Ethnic traditions

Kurentovanje. A Carnival to Banish Winter

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Kurentovanje is a Slovenian meat-and-mouth folk ritual in honour of spring and fertility, which is a carnival to banish winter. An analogue of Maslenitsa. The origins of Kurentovanje are doubtful, but it is likely associated with Slavic paganism.

Typical dances from the month of March take place in the village in a large, definite place and the cacophony of noise from this festival engulfs the whole village. Today Kurentovanje is often held in urban centers.

Front shot of Kurenti at Kurentovanje in Ptuj, Slovenia. Izgled Kurentov na Putju.

Rituals


The Slovenian rite of kuretovane symbolizes ploughing the fields. The Kurent is dressed in an inverted sheepskin coat and a hat with long hair, to which magical power is attributed, tied cow bells tinkled at his belt (cf. Kuker). The Kurent drove the plough and carried with him a stick, at the end of which was attached a hedgehog skin, with which he drove the mummers, depicting horses, and drove away the teasing children.

“Horses” or “orachi” (Slovenian oráči) were hung with bells on the belt and pulled a real or decorative plough. The “horses” whirled around the yard with their singing, making shallow furrows in the snow with a wooden plough. “Kurent” sowed chaff into the furrows. If there were newlyweds in the house, they were rolled singing on the same plough. The owners thanked the mummers and brought out sausage, eggs or other products, believing that if they were not presented, “Kurent” could spoil the cattle by rolling on the ground in her yard (see caroling).

In the Slovenian Primorye, kurentovanie begins early in the morning, the procession goes around the courtyards of fellow villagers and snapped whips at every house, saying good wishes to the owners. The procession is headed by a “shepherd” who periodically blew his horn, followed by four “horses” pulling a cart with manure covered with linen, in which the musician was sitting. The “ploughman” walking behind the plough from time to time fell to the ground and tumbled. In Kostanevitsa on Shrove Tuesday, the “orachs” “plowed” through the streets, and the “plough’ from time to time removed the rope from the hook, by which they pulled the plough, and the “orachs” fell to the ground. In Dobrepol (Central Slovenia), they “ploughed” with a wooden stick or an inverted harrow, a guy dressed up as a “woman” sowed chaff, and the next one smoothed furrows with a rake. In the area of ​​Gornoye Lake, they ploughed with a real ploough on real horses, and the “women” sowed sawdust into the “arable land”.

The kurenti in Ptuj
Image | Benjamin Curtis

The weekend of Shrove Sunday is the main event. One thing you must do is head out to some of the villages surrounding Ptuj, since several have their own parades. You’ll see the traditional characters like the rusa (reminiscent of a pantomime horse), the pokači (males who snap big long whips), the cockerels (who will make your chickens productive!), fairies, and, perhaps not so politically correct these days, gypsies. It’s fun, funny, and (for the ethnographically minded), an incredible display of colorful customs and traditions. A particularly charming aspect of these village parades is that many locals set up little tables in front of their houses where you can try their homemade schnapps, sausages, marmalades, and all sorts of other goodies.

A village parade
Image | MarySloA

What has made Ptuj’s carnival (and given it its name) famous, and gotten it inscribed on UNESCO’s list of the world’s greatest intangible cultural heritage, are the kurenti. They look like monsters: they are guys (traditionally only unmarried men, but now anybody) wearing these scary costumes made of sheepskins, with feathers and horns sprouting from their heads. They also wear a chain of cow bells, and wield a club covered at one end with hedgehog skin. When a herd of kurenti are coming, whether in one of the processions in the center of Ptuj, or in the village parades, they are an intimidating sight, and they make an incredible racket.

The first “modern” version of the Kurentovanje festival

On Shrove Sunday, 27 February 1960, the first modern version of the festival, called Kurentovanje, is organized in Ptuj, featuring traditional carnival costumes from Markovci. Carnival participants line up in a procession. The procession leaders are spearmen followed by ploughmen, “rusa” (a bear), fairiescockerels, and Kurents, all dancing to the sound of music played by a local band. The performance and customs of each traditional costume are explained to the gathered crowd via loudspeakers. The event meets with tremendous success and arouses general interest which encouraged the organizers to continue.

One year later, the Markovci costumes were joined by ploughmen from Lancova Vas, log-haulers from Cirkovci, and mourners from Hajdina. For the first time, carnival (non-ethnographic) groups presented themselves in the afternoon. In 1962 the event reached beyond local boundaries by inviting other carnival figures such as lavfarji (< Bavarian German Laufer ‘runner’) from Cerkno and borovo gostuvanje (literally, “pine wedding participants”) from Predanovci in the Prekmurje region.

Internationalization

The international aspect of the event was acquired in the following years when local and Slovene traditional costumes were joined by costumes from: Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Japan and many other countries. The number of participants and spectators grew over the years, with thousands visiting the Carnival events to marvel at the spectacular costumes and take part in the fun.

For many years, the main part of the event had been the presentation of individual traditional carnival groups. This took place either on the Saturday or Sunday morning prior to the afternoon procession.

Festival origins

The idea of an organized carnival event in Ptuj came about in the 1950s, when the carnival costumes, accompanied by a band, spontaneously formed processions on Shrove Tuesday. This event continued to grow, thanks in no small part to Ptuj cultural historian Drago Hasl (1900–1976). Hasl, an indefatigable organiser of Kurentovanje from its beginnings until the 1970s, was strongly convinced that this event could help prevent what he saw as the extremely rapid disappearance of carnival habits and traditional customs in surrounding villages.

In 1959, Hasl, strongly backed by those who shared both his views and enthusiasm for the event, proposed that the Historical Society of Ptuj take over the organisation and the implementation of the carnival event. He suggested that the event should be named after the most well-known costumes Kurent – and Kurentovanje was born.

Hasl prepared a draft regarding the content and outlining the major guidelines to be followed to transform Kurentovanje into an event of ethnographic significance. His vision of an event comprising the unique carnival figures and habits from the Ptuj region, which could be joined at a later stage by other traditional Slovene costumes, helped to make the event grow into a festival of costumes. He additionally planned to expand the content of the event by introducing contemporary carnival costumes.

First kurentovanje (1960). At main park.

Kurent or Korant – the main carnival figure

Kurent or Korant is the best-known traditional carnival figure of the entire region, as well as in all of Slovenia. The name is probably derived from the common noun kurant ‘messenger, lackey, footman’, borrowed from a Romance word from Latin currens ‘running’, thus sharing a semantic base with the Cerkno term lavfar. While Kurent groups might not all look exactly the same, it is the most popular and frequent traditional carnival figure in the Ptuj and Drava plains, and in the Haloze Hills.

Second kurentovanje (1961).

Kurent or Korant, as it is known today, has its origin in popular tradition. Traditionally, the Kurent’s outfit was reserved for unmarried men, but nowadays Kurent-Korant can be unmarried or married men, as well as women, children, and animals.

The two types of Slovene Kurent-Korant are the so-called “feathery” (from the town of Markovci) and the “horned” ones (from Haloze), with the difference being mainly in the look of the head covering. The Kurent-Korant wears a massive sheepskin garment. Around its waist hangs a chain with huge bells attached—the resulting noise does a great job of “chasing away winter”, which is, ostensibly, the Kurent’s function. The Korent also wears heavy boots and special red or green leg warmers, while the head is covered by a towering furry hat festooned with ribbons, and a mask typically sporting a long, red tongue. A wooden club is normally carried in the left hand.

10.2.1964, february 1964 – Ptuj: Pust – Kurentovanje na Ptuju

International carnival parade

In 1960 and 1961, the event was held on Shrove Saturday. Since 1962, the event has been held on Shrove Sunday. Between 1962 and 1991, the program was scheduled in two parts: abefore noon there was parade of traditional costumes only in the city stadium, and the carnival was held in the town streets in the afternoon. With gathering of over 50,000 people each year on Sunday Shrove, this is the biggest Slovenian daily public event next to Planica Ski Flying event.

First edition (1960) at market square.

Princes of carnival

First princ of the Kurentovanje carnival was inaugurated on 11 November 1999, as now became tradition. At the initiative of Branko Brumen, one of the main organisers of Kurentovanje and vice president of FECC, as he saw this folklore on other carnivals in Europe long before Ptuj. In 2000 first prince “took” mayor’s office for the period of eleven days of Kurentovanje carnival. Since 2013 princes have two-year mandate. Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4.

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