scientific UNESCO intangible cultural heritage and embodied practices of the South Slavic Kolo-circle movement format or somatic folk dance. The author argues that Slavic oral memory practices are not in fact worthless or outdated in healing trauma. The inclusion of the little-known or rarely researched women who have experienced war crimes and war trauma demonstrates the intrinsic depth and female indigenous resources aligning with many scientific interdisciplinary fields and women’s human rights. Central to the Kolo-Informed Trauma Treatment is the profound recognition of the importance of women’s cultural memory and somatic oral traditions to evolve towards communal healing. Women’s memory narrative enables the South Slavic people to have profound communal approaches to offer insights into the effects of war trauma, advocating paths towards thriving. Through a recalibration with the relationship of women as valued resources and prominence as creators of healing cultures, South Slavic women’s communal healing practices, if orchestrated on a planetary scale, elaborate inclusive dynamic homeostasis.


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Winner of the Intercultural Achievement Recognition Award by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs

Post-Conflict Research Center
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