By far the most interesting aspect of Slavonia is the rich cultural history of this region. During our recent visit, we were overwhelmed by the lessons we learnt from some of the people who work hard to keep the traditions alive in this region. One such example is the area of Baranja, just north of Osijek. Here in a village called Topolje you will find the Šokačka Kuća. Šokaci were referred to as Croatians who emigrated from Bosnia. They settled in Slavonia as the region was rich from the abundance of arable land and people could make a good living here.
From first glance the houses looked normal until our guide started explaining a little about how they were made. The buildings were made with the dirt from the ground and covered with paint. The dirt was a good material as it kept the house cool in summer but warm in winter. The roof was made from straw which also made for good insulation.
Making our way into the first room, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. How did people live back then? What were the sleeping conditions like? As we walked into the main room, one thing that we noticed was common with houses occupied by the šokaci was that the main room always faced the front street and had a pitched roof on either side to allow rain to run off. They also had 2 main windows in the front and the wall between these 2 windows had a holy picture and a mirror hanging. Having a mirror was important as it showed that the family had money. When a family member passed away, the mirror was covered as a sign of respect.
In this room, there would be many generations sleeping all together. The members of the family would occupy this room with parents or perhaps the mother-in-law or some other relations were present in this room. Also, children would also be in the room so you could imagine that it was quite cramped. If privacy was needed, then a sheet would be placed over the bed.
As the main room was situated next to the kitchen, the main room had heating provided by the heat from the kitchen. The banak is the step pictured below where the grandparents would sit and place their back to the wall for comfort and warmth. In the kitchen you would find the wood fired oven providing a place to boil your water and oven to cook food. A bed is placed in the kitchen for workers who are paid to help out in the fields.
In summer, the family would use the ljetno kuhinja or summer kitchen. Firing up the furnace in the main kitchen would make sleeping uncomfortable in the main room so a summer kitchen was used to make food in. Once the son was married, he took residence in another room of the house specifically designed for him. There the wife would relocate from her house and the couple would have their own privacy. The furniture was all brought by the wife from her house and evolved over time from a small chest of drawers to much larger cupboards as seen below. The move usually happened at the time of the marriage and was visibly done at that time to show the people in the village what possessions the bride was bringing over to her new home. The amount of furniture she brought signified how much money her family had.
We were particularly interested in the Narodne Nosnja and the stories behind these. A woman would have many of these to wear. Some of them were worn each day but the women also had a lot of Narodne Nosnje that were saved for festive occasions or special events. It was also common for women to wear the colour white while mourning the death of someone close. The way the guide explained it was that the Nosnja was like a passport and people could tell what period of life the woman was in and where she was from. Below you can see the change in colour from the white at the bottom of the pile to the bright red colours at the top.
This house also has a lot of old machines used in the production of clothes. A whole floor of one of the buildings houses this collection. It was so fascinating to see what machines were used for weaving and how much time it would take them to produce a garment like the nošnja.
A lot of the garments that were made at this time were made from hemp which I am sure was plentiful.
An interesting fact for the ladies. When you became a woman, you would grow your hair long and then have a family member plat the hair in a very intricate way to wear for different festivities. Once you got married though, the tradition was for your mother in law to cut it all off, leaving you with a bald head that was covered in a scarf. Below is an example of a ladies hair once it was cut off.
One other interesting site during our visit was the way clothes were washed. Below is a photo of the soap they used to wash clothes, made of course from pig fat. Now that is something that did not come in a tub from a supermarket shelf.
We had a fascinating time exploring the house and other parts of Baranja to learn about the traditions. If you ever come to this part of Croatia, we would recommend you reach out to the tourist boards in this region and visit this house.
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