Rijeka’s carnival tradition originates from the pagan ritual of banishing the bad spirits of winter and calling in the good spirits of spring. Over the course of many years, the masks of the carnival have changed: Today the masks depict modern topics and forms, they are made of new materials, and the goal is to have the most beautiful and intricate mask. In the littoral, Rijeka’s hinterland, the traditional mask is the zvončar. The goal of the zvončari is to be the scarier and the noisier than the winter to drive it away so spring could come. Inspiration for the masks was found in the mask-maker’s surroundings and as a result were made from natural materials: animal skin, fur and bones, paper, wood, and dried plants. The characteristic sound of the zvončari is the jangling of bells tied around their waist. Traditionally, only men would be zvončar, and the role was inherited from father to son. The women’s job was to welcome zvončari with pastries and wine when they wandered, visiting every village around Rijeka. At the end of the carnival season, there was a celebration to burn the pust: a man-sized puppet which symbolizes all the bad that happened throughout the previous year.
This workshop tapped into the traditional carnival customs of the city and its surrounding area, and the council learned the origins of the Rijeka Carnival, one of the city’s most popular events and now a tradition more akin to the carnival traditions of Rio di Janeiro or New Orleans. They thought about how traditions are made and how they evolve. Why do women have a passive role in this tradition and what would be different if this tradition was made today? Ivana Lučić, a historian and art historian whose father is a zvončar, teamed up with Jadranka Lacković to start the project Novi Karneval (New Carnival). Their goal is to revive local cultural carnival traditions to reexamine the traditional aesthetics from a contemporary standpoint in collaboration with various artists. On Saturday, they gave a presentation with rich photographic documentary material to get the Council up to speed on the origins of the customs and the differences between the types of zvončari groups?
“The ugly zvončari drive away winter, and the ones with flowers invite spring to come.” – Damian
The Council reflected on how the traditions reflected gender roles and the cultural dynamic of when they were created, and concluded that if the zvončari custom were developing today, it would look very different and women would be equal participants. To get inspired to make masks, the group visited the Natural History Museum to look at the plants and animals common to the area. Using papier-mâché, the Council made masks to use in future carnivals, keeping in mind how the zvončari would look today, weaving in their own preferences: animals, colors, sounds. They decorated the masks with various materials—paper, cardboard, colors, fabrics—and paraded through the streets on their own small carnival route to show off their work to the passersby, to drive away winter and welcome spring on its first day!