Slavic culture is known for its ethnographic narratives; the mixture of profane, magic rituals and legends. Croatian culture is no different. In the end of the winter, when the trees are preparing to blossom, the winter is gone and the vision of the most optimistic time is finally here, the bellringers appear. Their duty is to drive the winter away and summon the spirits of spring.
The most famous Halubjans
There is a number of legends surrounding the Bellringers from Croatia. The most famous ones are Halubjan bell ringers from a town of Viskovo. One of the most wide-spread legends about them is how people started wearing sheepskins, hid their faces in bloody sheep heads, smeared themselves with mud and went towards the enemy. They would brandish sticks and axes, to scare the enemies away. They would also disguise their maize crops as human figures. The figures were supposed to scare the enemy away, and, according to the legend, the plan worked perfectly.
Another legend says that the shepherds would put the sheepskin on, lace up bells around their waists and put devilish masks on their faces. Completely disguised, they would roam around the village to scare the winter off. Today, the bellringers are active during the Carnival, which is often called the “fifth season”. The Carnival in the Primorje region of Croatia can last up to nine weeks. Of course, the end of the Carnival aligns with the end of the winter and the bellringers are the ones who are closing it.
The magic of the bells
Bellringers’ magic rituals are spectacular: the metal bell produces an ear-piercing sound. The mask gives you the chills. There is never just one of them. There is always a group and they produce a magical noise that can make the ground tremble. Walking from one village to another, they are summoning the new spring.
Villagers are always prepared for their arrival. They come to the same place every year and form a circle with their bodies, with faces turned towards their hosts. In that position, the arms go high in the air and start the intense bell-ringing. The noise they make is magnificent and magical and will last for a while before it stops.
Bellringers or The Halubajski zvončari were inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.
All photographs were taken by Jadranka Lacković, posted with permission.