The Slovak Whipping Ceremony – 11 Reasons To Hate It

Anti-Šibačka

April 14, 2012

Allan Stevo

I once hated the šibačka.  It is, after all, the ceremonial whipping of women by men.  Need I say more? Once I challenged myself, by bring myself out of my comfort zone to better understand the šibačka, I learned to see the šibačka from a different perspective.  There are aspects of it I dislike, but unlike many non-Slovaks, and some Slovaks, I can make sense of the tradition and have found many reasons to like it.  Below are some of the reasons I have heard people dislike the šibačka.

1. Superficiality
On its surface, and only on its surface, the whipping ceremony is an abuse of women.  If you can’t get beyond the possibility that it isn’t an abuse of women, then you aren’t going to be able to interact with the tradition enough to understand what is happening.

2. Unwillingness to Challenge Themselves
The Hinlicky Rule is often cited by me.  It encourages one to challenge opinions they intend to argue in favor of, especially when they hold a belief that they understand to be an unimpeachable and obvious conclusion. Again, I was once uncomfortable with the šibačka.  It sounded barbaric.  When I challenged myself, I started to see a different side.

3. Bad Experiences
Bad experiences with a situation lead to bad reactions to a situation.  Does hot coffee burn you or does spilling hot coffee burn you?  Do guns kill people or do people using the guns kill people?  Does this tradition harm a person or does misuse of the tradition harm a person?  Some young ladies that I taught six years back hated the šibačka because they have had such bad experiences with it.  Some mother daughter pairs spend Easter Monday locked up safely in a room or apartment, or they make sure that they are away from town.  This is terrorizing, no doubt about it, which brings me to a related point.

4. Real Jerks Misuse this Tradition
There are jerks in Slovakia who misuse the tradition.  Any tradition, any situation can be misused by a jerk.  That’s the kind of person who can’t “feel” the unspoken agreements in a situation.  When McDonald’s offers free ketchup, you don’t take home free ketchup to use for the next three months.  Only a jerk would do that.  Yeah, the ketchup is free, but you just don’t do that.  There will always be a jerk who can abuse a situation.  Wouldn’t that make the jerk to blame, not the tradition?  When I see a jerk, I call that jerk out.  I would like more people to join me in calling jerks out.  Maybe the tradition is to blame, but I think it works for so many that it does not seem to be the case.  Those who don’t want to participate in the tradition generally don’t.

5. Unfamiliarity with Šibačka
I used to love gun control.  I thought people really shouldn’t own guns.  I lived in Chicago where it was illegal for anyone to own a gun in their home and I thought that was A-OK, since I had no interest in owning a gun in my home.  One day, a friend of mine from Chicago took me out to his farm and taught me to shoot.  Over the course of some 6 months, I gradually started to understand a perspective that I would not have had access to any other way.  I believe I thoroughly understand the pro-gun control side and the 100% no regulation of guns side and many sides in between.  Because of this understanding of the situation and the multiple perspectives, whether or not I personally want to own a gun, I can’t justify gun control the way I used to.  This level of understanding would have been impossible had I not experienced that other perspective.  Until you are in the middle of the šibačka, I think it is impossible to experience this other side.  Many who read this will be in favor of illegalizing gun ownership and for all I know might also be in favor of illegalizing the šibačka.  If we want to be honest with ourselves, it’s important to understand that there can be some good reasons why a person disagrees with us on an issue and that we are usually benefitted by learning as much as we can about that other person’s perspective before we open our mouths on that issue.  And yes, that might even mean joining your intellectual opponent as he goes whipping and watering and joining your intellectual opponent as he goes and shoots guns at paper targets posted in front of his berm on his farm in the middle of nowhere.

6. Talking to Meat-Heads
Slovakia is mired in this sometimes very uncomfortable set of morals that boils down to “might makes right.”

If I spent a year interviewing 1,000 meat-headed idiots from Petržalka about šibačka, I would probably get 800 of them chuckling at me and saying some idiotic thing like “Yes, but it is good because man is more powerful” or “We bring many friends so they cannot stop us.” Or “Their father’s even help us.”

You see, in all of these situations, the reason for why šibačka is good boils down to “because we can.”  Talking to an idiot about šibačka may leave you understanding that šibačka is the equivalent of rape, since their logic of  “if nothing can stop us, then it is good to do” could be used to justify rape, šibačka, and a slew of other heinous behaviors.

Just because I agree with some meat-heads about the continuation of the tradition, does not mean I agree with their logic on the tradition.  At the same time, I don’t really blame them for not spending years researching the issue and being able to craft a more eloquent defense of it.  Lots of people just have better things to do with their time.  On the other hand, this is exactly the kind of article that I am grateful to be able to write.  It speaks to looking beyond what is comfortable.

If I had not had a strong resolve, I would have been turned off by the numerous meat-heads who advocate in favor of whipping women on Easter Monday.  I mean, just looking at some of these thick-skulled fellows is enough to have a distaste for them before they’ve even spoken a word.  I understand how some people might confuse a distaste for meat-heads with a distaste for things that meat-heads like.

Generally, those 800 meatheads from Petržalka are not the ones who go out and even participate in šibačka.  First of all, it’s not that popular of a tradition, and secondly, in an increasingly urbanizing Slovakia, it increasingly takes a considerable amount of planning to organize such an Easter Monday whipping ceremony.  When I find that a person (such as one of these meat-heads) has never participated in šibačka, I generally disregard anything they have said on the topic, whether they agree or disagree with me.  If one hasn’t participated in something he’s lecturing me on, then it’s not likely that he’ll have anything to say that I couldn’t just read in a book.

7. Confusing Diversity With Comfort
It’s cool now to be gay.  It’s cool to be black.  It’s cool to be a woman. It’s not cool to be a Slovak guy in a village whipping women who are willing participants in the process.  Diversity is only acceptable to some if it is comfortable.  Only cool groups of people get to be diverse.  If diversity and tolerance are among a person’s personal goals, then tolerance for the Slovak tradition of šibačka should be included as part of that.

8. Sensitivity to Domestic Abuse
Physical violence in the home (something that both men and women can be guilty of) can have disastrous consequences for all involved.  I fault no one for being sensitive to domestic abuse.  The šibačka looks a lot like domestic abuse and looks a lot like an attack on a particular woman in addition to feeling like an attack on women in general. I have repeatedly, many, many times seen and heard of the šibačka taking place in good spirit and in a way that does no harm.  My experience has been that the ritual is not misogynistic and is not abusive.  In fact, the whipping ceremony can have such a festive atmosphere around it for all involved that the one time I neglected to water a loved one was in the midst of a fight.  Only in good spirits would I want to engage in this ritual.  If a female friend is being mean to me, then I will not pay her a visit on Easter Monday, just as I would not play Scrabble with her, ask her out to a trivia night at our favorite café, or offer my shoulders in a chicken fight with friends at the local pool, because, like the Olympics friendly games are best enjoyed when a spirit of friendship prevails.  When the šibačka becomes abusive (and it does), it is the exception to the rule rather than the rule.

9. The Non-Aggression Principle
The non-aggression principle is essentially – do not harm a person who has not harmed you.  This principle is very important to me.  Ultimately, I believe that what happens in the šibačka is a game and that participants follow the rules.  There are steps to the ritual.  It is not an example of one party harming another.  If one is looking at times where one is abused by another in culturally acceptable fashion, contact sports are much more deserving of criticism than this šibačka.  However, I think those too fall under that category of not being an attempt to harm, but being a game in which rules are followed.

10. I Feel Like I’m Supposed to Dislike It
The “shoulds” that occupy our mind can be hard to negotiate.  Where do these shoulds come from?  Are they whispered to us as we sleep? Do they simply soak into our unconscious mind through osmosis from the culture around us that is so filled with shoulds? Are they genuine words of concern from our conscience?  Why do so many American males and females of my age simply feel like we should be opposed to šibačka?  I know that I have many times been steered wrong by the feeling “I should not like that.”  I too have been steered in the right direction by the shoulds.  Even when the shoulds are right, it’s usually not enough to unquestioningly follow them.  I want to understand them better.  It wouldn’t be very decent of me to dismiss something that seems to work for people in another culture by saying “It just feels wrong.  It just feels wrong what they’re doing, so they shouldn’t do it.”

11. Needing to Calm Down
Some people are tight strung, ready to make a mountain out of a molehill.  These are exactly the kind of people who need to spend a few hours getting chased around by a spry son, nephew, neighbor, suitor, husband, or who need to spend a few hours chasing someone around.  It enlivens the spirit.  It gets the blood flowing.  It lets a person release some steam.  It relaxes a person.  Folk traditions often have purposes to them that are entirely contrary to the stated goals – maybe going out with some friends a few times a year isn’t bad if you work hard, live in a village, and have few other ways to blow off steam.  That’s what happens for some on šibačka.  Maybe having visitors over to your house is fun. For mothers and fathers alike, maybe watching them chase your beautiful daughters around is fun.  Maybe it’s nice to entertain.  Some people do that.  Maybe it’s nice to be silly once in a while to behave stupid and childish whether you are 84, 54, 24 or 4.  Šibačka is a time of revelry.  It’s arguably a lot more wholesome than the demonic celebration of Halloween, the sexually dehumanizing celebration of Mardi Gras, or the consumeristic commingling of Christian salvation and lots and lots of presents in late December.  It’s much less violent than any contact sport.  Yeah, I could point those things out as really lousy things to have exist in a culture, but then I too would be responsible for needing to calm down.  Sometimes we just need to calm down and accept a little levity in life.  These opportunities for levity make us smile, give us some release, and give us stories to tell with friends and family the next day or to our grandkids when we’re 80.

More Important Than Just A Slovak Holiday
Now, while I write in these pages this week about a mere whipping ceremony done by a minority of the people in some country that few people anywhere in the world care about, what I am writing here about is much more important, vitally important, maybe the most important thing I could be writing about at this moment.  Because, if you can’t look at Slovakia and give this almost entirely innocent ceremony a chance, then you are not likely to be able to hold any two opposing thoughts in your head at one time.  This is an important step to being honest in a debate – entertaining views that challenge your own views, even if that ultimately means you might lose face, might bring yourself out of your comfort zone, or might even end up finding truth in an opinion that you’ve long found to be disgusting.  As our world becomes more educated, we become more set in our beliefs, certain that we are right.  This is an established consequence that comes with education – people being more set in their beliefs and more interested in only finding information that agrees with their preconceived notions, known to some as “confirmation bias” or even the “Semmelweis reflex.”  That trend further exemplifies the importance of taking a ritual like this into consideration though it may be outside of your comfort zone.

With that, we return to where much of this website often returns – to the Hinlicky Rule.  Step out of your own culture and into another and you often enough are going to be confronted with some version of the Hinlicky Rule.  The šibačka is a simple example of how much Slovaks have to offer other cultures about looking below the surface, or at least it had that to teach this American.

I recognize that there are important sentiments wrapped up in some of these attacks of the šibačka mentioned above.  I recognize that these sentiments can block a person from looking further at the tradition.  I would like to invite you to recognize if any of these are stopping you from appreciating this tradition and to try to get beyond that.

If you can’t get beyond that, I won’t fault you, because I understand that gut reactions are important.  I might argue with you though for not being able to get beyond those gut reactions and for not being able to have a debate that goes beyond mere feelings, especially if you are vocally opposed to the šibačka instead of quietly observing.  These are some common reasons that I’ve seen people speak against šibačka. If you have a moment, I’d like to hear from you about these and others you’ve seen.

Are there other reasons you know of people hating the šibačka?  Are there other reasons that you don’t like the šibačka? Does anything written here help to soften your heart to this tradition?

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com.  He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing.  You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com.  If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email.  You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

The lead photo is from Barbora at the no longer active blog “The Heart of the Matter” who justifiably feels conflicted about the šibačka.

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Comments

  • Hmm you really thought about this one. It’s quite simple though, it only happens once a year, and women don’t get beaten to the point that they can’t walk. The idea is, that they get whipped and watered, so they stay fresh, healthy and beautiful for the rest of the year. And let’s be honest what can raise your adrenaline higher than bunch of young man chasing you around yard, trying to throw you in the closest creek! It’s like bungee jumping. If you look at it, it also looks like weird and unhealthy think to do, but it’s fun, and that’s exactly what sibacka is FUN. That’s why people still do it and women mostly like it. It all depends on the way you were raised. Most of my friends are excited about sibacka and very proud of their husbands, sons, nephews, friends going to whip or water them on Easter morning. I’m not one of them, but I was raised by father who didn’t like this tradition, and never let us participate. We usually spend Easter holiday traveling, so we wouldn’t have to deal with it and be locked up in the house as you mentioned above. Happy sibacka to everybody, it’s bungee jumping of Slovakia :)

  • Allan, thanks for writing. What I keep waiting for is an explanation of WHY this tradition exists. What exactly is/was its purpose? Did it develop as a fertility ceremony? This information might help me appreciate the tradition more. I want to understand “what is happening” so that I don’t have a superficial view of this tradition. I am very willing to challenge myself and my views. I do this every time I read one of my student’s papers. Their views are different than mine and I need to step out of my comfort zone to fairly evaluate their assignments and to develop meaningful feedback for them. Right now, I believe people have more productive things to do with their time than whip and wet down young girls.

    I’m sorry I don’t buy the “this is fun!!” argument. I keep asking, “fun for whom?” I think there is a power play component to this tradition that makes me very uncomfortable. Look at the photo, no one is chasing anyone around. TWO GUYS are holding onto ONE WOMAN and another guy is spraying her with water. I keep asking, would this be a fun-filled activity if the roles were reversed? And as I wrote in my Slovak World comments, this fun-filled activity occurs in March/April. The guys are dressed in wool vests and jackets. The women are in cotton dresses. Since when are cold, wet clothes in March/early April fun?

    On the practical side, the woman gets to clean up the mess. She gets to spend her time drying the clothes that have been wet and folding them and putting them away. She will most probably get to dry the floor and furniture that gets sprayed. More fun!

    I think you might have seen the YouTube clip on the Slovak World site in which the young girl is sprayed and then everyone is singing in the living room and there are toasts and good cheer. In the next clip, everyone is back outside and the girl is being sprayed again – only this time she is in a tee-shirt and jeans. I need to hear why wet, cold jeans are considered fun? The first time, she’s in her kroj and I took that as a signal she was “in” on the activities. In the later part of the clip, she’s in jeans. I took that as a signal, she was back in the 21st century and off limits. That didn’t stop her slivovice-filled friends from dragging her back outside and spraying her down yet again. A definite power play was involved.

    If something doesn’t feel right, it’s because it isn’t right. Go with that feeling. The times have changed. Our sensibilities and insights into human nature have evolved. It’s time to move on – no matter how “fun filled” this tradition may seem.

  • this man didnt get any chocolate eggs :) more eggs for others

  • slovakwoman

    Apr 15th, 2012

    such a fantastic and true article, shame that the ‘meatheads’ dont get the point!

  • Sibacka is an old Slavic pagan ritual. Paganism was here before Christians. The Slavs especially in the Carpathians used to believe in the Roman god called Silvanus, meaning the Forest God. The power of nature, especially the trees, was very admired. The Slavs used to have the sacred trees in their cemeteries. When the Christians came, they cut down all sacred trees. The trees used to be a part of every village and served as a border between villages. Trees played a very important role for Slavs. Slavs admired fertility and youth was the key part of it. That is why young boys whip the girls with young, fresh and flexible willow tree wattle. It was believed that by whipping the youth would be transmitted from the willow wattle to the girls and she will be young and fresh, and sexually active. Of course whipping had a very strong sexual meaning. It was a pretended sexual coitus, where the whip represented the penis. Anyway, the girl being grateful for this medical treatment, gifted the boy with an egg. I used to whip even my grandfather when he was old and couldn’t walk. Even it is not acceptable to whip a man, my grandfather was glad to receive the fresh power of young willow wattle. Even I don’t whip anymore as I feel a too old for such boyish plays, my aunt would still order me to come to whip her because she is getting old and wants to become young again. During whipping the boy is supposed to say some saying and call the health and freshness on the girl. Allan, you should mention this in your article, which I find interesting.

  • Inez, I just say this is very american or wherever you are from point of view. Slovaks are very proud of their traditions, and just because some foreigners don’t necessary get it, it doesn’t mean they go and give them up for 21st century or just because it sounds “politically incorrect”. Girls don’t spend all day in wet clothes, they change and they change often and honestly, if they don’t want to participate, they don’t have to open door. There isn’t power play, this is simply how old slovaks used to celebrate beginning of Spring. In fact it has nothing to do with Easter, it was just added to easter celebrations with beginning of Christianity in Slovakia. I think it’s old pagan tradition, but Slovaks like it, so why complain. I have personally never seen women in Slovakia revolting against this tradition and demanding stoping it, but I am sure if it was in US it would be different case.

  • I think Allan got the point very well. On Easter Monday a boy or a man will pay a visit only to girls and women he really likes and appreciates. Me personally I have never been whipped by a guy I did not like. And I am not from Bratislava, I come from a small town. It has always been friends or family members. No strangers. If someone comes to whip me on Easter Monday it is a sign for me that he cares about me enough to do something that is not considered as very cool any more.

    Inez, I am not sure what is the real history of this tradition. As Tatiana mentioned, it is an old pagan tradition. Women get whipped and watered to be healthy and beautiful throughout the whole year. I am sure there is much more symbolism to it, but this is all I know.

    For those ones who are still considered about the “suffering” women. The whipping part is not supposed to hurt, it is only symbolic :o) If you still not feel comforable about this tradition you maybe would like those regions of Slovakia, where men are allowed to water women only till the noon, because in the afternoon women go whipping men as a revenge ;o)

    However the part most girls really hate about Easter Monday was not mentioned in the article. It’s simply the fact that we get whipped and watered and guys get chocolate eggs or even money for it. We simply envy them that they make money so easily :o) But most girls don’t hate the whipping or watering part. If they do they do not have to participate.

    But to be fair enough I have never had any bad experience with our Easter traditions. For sure there are some women who see it differently, but they are rather an exception. Just like Allan said – it’s not the tradition what makes jerks behave like jerks.

  • Thank you for your interesting opinion and objectively written article 😀 I enjoyed reading it :)
    I personaly am not against sibacka. I think that we should protect our traditions for the generations to come and I don´t see where the harm in it should be if the participation is voluntary. To tell the truth, I don´t live in a village, so the celebrations at our house were never as “brutal” as on the photograph. My older brother was chasing me with a waterpistol though our apartment and I had to give him chocolate eggs and neighbours came and sprinkled me with perfume. Maybe that´s the only thing I was always complaining about when I was a kid- why do the boys get sweets and I don´t get anything? Nevertheless, I am going to live abroad(Japan) from next year and I´m planning on teaching this tradition to my children as well, together with our traditional Christmas :)

    Inez- my mother taught me, that the water is to make us stronger and healthy and that the whipping is to drive all bad thigs away- like witches and bad ghosts- so it really is, like Tatiana said, a pagan tradition to celebrate the beginning of spring. The water doesn´t hurt you and the “whipping” is only symbolical- they don´t really whip you so it hurts. And it´s kind of flattering when the guys are chasing you 😉

  • In my opinion, the whipping and spraying is just foreplay before the soul of the tradition, which is to visit people you dont get to see very often. For example I and my schoolmates from highschool have started to practicing this tradition after our graduation, when we were visiting universities all over the country and we couldnt stay in touch as much as we would like to. Well, if it is fun… I can honestly say that most of the girls are enjoying it. It is not uncommon that the guys are also quite wet after the spraying, it is not uncommon that girls have their own buckets of water hidden somewhere. Yes, there are girls who dont like it, but most men are sensitive about it and follow some unwritten rules.

  • Ummm, how about giving us the other side of the story. What is the history and purpose of the tradition. If you have written this somewhere else a link in this story would be great.
    Please take this in the constructive spirit that I meant it in. I love what you do.
    Thanks.

  • I personally don’t like this tradition so much – but it’s a tradition, part of our culture, and therefore we should continue in it, otherwise we will lose another part of our identity.
    However, it’s a pity, that it’s not the same as it used to be in the past – girls would give to boys hand-painted eggs, tie a ribbon on their “korbáč”{hand-made stick not used to whip woman’s body, but her skirt while she is turning around) and men would try to collect as many ribbons as possible. It’s a gathering event that brings friends and families together during this holiday. And if you were in a village where they still practice it the traditional way, you would understand this holiday more.

  • Thanks so “Slovak” for sharing his insights into this tradition. What we’re missing in the YouTube clips and in most discussions, is the magic and power that underpins the tradition. There is magic in the trees. There is magic in the willow whip. Living in the 21st century, we have lost the magic. That “Slovak’s” aging aunt would ask to be whipped so she could be energized and made youthful again attests to the magic and power of the tradition.

    Those were simpler times, weren’t they? Society encouraged young boys to whip young girls to make them fertile and sexually active because the life of the village depended upon healthy children. In today’s world, we try to protect our children from the hyper-sexed media and we worry about the children born to unwed mothers. In times gone by, society used powerful traditions to ensure the continuation of their society. Today, we create babies in test tubes and artificially inseminate eggs.

    I also wanted to add the thought, that in addition to the willow whip being the symbolic penis, the eggs the girls responded with are also fertility symbols. As I re-read “Slovak’s” text, the thought struck me, that to complete the fertility cycle, the women should bear healthy children (the eggs). I know from my textile research, the ROOSTER was a favored symbol embroidered on the kutne plachty. Eggs and roosters are fertility symbols.

    Thank you again, “Slovak” for your explanation. The whipping tradition could be viewed as an integral part of the cycle of life. Thanks, Allan, for the opportunity to process ideas.

  • Inez,
    Thank you for taking eggs, roosters, phallic symbols, young willow shoots, men, and women, and so eloquently tying all of them into the fertility-ritual that is likely at the root of this tradition.
    Much appreciated.
    Allan

  • Inez, I really dont know a Slovak, who would see any sex in this tradition. Or do you think, that when grandpa is whipping his granddaughter, he is thinking about his symbolical penis? Or when some guy is throwing water at his cousin, he is thinking about her fertility and about how she should get pregnant?

  • Roman, first make sure you read the post written by “Slovak” on April 15. I was responding to his ideas. His post was the first I’ve ever read that explained the symbolic fertility that surrounds the whipping tradition. I want to be very clear. The whipping tradition is in no way about overt sex. I don’t ever believe I said that. In fact my point was just the opposite. My point was that perhaps in the past, these symbols were part of the solemn – not sexual – fertility tradition.

    The young willow sapling (full of life) is used to energize young girls and bring them fertility. Having children was crucial to the continuation of a family and to that of the entire village. It just makes sense. I thought it most poignant “Slovak’s” aging aunt asked him to whip her so that she could regain her youthfulness. I saw that as a testament to the power of the whipping tradition within the society. It was through the context of magic and the power of this tradition that allowed me to finally grasp how ancient this tradition is and how fundamental it was to Slovak society. There is nothing overtly sexual about this at all.

    Let me try to use your example to better explain my idea more clearly: As grandpa is whipping his granddaughter he is NOT lasciviously ogling her and thinking about his “symbolic” penis. In my scenario, as grandpa is whipping his granddaughter, he is wishing her and her future husband many happy and, more important, many healthy babies to love. His wish is that these healthy children will carry on family traditions and by extension he is hoping these children will add to the very prosperity of the entire village. Do you hear the difference? It’s the second scenario I was suggesting; never the first. Apologies if I wasn’t clear. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify my meaning.

  • Allan, you’re very welcome. I am so happy to be able to reflect on and discuss Slovak culture because I learn so much about me as I do. My 21st century American woman component cringes when I think about cleaning up after everyone at the end of the ceremony. My researcher self is thrilled to think about the nature of traditions and symbols with a society. Thanks again for this wonderful opportunity for introspection and growth.

    I promise I won’t go on and on (HONEST!!) But do you find there appears to be an inverse proportion of sorts between technology and rituals? In the days gone by when people were close to the earth and we honored nature (see Slovak’s description of the trees and their importance to a society), we relied on symbols and rituals to protect us. It appears as if the further away we “develop” and move away from nature and rely more and more on technology, the symbols lose their power and our rituals and traditions take on a “fun” or an “amusement” aspect. Today we worry about staying dry and cleaning up a mess. In years gone by, people were worried about staying alive and having their infants live past six weeks and growing strong and healthy.

    I mentioned the kutne plachty in an earlier post. These textiles are part of the tradition during which the new mother and her infant were sequestered for six weeks after the baby was born, safely shielded by the embroidered ritual cloths, the kutne placty. The purpose as I understand it was to protect the mother and child from disease. And as I also mentioned, roosters were frequently embroidered on these cloths.

  • I’d be interested in reading what the girls feel about it. Also what is the whole day like for them. Do they get soaked once by visitors knocking on their door, or many times, or walking in the street. Just curious as all the videos seem to follow around a group of guys.

  • Brain, the unwritten rule is, that sibacka ends by noon. Girls don’t leave house voluntarily before noon, and guys are visiting girls. They visit friends, cousins etc. They don’t go knocking on the stranger’s door. And how many times do the girls get soaked? Well, as many as they are willing to open the door. Girls act like they hate it, but I think usually they like it, they wouldn’t participate otherwise right?

  • sorry Brian, I just noticed I called you brain, not the worst name to be called, but still sorry :)

  • how about giving us the other side of the story. What is the history and purpose of the tradition. If you have written this somewhere else a link in this story would be great.

  • Thanks, Allan, for the article and for triggering the discussion. You and some of the commenters make excellent points. I’ll be passing the link on to my American friends and in-laws.

  • first, i´d like to apologize for my bad english, i´ve spend a year on american high school, in american family, but it was a long time ago. my english got very rusty. second: Allan thank you so very much for your effort, now i can finally understand my american host familly, what they might think about slovak traditions etc. (i.e. they didn´t believe me when i told them about sibacka) third: i´ve heard the sibacka tradition comes from a time when jesus was resurected, women came to his grave to find it empty, and there were crowds of women crying and roman soldiers used whips and water to dispers these crowds. Filip from Nove Mesto nad Vahom

  • I have just returned from Slovakia where I got to observe the Easter traditions of my ancestors. I understood the history of sibacka to be the same as described by Filip – a reenactment of the reactions of Roman soldiers and townspeople to the women proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. Dumping water on them to shut them up.
    In the USA my mother described the transplated ceremony to be as a much more subdued tradition of pouring water on the hands of girls that you liked – no whipping involved.

  • I’d be keen on reading what the girls feel about it. Also what is the whole day like for them. Do they get soaked once by visitors knocking on their door, or several times, or walking in the street. Just curious as all the videos seem to go along with around a group of guys.

  • Hi,
    first of all, it is great to read your blog and see how a foreigner might perceive Slovakia. And yes, it does make me proud that you find my country interesting and that overall you have enjoyed your time:) I hope it stays that way:)

    Now, to the topic of sibacka. I think that it is somehow important to add a note as to what made this tradition survive centuries and why even now it is something enjoyed by many. (apart from the fact that it is fun being chased by a bunch of guys with a willow tree whip and buckets of water, in the same sense as a snowfight is fun and not a pre-army training of agressive killer beasts:))

    You have to take into account the fact that up until the end of 19th century much of Slovakia was rural. Many people were born, married and died in the same village or a region. Sibacka was next to the church and occasional feast celebration the only way to get to know what ladies there are in the village (and to get yourself known to them), to find out what are the opinions of their parents and to present yourself as a good and strong man that can support a family. I think that in that sense, having a group of young men going around the village, knocking on doors, symbolically whipping and wetting the young girls was a bit of a “dating service”. If she liked the boy, she gave him a ribbon, often embroidered by herself. It was a chance for her to dress up and greet him, smiling and exchanging pleasantries. It was a chance for him to hold her hand and show that he was a nice guy (that is if he liked the girl). It was also a chance for her to see how he was liked by her parents, what friends he had, if he was polite. There were girls that got visited by many boys, some only by a few. I think that Allan, you have said it very well when you said that it makes parents proud to see that their daughter is being liked.

    Obviously, the dating aspect was not the sole purpose of it, it was great to visit many families, wish them good health, catch up on what is new in their lives etc. And a large part of it was about wishing good health and fertility to a household, since it was at the beginning of the growing season and you did not know yet if the harvest was going to be good etc.

    Nowadays, some of those aspect have remained, in the sense that sometimes your classmates will stop by, if there is a boy that likes you, or that they will tease you that they will come. When you are 13 this seems like a fun and healthy way to express your ineterest:) Unfortunately, sibacka seems to be a dying tradition, becoming more and more limited to the family circle (if it happens at all). My family has stopped this tradition about four or five years ago and I miss it. It seems that now, we are too busy doing important things that we don’t have time to stop and whip couple of ladies 😉

    Anyhow, I fail to see how this is a power play and all, but maybe I could do with some educating so that I can appreciate both ends of the coin (as I currently can’t).

    You have a great blog, and I wish you all the best in Slovakia. There should be more of you, because sometimes it is hard to notice what is good about your country until you are offered a different perspective. Have a great day:)

    Lenka

  • Just a one more thing I thought I should mention. All 4 of my grandparents grew up in a village and much of the childhood of both of my parents was spent in a village too. This might make me a bit biased.

  • Filip and Eileen:

    The tradition is older than Christianity in Slovakia. When Christianity arrived, instead of trying to erase the pagan traditions, the Church just gave them a Christian meaning. That’s probably the case with Jesus and the Romans. There are many examples of this in the Slovak culture – pagan symbols and rituals with Christian explanations, which were “added” later and incorporated into Christian holidays. Our Easter and Christmas are full of such symbols.

  • Art4Art'sache

    May 21st, 2016

    I spent an Easter in Czech Republic once; with friends who are farmers between Praha & Brno. The sons took be out in the woods to cut withies & showed me how to make a ‘pumlaska’ by weaving the wands in a certain way. I still have it on he wall here in UK. One of the sons with his girlfriend had stayed with me a couple of times in previous years. Jana helped me finish my pumlaska ready for next day, Sunday. She was really up for the ritual & they all showed me how lightly the females should be ‘whipped’ The village was tiny & my key memories are of the delicacies and slivovice we men consumed. No, Most I was struck by the enthusiastic welcome all the women gave my group. I with slight embarrassment, as a stranger made one of the hamlet for the day, gently whipped females from age 7 to over 70 & sang very badly the traditional rhyme; Hodi, Hodi, dobra noddi etc.’ It was a festivity, pleasurable to all who took part. Now mainly a country event iI was aware that it dates from before Roman fertility rites. An enjoyable experience that opened my ‘civilized’ mind to fresh cultural permissibles.

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