Draped in sheepskin and carrying wooden ratches (“škrebetalnica”), “žunta” and large bells, with their darkened faces the shepperds from Grobnik have been driving the wild beasts from their pastures since the dawn of time. The wealthier nobility hired to protect their cattle from predators. Although they seemed frightening with their appearance, the sound of their bells (Dodole) was key to their job hence they were given the name “Dondolaši”. Since most of their work took place in spring which was also carnival time (“Mesopust”), they frequently circled their villages while wearing their masks. Legends speak of their contribution to the victory in the battle on the Grobnik field when they cast fear into the fiece invaders with their horrifying masks and large bells.
Even today at carnival time Dondolaši patrol their homeland, protect their tradition and customs, and with their stunning performaces captivate viewers across Europe.
At Halubje, the western part of the Kastav region, in the surroundings of Rijeka, unique folk customs have maintained -"Zvoncari" (bellmen) - the origin of which dates back to prehistoric times. The primary task of "Zvoncari" was to scare away evil spirits of winter and to stir up a new spring-time cycle. "Zvoncari" have a sheepskin thrown over and a big bell on their back, tied around their waist. On their heads they wear special stylised masks, representing strange animal heads with a red tongue stuck out and with horns. "Zvoncari" wear white trousers and sailor's striped shirts. In their hands they hold a "balta" or "bacuka" – a stylised mace. In carnival “Zvoncari" as a big group go from village to village following always the same schedule drawn up centuries ago. There is a legend telling how "Zvoncari" scared away Tatars or Turks when they tried to invade the region. That is why the equipment of a "Zvoncar" includes elements of arms.
The magic function of "Zvoncari" has nowdays been pushed into the background. With their impressive appearance they are first-class touristic attraction.
They came from Grižane, a small place in the heart of the Vinodol valley, known by kind people, fine wine and the best festivities in the land. Their group of 25 members is called “ZBRDA ZDOLA I OZGORA”. They tend to preserve their carnival customs that they inherited from their elders with their moto “THE UGLIER THE BETTER”. Each of their members is different and they use items from their cellars for masks, as it was once done in this land. Their costume is made from “kotig”, “sarze”, parts of old military equipment, a bell, helmet with or without the antlers from a ram or bull and a horn which they blow to drive away evil spirits, winter, and summon the beginning of spring.
They are often accompanied by music and their mandatory salute: “music and drum unanimously beat”.
The bellringers of Kukuljanovo have officially been formed in 2007. although they were present years before but never as an association. In the beginning only 4-5 people would ring their bells across Kukuljanovo and nearby places with the rest of the carnival bunch. The best known bellringer was Andrej Kopajtić “Tičan” whose family used to bury his bell before carnival, but he would always find it or would have made another. He would dress up as a bellringer and go to work in Hartera (paper factory in Rijeka) ringing his bell at work till his superior would give him a 2-3 week vacation to stop. He wasn’t a stranger either to “Via Roma” (prison in Rijeka), where he spent some of his nights because of his passion.
The other bellringers were Pindek, Krešo, and Augustin Perić - the only living bellringer of old who taught us how to ake our uniform. Today there are 36 proud bellringers of Kukuljanovo.
Bellringers of Zamet have been known to exist since 1971. Since they are closest to the sea out of all, they took the image of a viking as the core of their mask. They are dressed in a blue and white navy striped T-shirt, white pants with a red stripe, have a red bandanna around their neck and thick socks and heavy shoes on their feet. Their back is covered in sheepskin and they have a single large bell tied to their lower back. They carry “mačuka” and a helmet covered in sheepskin and two large antlers on their head. The bellringers follow their flag and walk by the orders of their captain. When together they walk one by one criss-crossiong and bashing their bells together.
The procession ends with a circle in which the bellringers form two concentric circles and turning their back to each other ring their bells.
They come from Velike Mune and Male Mune. Based on word of mouth they have been existing since the 16th century. In the beginning there were only two bellringes and now there are around 150. On their head they wear a hat with three roses made of crepe paper in different colors, they have white pants, shoes and a navy shirt. Accompanying the bellringers are also women wearing traditional national costumes – “kamižoti”. Their walk resembles hopping which causes a “happy” ringing of three bells on their backs. They walk in pairs and when hopping one man is up the other one is down which means they must have a good sense of rhythm to ring in accord with their pair. The last part of their performance is a circle (“Kolo”) when they ring facing the center.
In carnival time they frequent homes and take eggs, bacon, money and whatever the denizens of Velike Mune, Male Mune and Žejane give to them.
Bregi, Brgud, Frlanija, Korensko, Mučići, Rukavac, Vlahov breg, Zvoneća.... The villages are located on the slopes of Učka and the hills west of Kastav. It's the home of a bell-ringers with colorful flower coverings. At the time of carnival (from 17th January to Ash-day), in Kastav, a dozen groups of men visit their neighboring villages on multi-kilometer trails on traditional routes. Some have masks and some different headdresses that symbolize vegetation and fertility. They all have stuccoed upholstered sheep skin and bells, which also call the bell-ringers. They ring to them in different ways, which requires a certain skill and physical endurance. It is therefore considered that everyone can not be a bell-ringer. Some groups of bell-ringers today refuse to leave outside their own center to show themselves in city centers, while at the same time new bell-ring groups in the region emerge.
Along with this custom are also specific dishes, handicrafts (making masks, headboards, bells), dances and various forms of social behavior.
Denizens of Žejane are descended from the shepards of Vlah and you can still hear some of the archaic Romanian spoken between them. The bellringers of Žejane have preserved their customs throughout the centuries. They always ring paired together and their ringing must be in unison and pleasant to hear, because it is believed that if the ringing isn't in harmony the coming year will not be either. They wear a hat on their head („Kumarak“) which is decorated with handmade crepe ribbons („Bajere“) that descend from their heads all the way to their legs. The top of the hat is decorated with love themed photos and lined with colored paper flowers. They have white pants, a navy shirt with two white scarves and sheepskin „Šuba“ made of two parts – one on their torso and the other around their waist which also has three bells („Klopote“) attached. On their feet they wear black shoes and carry a „Boća“ in their hands.
The procession is lead by the captain („Kapo“) wearing a white officer uniform. Both men and women accompany the procession.
“Pusti” wear a suit which has thousands of different colored patches called “cundri” sewn by hand to it. They wear a hat lined with rabbit skin or the skin of a fox, badger, marten etc. Around their neck they wear a horn from a cow or ox which has a mouthpiece made of reed attached to it and they use it to make deep tones when they enter the village. They carry wooden canes made of spruce or hornbeam that have bells hung on their roots. They use their ringing much like the other bellringers to drive off evil winter spirits. Traditionally, “Pusti” were the first among the masks to enter villages and throw themselves on the floor rolling under the feet of woman and pulling pranks. In the old day “pusti” were mostly young single men who chased girls around villages while they wozld run and hide around houses. They would make a mess around the house in order to find them. Among the masks there was traditionally a mask of an old woman wearing nothing but black named “Korizma”.
When “pusti” could not find women in the villege they would start chasing “Korizma” around the village. In carnival time, everything is allowed to them.
„Vukojevački starcevi“ ( “Old mans” ) is a slavonian carnival ritual which originated over 150 years ago in the village Vukojevci. Owners of the tradition are unmarried young boys who dress them self into old men at the day of the carnival. They wear white pants, white shirts with long sleeves and black waistcoats. On their backs they attach handkerchiefs. They also attach handkerchiefs on the hips, one on each side. They put from 5 to 7 bells around their waist which are tied on leather belts and wrapped with webbing or tricolor. They wear black shoes called 'bakanđe' and leather pads called 'kamašne'. On their heads they wear masks called 'rgača' and in their hands they hold wooden switch with a ball called 'čula'. 'Rgača' comes from Italian word ragazo which means boy or young man. It is a mask made from cardboard which is decorated with colorful decorative paper. At the front of 'rgača' there is a face. Around the face there are roses made of colored crape paper. At the top of 'rgača' there are 'kite', a hair made also from paper.
Pesniki or Bell Ringers are approximately 300 hundred year old tradition of Crni Lug village. They Carnival falls on Tuesday, one day prior to Ash Wednesday or Pepelnica in Croatian. Thegroup is traditionally formed of unmarried men from Crni Lug village. Pesniki are led by their accordion player who accompanies them by playing traditional, jolly songs. When the Pesniki visited homes in the past, they were given eggs, sausages, smoked ham, rakija. Today they are usually greeted with money and a drink of course. Pesniki carry with them long wooden sticks and they make noise by hitting them of the floor. They are chasing the winter away and are heralding the oncoming spring. To dance with the Pesniki is to enter into a spring with a new positive and happy energy. They have a custom to throw a person into the snow, by doing this they have cleaned the person of last year’s negativity. Sometimes they can be a little mischievous too, but they are forgiven for that The carnival day begins at the dawn when Bell Ringers accompanied with an accordionist start to visit every household in the area, ringing their bells and singing to chase away the evil and to herald a new spring. They are welcomed by the villagers and tourists who join in the fun as well as provide them with food & drinks! The street party and singalong continues late into the night with live music band performances and dance.
Bell Ringers also perform a particular custom called "šicanje" or throwing a person into the air and catching them back, which is their traditional custom.
The annual carnival pageants in the villages at the foot of the Kamešnica mountain, from the area of towns of Sinj and Trilj and the Municipality of Otok, have traditionally been held for a long time, handing down and preserving local carnival customs.The invasion of an uproarious pack of colourful, unruly rams, known as the Didi, marks the day of the carnival pageant at Gljev, a village in the Dalmatian hinterland, not far from the border with Bosnia. A long-standing tradition of carnival customs, associated with the preservation of local identity, has been cultivated and promoted by the Didi s Kamešnice association. The carnival pageant is arranged following the strict tradition-based rules. At the head of it there is a white carnival pageant group with the barjo (standard-bearer) and a carnival wedding procession. They are followed by the komedija and a black carnival pageant group. The wedding procession, symbolic of spring, used to be led by the first did (an old man), and nowadays it is led by the barjo. A pregnant, mannish bride, accompanied by the diver (bridesman) is on the lookout for a bridegroom which is the very end of the pageant itself. The jenge (married women) and the jengije (maids) as well as other wedding figures wearing formal dress (folk costume)also engage in the pageant. An Ottoman commands the both carnival pageant groups so that they do not mix, since they are not allowed to be in the same place and at the same time. Then comes the bula, a veiled female figure, trying to kiss a young woman. The figures of the Ottoman and the bula are associated with long-standing Ottoman rule in this area. The komedije, a carnival pageant group criticising the current social and political issues, follows the carnival wedding procession. The black wedding procession is led by the baba and the did (an old woman and an old man). Being associated with the fertility cult, this couple simulates intercourse in order to yield a better crop. There are also the žalovice, widows letting out humorous wails. The most interesting participants, however, include the didi. Up on their head they wear sheep fleeces, up to 1.5 metres in height, and bells around their waist. The didi are dressed in old shabby clothes with colourful fringes sewn on. They symbolise the ritual battle of good spirits with winter, chasing it away by making noise and jumping up and down.
Despite the advancement of civilisation, men are still holders of this carnival custom, characterised by wearing animal costumes (costumes of rams) and the change of sex simulation.
Some of the oldest and most attractive elements of the Turčišće Carnival are the anthropomorphic masks, lafras, and zoomorphic masks, lampas. The use of masks dates as early as the Stone Age, when they were worn for protection from demons or to identify with the prey. Farmers wore masks for the arrival of the new year in winter, when they used magic to ensure fertility in the upcoming seasons. This is why various fertility elements had been added to the Turčišće masks – horns, snouts, and ears.
Besides ensuring fertility, these masks were also supposed to fend off evil forces; together with all the noise and ruckus created during the Carnival. The most numerous among them are the nap’hanci – men dressed in linen costumes stuffed with straw. Strapped to their waists are huge bells, covering their chests are overturned sheep-wool vests, and all of them hold iron pitchforks or brooms in their hands.
Their faces hide under lampas – unusual osier zoomorphic masks with humanlike cheeks, snout and horns. These masks represent rams, pigs, cows, deer, birds, storks, and ducks.