Preserving cultural traditions in Slovenia
The coming of Spring is an important time in Slovenia, and local schools will play an even more important role in 2021 in preserving the traditions that mark this time of year, as Doroteja Kostanjevec reports.
Our school and heritage
My school, Markovci Primary School is located in the Municipality of Markovci in the small European country of Slovenia.
Despite being a small country, we have one of the most unique cultural heritage celebrations in the world, known as “Fašenk”. “Fašenk” is the collective name for all events, and customs starting on the February 2nd and lasting till Ash Wednesday. It is therefore a festival that varies in length each year. All our traditional customs and characters have been kept for decades, handed down from generation to generation and are highly valued. Therefore, one of the main aims of our curriculum, is to teach the importance of preserving cultural heritage and traditions connected with it.
Carnival characters and masks
The most unique and popular traditional carnival character from Markovci is known as Korant.
Korant represents a demon who chases away winter by jumping and making noise, bringing spring and abundance to the land. There is something mysterious and majestic about him. Korant’s outfit is called korantija. It’s made of sheep’s wool, and a colourful head mask that covers the whole face. Korants are usually accompanied by the “devil”. Almost every house in our municipality is a home of at least one Korant. There are also other mask wearing characters that emerge at Carnival in Markovci who appear either spontaneously or at Fašenk organised in the villages. This happens each year on Saturday before Fat Tuesday and it is attended by local mask wearers, children from our primary school and guests from other parts of Slovenia.
Children during Fašenk
Many children represent themselves in the mask of a cockerel, wearing a white skirt and another white shawl around their neck. Their head is covered by a conical cap, decorated with colourful ribbons. They ride a stick with a carved hen’s head at the front end and a wisp of hen’s feathers behind. They are accompanied by a donation collector with a basket and a rake in his hands. Such a group goes from house to house and wishes good crops and healthy hens and chickens for all. The hen is also a so-called ornithological mask and its arrival at the farmyard symbolises mainly good health and egg laying of hens. The frame of the mask is cylindrical in shape, at the front a hen’s head is attached, at the back there is a tail made of feathers. Young girls are usually dressed in fairy costumes with white dresses and a crown. One of them is the queen with the biggest crown. In the farmyard they form a circle and sing songs foretelling good crops.
Parades and animals
It is common in Markovci to lead the ‘bear’ on Carnival day. In the past, ‘bears’ wore dresses from sackcloth stuffed with hay, nowadays they wear costumes made of sheepskin. ‘Bears’ are accompanied by a drover who is dressed as a gypsy. Ploughmen bring hope for a good harvest. A group of ploughmen consist of six or eight ‘horses’, who wear black trousers, a blue apron, white shirt and a black waistcoat. They wear hats along with a colourful kerchief and black boots. The plough is followed by a Korant. Spearmen are boys and men wearing a black suit, white shirt, a tie and black boots. A bunch of flowers is attached to their hat with tricolour ribbons. They also wear tricolour ribbons on their shoulder and carry a spear with numerous colourful silk ribbons. They dance at the beginning of the procession.
Rusa and Melika are zoomorphic masks of a horse or a cow. People who get dressed as Rusa wish to influence the health and fertility of four legged farm animals.
At the time when the main parade in Markovci and Zabovci takes place, locals give a treat to passers-by, carnival groups and visitors. At the beginning there is an ethnographical section of the procession followed by many carnival groups from our villages which fill us with enthusiasm with their rich imagination and performances.
What happens at school
Whole classes of our school also dress up in traditional costumes and we all walk down the parade to show our devotion to this heritage too. Teachers put a lot of effort to motivate pupils with different workshops: we make, colour and sew masks. All these activities, inspired by our historical, cultural and ethnographic heritage, are a living way to encourage pupils’ identity development and sensitivity towards the arts and other special crafts. We believe that habits and tradition are important part of our identity and the spirit of each community. By being actively involved in all events and customs happening around Fašenk pupils learn to appreciate the value of our cultural-heritage. It is a great satisfaction when they are inspired and connected to what they are learning, and they will probably carry cultural heritage on for the next generations.
Our role as teachers
Our role as teachers is to motivate, to offer information and research the databases for pupils to be curious and informed about our customs. We invite special guests who explain, show and teach pupils about traditional customs and costumes. In this special part of the year whole families change into something else, they forget everyday worries and put their own piece into the mosaic of our tradition.
This year, sadly, it is unlikely we will be able to celebrate our carnival in the usual way, and so there is all the more reason to keep our customs alive in school.
Doroteja Kostanjevec is a teacher of Slovene at Markovci Primary School. She has a degree in translation and interpretation of English and one in Slovene language, while her diploma theses focused on local ethnography. She is also an editor of her local newspaper.
We are grateful for permission for the use of the following images:
Feature image by Aleš Gačnik
Other carnival images by Kaja Krtistovič- Kaissa.