Croatian Viewpoint
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Preserving Croatian Ethnographic Heritage

In the book entitled 'Portrait of a People' by D. Orr, an American woman has left us with a precious description of Croatian folk culture in the 1930s in Croatia. This book stimulated my interest to learn more about Croatia's ethnographic heritage.
One of my opportunities to view Croatian folk culture firsthand was provided by the Australian Croatian Women's Organization 'Katarina Zrinski' in an exhibition which was part of Croatia's 'Statehood Day' celebrations where some interesting century-old objects were lovingly displayed.

'Zena drzi tri ugla kuce a muz jedan'

Translated this proverb means that 'the woman holds up three corners of the house and the man one'. The following are four examples of this old adage.
  • The laborious work of women in the past, in Croatia, provided the material framework for the traditional household.
  • Croatian women's handicrafts provide material evidence of a history of foreign occupation from three main ethnographic regions in Croatia: the Pannonian, the Dinaric, and the Adriatic.
  • Croatian women have fulfilled the role of cultural maintenance in, and for, multicultural Australia through their language, cooking, crafts, music and dance.
  • Croatian women who have been the main custodians of Croatian traditional culture for their Australian-born descendants.
Claim for the conservation of Croatian folk culture needs to be balanced by a warning. In the "Portrait of a People" the author describes the erosion of the traditional Croatian culture in a village north of Zagreb in the 1930s in detail.
"...commercial standardization was creeping into the folk life of which Croatia was so proud ... only old women use the loom ..."
This erosion of traditional culture so evident in homes and folklore, "half modern and half traditional" was happening in a village 'in Croatia' over 60 years ago!~ It is no surprise therefore that people have this complaint about Croatian traditions in the 1990s!
The question to be posed to the Croatian community in Australia, whose 'culture' is evidently being supported on three sides by Croatian women and their organizations is where to go from here.
In Croatia the government is in a better position to address the problem, which it does through museums. Croatia's 'Ethnographic Museum' is on the internet and it could serve as a starting point of information for the Australian-born descendants of Croatian migrants. The collections are photographed, and backed-up by information in English and in Croatian. (This way others in the world can learn about Croatia also.)
Another exhibition of Croatian culture and contributions to Victoria Australia will be held at Victoria's new 'Immigration Museum' from 18 September until 14 November 1999, under the auspices of the Australian Croatian Congress Victoria Branch.
It is essential that more avenues be explored to pass on traditional handicrafts -- which together with 'language' are a pillar of Croatia's heritage. In comparison with the advances made by the Croatian language in mainstream Australian education a lasting presentation of Croatian culture in its 'material and visual' form has yet to be integrated into mainstream Australian society.
There are Australian government grants on offer which support legitimate and worthy projects by ethnic organizations to preserve and promote their history and culture in Australia.
Jean Lunt Marinovic
June, 1999
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