60 years of Croatian Cultural and Performing Society “Matija Gubec” in Tavankut

Tavankut is a big Backa – Croatian lowland villaged situated southwest of Subotica in Vojvodina (Croatian minority in Serbia today). According to the archeological findings, it is beleived that the settlement existed as early as the 11th century and the first mention of the place, in the Slavic form Towankwth dates back to 1435. It is beleived that the name is derived from the words “tavan” (attic) and “kut” (corner) which would signify a dark corner. The Tavankut soil is sand and blacksoil and the inhabitants in the past used to occupy themselves mainly with agriculture, fruit and wine growing – “salasarenje” living mostly at spacious “salasi” – economic and residental entities outside the town itself. The Croatian folk from Herzegovina, around the river Buna, but also from Lika and Dalmatia, moved to the area of Backa in Vojvodina more than 400 years ago. They were named Bunjevci, which distinguishes them from their neighbors, the Croatian Sokci and other ethnic communities, by their traditional and cultural characteristics.

In the historical sources from 1853 it is recorded that the town of Tavankut had 8075 inhabitants.

The historical and everyday rich traditional culture gave rise to the Croatian Cultural and Performing Society “Matija Gubec”, founded in 1946, at the time when the village did not yet have electricity, and the Art section within the framework of the Croatian Cultural and Performing Society is active since 1961 within which the gathering and stimulation of women painters – naive artists named “slamarke” (strawgirls) was initiated. In the various artistic expressions using that simple, supple, and fragile material – straw, besides the women of Tavankut, also increasingly engaged are the Bunjevci women of Djurdjin, Zednik, Bikovo and Subotica who originate from this area. Thanks to the great engagement of a man from Tavankut, a promoter of the Bunjevci traditional culture Naco Zelic, as well as other admirers and lovers of the Bunjevci culture, in the summer of 1970, a documentary named “Straw-girls” was filmed according to the script and direction by a Croatian film expert Ivo Skrabalo from Zagreb. This documentary was in the curriculum of the film culture when this subject was taught in Croatian schools, and it was presented many times at the exhibitions of the art of slamarke.

Writing about Bunjevci slamarke (strawgirls), a famous Tavankut and Croatian historian Ante Sekulic wrote that slamarke (strawgirls) “… have the need to artistically express their experience of the world around them, to make their hard life of fields, sun, dust, constantly bent back, and sweet more beautiful, that life of the black soil that is so crucial for their existence. They paint everyday life, but they always manage to give their experience a poetic touch… The work with straw makes them exceptional. Working with filigree precision… with brittle golden material, they achieve completely surprising atmosphere and effects…” Just like for the Sokci in Slavonia, Baranja, Srijem in Croatia or Backa in Vojvodina, for the Croats minority – Bunjevci in Serbia and Vojvodina everything begins with hard, toilsome work and self-sacrifice and where there is a lot “sweat and tears” there is the beginning of creativity: a rich and diverse traditional culture, indestructible, the peculiar and recognizable croatian dialect called “ikavica”, the customs, songs, dance, music, fine arts… Duzijanca – a working family holiday celebrating the end of the wheat harvest – when the new bread is born, is a recognizable symbol of the Croatian Bunjevci customs. Every house and family of Bunjevci had its own duzijanca in the past, and with it a common gathering, socializing and fun. For weeks the reapers and the women gatherers – risari i risaruse, reaped the seas of yellow wheat – the vast grain bearing fields, ensuring teir future in the upcoming period. At the end of this toilsome work, the skilled women who make wreaths and various straw ornaments, would make wreaths out of wheat ears for the hat of the bandas (the leader of the reapers), and for all the other participants, they would make beads, rings and other jewelry…
With you, singing, and other traditional activities, upon coming to salas, the bandas gives his grain wreath to the host who blesses it with holy water while the hostess symbolically sprinkles bran. The wreath is kept in the porch until the beginning of the harvest when these grains are mixed with the prepared grain seeds and sown for the next harvest.

From the year 1911, this national custom has became a holiday of the entire ethnic community.

That year, in the period of the most intense Hungarization on the eve of World War I, the leader of the Backa Croats Blasko Rajic and the parish priest of the so-called Kerska Church – St. Rok in Subotica, brought a Bunjevci reaper and woman gatherer couple to the altar of the Church so they could, as a sign of new bread, talk about themselves, their culture and customs, their connectedness, strength, and the ability to be self-sufficient.

After 1945, Duzijanca was celebrated in the cathedral in Subotica and the local Bunjevci churches when the grain wreaths were made, as well as crowns similar to the royal ones and various religious symbols… Public celebration of Duzijanca was renewed in 1966 in Subotica and joined with a church festivity. Today, it has grown into a folklore tourist perfomance with rich contents and high rating. While the men in the Bunjevci traditional culture made tubs, cauldrons and numerous other functional and ornamental objects out of wood with their strong hands, the women – salasarke, spontaneosly but with great patience, began more often using wheat blades skillfully and accurately for various jewelry. The soft women’s hands created distinctive ornamental objects out of straw, developed the skill of dressing, weaving and knitting of the thin yellow blades variously and imaginatively, made pictures out of straw, reliefs, various scene portrayals, straw flowers, functional vessels, seasonal greeting cards…

At the exhibition “Croatian Harvest Tradition” organized and set up in Zagreb in 2001, as a part of the International Folklore Festival, one of today’s slamarke (strawgirls), Jozefina Skenderovic from Tavankut besides the straw exhibition items, also demonstrated the method of making of those items for the curious visitors.
– The best straws are selecred, water is sucked into them so they can become soft and supple, they are cut, wound up, they are made into flat braids, woven and everything is sewed – with straw thread. This is a certain joy for us, play and fun…
And as one of slamarke (strawgirls) said thirty years ago in Skrabalo’s film, so they say today:
– We do not talk hot air (in Croatian: “beat hollow straw”); we “beat” beautiful pictures out of this straw and other things…

And the rest of us know how slamarke (strawgirls), same as other members in Matija Gubec, spread the glory of Tavankut around the