Wednesday, October 31, 2018


If you've ever seen the movie or read the book Black Hawk Down, you'll know about Somalia's civil war and political struggles of the early 1990s. I watched it when it first came out. I'm not super huge into war movies, mostly because I'm not a fan of war. I remember it being "based on a true story," which I found out later was up for debate. The main issue was that the movie told the story from an American point of view, so it tended to change other people's likenesses and distort some of the facts of what happened. It practically implied the Americans saved the day all by themselves, which wasn't exactly the case. In fact, even many of the American soldiers who were there dispute the way the film portrayed the events.

Somalia means "land of the Somalis," the majority ethnic group in this area. However, where the term Somali comes from exactly still remains uncertain. Some historical linguists think it might be related to the phrase sac maal, meaning "cattle herders," or it might possibly stem from Samaale, a legendary patriarch.

Somalia lies on the Horn of Africa, an area of northeastern corner of the African continent that sticks out into the Indian Ocean/Arabian Sea. It has the longest shoreline of any African country and shares a border with Djibouti to the north, Ethiopia to the west, and Kenya to the southwest. The southern half of the Ethiopian border is somewhat disputed. The country is divided into different regions, almost like states, but instead of fighting for autonomy with the country like a state or province would hold, they're fighting for autonomy outside of the country. Maybe I'm wrong on that. It’s a little confusing. In the north, you have the regions of Somaliland and Puntland. Below that you have Galmudug and a Central Regions State. In the southern regions, you have a South West State and Jubaland that borders with Kenya. Somalia, no surprise, is warm and hot most of the year, depending on your proximity to the equator. However, in some of the highland plains and mountainous areas, the temperature can drop below freezing in December. Depending on where you are, the climate is generally arid or semi-arid, with definite rainy and dry seasons. (Not many options here. As half-Scottish/half-German, I would probably just burst into flames.)

People have inhabited this area of Africa since the Paleolithic era, or roughly about 50,000 years ago. The ancient land of Punt was a thriving society that traded with Egypt, Greece, India, and other European and Asian peoples. They were really known for their gold, frankincense, spices, ivory, and myrrh. Islam was introduced to the area, and the Masjid al-Qiblatayn mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Africa. Through the 16th century, port cities in Somalia were among the most popular trade spots in Africa with long-established trade relationships between many countries and kingdoms. It was a hub for the most prized of goods, a connection between west and east. And although the areas in what is now known as Somalia have been included in many different sultanates and kingdoms, the most disrupting one was after the Berlin Conference of 1884, otherwise known as the Scramble for Africa. Certain European countries began to carve out bits of Africa for itself to colonize, and by "bits of Africa," I mean entire countries and regions. As expected, it didn't go over well. The Italians moved in and called it Italian Somaliland and brought in their fascist rule. However, the British invaded and took over several areas controlled by the fascist Italian government. After WWII, British kept control of what was British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland as one of their protectorates. As things started changing in Africa, the two protectorates joined together and were finally granted independence in 1960. There was quite a bit of turbulence and conflict during the early years as an independent country, which finally resulted in a civil war that began in 1991. The part of this civil war when American troops and others coordinated a raid trying to capture the military leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid was what the brunt of Black Hawk Down was based on. Although there has been a push for more stability in Somalia, there are still some issues with political stability and pirate attacks (even though it has really dropped in recent years) as they struggle to get out from being a “fragile state” country.

With nearly 2.4 million people, Mogadishu is the capital and largest city in Somalia. The name comes from Persian meaning “seat of the Shah.” However, the locals call it Xamar (or Hamar), meaning “tamarind.” (I thought calling a city by a fruit was weird until I remembered The Big Apple.) Although the city has taken quite a hit through its many conflicts, civil wars, and disturbances over the years, it remains the center of the government, commerce, higher education, transportation, media, and sports & culture. Famous residents include the supermodel (and widow of David Bowie) Iman and award-winning rapper K’naan.

For many centuries, Somalian port cities served as major trading hubs between Europe, Africa, the Arab Peninsula, and Asia (mainly India). Fast-forward to today, their economy has shown growth and improvement even after years of civil war, which usually wrecks the economy. Their economic drivers mainly include agriculture (in particular, livestock), telecommunications, and remittances from abroad. Agriculture employs nearly 65% of the workforce, and an estimated 80% of Somalians still live nomadic lifestyles. The nomadic or semi-nomadic communities raise much of their goats, camels, cattle, and sheep. In the post-civil war era, there has been a shift from more government-run industries to more privately run ones. Factories like meat processing plants, canneries, and other manufacturing have been on the rise, especially in the urban areas. There have been some natural gas and oil deposits found as well as deposits of uranium.

Nearly the entire country's popular adheres to Islam, with the majority following the Sunni branch. Sufism, the mystical side of Islam, is also practiced by many people in Somalia. Sharia law, where law is steeped in Islamic principals, is the basis of their legislation. Christianity makes up only a very small percentage here, and that's probably only because of the British and Italian influences. Likewise, followers of other religious ideologies like indigenous animism, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, or just people with no religious affiliation also come in very small numbers here.

The two official languages of Somalia are Somali and Arabic. Somali, the native language of the Somali people, is a Cushitic language and related to other nearby languages like Afar, Oromo, and Saho. The Somali language has went through several scripts, but its current script is actually one that was developed for it and introduced in 1972. Arabic, however, became an official language from its history with the Arab countries through trade and a mutual religion. Two minority languages spoken in certain communities are Bravanese (a Swahili dialect of the Bravanese people) and Kibajuni (a Swahili dialect of the Bajuni people).

While there are certainly many disturbing facts concerning Somalia’s poverty, civil unrest, and lack of resources, it’s a country rich in history, traditions, and culture. I’m excited to take a closer look at this country that tends to only make the news when it’s something unsavory. So, let’s look at all the other things that’s going on.

Up next: art and literature

Monday, October 22, 2018


It's been a whirlwind weekend to wind down my kids' fall break. The weather is finally acting like fall, and I'm grateful we're in the final weeks before Election Day. Those ads are getting super annoying at this point. We finally finished putting together Halloween costumes, and the last year of my 30s begins in less than a week. The trees are finally starting to turn colors slightly, but I think they're about a week behind since we had such a warm start to fall -- which is good for me because traditionally, the peak season for central Indiana might FINALLY fall on my birthday instead of the week before.
I hate wasting food, but this one just couldn't be salvaged. You can't win them all. 

Even thought it's crisp outside now, I'm expanding summer a bit by making food from Solomon Islands. The first thing I made was Cassava Pudding. Unfortunately, this one goes into the same category as the wine venison for not turning out good at all. First of all, it was hard to find a bread recipe specifically from Solomon Island. So, I found this recipe, and instead of 2 lbs of cassava roots and grating it myself, I used tapioca flour, which is similar to cassava. I put in 4 c of tapioca flour, 2 c of brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp baking powder, and 2 c of coconut milk into a bowl and mixed well. Then I stirred in 2 eggs and 6 Tbsp of melted butter and stirred again until it was smooth. While stirring, I poured in a cup of hot water and stirred until everything was incorporated. I poured this batter into a glass baking dish that I had sprayed down with cooking spray and put it in a 350F oven for 45 minutes. It didn't seem like it was really set up, so I left it in a little longer and took it out to set. It smelled good because of the cinnamon and brown sugar, but the texture was very... gelatinous. The texture reminded me of Japanese mochi. My daughter tried one bite, and she put it back. I just think this is just not a texture we're used to. I know it's something found in many Asian cuisines; American cuisine only uses this texture in fruity sweet desserts. So maybe that's it. And maybe using the tapioca flour wasn't the best ingredient. It got a huge zero from us.

I had this for my lunch today. Still good after two days.
However, the main dish was Devilled Chicken, and it was much better. I boiled a bunch of chicken thighs and then removed them from the water. Coating them with some flour, I then lightly fried them, and set them off to the side. After I got done with the chicken, I lightly fried some minced garlic and vegetables: I used half a bag of frozen mirepoix mix and half a bag of frozen three-pepper blend (green, red, yellow bell peppers). I put my chicken in my large pot, added in my vegetables, 2 small cans of tomato sauce, 100mL of soy sauce, a vegetable stock cube (I didn't have any chicken stock cubes), a tsp of sugar, and a cup of the chicken broth I reserved from boiling the chicken (you can also use water, but why waste this wonder broth?). I served this with white rice. I really liked this, albeit, maybe I would've added a bit of salt to the sauce or something. There were essentially no spices. I'm not sure what spices are readily available in the Solomon Islands, but I assume they at least have some salt. This dish went over pretty well with most of the family, I'd say.

Green beans are a favorite in my family, so I'll probably reuse this recipe again.
To go with this, I made Bean Curry. I started with the best of starters: sautéing garlic and onions together. Then I added in my own concoction of "curry powder": cumin, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric. (I thought I had some curry powder left, but I must've used it all.) Once I stirred all the spices in with the garlic and onions, I added in a pound of green beans, stirring to coat. I put the lid on my skillet and let it cook down for about 7 or 8 minutes. Once it was done, I took it off the heat and sprinkled a little lemon juice on top. I thought this was really good, except I think some of my onions got slightly burnt, so I gave the entire dish a slight burnt flavor. But overall, I think most everyone liked them.

Well, two out of three ain't bad.
I had a recipe I pulled for a fruit punch drink, but I remembered at the last minute that my blender had burnt up. And on top of that, I didn't have time to chase down a couple of the fruits the recipe called for: a pawpaw (which I had not had before) and a starfruit (which I have). So, I ended up making a fruit salad out of the fruits I bought: banana, watermelon, mango, pineapple, and lime (to squeeze over it so my bananas wouldn't turn brown). I even added some coconut flakes on it to really make it "tropical." It was good, but it was another lesson in learning to adapt. So many times, I pick way more recipes than I have time to cook, or the energy or funds to go looking for odd ingredients, or realize that I don’t even have the necessary equipment to make it. But I hate wasting food, so I will usually find some use for the little bits of ends left over. Food is getting more expensive, and the lessons of frugality our grandparents perfected are certainly coming in handy.

Up next: Somalia

Sunday, October 21, 2018


I'm not sure why I typically think of panpipes as being an Andean thing in South America. But truth be told, panpipes are used in a variety of cultures all over the world. Panpipe orchestras are a popular ensemble in the Solomon Islands, especially on the islands of Guadalcanal and Malaita. Some of these ensembles have up to ten performers, each using a different tuning. Vocal music, both solo or in groups, is probably at the core of their traditional music and is either sung a capella or sometimes accompanied by different instruments along with the percussion instruments like the slit-drum.

During the early part of the 20th century, bamboo music, made by hitting the ends of cut bamboo tubes with coconut husks, became a popular form of music throughout several Pacific countries. (Now I know where the Blue Man Group got the idea.) By the 1950s, music started to change. Edwin Nanau Sitori, a Malaita-born musician who worked as an electrician, became famous for his song "Walkabout long Chinatown," which became so popular the government considered their unofficial "national song." Today, rock and reggae dominate their musical styles along with a genre known as island music, an ensemble consisting of guitars and ukuleles.

Dance has always been an integral part of the culture of Solomon Islands, like much of Oceania. It’s often accompanied by panpipe or bamboo music. Different islands have their own dances, and there are dances performed by men and ones performed by women. Dances are performed for a variety of purposes (life events, weather events, other ceremonial events, etc.), and the island of Tikopia is probably more known dance enthusiasm.

I listened to the song “Rorogwela” by Afunakwa. It was at the heart of a controversy because this lullaby was sampled in a French pop song, and apparently they never got permission to use it. It’s a simple song, but I can also tell they use quite a few embellishments in their music. It always throws me off when I first hear it until I listen closer.

Probably one of the most widely known musicians from Solomon Islands is Sharzy. His music is like reggae but also makes use of those vocal harmonies that reminds me of some New Zealand music I’ve heard.

Dezine is another one I listened to. It’s like a cross between pop and hip-hop. I liked what I heard. I might give this one a longer listen later on.

There are quite a few reggae musicians here, which makes me happy. The first one I listened to was JahBoy. It’s more of a dance reggae, but not quite dancehall. I would also put 56 Hop Rod in that same category too. I could definitely put this on while driving or working or whatever.

However, groups like Onetox and Jah Roots remind me more of a traditional reggae, without the heavy hip-hop and club influence and with definite upbeats. It’s the little things.  

Up next: the food

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


The culture of the Solomon Islands is a montage of many different ethnic groups, mostly Melanesian group along with some Polynesian cultural aspects as well. Most of these cultural traditions have been passed down from generation to generation, and there is a great respect for maintaining their traditional society. And in many cases, even through modernization, there has even been almost a resistance toward the Westernization of their island cultures. In others, the modern ways of life have melded with their ancient Melanesian/Polynesian styles. The idea of kastom is exactly this integration of old customs into modern society, like growing traditional produce rather than eating imported ones.

Similar to the art of other South Pacific cultures, the art here utilizes a number of intricate designs. A good example would be the designs woven into their wicker war shields. Most of the time, it is abstract, geometrical designs, but sometimes it resembles more of a face. Pearl shell inlays were also used in their art, often as a symbol of status but sometimes used in funeral rites. Important people also wore what's called a kap-kap, a type of large shell pendant worn on the chest to signify their importance. Because, you know, it wasn’t evident enough apparently.

One of the things that Solomon Islanders are known for building is a type of canoe called tepukei. This isn't just any canoe though. These are outrigger canoes that are able to navigate the ocean. Similar canoes were shown in the movie Moana. A German anthropologist, Gerd Koch, documented much of this life and even brought back the last of these canoes to display in the Ethnological Museum of Berlin. (I hope he had permission.)

Much of the early literary traditions in the Solomon Islands were oral stories that had been passed down from generation to generation. Many of these early stories fell into the category of myths and legends. One common genre in these myths is origin stories (both human and animal).

Modern literature of the Solomon Islands rose up in the wave of Pacific Islander literature that swept through during the 1960s. As many of the islands were gaining their independence during this time, there was a push for more national identity, and literature was one of those catalysts. With a focus on literature of this region at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, a broader interest among all island nations in this area began to take hold. Creative writing classes starting to pop up, and a  magazine called Pacific Islands Monthly started publishing stories during the mid-1970s, even though it had been around since the 1930s.

Authors of note from the Solomon Islands include John Saunana (a teacher who’s also held various government positions, known for his novel The Alternative, often considered a leading literary figure in Solomon Islands) and Celo Kulagoe (a poet published in a number of newspapers and literary journals, known for his Where Leaves Had Fallen and Raindrops collections). 

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, October 14, 2018


One of my biggest criticisms from my high school is that it seems like we spent a lot of time studying the American Revolution and the Civil War in history classes. Almost every single year. Those are important, but I feel like there are huge holes missing in my US History education. We glossed over topics like prison reform, labor history, much of the Western expansion (I mean, the taking of what we wanted), and pretty much all of the 20th century past 1918. WWI was the only major 20th century event we discussed. And obviously, I've heard of WWII and have watched movies and shows about it (who HASN'T heard of Hitler? – thanks, History Channel), but the details of that period are hazy. And here I am, 20 years after I've graduated from high school, and I'm just now finding out that the Battle of Guadalcanal (that I knew of in name only) took place in the Solomon Islands.

Their name (as we know it) was given to them by the Spanish, the first Europeans to arrive in this area. They named it after King Solomon from the Bible, falsely thinking these islands had great riches and that the wealthy city of Ophir was somewhere around there. Boy, were they wrong about that! Unless you count your wealth in coconuts or sand. As they were transitioning into independence, they went by "The Solomon Islands" before simply changing it to "Solomon Islands." As long as they don't start calling themselves "The Country Formerly Known as Solomon Islands" and change their name to a symbol, I'm good. 

The Solomon Islands are a group of six main islands and 900+ smaller ones east of Papua New Guinea and northwest of Vanuatu. The Solomon Sea separates Solomon Islands from PNG while the Coral Sea stands between them and Vanuatu. Traveling further to the east, Nauru lies northeast and Tuvalu is almost due east from the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Because of the island's proximity to the equator, it enjoys a tropical climate all year round. They do have a rainy season and a drier season. And since they're also located on the Pacific Rim of Fire, they're also subject to earthquakes: they had one in 2007 that registered 8.1 and one in 2013 that registered at 8.0. That’s a big no thanks from me.

The earliest people are thought to have come over from Papuan and Austronesian areas, and later the Polynesians and Lapita people settled there too. The first Europeans to arrive were the Spanish during the mid-1500s, and Christian missionaries followed suit during the mid-1800s. Slavery and blackbirding (a new term for me: basically kidnapping people to make them do manual labor, in this case to work on their sugar cane plantations) caused the people here to revolt. After the UK ended their involvement in the slave trade, they counted the southern islands of the Solomon Islands as one of their protectorates. Over the next decade, they added a few more islands to the protectorate along with islands that were part of German New Guinea. The island of Bougainville, which is geographically part of the Solomon Islands, remained part of German New Guinea, which later became part of Papua New Guinea. Most of the planters and traders on the islands escaped to Australia with the onset of WWII. The island of Guadalcanal would be the location of an integral battle between the Allies and the Japanese. The next couple of decades after WWII were spent rebuilding their country and creating a constitution. They officially won their independence in 1978, although they are still part of the British Commonwealth and pay homage to the Queen. For about five years around the turn of the 21st century, Solomon Islands went through a period often called The Tensions (like how the Irish called theirs The Troubles). This was a time of quite a bit of civil conflicts between the Isatabu Freedom Movement and the Malaita Eagle Force. It was far more complicated than just saying it was an ethnic conflict; it rose to kidnapping government officials and got really ugly there for a while.

Honiara is the capital city, located on the island of Guadalcanal. The airport nearby was the actual battle location between the US and the Japanese in 1942. The riots during the early parts of the 2000s destroyed quite a bit of the city, especially in Chinatown. Today, the city is the center of government, commerce, transportation, and higher education. It has several museums, sports stadiums, and arts and music venues that entertain locals and visitors alike.

Most Solomon Islanders work in fishing or agriculture. Tropical timber used to be a huge export, but when the price fell (not to mention the massive deforestation they were causing), they looked for other areas of work. Today, copra and palm oil remain to be major cash crops. There is some mining done in these islands, mainly gold, zinc, nickel, and lead. Although their currency is the Solomon Islands dollar, shell money trade, and the barter system can still be found in some of the more remote islands. A few organizations have come together to develop a way of getting communities to use renewable energy sources (mainly solar, water, and wind) without having to put up a bunch of money to get a system in place. (That would be nice here in the US, too.)

Because of its British and German history, the main religion in the islands is Christianity, with the Anglican Church of Melanesia being the largest denomination. There are a number of other Christian denominations represented in the Solomon Islands, which is followed by nearly 92% of the people. However, there are also followers of Islam, Baha'i, and indigenous beliefs.

Even though English is the official language, a very small percentage of the people (around 1-2%) are fluent in it. Instead, you'll find that most people here speak Solomons Pijin, an English-based creole used as a lingua franca among the islands. Besides Pijin, Kwara'ae is the largest spoken local language; there are 70 spoken languages in these islands, and 11 of them have over 10,000 speakers. Because the islands are so spread out, the language groups vary. Melanesian languages are generally spoken in the central islands region, while Polynesian languages are heard on other islands. The i-Kiribati language, part of the Micronesian language family, is spoken by immigrants from Kiribati.

Many people associate blonde hair with Celtic, Scandinavian, or other European roots, but the blonde trait has been seen in many Solomon Islanders. Some people thought that perhaps it was due to sun bleaching or even mixing with Europeans, but geneticists have found that's not the case. Researchers found a gene in blonde Solomon Islanders that wasn't in brunette Solomon Islanders -- or in Europeans for that matter. So this study has really led to the need for more studies in genetic pigmentation among variations of other populations (like lighter pigmented Africans, for example). I think it's really cool. Perhaps we aren't who we thought we are.

Up next: art and literature

Monday, October 8, 2018


It’s certainly been an odd start to October. I think every day this month, it has felt like it was July. I believe the news reported that we haven’t had this many 80-degree days in a row in October in 140 years. I did buy some apple cider, hoping it would push autumn along. And it worked: the weather will start acting appropriately later this week. I mean, this is my birthday month – I want to wear my scarves and jackets already!

So soft. So beautiful.
But in the meantime, I’m making food from Slovenia. This is one of those meals where I split it between two days. Mostly because I got a late start, we were hungry, and I’m not stressing about it. So, the first thing I made was Krompirjev Kruh, or potato bread. I started out with peeling and dicing a potato and boiling it with 1 ½ c water. When it was tender, I mashed it well in the water. Then I added in a cup of buttermilk, a little sugar and salt, a little butter, and a ¼ c of water, and mixed it until the butter melted. In a large bowl, I measured out 2 c of flour and one yeast packet, creating a well in the center. I poured the potato-buttermilk mixture in the center and mixed everything until it was smooth. Then, a cup at a time, I mixed in 3 more cups of flour. (You might even need another cup, but 3 seemed to work for me.) Once it was smooth, I rubbed a little oil on the outside, covered it, and let it rest for about 45 minutes. Luckily, mine puffed up, so I punched it down and divided it into two parts. After kneading each half for a minute or so, I let it rest for 10 minutes before putting them each into loaf pans. Using my hands, I formed it to the pan a little, letting it rest for another half hour. After this, I sprinkled a little flour on top and put them in a 375ºF oven for about 35 minutes, just as it was turning a nice brown color on top. These turned out really well. They were very soft on the inside, and the crumb was nice and large. I really loved everything about this bread.
Good only on the first day.
The main dish I made tonight was Djuveč. This ratatouille-like dish turned out better than I thought it was going to be, but not so much with my finicky son. I started with browning some cubed pork cutlets (I used just cubed pork instead of a mixture of pork and lamb). Then I added in some onions, green bell peppers, and orange bell peppers to sauté along with the pork, before adding in the diced eggplant. I let it cook down a little with the lid on. Then in a rectangle glass casserole dish, I put a layer of the pork-veggie mix on the bottom, a layer of sliced potatoes, a little salt and pepper, an 1/8 c of uncooked rice, a little parsley and repeated the layers again. On top, I put a few tomato slices (with a touch of salt), drizzled it with olive oil, and topped with some breadcrumbs. Just before I put it in the 350ºF oven, I added a little water to it and filled it halfway or so. I was so afraid of it boiling out and burning it, that I checked it every 15 minutes. However, the rice on top seemed like it didn’t get down into the water, so it was still hard when I was going to take it out after about an hour. I smashed everything down into the liquid, topped it with some parmesan cheese, and put it in for another 10-15 minutes. It turned out really good, the flavors really melded together, and I thought it went really well with the bread. However, the next day, the eggplants were really mushy in the casserole and gave it faint smell of seafood. Hm.

Surprise of the day!

Now comes Part 2: that time I made Štruklji. I made the dough first by mixing a little hot water in a bowl and added in the butter to melt it. Then I used a fork to mix in the egg and salt and set it off to the side. I put my flour in a larger bowl, making a well in the center and poured in the liquids. I stirred everything until it came together as a dough, covering it and letting it rest for a half hour. While that was resting, I made the filling by melting butter in a saucepan and then sautéing some breadcrumbs until they were browned. I took it off the heat and stirred in some eggs until they were scrambled. Then I mixed in some sour cream, cottage cheese, tarragon, and salt. By this time, the dough should be ready (or almost). I took my dough and rolled it out into a rectangle about 12”x18” (or as close as I could get it). I spread the filling out over the dough, leaving a slight gap at the edges. Then I started rolling it up from the long side as tight as I could. I folded a cheesecloth (or you can use a towel) around the roll and used string to tie the ends together (and I added some in the middle). Then I took the whole roll and coiled it so it would fit in my pot of boiling water, letting it boil for nearly 40 minutes. When it was done, I carefully fished it out of a pot, like I was fishing in a hot spring. I unwrapped it carefully and cut it into 2” section and topped with more buttered crumbs. This was actually pretty tasty, even though I thought I had browned the breadcrumbs that topped it a little too much. But the flavor was good, but you could hardly taste the tarragon.

Overall, it wasn't too bad. It was very hearty, just in time for fall. If it ever gets here.
I had all the best intentions of making kremsnita, which is a vanilla and custard crème cake. I bought all of the ingredients and everything (even down to the puff pastry!). But, I just ran out of time. I might try to make it later this week. (If I do, I’ll post a PS to this post.) I guess sometimes that’s how it goes. My stomach is bigger than my schedule.

Up next: Solomon Islands

Saturday, October 6, 2018


If Slovenians seem to really like making music, it's because they've done it forever. Well, maybe not forever per se, but we at least have evidence that they've been playing musical instruments for about 55,000 years. The Divje Babe Flute was found in a cave and dates back that far -- it's quite possibly the oldest musical instrument in the world! However, modern music didn't really take off until the 5th century with the spread of Christianity. If I can give credit to the one positive coming from the spread of Christianity, it's that it really helped facilitate Western music as we know it. 

Historically, Slovenian musicians were highly influenced by the Italian school of musicians and composers. Religious music was important and served its purposes, but secular music was also highly popular. And like the French troubadours, Slovenian minnesingers performed love poetry and love songs in cities and towns around the country. During the 19th century, Romanticism, lieder, art songs, and opera (especially German-style opera) dominated the music scene, giving way to impressionism and avant-garde in the 20th century. Oddly enough, Slovenia also has its own type of polka that has been quite popular since the 1950s. To each his own.

Vocal harmonies are a key part of Slovenian folk music. Generally divided into three or four parts, some rural folk songs even divide it into eight or nine parts! Instrumental music includes a number of different instruments that include modern instruments and some of their older, folk variations. Some common ones you’ll find are string instruments (mainly fiddles, cellos, zithers, hammered dulcimer), a Styrian harmonica (it’s actually the oldest type of accordion), woodwinds (clarinets, flutes, panpipes), and other brass instruments. 

Folk dances are still practiced throughout the country, often performed at local festivals and celebrations in an effort to keep their folk traditions alive. Some of these dances are similar to ones performed elsewhere in Europe, while others are strictly local. Dances like the polka, the waltz, and the štajeriš have their particular touch with Slovenia’s history. For the most part, people dress in traditional clothing when performed in one of the many public music and dance festivals held in many areas throughout the year. 


I sampled a few Slovenian bands/musicians. The first one I came across is an a capella group called Perpetuum Jazzile. They apparently rose to viral status when a video of them performing hit YouTube. If you’re a fan of a capella singing or the movie Pitch Perfect, then this group is for you.

And I found a couple of punk bands to listen to! The first I sampled through was Pankrti. Their type of punk is more of a rock-punk. But it was also a live album, which I normally don’t like. The other punk band I heard was Niet. I thought that the way they played, it made it easier to pick up on the up-beats that I often associate with punk music.

I ran out of time in exploring whether they had a hip-hop scene or any electronica/EDM/dance DJs or not. If you know of some, let me know!

Up next: the food

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


Art in Slovenia not only includes art from Slovenian artists, but it also includes the period when it was part of Yugoslavia as well. Historically, because their artists were in the center of Europe's greatest art centers, Slovenian artists generally followed the art movements.

by Mihael Stroj

The 18th- and 19th-century artists mainly worked as painters and sculptors. Although they certainly had people painting before this era, it was around this time that Slovenian artists began to really take off on an international level. Artists of note include Matevž Langus (Neoclassicm), Giuseppe Tominz (Biedermeier), Mihael Stroj (Romanticism), Ivan Grohar (Impressionism), and Veno Pilon (Expressionism).

Janez Puhar
During the mid-1800s, photography was just becoming the hot new thing. Keep in mind, cameras were still moderately dangerous and bulky things to have -- it could take 10 minutes or so to take a photograph of people (which is why early photographs always portray cranky looking people; could also be because there’s no WiFi yet). Many people during this time were creating their own methods of photography, experimenting around with which method worked best, and which was the most practical. In 1841, one Slovene named Janez Puhar developed a method of photography on glass plates that didn't use silver. However, it wasn't really developed commercially. Skip ahead a century and a half later, and Arne Hodalič became the first Slovene to publish his photos in National Geographic. Very cool!

by Tone Kralj

Sculptures, public art, and architecture also play an important part in Slovenian art. Muralists and sculptors like Tone Kralj and Alojz Gangl have contributed their art to be seen on a larger scale. Before the 20th century, architecture was largely done in the traditional styles of the time. However, the latter part of the 20th century saw a change in architectural styles, giving way to the more modern styles of Max Fabiani, Edvard Ravnikar, and Marko Mušič

Milko Bambič

One thing my daughter will be happy to know as an artist, is that there have been a history of comics and illustration in Slovenia, mostly gaining popularity in the 20th century. The first comic strip in Slovenia, Little Negro Bu-ci-bu, was first published in 1927 by Milko Bambič, depicting an allegorical life of Mussolini. Other comics during WWII were highly popular. On the other end of the scale, illustrators for children's books started becoming a niche market for many female artists. Folk heroes like Martin Krpan and other folk tales were common themes. 

Literature in Slovenia is mainly written in the Slovene language. The arts, and especially its literature, were used as a catalyst for developing a sense of nationalism. This played a more important role as they transitioned from the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Adam Bohorič
The earliest forms of literature were tales and myths told orally and passed down from generation to generation. The earliest written examples of Old Slovene were documents found in the early 1800s in Germany that dated back to 1000 AD (give or take 20-30 years). Much of these early writings were centered around religious texts used to convert various Slavic tribes to Christianity. After Adam Bohorič and Sebastjan Krelj each published a grammar book, these became the foundation for the development of the Slovene language and literature. Primož Trubar, who helped bring Lutheranism to Slovenia, was also the first author to have a printed book.

Borba newspaper, the official newspaper of Communist Yugoslavia
As Slovene authors wrote their way from the 1600s through today, they embodied many of the literary styles of Europe. The language changed as their borders changed, and especially the period after Yugoslavia broke up, a sense of nationalism and identity became important. A common theme of showing the real Slovenia--its language, its poverty, their history--was their way of dealing with the struggles of their past. But it was also a way of healing and making plans for the future.

Some authors of note include Anton Tomaž Linhart (wrote the first history of Slovenia, wrote the first comedy and play), France Prešeren (19th century Romantic poet), Janez Trdina (writer, historian), Janko Kersnik (known for his literary realism), Simon Gregorčič (considered first lyric poet in Slovene language), Ivan Cankar (often considered the best Slovene author), Dragotin Kette (along with others considered founder of modern Slovene literature), Oton Župančič (also considered one of the best writers in Slovene), Tone Seliškar (known for social realist poetry, Ela Peroci (children's author), Drago Jančar (one of the more well-known contemporary authors), Rudi Šeligo (considered one of the most prominent modernist writers), and others.

Up next: music and dance