The wearing of masks, with which man performs fertility rites, drives away evil spirits and marks the passage of winter into spring, has been present in almost all civilizations and all parts of the world since times long past. This custom has particularly taken deep roots in the localities of the North Croatian Littoral, namely its backcountry – Kastavština. In the course of the historical context of emergence of carnival customs in our region, various bell – ringer groups (zvončari) appeared. They became an inevitable part of the carnival ritual, not only in the Kvarner area, but wider. The bell-ringers mark the very beginning of the Carnival – hence the first bell-ringer bells make themselves heard in Mune and Žejane on Epiphany (6th January), and in the other localities on the Saint Anthony holiday (17th January).
Today we differentiate the bell-ringer groups of Rukavac, Zvoneće, Bregi, Brgud, Mučići, Žejane, Mune and Halubje. The distinctions between these groups are in pieces of garments they dress in, or in the characteristic bell-ringers’ gait and the additional elements they wear. However, they all wear white trousers (some with a red or blue stripe, though some wear jute trousers with sewn on ribbons) and sailor’s striped jerseys, sheepskins around the neck or waist, three bells or a single one respectively, head scarf or bandanna. The bell-ringers of Rukavac, Bregi, Brgud, Mučići and Zvoneće wear hats with colorful crepe paper flower decorations, while the bell-ringers of Mune and Žejane wear hats with varicolored strips from the top of the hat to the ground. Only the Halubian bell-ringers wear large beast-like masks instead of hats. All the bell-ringer groups wore such masks until the beginning of the Italian occupation, when they were prohibited.
The bell-ringers present the richness of colors and motif at the, now traditional, “Bell-ringers Parade” held in Matulji since 1995. This is the only place where one can see the full splendor of the bell-ringers. The noise of ringing bells, the smell of sheepskins, the motley of flowers on hats – and for a moment one senses that the winter season will indeed be gone by tomorrow, yielding its place to springtime. Under the motto “Everything for our usances!”, these bell-ringers present the distinguishing qualities of their region and convey in the best way the cultural heritage to the younger generations. In the hours before noon the groups gather in front of the “Štacion” – the railway station on their passage through Matulji during their characteristic parade. This is where one can see the bell-ringers’ round dances, manners of movement, costumes, bell-ringers’ escorts and everything else that the bell-ringers do and that makes the Bell-ringers Parade something special.
As the center of the bell-ringer tradition, Matulji opens its doors to welcome other groups from Croatia and abroad whose mask-wearing customs are similar to those of the Bell-ringers.
Visit us on occasion of the Bell-ringers Parade – become familiar with our tradition; let it become a part of you, too!