n a dictionary, you will find the word njiva, (nyiva) a cultivated field, among the few entries starting with ‘nj’. It may also be an example why a Cyrillic alphabet is better for Serbian language instead the later on adopted Latin alphabet. For example, if a sentence begins with the word, it is spelled ‘Njiva’and not ‘NJiva’. But if it has to be written in the upper case block letters, it is ‘NJIVA’ which is wrong and should be ‘NjIVA’. In the Cyrillic alphabet, in ‘Њива’, such a problem does not exist.
Farming is the basic human activity. It best reflects the meaning of human labour and the significance of the man’s communion with God. Working the land and watching for weather conditions, man can go deep into the mystery of the origin of life and God’s ways of caring for mankind. Saint Justin Popovic wrote, “It takes all the heavens and all the earth for just one flower to come into existence”. And for the human food production, it takes the man’s exhausting labour, as well.
A cultivated field is a symbol of such a labour, but also a symbol of the fertile foundations of the living world. This world is also said to be the God’s Field, and that people were sown in the field so that, with God’s help, they could grow to reach God.
Once, Serbia was totally a farming country. Serbian peasant used to live off his cultivated fields and by doing the land he fed his family; in war times he defended “his family and his fields”. To defend one’s own fields, as a basic duty of the head of the family, runs so deeply in the mind of a Serbian peasant that even in the times of peace it may be a sensitive subject. As cultivated fields are not fenced, sometimes ardent conflicts may arise between the neighbours even over some minute sections of land which, accidentally or otherwise, have been taken by one or the other, ploughing more than they should have.
In a symbolic sense, a man was made of earth, he lives off the land and when he dies, he is returned to earth, and a cultivated field is piece of land quite enough for his livelihood. To be without a piece of land, meant to be destitute and vulnerable. A landless peasant, a person not possessing one’s own piece of land, was the most terrible notion for Serbs. Cultivated fields also constituted the most important part of an inheritance. So that an estate would not be divided up needlessly and partitioned into smaller pieces, until quite recently, Serbs used to live in large joint family households. The better the family, the more and the larger the fields. But it had to have enough family members to cultivate the land.
A wavy landscape, colourful with many rectangular fields, is a typical countryside scenery of a peaceful Šumadija region: the endless field furrows, like sea waves, are typical of the Vojvodina plains. To access a village, one can go along a road or across the cultivated fields. But it is no good trampling over the furrows. Whether the crop has been sown or not, one has to walk along its borders.
Свака стопа земље тамо је мени знана,
мириси што се дижу са шума и са њива.
Знам какво је небо у које доба дана,
какво весеље тамо, каква жалост бива…
Taken from the poem Сећање на завичај, by Desanka Maksimović