With the help from the Museum of Slavonia, Michael and I were able to have a memorable experience during our visit to the Etno Kuća of Abljanovci in Slavonia, Croatia. We knew that there was a rich history in this part of Croatia, however being able to meet people who are dedicated to preserving this beautiful culture and to hear their stories was a privilege.
Jesenka (from the Museum of Slavonia) took Michael and I to the Etno Kuća where we met a lovely lady by the name of Caterina. She was originally born in Sardinia, Italy and after meeting a Croatian, she married, had 3 kids, lived in France before moving to her husband’s hometown of Habjanovci where she has restored a house and returned it back to its roots. Everything in the kuća is somewhere between 100-150 years old.
The exterior of the kuća is a striking blue which was a popular colour in that village. The first room we visited in the Etno Kuća was the kitchen. We were able to touch pots, pans, plates etc. from over 100 years ago. We were also shown how they would wash the dishes without running water.
We then headed into the main room where the family would reside. The beds were very high but looked so comfortable. They were adorned with large pillows which were usually out on display when there was a special occasion.
The wardrobe was full of narodne nošnje! It was like a treasure chest of patterns. They ranged from your everyday work wear to what you would wear for special occasions. We were told that the aesthetic of the apron was used to show emotions and was the visual identity of the state the person was in. For example, if someone was in mourning, they tend to wear simpler nošnja. As time passed, they would wear more colourful and vibrant nošnja depending on their state of mind. We were also told that white was the symbolic colour of mourning with black being worn as a colour for mourning only recently.
The colour red was mostly worn by young girls and was worn for a variety of reasons including increased fertility and protection against evil spirits. Once a young girl reached the age where they were ready to marry, they wore their hair in special braids and used sugar to make their hair stronger and shinier.
After spending some quality time in the main room and learning about the different nošnja and symbology of colours, we headed to a room which was built when one of their sons married. The newlyweds had their own smaller room where they would spend time and a ceremonial practice which took place was for the bride to bring a chest of her things to her new home. Over the years the chest developed into a more ornate chest of drawers and then to big wardrobes. This particular piece of furniture was a symbol of the woman’s wealth and what she was bringing to their relationship.
Caterina (perhaps jokingly) asked if I wanted to get into the bed! I couldn’t resist and contain my excitement and quickly took off my shoes and laid in the bed. It was extremely comfortable with the bottom layer being hay then a layer of goose feathers. I then had a doona full of goose feathers on top of me and a fluffy giant pillow! I could have literally taken a nap there. The textiles in the bed were all handmade on the weaving machine and was so soft to the touch.
Caterina then generously opened up her home to us where we had Turkish coffee and homemade Povitica. It was evident that Caterina likes to keep busy as she couldn’t sit down and relax, she wanted to share as much as she could with us and brought out beautiful old narodne nošnje from all corners of her home! It was an absolute privilege being able to touch and see up close and personal these beautiful handmade pieces which sometimes could take a year to make! My absolute favourite is the blue and white costumes from Habjanovci that followed the process of šliganje. This particular nošnja involves 4 skirts and would take around 1 year to make each piece!
We are forever grateful for this experience and to meet both Jesenka and Caterina. They are both wonderful women who are passionate about preserving Croatian traditions and culture and generously gave up their time to teach Michael and I more about them.
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