Sometime in the second half of 14th century, Strahinja (“nj” is pronounced like in “canyon”) was the lord of the territory west of Kosovo. The name, Strahinja, derives from the word strah which means fear, awe. Such names were given to ward off evil. The descriptive Banovich, meaning son of the ban or young ban, later evolved into a surname.
Strahinja was married to the beautiful Andjelija (pronounced Angeliya).
The couple lived happily under the steeple of their Renaissance chapel. The Renaissance spirit was creeping into the countries on the Balkan peninsula from the west. The Ottoman Turks were invading from the opposite direction.One day, as the ominous clouds were gathering above the steeple of the chapel, Strahinja decided to leave his young and beautiful wife to take care of his aged mother while he would be staying with his in-laws.
As was their wont, Strahinja, his father in law, the old Jug* Bogdan, and his nine brothers-in-law were drinking heavily and merrymaking day in, day out until grim news reached them. Strahinja’s castle had been ravished and Andjelija kidnapped by the terrible Vlah Alija**.
* Jug is pronounced yoog. It means South. (In defense of the Kardashian baby’s name, North West just follows the old tradition of directional names.)
** Alija is pronouced Aliya.
Vlah means that Alija was not born a Turk but indigenous to the Balkans. For reasons of his own he converted to Islam and served the sultan as bashibazouk. The bashibazouks were undisciplened adventurers, notorious for their brutality. As they were not part of the regular army, they received no pay but fought to plunder. But this poem is not about the Serbs vs. Turks. It is about the clash of noble principles and humanity with the rigidity of the patriarchal culture.
Strahinja asked his father-in-law and brothers in law to help him find and rescue Andjelija. Old Jug Bogdan, the conservative patriarch that he was, flatly refused to put their lives in danger for a worthless woman who brought disgrace upon the family. At that time women were put to death for adultery. Rape or no rape, they all had the same treatment. Jug Bogdan cursed his daughter and promised Strahinja to find him a better wife. Strahinja was adamant: he would recover his wife.
Strahinja disguised himself as a Turkish merchant and all alone, accompanied only by his faithful dog Karaman, set out to find Andjelija. He crisscrossed the country looking for Vlah Alija’s camp until a dervish showed him the place. The dervish owed one to Strahinja because Strahinja had given him a good turn when the dervish was his prisoner.
Strahinja spotted Vlah Alija and surprised him with Andjelija. A fight ensued between the two mighty warriors. They fought with lances, maces, sabers from morning till noon and when all their arms were broken and useles they continued to fight with their bare hands.
At one point of time, the exhausted Strahinja asked Andjelija to pick up a piece of a broken saber and kill either him or Vlah Alija, whomever her heart told her to kill. Vlah Alija made a different appeal. He reminded Andjelija that her husband would make her life a living hell because of her infidelity. On the other hand, he, Vlah Alija, would love her forever and deck her with golden ducats from top to toe.
Knowing that her very life would be at stake if she returned with Strahinja, Andjelija aimed at Strahinja and wounded him badly. Fearing for his life, Strahinja called out to his dog. The dog immediately ran to the rescue of his master and bit Andjelija.
The Patriarach was still raging. When he was told the whole story of the rescue, he commanded his sons to kill the unfaithful Andjelija, but Strahinja intervened. “I alone rescued her. None of you would help me. I could have killed Andjelija myself but I chose to spare her”, said Strahinja and returned with Andjelija home. What a fine man Strahinja was!
It should be added that Strahinja gave the following reason for sparing his wife’s life. “Had I killed her”, he said “I would have broken my ties to all my in-laws and I would have no one with whom to drink.” In modern thinking this takes off a layer of gloss from Strahinja’s noble acts but the fact that he forgave his wife remains as a rare instance of man’s laudable behavior in a men’s world.
Strahinja did not enjoy his restored life for long. In 1389 he was killed in the battle of Kosovo along with a great number of Serbian lords including old Jug Bogdan and his nine sons. That we know from another narrative poem.
Banović Strahinja has been identified as Djuradj Stratimirović Balšić. The Balšić family ruled over Zeta in the middle ages. Zeta extended from Kosovo to the Adriatic coast, roughly corresponding to today’s Montenegro. Jug Bogdan is probably a fictitious character.