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19 April 2012

Mikas Milicev Karadzic (1862-1934) soldier, farmer.

Milica was born in the village of Hanovi (later Žabljak) in Crna Gora (Montenegro). Her father, a celebrated hero, was killed in battle against the Ottoman Empire. The widow having no other male to be head of the family, renamed her child Mikas and dressed him as a boy.

Mikas got used to it. He played with boys and tended sheep. When the other boys put on a belt with arms, Mikas did likewise. No-one was allowed to mention his origins, and Mikas would not have it otherwise. It was assumed that with adulthood Mikas would return to being a woman, but when this did not happen, his mother and other near kin approved, but the Karadzic clan leaders were embarrassed, and reprimanded him. However the more they did so, the more stubborn he became. He expostulated that he would rather lose his head than become a woman.

Around 1880 the leaders of the three clans of Jezera put the problem of Mikas to the Bishop Visarion Ljubisa (1823-84) when he visited. After a talk with Mikas, Ljubisa instructed that Mikas was not ever to be insulted. However he told Mikas to never drink brandy in that it might bring shame.

In 1885 the doctor Milan Jovanović-Batut (1847-1940) was to examine the soldiers of Zabljak, who included Mikas Karadzic. He was informed that Mikas was a ‘wonder of the world’ and had a private consultation with him. He was able to get Mikas to admit to being a woman, and asked how he hid the menses. Mikas insisted that he never had such since age 13.

After military service, Mikas farmed the family land. He had a flock of fifty sheep of the highest quality. He also bred and traded cattle. This occupied him so much that he leased out the arable land.

When in 1916 the occupying Austrian army interned and deported all the local soldiers, a neighbour applied to the Wachtmeister and informed him about Mikas’ sex. The Austrians refused to believe this without a medical examination. Mikas unlike his comrades was released.

In the 1920s, when Crna Gora had become part of Yugoslavia, there was a drought of several years, and Mikas was reduced to three cows and a much smaller farm. He was still doing the hard masculine tasks: mowing, stacking, ploughing and harvesting. He did his own cooking, but other female tasks were done by female relatives and neighbours, usually for a small fee.

Photo by Branimir Gušić 1929, printed in Herdt p249.
In 1929 the Croatian ethnographer, Marijana Gušić (1901-87), attempted to visit Mikas. But he refused her as she was a woman. However her husband Branimir was allowed to sit with him and take photographs.

Each November 8 Mikas officiated as the head male in the family at the Feast of the Archangel Michael. He also voted.

In 1933 a sick and weakened Mikas was taken on ox-back to the home of his paternal aunt’s grandson, where he was referred to as svekar (father-in-law). He requested that his daughter-in-law not disgrace him. She bought him a new manly suit which he was buried in, with the approval of the local priest.
  • Milan Jovanović-Batut. “Cudna prilika (S moga puta po Crnoj Gori)” Branik, Dec 12-24, 1885.
  • Marijana Gušić. "Etnografski prikaz Pive i Drobnjake" Narodna starina 9 (1930): 198; "Ostajnica-tombelija-virdzin kao drustvcna pojava," in Treci kongres folklorista Jugoslavije (Celinje: Obod, 1958): 57-58, and "Pravni polozaj ostajnice-virdjincse u stocarskom drustvu regije Dinarida," in Vasa Cubrilovic (ed.), Odredbe pozitivnog zakonodavstva i obicajnog prava o sezonskim
    kretanjima stocara u jugoistocnoj Evropi kioz vekove
    (Belgrade: Srpska akademija,
    1976): 280.
  • René Grémaux. "Mannish Women of the Balkan Mountains". In Jan Bremmer (ed). From Sappho to De Sade: Moments in the History of Sexuality. London & New York: Routledge,1989:144-9. Reprinted as "Woman Becomes Man in the Balkans" in Gilbert Herdt (ed). Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History. NY: Zone Books, 1994: 246-253.

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