Wedding traditions at the Dubrovnik littoral area

A wedding ceremony at a village of the Dubrovnik Littoral presented a very special event.

Wedding traditions at the Dubrovnik littoral area

Jakša Primorac

The traditional junction in matrimony was filled with religious, magic and scenic elements. Wedding was the most festive and the merriest of all experiences in the life of the countryside. The last weddings that had the ancient scenario took place some decades ago, yet many an element of the antique weddings is still present in the mountain villages of the area.

The process of concluding matrimony took place in several stages. First, there was a ceremonial asking in marriage, then the engagement, followed by the agreements on the wedding. On the morning of the Sunday preceding the wedding, the bridegroom hoisted a flag on his roof and saluted the village with gun shots. Dressed smartly, a jug of wine in his hand, he then visited the houses in his and in other villages to invite the relatives and friends to the wedding. This was done throughout the week before the wedding. The flag was taken down from the roof at every sunset, accompanied by more saluting gun shots.
The Thursday before the wedding was a very special day – the day of the arrival of bride’s chest and dowry, fetched at her house by the bridegroom; his entourage consisted of several girls and a couple of male friends. The girls carried the dowry on their heads, the boys carried the chest. After a treatment with snacks, the bridegroom would climb on the chest to spill some wine on each corner of the chest and would then smash the glass against the floor. This presented a peculiar blessing. The festive march-past was accompanied by bride’s sisters and cousins singing along the way. The bridegroom’s house met all with ceremonial shooting and gifts.

Like elsewhere in Croatia and the neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina, and not only at the littoral but especially in the mountain areas, the weddings were organized in the way of military ceremonials, by appointing of wedding officers. For magic reasons the appointed officials had to be in odd number, usually between three and nine. The nominations by relatives, neighbors and friends followed strict rules. During the wedding, the officers addressed each other with ornamented speech and behaved like military. Each had his own tasks. They rode horses or walked, and sat at the table after a strict seating arrangement. They had to look after the bride and to symbolically defend her honour. In Dubrovnik Littoral, specifically, both the bride and the groom had their own wedding officers, while in most of other areas they were appointed only on the bridegroom’s side.

The weddings in the Littoral took place on Sundays. First to arrive to the churchyard were the wedding guests of the bridegroom who met those of the bride by lining up and by shooting from their guns. When the bride arrived, she had to bow three times to the flag borrowed from the church; bridegroom’s flag bearer waved the flag above the bride for several rounds, which she had to bow to once again. She would enter the church alone. A staged dispute over the handing over of the bride would then start between the chief wedding guests of the bride and the groom, respectively, the bride metaphorically identified with the mythical Sheldrake. After this, all would go inside the church to assist the religious ceremony.

After the ceremony, the wedding guests went to the house of the bride – bride’s party first, who would set up guards to demand a symbolic entrance fee from the members of the other party. Before arriving to the house, one of the wedding officers (usually the flag bearer) would step forward to announce the arrival of the wedding guests by giving an apple to the chief wedding officer of the bride. The bride’s wedding party met the others with gun shots while the girls sang. Those girls were called the ‘singing ones’, their traditional singing ceremonially denoting each detail of the wedding, similar to the chorus in antique Greek theatre. In front of bridegroom’s home the main officer demanded that the bride were brought to him by using the metaphors of the escaped dove. The staged game that followed presented him with fake brides. When the real bride was presented, the officer would take her by the hand turning her around three times clock-wise, jokingly pretending to be checking if she was ‘hunch backed or lame’.

By the traditional protocol, the lunch was permeated with many traditional toasts in the honour of the newlyweds, for the prosperity of their marriage and of all the guests; songs of honour were sang in the respect of individual wedding officers, guests and all the present. Old heroic songs were sung as well. Masked guests performed games teasing the guests. As the wedding guests were leaving, bride’s parents gave their special blessing to the newlyweds by saying a long prayer. At the prayer, the groom had his hand on the handle of the knife placed on the table, with bride’s hand on top of his, while the wedding officers touched the newlyweds’ heads with bread, saying : “ Amen, oh God!” The prayer over, the newlyweds took a sip of wine from the same glass. Gifts were handed around to the ‘singing ones’ and to the bride, and the bride gave her presents to the wedding guests.

At bride’s journey to her now husband’s house, she was not allowed to turn back and look at her family’s house; the belief was she would never get accustomed to her new home if she looked back. The festive procession was formed after a strict arrangement of those on horses and those going on foot. If passing through other villages, the locals met them with food and drinks. The wedding party reciprocated with toasts, wine, apples and candies. The bride was met at her new house by her mother-in-law who would put a spoonful of honey in her mouth saying “What bitter may be, should turn into sweet”. For the patriarchal preference of male successors, the bride had to kiss a male infant, to turn it around three times and to give it presents. The supper at bridegroom’s house went much after the protocols of the lunch at the house of the bride. After an apposite blessing by bridegroom’s parents, the newlyweds withdrew to their bedroom, accompanied by kidding and witty remarks. The next morning the bride had to sweep the yard to demonstrate how industrious a housewife she was going to be. The wedding ceremonies ended the following Sunday, with the newlyweds visiting the house of the bride.

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