“BABA” is a vocal-theater work inspired by “sworn virgins,” a disappearing social phenomenon of women living as men in remote regions in the Balkan highlands.
“BABA” is a work of contemporary vocal theater, created by internationally-acclaimed Slovenian director, composer, and conductor Karmina Šilec for Kitka, an Oakland-based women’s vocal ensemble known for its musical and theatrical explorations of stories of unconventional women in Eastern European history, mythology, and folklore. “BABA” is the latest of Šilec’s body of “Choregie” music-driven theater projects. “Choregie” is a creative process that brings the sensibility of musical composition to fully staged dramatic performances.
“BABA” is inspired by real and imagined stories of Balkan “sworn virgins” or “burrneshas” (women who live as men after taking vows of chastity and celibacy). The tradition of sworn virgins is rooted in a centuries-old social code of law present in remote rural regions of Albania, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Serbia. Born as women, life circumstances—including the loss of male relatives in blood feuds or a desire to escape an oppressive arranged marriage—led these individuals to live as men in order to gain the honors, privileges, and freedoms of community patriarchs. The motives for this gender transformation were traditionally social responsibility and family honor, not sexual preference or feelings of being male by nature.
“BABA” raises questions about choice and sexual identity in modern society by bringing to light a disappearing practice of women transforming themselves into men as a means of upholding their family honor and surviving in an isolated, dangerous, impoverished, and intensely patriarchal part of the world.