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Ćero mila, ćero mila (110)

Finally, we have come to a song that I cannot find a trace of on the Internet. It's interesting that some of the songs in this book have remained popular and entrenched in contemporary cultural knowledge to at least a degree, and others seem not to have made it. This could be for many reasons: perhaps the song was popular in a specific location but was never recorded by a famous interpreter with wider reach, or perhaps the lyrics have been changed substantially. If you have any information about this song, please let me know in the comments!


Because the song is written in “ekavian” pronunciation (i.e. using gde instead of gdje), we can assume it is from a geographic space where this form of Serbo-Croatian is spoken (today’s Serbia and Kosovo); however, the song could have been edited after it was discovered.


Ćero mila, ćero mila,

Gde si do sad bila?

Majko mila, majko mila,

U bašči sam bila.

Ćero mila, ćero mila,

A šta si radila?

Majko mila, majko mila,

Ruže sam si brala.

Ćero mila, ćero mila

Kome si ih dala?

Majko mila, majko mila,

Dragom sam ih dala.

Ćero mila, ćero mila,

Voda ga odnela!

Majko mila majko mila,

Meni ga donela.

Ćero mila, ćero mila,

Puška ga ubila!

Majko mila, majko mila,

Ja mu ljuba bila!


Daughter dear, daughter dear,

Where have you been?

Mother dear, mother dear,

I was in the garden.

Daughter dear, daughter dear,

And what did you do?

Mother dear, mother dear,

I picked roses.

Daughter dear, daughter dear,

Who did you give them to?

Mother dear, mother dear,

I gave them to my darling.

Daughter dear, daughter dear,

The water took him away!

Mother dear, mother dear,

It brought him back to me.

Daughter dear, daughter dear,

The rifle killed him!

Mother dear, mother dear,

I loved him!



Call and response song formats can be found in many places all over the world, making the narrative device used in the song a somewhat universal one. Like some of the world's most popular nursery rhymes, it tells a tragic story, of a daughter whose beloved is killed (possibly by her own mother, or by war).


The song exhibits the themes that Tim Rice found in Bulgarian music, described in his book May it Fill Your Soul (1994, pp. 115-126). His position is that the subject of most women’s folk songs is not the Bulgarian nation, but the relations between genders. The songs speak truthfully and are rooted in the real experiences of girls and women, their constraints, their families, and their fears. Overwhelmingly, because Bulgarian society was patriarchal and women were subordinate to men at the time many of the original texts of the folk songs were written, many of the songs deal with the violence of men towards women and the various ways in which this was perpetuated in society. Women in Bulgaria mostly sang in the company of other women, so this was a private space for them to collectively process and express their fear—albeit in indirect ways. Todora, one of the main figures in Rice’s book, says, in response to a question about the origin of folk songs, “Some sharp-witted woman made them up” (p. 117).


The former Yugoslav territories during this period were likely very similar, and this helps to explain the song’s lyrics. Although the girl in the song is not helpless, she is portrayed as the victim of either her mother, who exerts authority in her love life as part of the patriarchal structure, or the state, which does the same. Interestingly, the girl makes one attempt to save her beloved, by bringing him back from the river, but she is ultimately not successful, and the song ends on a note of despair.



You can find a collection of all the songs from Velika Narodna Lira that are available on Spotify on my playlist.