Lobsters' Wedding

The Bulgarian Folk Songs is a volume of folk songs (mostly Macedonian, in today's terms) collected by the Miladinov brothers and published in Zagreb in 1861. (Facsimile) There are several hundreds of songs and tales in that volume, and some of them look a bit like something from Edward Lear - or at least you imagine that Edward Lear could have drawn lovely illustrations for them. (Incidentally, Edward Lear did travel across Macedonia in 1848, just a few years before Miladinovs' work there!)

Here's song No. 27, recorded in the Struga area. Included are the original 1861 spelling, the modern Macedonian spelling from a 1964 edition, and my poor attempt at a translation.

Macedonian turtles / Македонски желки

Свадба отъ ракови-те Свадба от ракоите Wedding at the Lobsters
Рако’и-те свадба чинѣтъ,
А жельки-те панагюрвѣтъ.
Сѣ посвѫрши желюрок-отъ,
Си посвѫрши кутра желька,
Кутра желька за невеста.
И си стана желюрок-отъ,
Дойде ко’а, дойде време,
Да сѣ берѣтъ ’си свато’и.
Си пособра куси врапси,
Куси врапси за свато’и;
Си пособра уташина,
Уташина кумашина;
И си зеде за старосватъ
За старосватъ сколовранецъ,
Побратими бильбильчина,
Киниса’е по невеста,
Отидо’а во дворо’и.
Ми играетъ, ми скокаетъ,
Ми ядеетъ, ми піѥтъ.
И подстана желюрок-отъ,
Сѣ подскачи на скала-та,
И ѣ̀  виде кутрà желькà
Промената, наружена,
Ѣ целива бѣло гѫрло.
Сѣ зедо’а, отидо’а,
Со желка-та с’ кердоса’е.
Ракоите свадба чинет,
А жељките панаѓурвет.
Се посврши жељурокот,
Си посврши кутра жељка,
Кутра жељка за невеста.
И си стана жељурокот,
Дојде коа, дојде време,
Да се берет си сватои.
Си пособра куси врапси,
Куси врапси за сватои;
Си пособра уташина,
Уташина кумашина;
И си зеде за старосват
За старосват сколовранец,
Побратими биљбиљчина,
Кинисае по невеста,
Отидоа во дворои.
Ми играет, ми скокает,
Ми јадеет, ми пијеет.
И подстана жељурокот,
Се подскачи на скалата,
И је виде кутра жељка
Променета, наружена,
Је целива бело грло.
Се зедоа, отидоа,
Со жељката с' кердосае.
The Lobsters are in charge of a wedding,
While Tortoises are celebrating.
The He-Tortoise is marrying,
He is taking a poor She-Tortoise 
As his bride.
For the He-Tortoise
The time has come
To invite wedding guests
To invite small sparrows
To be his wedding guests.
An owl is invited
To be a witness;
And a starling is invited,
As the second witness;
Nightingales are his best men.
He goes to the bride's,
And enters her courtyard.
He is dancing, he is leaping,
He is eating, he is drinking.
Now the He-Tortoise rises,
And runs up the stairs,
And he sees the poor She-Tortoise,
Who's all dressed up,
And he kisses her white neck.
He takes her with him,
And they go to be married.


  • The title, Svadba ot rako[v]ite can be literally translated as the "Lobsters' Wedding". (Actually, rak refers to a great variety of crustaceans, and in Struga has to mean some kind of freshwater crayfish; in Yoto Yotov's French translation, the creatures are "crabs"). However, in this version, the crustaceans don't appear anywhere beyond line 1, and it is turtles who are marrying... so maybe lobsters are just officiating at the wedding, and "Wedding at the Lobsters'" may be a better title? (The same volume has another song with the same title, No. 28; the text, beyond the first two lines, is almost entirely different, and in that song it is not quite clear whether it is the crustaceans or the chelonians who are marrying)
  • The Macedonian word for "turtle", zhelka (желка, or in the song's dialect, zheljka жељка) is apparently the preserved old common Slavic word with this meaning; in Russian, Bulgarian, and Serbian it has been replaced with different words, cherepaha (черепаха), kostenurka (костенурка) and kornjača корњача, respectively, which apparently refer to the creatures appearance (they are derived from the words for "skull" and "bones").
  • Nouns in Slavic languages have grammatical gender, and zhelka ("turtle") is grammatically feminine (as are the words for "turtle" in other Slavic languages). Remarkably, Macedonian also has a word to specifically refer to a male turtle, should the speaker feel the need to: zhel(j)urok (желурок / жељурок)! This of course is somewhat unusual, since for most species for which distinct words for the male and female individuals exist, the "unmarked" (generic) noun is used for the male (e.g. lav лав "lion", volk волк "wolf"), and the special marked form exists for the female of the species (e.g. lavica лавица "lioness", volčica волчица "she-wolf"); for those species where the generic noun is grammatically feminine (e.g. ververica верверица, "squirrel"), no derived masculine form usually exists. So the turtles, in Macedonian, are fairly exceptional in this respect.
  • The song has a great variety of terms to refer to various participants of the wedding ceremony (сват, кумашина, старосват, побратим), and my attempt to render them into English is rather arbitrary.

Next: Another Lobsters' Wedding, where events are becoming more dramatic.

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