Hajji Staka Skenderova, a Serbian Orthodox nun, was Sarajevo’s first female writer and teacher. She wrote A Chronicle of Bosnia, 1825-1856, spoke Russian and Turkish and worked as an assistant at the Russian Consulate in BiH.
Staka’s family moved to Sarajevo from Prijepolje and, while there are no written records of her official education, it is known that she was a girl who “read a lot”, and in those days she was the only woman to sing in church. Staka learned Turkish at an early age, along with her brother, who worked as a leatherworker in the Turkish Army. This would be of great help when dealing with Turkish authorities to have her requests fulfilled.
Renouncing the world
Staka was a woman ahead of her time. She had made the hajj (pilgrimage) to Jerusalem, which is where she was ordained as a nun, and since there was no monastery (convent) for women or any Orthodox nuns in Sarajevo at that time, Staka clearly showed that she was a woman who had “renounced this world” by wearing men’s attire.
She was friends with Miss Irby, a writer and humanitarian who also worked on women’s literacy in Sarajevo. Miss Irby ended up taking care of Staka after she lost all of her possessions in a fire that consumed the house she had been living in.
In order to realize her aim of founding a girls’ school, Staka was the first woman from Sarajevo to visit Sultan Abdul Aziz in Istanbul.
The Staka Skenderova Girls’ School opened on October 19, 1858. The support she received from the Porte and Ottoman authorities aroused great animosity on the part of envious Serbs and the papers that were published by Serbian associations, but the Serbian poor and other Sarajevans looked on her with great fondness.
Free school for children from poor families
The Ottoman governor serving in Bosnia at that time, Topal Osman Pasha, provided assistance for Staka’s school, where he enrolled his own daughters. In addition to Serbian children, youngsters from Sarajevo’s Muslim and Jewish families also attended the school. Rich families paid for their children’s tuition, but schooling was provided free of charge for those who came from poor families.
The first document to mention exams held at the school was the 1866 edition of The Bosnian Vijesnik, which commended the hard work and effort of Staka and her assistants and made special mention of the students’ handiwork.
One can freely state that the Staka Skenderova Girls’ School marked the beginning of literacy programs for women in Sarajevo.
Staka Skenderova’s life ended tragically when she was run over by a horse-drawn carriage in Ilidža on her way home from a party. She passed away on May 26, 1891 and was buried in the Orthodox cemetery in Koševo.
As is usually the case, recognition of Staka’s work, which contributed greatly to Sarajevo’s development, came only after her death.
One foreigner who had traveled through Sarajevo wrote to a friend in Zagreb in 1868 and had this to say about Staka: “There is one rather wondrous thing. In the middle of Sarajevo, where the weeds of savagery grow thickly, one teacher emerged – a girl by the name of Staka Skenderova, who was like a Deiphobe for us, allowing the living truths of lonely voices to emerge from a desolate cave…”.