The egg, the whip and the fire truck

korbacIt is Easter! That means bunnies, finding hidden Easter eggs and watching the 500th rerun of Jesus Christ Superstar or the like. That is, of course, if you are not living in Slovakia. In Slovakia, Easter Monday is host to one of the most fascinating traditions you will ever find in this country. Sure, people go to Church and some may even want to search for eggs, but it is the tradition of boys going out into the village, armed with a bucket of water, a bottle of cheap perfume and a whip made from willow branches,  and, awaiting rewards like chocolate eggs and even money, to search out the female population of said village, drag them outside, soak them in water, spray them with perfume and hit them with the whip, that makes Easter Monday a true spectacle to behold.

Now, before you jump from your chair and start accusing Slovaks of openly abusing their women, this is a tradition that (1) has been going on as long as one can remember, (2) is not as violent as it may sound and (3) is commonly accepted (and maybe even expected) by both sides of the population. Sure, some may take the whole splashing of water to the extreme. They drag the women under the shower or, if the weather allows, throw them into the nearby creek. This morning, while slowly waking up in the tiny village of my in-laws, the peaceful silence that comes with living in such rural areas was heavily disturbed by the sound of blaring sirens of a fire truck. In a village of ca. 100 people, this obviously attracts a lot of attention…everyone knows everyone, so everyone would be concerned for everyone’s safety. A fire truck racing down the village road would definitely cause the village to jump out of bed, run outside and see where the fire is burning. The firemen jumped out of the truck, started rolling out the fire hoses, opened the water valve and were ready to battle any fire….if there only was one. It was not until the female inhabitants of the house in front of which the fire truck was parked came out, that the people of the village understood what was happening….it is Easter Monday!….the firemen aimed at the women, opened the fire hoses and literally drenched the girls in water.

If you would summarize the situation in which any house where this tradition is celebrated find itself, it would read like this: the girls are wet of water, smelly of cheap perfume, and slightly sore of being hit on the legs with a whip, while the boys sit on the living room floor, bragging about the number of ribbons at the tip of their whip (one ribbon equals one woman/girl), eating their chocolate eggs and counting their money, and the adult males enjoy their shots of alcohol.

Yes, this sounds awfully discriminating. However, this pre-Christian tradition, as all traditions, does have an importance to it. Originally, the tradition was carried out with only water and a whip. Both instruments held important characteristics that are central to this tradition. The hand-woven whip (or “korbáč”) was made from young willow branches, recently rejuvenated by the first touches of Spring. It was believed that by hitting a woman with the whip, the vitality of this young twig would be transferred to the woman’s body. Similarly, the water (or “water of life”) that was used to splash the women with, was thought to contain positive attributes that would ensure the women be fit, rejuvenated and beautiful. As such, the tradition, carried out at the first break of Spring, could have been seen as a magical ritual to bring vitality, beauty and strength to women during a feast that goes hand in hand with the celebration of a time of new life and rebirth. It could even be argued that, despite the seemingly discriminative nature of this Spring tradition, it reflects a certain symbiosis in the pre-Christian societies, where woman were considered to be the key to the survival of the community and, at the same time, the men were tasked with making sure there women had the physical attributes to remain so.

These days, however, the tradition is slowly fading, especially in the bigger cities. An important aspect of the tradition is for family and friends to receive the boys and men of the village with lots of food, sweets and, for the adults, alcohol. In the cities, this has become more and more difficult to keep up. Also, I feel that the tradition has lost its meaning among the kids. Mainly among the boys (who end up with the better part of the price), the tradition easily shifts from a meaningful event to an opportunity to fill their pockets with sweets and money.

From my point of view, looking at this tradition from the outside and having read about it in more detail, it is the importance of our women that is central to this event, whether you agree with the “physical” aspects of the tradition or not. Therefore, it is incredibly important for the young generation never to forget about its actual meaning.

 


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