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Title: Mijaks  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Bitola, Galičnik, South Slavs, Lazaropole, Tresonče, Nano Ružin
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Mijaks (Macedonian: Мијаци, Mijaci) are an ethnographic group of ethnic Macedonians who live in the Mijačija area (Dolna Reka), along the Radika river, in western Macedonia, numbering 30,000-60,000 people. The Mijaks are predominantly working with animal husbandry, and are known for their ecclesiastical architecture, woodworking, icon painting, and other rich traditions, as well as their characteristic Galičnik dialect of the Macedonian language.


The Mijaks have traditionally occupied the Reka region along with the Torbeš, another sub-group of Macedonians. The area including the Bistra mountain and Radika region has been termed "Mijačija" (Macedonian: Мијачија). The region borders the Brsjak region to the west, also an ethnographic area.

The most well known Mijak villages are Galičnik, Bituse and Lazaropole. Other major Mijak villages are Selce, Tresonče, Rosoki, Sušica, Gari and Osoj. However the majoriy of these villages are uninhabitated as the majority of the inhabitants left during the 20th century. Large Mijak concentrations can still be found in certain villages around Debar and Bitola. The villages Oreše, Paparadište and Melnica in the Tito Veles region were populated by Mijaci during the Turkish occupation of Macedonia.[1] The village of Smilevo, in the Bitola region, is also considered to be a Mijak village, in regards to its architecture and history.[2] The north-western quarter of Kruševo was populated by Mijaks.[3]

Many villages in Mijačija are now uninhabited due to population shift towards the cities.


Their ethnonym is unclear.[4][full citation needed] Slavs were known as having conquered most of Macedonia in the 6th century, their territory was conquered before 785, when Constantine VI holds the Sclaviniae of Macedonia (Sclavenias penes Macedoniam). Eventually their nomadic lifestyle transformed into an agriculturally and industrial based one.[5] Their area of settlement roughly corresponds with the Reka regions and along the river Radika.

A proportion of Mijaks converted to Islam during the 16th and 17th centuries, and they are known by the name Torbeši.[6][7] In the first half of the 19th century, a notable part were Albanianized, and also, the Islamized population of Galicnik was re-Christianized in 1843.[4][full citation needed]

In 1822, an unpublished lexiographical work by Panajot Ginovski, "Mijački rečnik po našem govoru", was written, containing 20 000 words.[8]

After the Treaty of San Stefano (March 3, 1878), the Debar county, along with 11 other counties of Slavic Macedonia, sent deputies and appeals to Prince Milan of Serbia (r. 1868-1889), asking him to annex the region to Serbia.[9][full citation needed] This was made after the Principality of Bulgaria received most of the Macedonia region by the Ottoman Empire, and the earlier establishment and expansion of the Bulgarian Exarchate (February 28, 1870; in 1874, Skopje and Ohrid voted in favour of the Exarchate).

During the Ilinden uprising in Kruševo (August 2-3, 1903), a known Mijak involved was Veljo Pecan.[10]


The Mijaks are well known for the extent to which old customs are preserved in their every day life. However the act of "Pečalba" or seasonal work, was a deeply entrenched tradition of the Mijaks. Males in their 20s would often leave the village for months, or even years, at a time in order to work in more prosperous regions and create wealth for the family. It can be attributed to this that most of the Mijak villages are deserted or sparsely populated.

Mijaks had mastered the craft of woodcarving, and for many years a wood carving school operated in the Mala Reka region. They were responsible for the intricate wood carving which is found inside the Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery, which is considered to the be best in Republic of Macedonia.

The Galičnik Wedding Festival (Галичка свадба) is the name of a traditional wedding and its characteristic ceremony, which is annually held on Petrovden (St. Peter feast day, 12 July), in which a couple is chosen to receive the wedding and be shown on national television. The Teškoto oro (lit. "the hard one"), a shepherd folk dance of the Mijaks, is one of the national dances of the Republic of Macedonia.

Some Mijaks believe that Skanderbeg, the Albanian military commander, hails from Mijačija.[11]

According to Serbian ethnographer Jovan Cvijić writing in 1922,[12] the older generation were familiar to the Battle of Kosovo (1389) and Tsar Lazar, and still had the Serbian feast days and sung the epic poetry regarding that time, however the songs were rarely sung as in earlier times, according to him because of Bulgarian pressure. The Mijaks were very familiar with Prince Marko, who according to them was "born in Legen-grad" (of which ruins exist above the Torbeš village of Prisojnica). From the same place, they said, a "Vojvoda Damjan" went and fought at Kosovo. Also, they had songs regarding the founding of the Hilandar monastery on Mount Athos. Every family had the slava (служба, veneration of protecting family saint). The center of spiritual life was in the Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery, of which interior there was a very old memorial, describing its history, which spoke of the Nemanjić dynasty and the Serbian archbishops. Also, the external frescoes depicted Serbian rulers until the Battle of Kosovo, painted by a peasant from Lazaropole. The history of the monastery, and the Mijaks themselves, showed that they were always striving for independence. They constantly opposed the use of Greek as liturgical language in the churches, and when the Bulgarian Exarchate was imposed in the region, the Mijak monks maintained complete ecclesiastical freedom, and kept all old Serbian monuments of the St. John's monastery.[13]


Mijak architecture has become a defining factor in the culture of the Mijaks. The Mijaks were among the most skilled masons[14] and they helped wealthy Aromanians construct Kruševo into a large prosperous beautiful city in the 18th century. Apart from some masons from the Kriva Palanka region, they were the most proficient in all of Macedonia and the Balkans. The Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery is built in the Mijak style.


The Mijaks traditionally speak the Galičnik dialect and Reka dialect. Typical characteristics of the "Mijački govor" (Macedonian: Мијачки говор), Mijak Speech, include:

Mijak speech Standard Macedonian English Notes
žamija džamija mosque reduced use of the phenome "dž" to only "ž"
roka raka hand the Big Yus is pronounced as a "o" and not an "a" as in Standard Macedonian
tužda/tuža tugja foreign use of the phenome "ž" or "žd" in place of the standard Macedonian "gj"
trebuvad/trebit treba need use of the suffix "-t" or "-d" for third person singular
stavajed stavaat they place use of the suffix "-ajed" for third person singular
glagolj zbor word from Proto-Slavic *glagoliti ("to speak"); cf. Glagolitic alphabet


Mijaks have been subject to ethnographic studies by Macedonian, Bulgarian and Serbian scholars. According to the 2002 census, in the Municipality of Mavrovo and Rostuša there were 4,349 Macedonians (50.46%), 2,680 Turks (31,10%), 1,483 Albanians (17.21%), and smaller numbers of Bosniaks (0.36%), Roma (0.12%), Serbs (0.07%) and others (0.68%); In the Municipality of Debar there were a total of 19,542 inhabitants, of which 11,348 Albanians, 3,911 Macedonians, 2,684 Turks, 1,080 Roma, 22 Serbs, 3 Bosniaks, 2 Vlachs and 492 others.[15][verification needed]

  • Macedonian historians are still uncertain as to whether the Mijaks were initially Aromanian speaking.
  • Jovan Cvijić classified Mijaks into South Slavs, precisely the 'western Macedonian variety' of the 'central type'. His conclusion about the ethnic origin of Mijaks was that nomadic Aromanians mixed with native Slavs and later with Serbs who moved from Ottoman Albania to avoid process of Albanisation and Islamisation.[16] In views of historical consciousness, he noted that the Mijaks had preserved traces of Serbian history (folklore, art, slava).[13]
  • In their works from the beginning of the 20th century, Bulgarian ethnographers Vasil Kanchov and Dimitar Michev describe the local Mijak population as Bulgarian.[17][18]

See also


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