Few days ago I came across this Irish word:
The Etymological dictionary of English language says that the Anglo-Norman gune, goune (“fur-trimmed coat, pelisse”) from which the English word gown meaning long, loose outer garment is derived, comes from Old French goune “robe, coat; (nun’s) habit, gown,” related to Late Latin gunna “leather garment, skin, hide,” of unknown origin. Used by St. Boniface (8c.) for a fur garment permitted for old or infirm monks. Klein writes that it is probably “a word adopted from a language of the Apennine or the Balkan Peninsula.” OED points to Byzantine Greek gouna, a word for a coarse garment sometimes made of skins, but also notes “some scholars regard it as of Celtic origin.”
Now I wonder what this Balkan language, which is a potential source of the word gown could be and is it possible that at the same time the word is of a Celtic origin???
Let’s see what we can uncover. Literally.
Petar Skok in his “Etimologijski rjecnik hrvatskoga ili srpskoga jezika” (Etymological dictionary of the Croatian or Serbian language) says that: “the word gunj has these forms: “gunj, gunja, gunjac, gunjina”, and that the meaning can be:
A long or short heavy coat with or without sleeves which is worn over all other clothes.
A horse cover
A heavy shepherd cape
A kind of a women’s dress.
The material all these things are made of is either sheepskin, sheep felt, or goat hair.
Russian: “гуня” (gunja) – three qarter length coat, гу́нка (gunka) – diaper
Ukrainian: “гуня” (gunja) – rough homespun unpainted cloth or clothes made from such clothes
Bulgarian: “гу́ня” (gunja) – cloak made from goat’s hair
Polish: “gunia” – Male outer clothing worn by Carpathian Highlanders
Czech: “houně, huňa” – Apart from cover, cloth (rarely used), houně in Czech means fur blanket. Also, houně is used to describe thick hair.
Source: “ABZ online slovník českých synonym“
Slovak: “huňa” – smock, “huňatý” – bushy hairy
Source: “Slovar slovaških sopomenk“
Source: “The Dictionary of Standard Slovenian“
It is found in Albanian as “güne” meaning “cloak” (My comment: but this is most likely a borrowing from Serbian).
The word is also found in Hungarian as “gúnya”, again borrowing from Slavic languages:
“After the Conquest, primarily through constant contact with Slavic peoples, numerous new elements were added to Hungarian costume, as the vocabulary testifies: ruha (clothes), gúnya (garb), kabát (coat), csuha (cowl), nadrág (trousers or breeches), palást (cloak), szoknya (skirt), harisnya (stocking), kapca (foot rag), posztó (broadcloth), etc….“
“Hungarian ethnography and folklore” by Iván balassa – Gyula ortutay
Hrvatski jezični portal (Croatian linguistic portal) says that: “gunj, gunja is a coarse cover made from wool or goats hair, or a home made cloak which is three quarter length“.
“Narodna enciklopedija, Srpsko – Hrvatsko – Slovenačka” (Folk encyclopedia, Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian), which started to be published in 1924 by Professor Stanoje Stanojević, starts its chapter on “gunj” with:
“Gunj is the most important part of the Serbian male attire…“.
It then goes on to say: “gunj is made from home made rough woolen cloth, mostly black, but it could be other colors too. Today it could be long, short, with or without sleeves. In the old time it used to be much wider and longer, in order to cover and protect the weapons. In Serbia gunj is worn over all other clothes and no belt is worn over it. In Montenegro, gunj is worn under a waistcoat and a belt is worn over it. In Duvno area of Bosnia, gunj has woolen catkins from the inside and it is smooth on the outside. These catkins show development of the cloth based gunj coats from sheepskin gunj coats. Gunj also always has a cape which is used during bad weather. It is today also worn by women.”
This engraving or painting by an unknown artist from 1930’s shows the assembly held on the 14th of February 1804, in the small village of Orašac near Aranđelovac, on which the leading Serb leaders decided to begin an uprising against the Turkish rule, choosing Karađorđe Petrović as their leader.
On it you can see several types of “gunj”, both short and long, both with or without sleeves. They are all worn as the top layer of clothing and are not buttoned up.
The important bit here is: “long coats and cloaks are known as veliki gunj (big gunj), gunja, kabanica (cape), japundža….“.
Mitar Vlahović in his work “Muška nošnja u Vasojevićima” (Male traditional dress from Vasojevići tribe) (1933) provides an interesting description of japundža (kabanica, gunjina) cloaks. He states that “the japundža cloaks worn by Vasojevići clansmen in Naija area were rather broad at the bottom and floor-length and made from white cloth. They were made hairy on the outside to resist water…” Just like the sheepskin shepherd cloaks, which were worn with the fleece outside when it was raining, the lanolin from the wool making them waterproof. These japundža cloaks were later replaced with Skadar gunjs which were “rather broad and knee length and made from gray or black wool with short sleeves and a large hood for covering the head in bad weather. This gunj was made to be hairy on the outside.“
This again shows direct developmental line from sheepskin clothing to sheep wool cloth clothing.
So what are we to make of all this? Here is what I think.
A long or short heavy coat with or without sleeves which is worn over all other clothes (covers all other clothes)
A blanket (covers the body or a wall)
A carpet (covers the ground)
A horse cover (covers the horses back)
A heavy shepherd cape (covers the shepherd)
Originally this cover was a sheep fleece or a animal fur. Then people discovered how to make yarn and woolen cloth and the same covers started to be made from woolen cloth. But regardless the design and the purpose remained the same: something you throw over, wrap around as a cover.
Based on the fact the “gunj” capes, cloaks made of wool cloth were made to imitate sheep fleece suggests that the original “gunj” was a hunter gatherer cape, cloak made of fur, and later on when sheep and goats were domesticated, “gunj” was a shepherd cape, cloak made from sheep or goat skin (fleece). This is not surprising. Everyone uses the material most readily available. Both hunter gatherers and shepherds used skins of animals that they killed. What shepherds had were goat and sheep skins. Particularly the sheepskins are ideal for making waterproof cloaks and coats, as natural wool contains lanolin which makes it resistant to water and extremely good thermal insulator in wet conditions. A very important thing if you are a shepherd stuck somewhere on the grass covered highlands with your flock in the middle of a storm.
So no wonder we find these types of capes everywhere in Evroasia since prehistory.
Otzi, the Iceman, who lived around 3300 BC, wore a goatskin coat.
Ötzi’s coat was made of the hide of the domestic goat. On the inner side, numerous signs of scraping are visible, probably marks from the process of cleaning the skin. Scientific investigations indicate that the hides were tanned using fat and smoke. Once tanned, the sections were carefully cross-stitched together. The stitching was done with the fibres of animal sinews. The coat was worn with the fur side out. Darker stripes were alternated with lighter ones to produce a striking pattern. The Iceman probably wore the coat with the front open, as there is no fastener, though he could have kept it closed using his belt. Nothing remains of the sleeves of the coat. It is therefore unclear whether the coat actually had sleeves.
This is a reconstruction of the coat from the Archeoparc at Schnals valley / South Tyrol. The picture was taken by Wolfgang Sauber.
Archaeological evidence of how widespread these sheepskin cloaks and coats were in antiquity can be seen on one of the famous Urumqi mummies, which date from 1800 BCE to the first centuries BCE, and which have have been preserved for more than two millennia in the extremely dry Tarim Basin (Xinjiang). This woman wears a sheepskin coat over a colorful woolen skirt.
By the time of the Persian empire we find kandys (Κάνδυς), also called candys, kantuš or Median robe. This is a type of three-quarter-length Persian coat. It originally described a leather cloak with sleeves worn by men. You can see this type of coat on this detail of a relief from Apadana of Persepolis, dated to 550-330 BC. It is showing two men (left and right) wearing kandys.
This coat, eventually evolved into a garment worn by Athenian women.
It is suggested that the term candys/kandys was probably an Iranian word that was appropriated by the Greeks to describe the Persian garment, which in Old Persian would have been called kandu (cloak). Other Old Iranian terms include kanzu-ka (Median), kan-su-ka (Elamite) and gnjwg (Parthian), all of which correspond with the term cloak. The prefix ‘kan-‘, in such languages, means to cover or to throw, as in a coat thrown round the shoulders.
The earliest evidence of the sleeved kandys is found on a 9th-century BC Iranian bronze stand excavated at Teppe Hasanlu, while garments have been found in 4th and 5th century BC Scythian graves showing that the sleeves were so narrow and placed in such a manner that they could not realistically function as sleeves.
That these sheepskin capes were still worn in Europe during the early iron age, can be seen from the finds associated with a bog body known as “the woman from Huldremose“, who lived between 160 BCE to 340 CE, and whose body was found in a marsh in Jutland 19 May 1879. Her costume consisted of two sheepskin coats, a skirt and a scarf, woven from naturally colored wool. Her fur coats were made from the skins of around 14 sheep.
These sheepskin capes and coats continued to be worn by shepherds through iron age and medieval time.
Gračanica monastery, Built by Serbian King Stefan Uroš II Milutin (r. 1282-1321) in 1310. Fresco St. John the Baptist (Sveti Jovan Krstitelj) painted c. 1318.
Pustinja monastery, which according to local legends was built in the 13th century by king Dragutin. However it is possible that the church was originally built in the 11th century and then rebuilt in the 17th century.
This is the picture entitled “Seoba Srbalja” (The migration of the Serbs), painted by Paja Jovanović in 1896, which depicts this migration (ethnic cleansing). In the first plan you can see a man wearing a sheepskin shepherd’s cape with the fleece turned inside.
Painting by Milana Dvornić: “Čoban (pastir) u opakliji okrenutoj za kišovito vrijeme” (Shepherd in opaklija (gunja) turned inside out for wet weather)
Here is a male shepherd’s sheepskin “gunj” cape from Pljevlja, Montenegro
And the same type of sheep skin capes worn by Albanian shepherds:
On this picture entitled “Peasants of Hadad – Transylvania” by Stephen Catterson Smith the Elder (1806–1872), you can see shepherds wearing sheepskin capes, both with the fleece turned inside and outside.
This is the other side of the “suba” cloak, which is worn during the nice weather, while the fleece side is worn during the bad rainy or snowy weather, because it is a waterproof due to the lanolin in the raw sheep wool.
And here is an engraving by Jean-Francois Millet (1814 – 1875) – “Shepherd Tending his Flock”, depicting a shepherd from France wearing a sheepskin cape.
This painting by Niko Pirosmani (1862–1918) – “Shepherd in a Sheepskin Coat on a Red Background”, depicts a shepherd wearing the same type of sheepskin cape in Georgia
And this photograph taken in Georgia by George Kennan. 1870-1886 – shows a man in the same type of a sheepskin cape and sheep skin hat, holding a rifle
Does anyone know what the name of these sheepskin capes is in Georgian?
The problem with these capes is that they are great if you don’t need to move fast and work with your hands. If you do, you need to either take the cape off, have it tied with a clasp or rope around your neck and then move it to your back, in order to free your hands. This will basically choke you, because of the weight of the cloak, cape. The solution for this problem is to cut two openings in the sides of the cape, through which you can stick your hands out when you need to use them. This basically resulted in the development of sheep and goat skin sleeveless coats and waistcoats.
In Serbia “ćurčija” is a craftsman which makes clothing items from leather and sheepskin. The name comes from the word “ćurak” which means a waistcoat made from sheepskin with wool turned towards the inside. In southern parts of Serbia this type of sheepskin waistcoat is known as “gunj”, and sometimes as “kožuh, kožuv” meaning lather coat.
And if today you ask people in Serbia what is “gunj” most people will tell you that it is a waistcoat made out of sheepskin with the wool on the inside.
These types of sheepskin waistcoats were also worn in other Balkan countries.
These are Montenegrians wearing embroidered “gunj” sheepskin waistcoats taken from the website, “Immigration Archives” – Our Foreign Born Citizens – Immigrant Types.
The same website contains the picture of Romanians wearing the same type of the sheepskin waistcoats, except that in Romania this type of sheepskin waistcoat is called “bondiţa” and not “gunj”.
This type of waistcoats can also be made with the wool on the outside, like this “gunj” waistcoat from Lika, Croatia
The same type of sheepskin waistcoat with the wool turned outside was also worn in Albania. This is a picture of an Albanian shepherd, from “The Immigrant Tide, Its Ebb and Flow” by Edward A. Steiner.
And this is another picture of an Albanian shepherd boy from the collection of old photographs from the first photo studio in Albania, Fototeka MARUBI ( Marubi Photo Collection ), with an archive with 500 000 photos from 1858 until 1959.
I don’t know what the name for these waistcoats is in Albanian so I would be very grateful to anyone who can give me that information, so that I can update my post.
And here is a photograph showing the same type of shepherd’s sleeveless coat, this one probably made from goat’s skin. This Slovenian gunj looks almost identical to the ancient Otzi coat. 5000 years of cultural continuity in the Alps.
And here is painting by Ancely, René (1847 – 1919) – Pyrénées – Pâtres de la Vallée d’Aran, Bagnère de Luchon, showing two shepherds wearing the same type of sheepskin waistcoat with the wool turned outside.
I don’t know what the name for these waistcoats is in the local french dialects so I would be very grateful to anyone who can give me that information, so that I can update my post.
The long version of this type of coat is of the exactly the same cut as the coat worn by Otzi, meaning that this clothing item did not change for over 5000 years. The reason for this is that this is a very effective body cover, which is very easy to make by even unskilled persons.
At some stage a short sleeves were added to these sleeveless coats, in order to cover the shoulders. An example of this type of sheepskin coats is this shepherd sheepskin cape, coat from the Landes region of southwest France
Eventually full length sleeves were added and the sheepskin cape developed into a sheepskin coat.
This is “Huňa”, gunj from Slovakian highlands:
A Greek shepherd wearing gunja, 19th century
These two pictures depict Romanian peasants, from Tarani-din-Maramures, photo by Kurt Hielscher (1881 – 1948), wearing sheepskin coats with the fleece turned outside.
Here is a picture of a Romanian shepherd, taken by Augustus Sherman from the collection of Portraits from Ellis Island, wearing a full length sleeves sheepskin coat.
Knee length sheepskin cojoc, with dark fur edging, and embroidered decoration from Romania. The word cojoc is a borrowing from Serbian. Original word is kožok, kožuk, kožuh meaning leather coat and is still used interchangeably with gunj in Serbia and other Slavic countries. The root of this word is koža meaning skin and leather. Romanian word for leather and skin is “piele”…
Please note that they still don’t have buttons. Once the buttons were added we ended up with the well known sheepskin coat, like this one:
Or like this one worn by a shepherd from Serbia.
Eventually these shepherd capes, cloaks started to be made from rough woolen cloth.
I don’t know what the name for these shepherd capes are in the local dialects, so I would really appreciate if anyone can let me know, so I can update my post.
In the book “Скривени свет балканских жена : женска одећа за улицу на крају XIX и у XX веку” (The hidden world of the Balkan women: female street clothing from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century ) by Менковић Мирјана, Бајић Светлана, we can see this picture of a wagon driver from Užice, Serbia, wearing kabanica (gunja) overcoat, 19th century
This is an examples of kabanica (gunjina) cloak from Stari Vlah from the book “Народне ношње Срба у XIX и XX веку, Србија и суседне земље. [Књ. 1]“
And this is a cape, gunja, koporan from Western Serbia
And a cape, gunja, koporan from Knjazevac, Stara Planina, Eastern Serbia
The same happened with sleeveless, short sleeves and long sleeves coats, which also started to be made from wool cloth.
This is a picture of the winter clothing, including “gunja” cape from Vranjska Pčinja, Serbia, from the book “Народне ношње Срба у XIX и XX веку. [Књ. 2]” (Serbian folk dress in 19th and 20th century [book 2])
These are examples of “gunj” coat from Srem, Serbia from the book “Народне ношње Срба у XIX и XX веку, Србија и суседне земље. [Књ. 1]“
This is a kabanica, coat with cloak, made from coarse woolen cloth, from Turopolje, Croatia
And one from Hungary worn by a shepherd
This is a long sleeveless “gunj” from Kučevište, Skopska Crna Gora
Here is the same male “gunj” felt coat.
Female gunj from Pecurice, Montenegro
And here are two short, “city” gunj coats from Serbia, the blue male one and black female one, which eventually became the main objects with which the word “gunj” was associated.
So this was quite interesting. We can clearly see how winter top cover clothes developed just by looking at all the things named “gunj, gunja, gunjina” in Serbian. These items have been found wherever we find shepherds for at least last 5000 years, but only in Serbian, of all the Balkan languages are they called “gunj, gunja, gunjina”. So if there is a Balkan language from which the word “guna” entered medieval Greek and Latin, it must have been Serbian.
But what is the etymology of this word in Serbian? Well I am still not sure.
All I know is that the Serbian word “gunj, gunja, gunjina” has these interesting potential cognates:
References for the translation of the Avestan word “gaona” as “hair, wool, hair color, color”:
“Основы иранского языкознания. Древнеиранские языки.Москва“, 1979 г. Изд. “Наука”, Глава “Скифо-сарматские наречия”, В.И.Абаев, Словарь скифских слов, стр. 290
“Gauna – “fur”-> gun, авест. gaona – “color” , осет. ğun – “fur”:
~ σακυνδακη “Scythian clothes” = sak-gun-dak, осет. sag-ğun-dag – “Clothes made from deer skin (fur)”, см. aka (осет. sag) – “deer” and tag, dag – “tread” which in Ossetian gives in тканей zæl-dag = “silk”, kættag = (из kaen-tag) – “cloth”“
“Avestan: Base Form Dictionary” by Jonathan Slocum and Scott L. Harvey
I think that the prefix “kan” (“can”) we find in Iranic languages is the same as gunj. The word “gunj”, according to its use in Serbian, mean exactly that, cover. So gaona, caona, can…= “gunj”
Is this the origin of the Serbian words “gunj, gunja, gunjina”? And if so, how did this word enter Serbian? Is this a remnant of the Scythian vocabulary in Serbian language?
Or is there some other root for this word?
Is the root, like “some linguists claim” Celtic?
This is the Brythonic word for woll: “*gwlan” and its descendants:
Middle Breton: glan, gloan
Old Cornish: gluan
Middle Cornish: glan, glawn
Old Welsh: gulan
Middle Welsh: gwlan
This is the Slavic word for wool: “vьlna” which in some Slavic languages including Serbian morphed into “vuna”.
Is it possible that in Serbian we had the following metamorphosis of the word for wool which happened because of the mixing of the Celtic and Slavic languages in the Balkans:
“gwlan, gwolna. gvuna, guna” – wool, fleece, sheepskin, sheep wool cloth, any cover made from this material
Or is the root Serbian, Slavic?
In Serbian we have these words:
None of the above words have proper etymology. But the root of all these words seems to be the root “ko”. So what is the meaning of the root “ko”? Is it possible that it has the same meaning it has today in Serbian: ko, koj, koji = which, who, that, it?
koža = ko + ža = ko + ži + ja = that which + alive + i am = skin keeps things neatly inside 🙂
kosa = ko + sa = ko + ža + sa = skin + with = that which comes with skin? (not sure about this one. It could be also ko + sss = that which + the sound that stroking the hair makes sssss)
kora = ko + ra = ko + rapav = that which + rough (rrrr the sound of scratching)
k(o)rzno = ko + krzano = that which + scraped (exactly what we do go get fur, we scrape it off the body)
kostret = ko + str = that which sticks out, pricks (goat’s hair is very sharp compared to human and sheep hair)
So was guna originally kuna, kona = ko + na = that which + on, over = what you use to cover things? Or even better ko + unj + na = that which + in + on = what you get in, put on = cover, clothes, exactly what the meaning of the word “gunj” is…
Or does gunj, gunja come from “go (neuter), gu (feminine), ga (masculine)” a South Serbian dialectic variant meaning also which, who, that, it . So in that case go, gu, ga + unj + na = that which + in + on, over = that which is i go in, put on, that which is used as a cover?
But I am still not sure.
I have been wrecking my brain for a week now to figure this out. What do you think?