Written Nikola Vrancic (Kolja)
Grobnik has been a livestock county since the time the first settlers came. Shepherding and cattle droving, agriculture and forestry made inhabiting and surviving for centuries possible for our ancestors. The terrain configuration and a moderately mild climate have been rather beneficial for the development of livestock raising. Another beneficial factor were both meadows in the plains and in the mountains. Our ancestors drove the livestock into the mountains in early spring and the cattle remained in the mountains until late fall. To secure it from wild beasts that sometimes ventured even into settlements, wealthier livestock owners rented labourers to patrol the meadows creating noise which drove the predators back into forests. According to the stories told by our eldest we learned that they used bells, rattles and other accessories available. They dressed themselves into sheep fur and wore a mask (“Krabuja”) made from the skull of a bull or a ram, painting their faces black with soot.
Although they seemed frightening, the greatest asset in the work they were doing was the powerful sound of the bell («Dondolo») which resulted in their name – Bellringers («Dondolaši»). Due to the fact that most of the work they were doing took place in early spring, which is the time of carnival, they frequently visited their villages dressed in that attire.
Though the development of cattle raising started to stagnate due to the industrial revolution, the custom of bell ringing («dondolanje») remained during carnival time.
When the Tatars raided these parts in 1242., led by Batu Hkan, the grandson of the famous Gingis Khan, a battle which was vital for the survival of Croats in these parts took place on the Grobnik field («Grobničko polje»). The legend speaks of valiant villagers who came to aid the army of croatian knights when they needed their help the most. Wearing their frightening masks and large bells they drove fear into the enemy and made this grand victory possible.
Today, when in procession the Bellringers walk in pairs, because in life you always need to have that one friend who you can rely on. They follow their flag, which is traditionally carried by one of the eldest members of the group.
The order and formations are monitored by the leader («Meštar»). When needed he can have one or more assistants to help him in his duty. The bellringers obey the leader and his orders without questioning his decisions or judgement.
During every stop, the bellringers form a circle moving in the course opposite to the motion of hands on a clock, which symbolises the return in the times of their ancestors and to their roots. The circle («kolo») which they form is also a natural defense formation in open spaces. In the middle of the circle their banner (or flag) is held high, and it symbolises the original values of the croatian people – family, home and country. With their synchronized bell ringing in the circle they manifest their tendency toward a safe and harmonious life, and with their arms raised they display their determination to defend the values which Bellringers represent.
After the culmination in the form of the circle, it opens up, and masks are removed to reveal radiant faces of the Bellringers. At this point they can refresh themselves and make a toast with their hosts to express their gratitude.
After that they assume their starting position and continue the journey towards their next stop.
Written Dusko Zezelic
THE HISTORY OF THE BELL-RINGING
Let us start from the
The bell – the chiming instrument, important for bell-ringing.
The bell chimes, din-don, a signal for the ear, sense of hearing.
The intonation of the bekll provides information- good and bad..
Good information– the bell chimes at mornings, noons, announces Hail Mary’s, it’s a sign of exact time, anounces weddings,celebrates victory.
Bad information – bad for itself...
The bell provokes fear within the enemy, if used before the battle.
Many bells chiming together can certainly bring fear into enemy.
And this is us….
The bell as the instrument of war – comes from the times of the great migrations of the Indoeuropean and Euroasian tribes throughout the Europe.
The arabian tribes and later the Tatarian, terrified their enemies with loud chiming sounds, which was proven to be the crucial factor during battles.
Durig the Middle-Age – the admirerers of « dark forces » pierced their skin with different materials (wood and metal) and also used bells while performing rituals
The chiming ritual was later performed as a way of exorcism of everything negative, and as an invocation of good and positive…
One of the reasons for practicing the ritual is « the exorcism » of winter, and the announcement of spring and summer ( the rebirth of life).
Another example would be chasing away the wild animals that would leave mountains for plains because of the food, people practiced some of the rituals believing that this would chase the animals away and protect them and their goods.
People who settled in the Grobnik plains lived from cattle breeding and agriculture.Considering the fact that the mountains sorrounding tha Grobnik plain were home of many wild animals, the chiming ritual was one of the most used ways of defence against the animals and considered to be the safest way of chasing them off back to the woods.
The shepard would put on the rests of the sheep skin and would sprinkle all over himself with the ashes , then he would make noise using the bells and shouting, hoping that the animals would sense fear and won’t come near him and his cattle.
…….and that’s how the first bell-ringers performed their duty, as wage labourers, hired by the estate and cattle owners for keeping their animals safe.
For many years it was a job that people were payed for doing.
After many years of oblivion, it is brought back from memories of the elders but now as a part of the carnival folclore, people enjoy in the sounds of the bell ringers, today it is also a tourism product and it also promotes the tradition of the place where the bell ringers come from.
It is without doubt that the bell ringing has become the necessity , because in these modern times of alienation bell ringers provoke joy and happiness everywhere they appear, it is also a way of showing the hospitality and temperament of the people of Grobnik, needless to mention that it has also become one of the ways of preserving the identity of the native grobnician population
And that is why it has to live further on …
Long live Grobnik and The Grobnik Bell-ringers ( “Grobnički dondolaši”)
Written Gordana Grzetic
At the foot of the mountain massif where the highlands unite with the coast lies Grobnik, place recognized for its historical values . Cattle-breeding was throughout the history one of those traditional value, and as a way of living for the most of the people who lived in the Grobnik plains. Over the years, the hardworking people, labourers and cattle-breeders. Because of the hard ways of life developed many different customs and usances, many of which are today forgotten. The progress and industrialization brought changes into ways of lives of those labourers. Today cattle breeding is a part of the history, and there are few cattle-breeders left that still keep alive the old ways of living. Today, the majority of people make their living in Rijeka, or in private businesses at home. Despite of the modern age, many people still find time to participate in many volunteer activities. » Čavjanske maškare« is a society that assembles part of those people. The society paticipated and organized many projects , such as Carnival in Rijeka with group masks ( Winnetou, The Tatarians, Republic of Grobnik, Caroline of Rijeka ). In the year of 1999. one part of the society branched out as a section, »Grobnički dondolaši«. »Grobnički dondolaši« ( »Grobnik Bell-ringers ») brought back from the oblivion the old tradition of bell-ringing. The bell-ringers were people hired by the estate-owners and farmers. Their duty was taking care of the livestock. By using large and small bells ( one lerge bell around waiste and two little bells hanging from shoulders on their chest), bell ringers would make frightful and dreadful noise that would scare off beasts that attacked livestock
In the times of feudalism, bell ringers wore animal skin, and masks for head. The masks wre mostly made of the remainings of animal skull and bones. Dressed like that, the bell ringers weer scary enough to secure the safety of the cattle and also tha safety of farmers who payed for their services. There is a certain difference between Grobnik bell ringers and all other bell ringers . Grobnik bell ringers were mostly peasants that wre payed for their bell ringing duties. Bell ringers in other parts of Rijeka regionwre a folklore symbol of a certain place. Later, during the years young people took on the tradition of the elders. Dressed like bell ringers, young men would make a tour round the Grobnik villages and by making noise they would scare people as well as the animals. As years went by, the old custom died out, bell ringers were forgotten and the only two remaining witnesses of those times were Ranko Čabrijan and the late Diža, who kept the tradition going throughout years of Grobnik.,
The old native people helped with their instructions and saved photographs of the first bell ringers in order to revive the past once again. The natives eagerly accepted the revival of bell ringers going rounds throughout the villages of grobnik. The warm wellcomes of the natives in each village prove the success of the revival. The only difference is that today, the bell ringers represent a folklore symbol of Grobnik.
Today the department of the bell ringers within the society » Čavjanske maškare« grew into a society of its own, »Grobnički dondolaši«. The society today has over one hundred members, fifteen of which are children between two and twelve years old. There are many interests for the admittance to membership, but the making of the mask and uniform requires certain financial expense which is mainly covered by the bell-ringers themselves. Each member has to make his own head mask, which gives him the opportunity to express his own creativity..
Bell ringers are well financially supported by the county districts of Čavle and Jelenje, and also by the memebership fees and sponzorship, they are also supported by the Voluntary Firefighting Division of Čavle . Besides the community, Grobnik bell ringers have very good cooperation with the bell ringers of the other parts of Rijeka district, and on the international level they went one step forward, by joining the FECC.Today, the bell ringers represent the folclore of Grobnik and Croatia on many international carnival festivals in Croatia and Europe.