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Bosnia April 2006 Ahmici War Crimes Memorial- Kolo Sumejja Women Remember Hand Ball Olympic Champion (r) and life long friend/sister bear the hypnotic mourning and deepening in facing war crimes in the aftermath.

The Widow Goddess…

Categorized in these topics: Baba Yaga Female Social Justice


Sacred Pilgrimage to India and Bosnia 2005

Kerala, India

City of Kochin

In India, it is said that on the night of autumn’s new moon, the ghosts of the dead come to dwell with the widows.

The Widow Goddess in India is named Dhumavathi Beholder of Smoke; she is also known as Daridra-poverty, and Vidhava-widow. Dhumavathi, the Widow Goddess, is identified with her Goddess sisters Alaksmi (misfortune) and Ninrti (misery), and she sums up my feminist Kolo (circle or dance in Serbo-Croatian) trauma work.

Her rites, attending the funeral pyres in cemeteries and in the forest, suggest a sense of feminine space that lends itself to the seasons of life, where death is the great equalizer.

I find Dhumavathi in the faces of the women I bear witness to in the aftermath of war and natural catastrophe.

We cannot evade the Widow Goddess.

The Kolo: Women’s Cross Cultural Collaboration is often invited to reach the marginalized and invisible… Women. This process is a sacred pilgrimage to sites that have need of a feminine sense of place such as Bosnia, India, and Sri Lanka.

To excavate the female culture under the violent global onslaught means I work in the cemeteries and crematoriums, even if they are not identified as such. It means I witness the intergenerational Dhumavathi faces in daughters, mothers, and grandmothers.

Internationally renowned dancer, teacher, choreographer, and researcher, Padma Menon, is one of the few Kuchipudi dancers left in India who faces the Widow Goddess with reverence. She has collaborated with the Kolo format which includes dance as one of its practices, since 2000. Mudra International Center for Dance is Padma Menon’s dream to ensure dance training as a holistic method for the body and mind, and to facilitate international collaborations and exchanges for teaching. More importantly, Menon, facing the Widow Goddess, chose to be in her birthplace, India. Here she can teach dance to young women who cannot be self-sustaining save for prostitution or the streets of India. She offers to instill traditional Indian dance in their young bodies that have been hardened by violence.

Less then a forty minute car ride away from Mudra International Center for Dance, the Tsunami wave on December 26, 2004 hit a bridge carrying mostly children on their way to school to celebrate a Hindu holiday.

37 were killed, 847 homes destroyed, 1579 partially destroyed homes, 7 relief camps and over 453 injured. This June/July 2005, no aid agencies were working the effort, save for Amma whose long term goals for the affected area remain stalwartly.

Only in Kerala does the long term relief effort have a program to ‘untie uteri tubes’ so that the women who lost children can again give birth. The patriarchal effort to erase Dhumavathi’s mighty wave, Mother Nature exacting exquisite retribution, cannot be eradicated, only surrendered to by this question with such finality: How do you replace the death of one child with the birth of another child?

Only widows know this answer.

Robert E. Svoboda wrote “Vedics have long known, that the Earth’s atmosphere is modulated by what happens on its surface, our lives literally change the life of Earth and in turn alters us in response to our activities.”[1] The Vedics must have known of Dhumavathi power to balance and equalize the hatred of the feminine and females.

The Widow Goddess teaches us vast in-depth indigenous wisdom with each of her forces and faces of Mother Nature, and it is Mother Nature’s responses that are in tandem to what happens to females globally. For instance, the monsoons started in June slowly with a rise in Leptospirosis, otherwise known as ‘Rat Fever’. 17,674 are struck down with viral fever since the monsoon season. 376 cases of Hepatitis A in West Kochin, and 33 cases of Typhoid fever accompanied monsoon season in the region of the Tsunami violence.[2]

The honor and regard for the Widow Goddess is certainly not given. In India and globally, widows are thought to be murderers of their husbands. This is akin to stating Mother Nature is a murderer, which most males want to tame the energy and fury of due to their fear of the feminine divinity’s might and grace.

Patriarchal systems originated in India still maintain a stranglehold. They attempt to erase Dhumavathi and her Mother Nature with this blame towards anything feminine or female. Since Mother Nature’s responses are how we live on the earth, the disregard for the feminine appears with the Widow Goddess asking for attention and honorable regard. In the end, Dhumavathi’s ability to balance with death is the greatest equalizer.

Kochin perched on the edge of the vast ocean is lush, green and fragrant. The smell in India is a process from which to embrace Dhumavathi or recoil from. Embracing Her means smelling the dust before the rains drop, smelling the urine and rotting garbage that litters any available space under the magnificent foliage and views of the indisputable ocean. It then comes to a point where the smell of India’s perfumed flowers and supposed fetid odors are essentially one and the same.

The Women’s Justice Initiative (WJI) of the Human Rights Law Network, Kochin, Kerala has a small office down a labyrinth of narrow alleyways and constricted streets. It was filled with a kaleidoscope of smells as I made way to their offices to do my presentation on The Kolo: WCCC and female social justice. [3]

The attorneys, all women joined by their boss a Catholic priest, were modest and quiet. As the presentation went on to topics that Dhumavathi would want regard on, the advocates were clearly entrenched in the patriarch’s rule of law. Arranged marriages are still the approved way for Indian females to submit under.

The Human Rights Law Network was excitedly proud of the recent gains in divorce laws, and the ability to have alimony for divorcing wives. The amount is heartbreakingly paltry for these desperate women, while the India Parliament gains the female attorneys favor to settle for far less then appropriate. Like the domestic violence cycle studied in the US, the battered wives eat the crumbs of whatever is left thinking it is a gourmet meal after starvation.

''Discrimination follows women through life from the womb to the tomb and ultimately affects the development process in the country itself,'' Saroj Pachauri, South and South-East Asia director of the international non-governmental organization the Population Council. [4]

It is strange to have this reversed feminism and activism on behalf of poverty ridden Indian females especially in Kerala. Kerala, Southern India until 1975, followed only matrilineal succession. A result of such a maternal approach in the previous rule of law has the province boasting a 100% literacy rate and a positive population gender ratio, displaying no femicide practices.

”Under the Kerala matrilineal system called in Malayalam 'marumakkatayam', children belonged to the matrilineal joint family called the 'tarwad' and enjoyed inalienable inheritance rights, regardless of sex, in the 'taward' where their mother belonged” writes Ranjit Devraj.

When asking the Human Rights Law Network how we can at least have the Kerala matrilineal system in the current rule of law, we were met with silence. The silence felt like impossibility and an invitation to Dhumavathi, herself.

“As of 1997, among American married couples with children under age six, fathers took home three times the earnings of mothers. And studies confirm that wives, even wives employed full-time, still devote substantially more time than their husbands do to unpaid work -- both care giving and housework, [5]” reports Janet C. Gornick pointing out how all women are sharing the same Widow Goddess experiences.

Feminine spaces and places with our blood cycles, are squeezed out from living in the patriarchal system that is laden with ruts, routines, and basically slave labor. All of which only serve to invite in Dhumavathi who will balance what essentially gives life in the first place.

Padma Menon’s Mudra Dance International and other Indian women are rebirthing a portion of the Kerala Matrilineal system while operating outside the patriarchal box. Following Dhumavathi’s natural hierarchy has its own Dhumavathi female social justice simply by creating a sense of feminine place and space.

Before I left India I sat in the 100 year old Dance Center. Solid wood ceilings and ancient doors with thick white walls and impermeable black painted cement floors stood naked, unadorned save for a brand new chandelier purchased by Padma. I thought this was homage to Dhumavathi and my heart raced with mystery and awe that one place in Kochin, Kerala Padma weaved a feminine place and space with her dance.

Bosnia and the Widow Goddess

I arrived in Sarajevo, Bosnia July 10th, the tenth anniversary of a new holiday for widows.

July 10, 1995, the day that 8,000- 10,000 Muslim men disappeared in front of the eyes of a Dutch ‘peace keeping force’ into Serbian soldiers control is now remembered as the day of Muslim genocide.[6]

The masses of not just Sebrenica widows but all South Slavic widows are called Udova or Udovica in Bosnian. The South Slavic Udova has its roots in Indo-European language for widow (Vidhana) and to weave. India’s Dhumavathi- Vidhava- is Bosnia’s Udova and Baba Yaga. We are all sisters and this kinship is identified in rooting the word meanings in our mother tongue.

Povreda is the Bosnian word for trauma and means to injure, to push down, or infringe with its root word ‘vreda’ translating into the meaning for worth or value.

The word wound in Bosnian is ‘uvreda’ highlighting how wounds are blessings and of great worth- a property of the Widow Goddess, the Slavic Baba Yaga. Uvreda also means mortification having to do with death.

April 16, 1993, one hundred and fifty persons mostly women, children and elders were massacred in Ahmici during the early morning call to prayer by their neighbors across the road; Croatians. Many Udova now live in the same village in rebuilt homes and a resurrected Mosque.

Nemana is a proper Udova from Ahmici. Constantly smoking and drinking the thick Bosnian coffee, leaving the demitasse cup laden with horrific symbols at the bottom. Nemana allowed me to stay in her new home and meet her great grandson who lives upstairs.

Her neighbors speak of Nemana as never eating and always smoking. Dhumavathi and the Slavic Baba Yaga conjure and present themselves in sweet smoke. In Bosnia, the month of March is said to have Baba’s (Grandmother, wise old woman in Bosnian) teeth in the wind.

Through the haze of constant smoking I would catch Nemana staring a death trance into the stale memories of murdered love ones, rendering her so traumatized beyond senselessness for those few moments.

She is 76 years old with missing teeth- the bite has gone out of them as she walked me around her property. The foundation of her former house was the only thing visible after the scorching fire from grenades on April 16th, 1993. Now, a row of corn and masses of healthy vegetables fill the entire outline of the cement ruins.

Puffing on another cigarette she laughs as she sees me grappling with the fertile vegetable garden in what was an inferno at one point. Pointing with her cigarette barely 25 feet away is another small foundation for a cellar, now covered with verdant and thick green grass facing a large ravine that on the other side and slopes up into foothills.

Baba Yaga, Slavic Widow Goddess is known for her Mother Nature ability to heal by weaving her hair –grass and trees- taking the death cycle of rich hot infernos and ashes into the fertile rebirth.

“The trees saved me but not them,” whispered Nemana.

Describing how twelve people (the same amount of people on a jury and in numerology and astrologically twelfth house is the place of the subconscious and removes the individual from society) were hiding in her cellar when it was set on fire.

The twelve were either unable to run into the woods toward the other side of the ravine, or were incapacitated in some way.

Nemana retied her babushka as she followed up her narrative about the shots that picked off each one as they tried to run to the euphoniousness fragrant trees. I could smell the alpine forest standing on the overgrown cellar and I am sure each one of the twelve died with the smell of the trees in their throats.

One of the Ahmici middle-aged women who survived the slaughter speaks of how her climax, her female organs are teaching her about the fear; the trauma from war crimes in her female body. She asked me to help instruct her on how to tell me about such horror that she has never known before, but that her mother and grandmother did know but never spoke about.

She said this lack of words is ‘uvreda.’

Pocitelj Perch of Nerevta Valley and Nerevta River

Pocitelj is another place of widows near Mostar and the coast of Bosnia. Entrancing hand hewed stone roofs grace each dwelling as it circles to the top of the hill where a medieval castle lays in ruins. 70-80 Muslim families fled their small stone village during the Balkan war.

Now ten years later some are returning- and it is mostly the women returning. The widows with their children have fruit stands that sell to buses and cars on their way to and from the coast. Up until 3 years before the war these Muslim woman had lived together with Christians for 500 years in peace.

In August 1993 Croatian warlord Mate Boban committed ethnic cleansing on the Muslim population, and the 15th century Mosque was destroyed and desecrated.

Not quite understanding how the word ‘cleansing’ is used in ethnic slaughters, I am sure the Widow Goddess feels the insults to injury with that word usage. Taken away from this holy sanctuary on the mystic Nerevta River, many Muslims were interned in concentration camps during the Balkan war.

Standing on the stone cobbled pathways in Pocitelj and climbing to the top of the Minaret was an exercise that Baba Yaga would approve of, since the Moist Mother Earth can be surveyed highlighting the viridescent river and the round hill top shaped like a breast. At the top of the Minaret I thought of Mostar’s newly reconstructed bridge; now resurrected with Muslim divers ready to leap for 50 Euros if the German and French tourists will pay.

The economic collapse affects more Muslims then Croatians, whose connections with the west and the Catholic Church often have helped fund to ease the financial disaster besetting the former Yugoslavs. Doing a death leap for 50 Euros per Muslim is the economic index to what a male Muslim is worth in the aftermath of a bloody Balkan war.

As I gazed out to the Nerveta Valley and Nerveta River from the Pocitelj perch I wondered; are these young men who are willing to make widows of their young brides eager to dive into the arms and bosom of Baba Yaga; Moist Mother Earth-the Slavic Widow Goddess?

Gorni Vauf, Bosnia in the Mountains

Our tattered yellow bus carrying Kolo Sumejja women broke down in front of a farm house. An old woman-stara Baba, also Croatian- was plucking a chicken that was killed that day by a vehicle. Her husband was on the front porch sitting on an old kitchen chair with a small square table holding his beverage of choice; alcohol.

At first glance, one knows this Baba maintains the farm, the home, and the hearth. She is bent over dressed in all black just like an Udova. What I imagined would be the incarnated Mother Nature- Slavic Baba Yaga- while she is tearing out the feathers of the steaming chicken.

The views of the Bosnian Mountains from the property make hearts bleed with beauty. Baba speaks of watching the Sebrenica television report that past week in July. Crying, I could barely understand her, the Baba moved into a standing position as she said, “All mothers are the same when they lose their sons.”

Stating only one wish that her husband stop drinking, Baba mourned the deaths of her two Croatian sons.

The South Slavic Widow Goddess’ wisdom for Baba’s uvreda was; her sons are our sons.

Mothers and Grandmothers weave no borders and our citizenship is the Moist Mother Earth.

Novi Travnik, Bosnia

The smell of uncollected garbage through the town mingled with benzene and scythe cut grass. The rotting uncollected garbage is known to spontaneously combust into infernos which has the Kolo Sumejja marching for regular pick up.

Sana Koric, leader of Kolo Sumejja attends to her roses and kittens in her backyard ten years later after the Balkan war. During summer she cooks in the still unfinished basement leading to her backyard. Sana is a returnee, whose home was confiscated from her. All her doors and sinks were taken off and it has required years to replace each item.

Trying to quit smoking, Sana sits outside dragging on her cigarette as she coordinates yet another Kolo trauma training, as well as the upcoming December Peaceful Dimensions Conference to remember the rape camps in Bosnia. Since March 1999, her work and that of the Kolo: Women’s Cross Cultural Collaboration is largely unpaid labor of a Mother’s love.

I spoke of the poster in Mostar that offered a poetry reading of Mula Mustafa Baseskija with free cigarettes and free thick Bosnian coffee for those who dare to attend. Sana said she’d go for the cigarettes and coffee, but knew it would hook another generation into a nasty life threatening habit. She knew ‘uvreda’, her trauma and the trauma of Bosnians, is open to all things toxic.

The swirling smoke from her cigarette and that of her fellow collaborators in the kolo, signals the presence Baba Yaga, the Slavic Widow Goddess in their lives. Already, the sacred kolo-circle of Bosnian women lost one of their sisters to cancer. Many times I saw the departed kolo sister smoke like a fiend because there would be yet another day to survive.

Sana’s backyard is laden with fruit trees, grapes, and roses. On another piece of land outside the town, her husband and her brother-in-law make the best honey, which they sell and have for their own use. All their vegetables are home grown- organic. It is a return to subsistence on the Moist Mother Earth and this earth wisdom that is so healing and profound.

After three raging wars on Balkan soil, it is the ancient South Slavic way of life for thousands of years reenacted and woven into the fabric of their being. And it heals uvreda, the wound upon the Bosnian spiritual landscape where one million landmines remain hidden.

Sana Koric is beautiful, intelligent, and remarkable in her kolo work. Partnering me as we go to check on an elderly woman, Sana remembers to buy the old woman Baba’s favorite cheese pie called ‘pita’ in Bosnian.

The old woman is besieged with a clan of Romano in her dilapidated flat. Blind and diabetic, the stari Baba eats her favorite pita in less then a minute and downs two glasses of buttermilk, but only before she offers her dinner to the Romano family who has taken over her flat.

Unable to get the old woman’s family in the states to understand the Baba’s plight, Sana returns to her as much as she can and with what little she has to share. Denying it and not seeing what is a female’s reality allows us to pretend it is not happening whatsoever. We erase and terminate women across the globe this way.

The Romano family is startling beautiful and reminds me of India and the Dhumavathi. The genocide was as always perpetrated onto the Romano just like the Muslims, and in WWII the Serbs.

Somehow, I knew with this lineage of India in the Bosnian Baba’s flat, is a weaving of Dhumavathi and the Slavic Baba Yaga; the Widow Goddess just like our mother tongue sharing word kinships.

We are living Udova. The Widow Goddess is the great equalizer, and she possesses a raw ability to balance that which is unhinged with rage and hate toward anything feminine and the Moist Mother Earth.

Mostar, Restored bridge where the Muslim divers jump for 50 Euros

Kolo Sumejja Women enjoying a roadside picnic after traveling to Pocitelj

Pocitelj Children selling fruit

Pocitelj- view of Nerveta River

Pocitelj window in destroyed home

Discuss / Raspravljati

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[1] Robert Svoboda, The Ayureda: The Art of Life, (The Aryrvedic Press, Albuquerque, NM, 2004)

[2] “My Story,” Kamala Das, Ernakulam, reporter Madhavikkuty

[3] Human Rights Law Network (Kochin), 47, Subhash Nagger, Edapally, Kochin, 24, Kerala, sandyageorge@hotmail.com

[4] POPULATION: India Moves to Give Women Equal Inheritance Rights Ranjit Devraj

[5] Reconcilable Differences -What it would take for marriage and feminism to say "I do" Janet C. Gornick, Issue Date: 4.8.02

[6] Text by Jelena Djordjevic (women in Black) Belgrade: SREBRENICA 1995-2005 "Never Again"


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