Tuesday 22 December 2015

Baba - the main beam that supports the house

In Serbia we have three very interesting proverbs:

"Ne stoji kuća na zemlji nego na ženi" - The house doesn't stand on the ground but on the woman

"Tri ćoška kuće stoje na ženi a jedan na mužu" - Three corners of the house stand on the woman (wife) and one on the man (husband)

"Gde nije žene tu nije ni kuće" - where there is no woman, there is no house

All these proverbs mean that it is the woman that holds the household together and also that within the household, it is the woman that is charge.

This might sound strange considering that Serbians and other Balkan people lived in the past in extremely patriarchal, tribal societies. Women had to produce male children. A woman which was not able to produce a male child was considered infertile. When asked how many members the family had, people would reply with the number of able men under arms. The heroic cult was extremely strong and men were expected to die in battle rather than in bed. Mothers gave birth to sons knowing that they will probably be killed in battle very young. There is even a recorded expression: "Why did I give birth to my sons if not for them to die in battle"... In societies like these, life expectancy of males is very short. Which means that in most households the oldest member of the family was not an old man but an old woman. With men spending a lot of their time fighting wars, and with the eldest male usually being long dead, this left women to be in charge and in care of the house, property and children and basically the society as a whole.

By the way all this sounds just like the old Spartan society, and not surprisingly the role of women in the Spartan society was very similar to the role of women in the old traditional Serbian society.

Spartan women were encouraged to produce many children, preferably male, to increase Sparta's military population. They took pride in giving birth to a brave warrior. Being the mother of a popular warrior was a high honor for a Spartan woman. This hero worship attitude is best illustrated by the famous parting cry of Spartan mothers to their sons: "Come back with your shield - or on it". Spartan mothers whose sons died in battle openly rejoiced while mothers whose sons survived hung their heads in shame.

At any given moment the Spartan polis would have consisted of predominantly women, given that half of the men were at war. When the men weren’t stationed they were preoccupied with training and remained separated from their homes leaving the women to completely dominate the household. This is why socially and politically women managed and led the community.

Aristotle was critical of the Spartan treatment of women on the grounds that in Sparta, men were ruled by their women, unlike in the rest of Greece.

Here is something interesting: in Serbian the main beam that supports the house roof is called "baba" (grandmother). The "baba" beam is supported by the main vertical pillar called "djed" (grandfather). 

Here are examples of early medieval Slavic houses with the "baba" beam and "djed" pillar marked in red. 

Also please note the calotte "baba" oven in the corner of the house. I already wrote about these ovens in my post "Baba - earthen bread oven".

The house is lying on the "djed" pillars but it is held together by the "baba" beam. Without the "baba" beam there would be no house...


  1. I guess it goes to the mother, grandmother... In Armenian they say - the mother is the main column of the family. https://narinnamkn.wordpress.com/.../sumerian-and.../

  2. For the Armenians, it is not just a woman but the mother

  3. This is also true of the Aryas. And of a great many martial communities in India such as the Nairs, the Bunst in the South West and many Matriarchal tribes of the North East.

    The reason is simple. When warriors war, their lives are transient. It is the woman who then holds the cultural continuity and the standards of the people as also the future of the people in her hands and on her lap.