We are driving off the main street in Otočac, eager to find out what the old women are doing in the Traditional Craft Centre. We envisage typical Croatian old women, wearing black clothes, while their hands make miracles with the wool. The disappointment is a pleasant one. Jolly voices from the rooms in the Centre bring us in to the beautifully preserved heritage space run by the NGO Gačanka. Their president, Mrs Dragica Rogić, offers us locally made brandy, and the story begins…
Women were always very strong in Lika. Their husbands usually were outside, keeping the military border with the Ottoman Empire or just working in the fields and in the woods. Thus, lots of work in the house was done almost exclusively by women. This can be seen today in the Centre, as we were welcomed mostly by women, while the few men were staged as actors for our camera.
After the introductory drinks, we were taken to the heritage room, where a traditional Gacka/Lika household is brought to life. The items came from the members and families all around the Valley, contributing to the Centre which can show a lot to the younger generations. And they take part indeed, as we saw it ourselves.
With lots of fun and jokes with hospitable members of this club, we were again astonished by the preserved heritage and the knowledge of every single piece of traditional crafts in Lika. Mostly it involves weaving, and Mrs Rogić explains why:
“The traditional way of life in small, distant villages, in balance with nature is one of the greatest comparative advantages of Lika and Gacka; healthy and warm wooden houses of Lika, with their warmth and ambiance of a family home, trying healthy homemade food and learning to work wood, bake homemade bread and weave cloth.”
We’ve found out that he national costumes of Lika and Gacka Valleys are primarily produced from wool and hemp, through techniques of weaving and embroidery. Dinaric regions, with their harsher climates influenced the style of clothing (many layers and warmer materials), while numerous wars and rulers left their mark on the ornaments and culture of dressing.
In Lika, wool from the autochthonous breed of sheep, Lička Pramenka, was used. Sheep were shorn during April or May, mainly with hand shears. The wool was the cleanest and of the highest quality at that time as over the winter the sheep don’t go out to graze and their wool doesn’t get tangled with grass and seeds. The sheared wool was divided and selected by type (long or select) and colour (white, gray, black and brown).
The members explain us in detail the process: “After shearing the wool was washed in the river. After combing the wool is spun on a distaff. In Lika this was a women’s job and every woman would receive a distaff at birth as a present. Spinning was a simple, secondary task of each woman from Lika. In Lika weaving on the weaving loom has remained today in different villages, although more and more rarely. Mainly the weaving is done on horizontal weaving looms and felt (wool cloth) is most common, out of which after further processing, native costumes, traditional footwear – Coklja, white cloth (out of cotton) and scrap rugs (lively coloured floor rugs made of cotton and cut rags) are made.”
We were shown pieces of furniture, and some members even tried the marital bed, only for demonstration, of course. The traditional Lika kožun (the woollen winter overcoat) was taken out, but most men and women are especially interested in nakurnjak. Since this part of Croatia is very cold, men were wearing this part of woolen „clothing“ on their private parts, so to keep the “thing” from freezing and to provide heirs one day. Before wedding, girls brought it to their future husband, but she couldn’t know the size at that point, so the groom’s mum, sister or aunt told the girl approximate size! Although we joke today, it was a vital part of the men’s attire in the past.
The Traditional Craft Centre provides a constant support to strengthening the long-term unemployed and inactive rural inhabitants of Lika-Senj County, as well as strengthening and motivating producers of traditional craft products in joint and economically-sustainable activities in tourism, as well as promotion and revitalization of traditional heritage. The Centre offers its visitors necessary information, education and skills, and has created a strong network of relevant stakeholders from the public, civil, and private sectors with the goal of creating a common platform for widespread and effective activities for preserving and revitalizing traditional heritage of Lika-Senj County.
The Traditional Craft Centre is a project of the GTF – Regional Centre for Gender Equality, NGO Regional Education and Development Centre »Primus Fortissimus«, NGO »Gačanka«, Croatian Employment Service, Lika Senj Branch – Gospić and Associate, Croatian Chamber of Commerce, Otočac Branch. The City of Otočac provided the facilities for the Centre, while the Veterans’ Association »Glavičica« offerred logistic support. The structure of cooperation of local project stakeholders offered a unique example of cooperation with the goal of achieving common success which made possible development of human capacities as well as economic development of rural areas.
Traditional Craft Centre
Bana Jelačića 16, 53220 Otočac
Tel./Fax +385 53 771 069, +385 91 1540 952, +385 98 490 902