A frail child becomes a hero
Small and frail, barefoot and wearing patched-up clothes. He led the sheep or oxen to pasture on steep slopes that loom over the Kolpa River. Like most poor children in the Kolpa and Čabranka Valley, he served as a village shepherd to help his poor mother. Because he was a weakling, other shepherds beat him and made fun of him – until a miracle occurred. According to the most widespread version of the tale, he caught sight of a slumbering girl while grazing the animals. He broke the branches and made a shade so that the scorching sun would not sear her. As a way of thanks, the girl, who was in fact a fairy, granted his wish to grow mighty and strong. Since then, he used his new gained might to help his compatriots in protecting their hometowns against foes (mostly Ottomans or the so called Turks).
A symbol of survival
Peter Klepec (Slovenian; Petar Klepac – Croatian) became the hero of the Kolpa and Čabranka valley, i.e. of the border region between Slovenia and Croatia. He stepped outside the framework of a narrative character, as he also became a symbol of survival in remote places neglected in terms of development and infrastructure that were further struck by the World War II by internment in Italian concentration camps and the decimation of the population. People could thus identify themselves with the strong Klepec and sought in him the source of strength to overcome barriers and persevere in an otherwise inhospitable environment. Later on, it was the Slovenian writers, in particular France Bevk, who drew the subject matter for their writings from folk tales, that helped to spread the voice of Klepec across Slovenia. There is practically no child today who would not learn about this mighty hero in kindergarten or school.
Peter Klepec’s monuments
The tales of Peter Klepec have been circulated on both sides of the border – in Slovenia and Croatia. According to one of them, Klepec supposedly built a house in the village of Mali Log in Croatia where it stood from 12thcentury onwards. In the roof truss, he built in a huge beam that he brought from Sveta Gora. When during the World War II the Italians burnt down the village in 1942, the Klepec’s house burnt down as well. Today, only ruins can be seen there. In the 1980s, the Municipality of Osilnica decided to use the character of Peter Klepec for tourist and promotional purposes and started to present itself as the “Land of Peter Klepec”. At the initiative of Stanko Nikolić, the sculptor Marjan Leš produced two enormous wooden statues that were placed on the outskirts of the Municipality of Osilnica.
This wasn’t received well by some of the inhabitants of Mali Log and sparked controversy to whom Peter Klepec actually belongs – i.e. to Slovenians or Croats – that lasted several years. A decade after the people of Osilnica, the inhabitants of Mali Log set up a statue in memory of Klepec near the ruins of the Klepec’s house.
Whose hero is Peter Klepec?
We see borders between countries as impassable lines of separation. It is precisely the boundless tradition of the hero Klepec that reminds us that these are in fact constructed and not so impermeable. In the narratives, there appear several places where Peter Klepec is supposed to have been born and lived. Most often Osilnica and Mali Log, as well as Čabar are mentioned. That is, depending on who is telling the story. However, all the places are within a distance of a few kilometres. The controversies about whose hero Peter Klepec actually is, are therefore absurd, and it would be most appropriate if we would consider Peter Klepec as a hero common to all the inhabitants of the valley. Perhaps at one time he will be strong enough to associate under a uniform tourist label the inhabitants living on the two banks of the Kolpa River (i.e. the areas of the Municipality of Osilnica and Municipality of Čabar) that are separated by the border.
Peter Klepec’s Statue hunt
A tip for a trip: The statues of Peter Klepec beckon you. The last was set up in October 2018 at Strma Reber above Osilnica. You can drive to them through Kočevska reka and Borovec. Then, you can continue in the direction of Čabar. On the border there awaits yet another wooden Peter Klepec. Just ring a bell hung from the Klepec’s belt (to get some of his strenght) in Mali Log near the ruins of the Klepec’s house and return in the direction of Osilnica. In the Kovač Hotel you can observe a statue of Peter Klepec made by academic painter and sculpturer Stane Jarm and on your way towards Mirtoviči and Petrina drive through picturesque villages. Say farewell to the last Peter Klepec on the hillock below the St Anne’s church.
– Moric, Anja. 2015. Peter Klepec: od (lokalnega) junaka do (nacionalne) prispodobe šibkosti. Ars&Humanitas. Available here: Slovenian or English.
– Moric, Anja in Perinić Lewis Ana. 2018. Petar Klepac/Peter Klepec/Pitr Kljepc: A Borderland Hero and the Manifestations of his Strength. Narodna umjetnost: hrvatski časopis za etnologiju i folkloristiku. Available here.
– Bevk, France. 1963 . Otroci samote. Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga.
– Kunaver, Dušica. 1988. Peter Klepec. Ljubljana: Državna založba Slovenije.
– Makarovič, Marija et al. 2002. Dva bregova eno srce. Življenjske pripovedi iz doline Kolpe in Čabranke. Kočevje: Pokrajinski muzej Kočevje.
– Primc, Jože. 1991. Peter Klepec in njegova dežela. Koč evje: Koordinacijski odbor za razvoj Zgornje Kolpske doline.
Do you want to learn more about the wider Kočevska (Gottschee) area? See our previous post: Georg Jurij Jonke – the Gottscheer beekeeper.