Macedonia: Its Races and Their Future
H. Brailsford

IV. The Races of Macedonia

5. The Dounmé

Besides the 80,000 orthodox Jews of Salonica, there is a sect of renegades, known as the Dounmé, who number some 20,000 souls. They are equally distrusted by Turks and Jews, despite their nominal adherence to Islam. They live apart, and so dread any mixing of their blood with the Turks that they make a practice of betrothing their children before they are born to avoid the risk of an unwelcome proposal. They date from the Annus Mirabilis, when, as if in sympathy with the expectations of our own Anabaptists and Fifth Monarchy men, a Jewish Messiah arose in the Levant. Sabatai Sevi of Smyrna obtained a more than local fame. Every ghetto in Turkey accepted him, introduced his ritual into its synagogues, blazoned his initials on its walls, abandoned commerce, and gave itself over to penance and preparation. For a year honesty reigned in the Levant. In Europe broadsheets, which told how triumphant hosts of the elect were marching in his name to Palestine, spread the Messiah's fame through Germany, Poland, and Italy, and even from distant Amsterdam pilgrims flocked to Turkey to receive his blessing. Unhappily it was part of his programme to beard the Grand Turk in his palace and to lead him in chains at the feet of the "celestial lion" which was to carry him to Zion. Arriving in Constantinople, Sabatai was arrested and imprisoned. Still, all went well, since the local authorities who were coining money from the tribute which they levied


on the pilgrims who visited the Messiah's dungeon, hushed the scandal up. The catastrophe only came when a rival Messiah carried tales to court. There Sabatai was summoned and bidden to perform a miracle on the spot. This took the uncomfortable form of standing as a butt for the archers of the Imperial Guard. When Sabatai flinched he was offered the choice of impalement or conversion to Islam. He chose the latter, and such was his influence with the Jews that after this exposure and renunciation thousands of his adherents followed him in a voluntary acceptance of Islam. The Dounme of Salonica are their descendants. Two centuries of expectation have not dimmed their hope or corroded their loyalty, and amid the rumours of massacre and revolution in the hurrying bazaars of modern Salonica, they still await the second coming of their renegade Messiah.

With luck, a traveller in Macedonia may hear six distinct languages and four allied dialects spoken in the same market-place. If it is a northern centre, for example Uskub, the peasant women who handle the raw wool and hawk their own homespun, may use two Slavonic dialects, which vary slightly but still appreciably. The women who come from the hilly country to the north are clad in white dresses embroidered in black and green in the most decorative ancient designs. The Slav they speak shows Servian influence. Mingling with them are the women from the villages of the plain, whose taste is usually for red embroidery, and their Slav speech, if it must be classed, tends rather to Bulgarian than to Servian. The merchants in the booths belong to three races. There are some Greeks, but they probably are immigrants from Salonica and the South, who came with the railway. Jostling with them are the Jews, who also came from Salonica and speak their Spanish jargon. More numerous are the Vlachs or Wallachians, descendants of Roman colonists, perhaps the oldest townsmen in the place, and they speak indifferently their own Latin (Roumanian) dialect, or the Slav of the peasants with whom they have done business for centuries, or the culture-


language of the Greeks which has come to them through their schools and their Churches. They are excellent men of business; they hold their own against Greeks and Jews; and unlike them they contrive as a rule to live on neighbourly terms with the Slavs. They are fairly numerous in Macedonia (perhaps 200,000 souls, or nearly a tenth of the population), but scattered as they are in isolated mountain villages or in town communities, they make no territorial claims and act in politics as a makeweight, for whose alliance Slavs and Greeks eagerly compete. To complete the picture, there will be crowds of Northern Albanians (Ghegs), who have come to sell their cattle, a few Southern Albanians (Tosks) in white kilts, speaking a distinct dialect of their own, who may be acting as cavasses to officials or merchants or Europeans. Scattered about you may notice a few gipsy horse-dealers whose native speech is Romany, and a number of soldiers, spies, and officials, who understand nothing but Turkish. In short, one may distinguish in the Babel two Slav and two Albanian dialects, Vlach, Greek, Turkish, Hebrew-Spanish, and Romany. But on analysis only Albanian, Slav and Vlach can claim to be genuine Macedonian languages, if one understands by the vague term "Macedonia" the region which conspires and revolts and claims its independence from Europe. There is no lingua franca. Hard necessity imposes some knowledge of elementary Turkish upon the majority of the male population, but they rarely speak it with ease; the peasants seldom understand more than a few words of it, and it has never become a medium of intercourse between different Christian races. Greek is more serviceable as a polite or commercial language, but its day is over, and save in the south, it is only the older generation of the Slavs which can speak it. French is now taking its place. Slav (and particularly the Bulgarian dialect) is the one language with which no native of the northern and central districts can dispense.

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