Translating Sibacka: The Whipping Ceremony

Translating Šibačka

April 14, 2012

Allan Stevo

It’s common that I will encounter the question “How do you say šibačka in English?”  I have yet to conclusively use a set translation for my purposes.  While English is effective at borrowing many foreign loan words, I feel like the word šibačka, as cool as it is, might not find a home in the English.  Šibačka needs a translation to make the tradition easier to talk about outside of Slovak with those unfamiliar with the practice of šibačka and the term.  Perhaps “whipping ritual” or “whipping ceremony” conveys the point.  I would argue that šibačka is ceremonious and follows some set patterns and because of that, either word might be appropriate.

  1. The appearance of the whipper
  2. the noticing of the whip/bucket
  3. the reaction (exaggeration seems to be valued at this stage)
  4. the struggle
  5. the recovery and transition (which may include changing clothes and/or light banter between the whipper and whippee)
  6. the invitation to the whipper to enter the home extended by a parent, family member, or the whippee herself
  7. the socializing and giving of gifts
  8. the farewell

Ceremony is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

“1. a formal act or series of acts prescribed by ritual, protocol, or convention <the marriage ceremony>”

The other option that I considered was ritual, but when I typed “ritual” into the web browser I was using, it completed the phrase for me and suggested the following options in this order:  ritual suicide, ritual purification, ritual magic, ritual murder, ritualism, ritual sacrifice, ritual entertainment, ritual washing in Judaism, and ritual burial.  Most of these words carry an ominous sound to them.

Ritual is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

” a : ritual observance; specifically : a system of rites

b : a ceremonial act or action

c : an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner”

These two words being similar, I prefer the sound of “whipping ceremony” over “whipping ritual.”  One sounds appropriate, the other sounds less distinguished, so perhaps those who see value in the šibačka (like me) might go about calling it “the whipping ceremony” to convey positive feelings and those who see no value in the šibačka and find it repulsing might go about calling it “the whipping ritual” to convey that ominous tone. I’m going to try out the term “whipping ceremony” or in more formal situations “The Easter Monday Whipping Ceremony” as the English equivalent of šibačka to see how it feels.

Might any good souls out there have other suggestions to offer in this matter of how to translate the word šibačka?

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 painting leading this article is from the website of Ondro Mihal.

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Comments

  • I would say let’s just keep it as sibacka and olievacka with explanation what it mean. English language won’t suffer with two new words, besides they adapted rughlach (rohliky), kolace, and others why not sibacka and olievacka. Personally, whipping ritual sounds worse than whipping, just because it sound cult like. Whipping ceremony? Not really, I don’t think it’s ceremony, it’s just custom, just like you guys hunt for Easter eggs. You know it’s supposed to be great honor, when the guys come knocking on your door. It means that girl living in the house is worth whipping and watering. Even though, let’s be honest, it’s awful tradition, but I love seeing my kid running around yard with water gun, chasing grandma :)))) (In my house only grandma gets honor :) Advantage of husband’s ignorance of wife’s customs.

  • Very well written, and sadly it probably wont receive many comments because it isn’t about a controversial subject.

  • I come from Eastern Slovakia where water is preferred over whips on Easter. But your post forced me to think of a good English translation for sibacka. Ceremony sounds too formal for the ritual, and ritual is accurate (sibacka is an Easter ritual) but a bit too scientific (anthropological). Both sound too serious for the occasion.

    I’d go with party. I doubt it’s enjoyable for the women most of the time, but that part of Easter is supposed to be fun. I mean, “Jesus has risen” is a powerful message, but we’re talking about a return from the dead. Visiting girls is a lot more fun, alcohol is certainly involved, as is delicious food and treats, the music is on, gifts change hands… A party!

  • I would say let’s just keep it as sibacka and olievacka with explanation what it mean. English language won’t suffer with two new words, besides they adapted rughlach (rohliky), kolace, and others why not sibacka and olievacka. Personally, whipping ritual sounds worse than whipping, just because it sound cult like. Whipping ceremony? Not really, I don’t think it’s ceremony, it’s just custom, just like you guys hunt for Easter eggs. You know it’s supposed to be hard to believe honor, when the guys come knocking on your door.

  • Donald W. Fry

    Nov 21st, 2012

    I have been intregued by this custom and have tried to think of a paralel in other cultures. Possibly the Songkran festival of Thailand?
    I wonder if there is a hurt for those who are not selected to take part, like the girl or guy who does not go to the prom?
    I noticed sometimes women seemed to dress like men for the observance, but I am not sure if I am getting confused.

  • […] Translating Sibacka: The Whipping Ceremony discusses translations into English for the Slovak Easter Monday tradition known in Slovak as “Sibacka” and explains why I have settled on the term “Slovak Whipping Ceremony.” The discussion below the article, as always, allows for the insight of others on the topic as well. […]

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