Reminiscing, I realised where my interest and devotion to Gottschee language – Gottscheerisch – and the history of the Gottscheer people come from. It in fact accompanies me from when I was a little girl. My parents raised me in keeping with the old customs and kept alive the memory of the my ancestors’ lives. Those are warm memories and I really wish my children would have the same opportunities.
Children’s learning lessons with the Society of Native Gottschee Settlers
The Society of Native Gottschee Settlers brought life to the village of Občice (Gottscheerisch: Kropflarn, German: Krapflern). In the society, I had the opportunity to actively acquaint myself with Gottscheerisch and German, as it was visited by many foreign-speaking groups and individuals. If I wanted to understand what they were saying, I had to learn German and Gottscheerisch. For us children, Mrs Maridi Tscherne and Mrs Andreja Retelj prepared various children’s educational animations and courses of Gottscheerisch and German.
We loved to come to workshops because no such opportunities to express our creativity were available at home. The language workshop programme was very diverse and it was organised often, which is very important for learning and preserving the language. We spent practically all our holidays at the Society of Native Gottschee Settlers. I remember the society’s white van picking up children from the surrounding villages and driving us to learning lessons that took place at their premises. But that was not all. With the van, they also took us on holiday to Kočevje and for a German course to Klagenfurt, which marked a turning point in my life, as I have come to love speaking German ever since. It is very important that the child spends some time alone in a foreign-speaking environment. I am aware that all this was a very big financial burden for the society, and Doris Debenjak and August Gril must be credited for taking care of it.
Because a large number of children visited the society, we named ourselves “Gottscheer Jugendgruppe” or Gottscheer children’s group. Under the direction of Mrs Maridi Tscherne, a small choir sang Gottscheer songs. At that time, we had numerous performances at home and abroad. Each performance brought us new experiences and adventures. I think in those days more money was allocated to funding culture and language. However, the money was also the reason for quarrelling and lifelong resentments. It is unfortunate that the story took a downward turn. Life in the Society of Native Gottschee Settlers was slowly waning and suddenly came to a halt. The work in the society started concentrating on a handful of foreign people.
The Beginnings of the Gottscheer Folklore Group
The children from the group that has been visiting the society for many years became adults. We became husbands and wives. We had to take care of our own families. Raising children became our main task in life. As a parent, you have the responsibility to pass the cultural heritage you have experienced yourself on to your child. It is up to each individual what effort they are going to invest in this.
Beginnings in the Tourist Association Pod Srebotnikom
An idea was born when I thought how to more effectively and vividly present the identity of the Gottscheers through dance. I founded the Pod Srebotnikom Tourism Society. At first, I focused on events in my home village, such as the Midsummer Day celebrations, cornhusking, St Nicholas celebration, Shrovetide procession, International Women’s Day celebration and Christmas torch hike. Later, I focused on researching the Gottscheer customs and celebrations, farm chores and dance tradition of the Gottscheers. The beginnings were very difficult, as my starting point was only an idea, without traditional Gottscheer costumes, money and any supporting group of people who would believe in Gottscheer dance. However, with a strong will and by investing my time, over time the idea became reality.
The Gottscheer Folklore Group of the Society of Native Gottschee Settlers
I and the individuals from the valley as well as the dancers from the neighbouring folklore groups joined hands in cooperation and founded the Gottschee Folklore Group. Mr Franc Šprajcer, the then leader of the Semiška ohcet Folklore Group, offered us a helping hand in dance teaching. The first rehearsal took place in the outdoors on August 2015. In the autumn of 2015, we started rehearsing at the premises of the Moschnice Institute in the August Schaur Hall in Kočevske Poljane. Mrs Maridi Tscherne taught us the first Gottscheer song.
For our first performances we borrowed the White Carniolan traditional costumes from the Semiška ohcet Folklore Group. I applied at the Municipality of Dolenjske Toplice for co-financing of our first project, and we received funds for fashioning of women’s accessories for the Gottscheer traditional attire. Ties, belts, scarves and collars were sewn by Mrs Irena Kapš and Mrs Darja Štangelj, both of whom were dancers with the Gottscheer Folklore Group. These were unforgettable and sleepless nights at my home. Otherwise, I was used to sleepless nights, as my first daughter, Ela, was born at that time. We collected contributions at the stalls and thus collected the first money for the fabric. Luckily, we have a garment designer in the group, Mrs Irena Kapš, who tailored the coats for the costumes. We ordered the fabric in Hungary since it is very difficult to buy the traditional, emerald-coloured fabric, in Slovenia. When we received the fabric, Mrs Irena Kapš immediately started sewing. And so the Gottscheer traditional attire acquired a new look.
A new stage performance
Cooperation with experts
In 2016, we had five performances. The last one was at the opening of the exhibition Showcases of Memory organised by Anja Moric, PhD, in Kočevje, where I met the ethnochoreologist Mr Mirko Ramovš. He promised us he will provide his professional help. Mrs Anja Moric organised the first meeting with Tomaž Simetinger, PhD. We agreed on the first professional choreography of Gottscheer dances. In 2017, the activities of the Gottscheer Folklore Group were transferred to the Society of Native Gottschee Settlers, while the Pod Srebotnikom Tourism Society was disbanded. The current president, Marjan Štangelj, took over the management of the Society of Native Gottschee Settlers. In January 2017, Mr Simetinger visited us at the premises of the Society of Native Gottschee Settlers and showed us the first part of the stage performance “Aufjuble dü Göttscheabar”, in other words Cheer Gottscheer and Rejoice. To make the rehearsal training easier, the late Mr August Pogačnik filmed Mr Simetinger’s choreography.
The first presentation of the new choreography
We presented our new stage performance for the first time in Semič – at the inauguration of the 3rd Days of Gottschee Culture. Days of Gottscheer Culture. In 2017, the folklore group appeared on stage at the regional gathering of adult folklore groups in Novo mesto. This year, we also got new men’s belts for our costume garments. In 2018, we also added a professional choirleader to the singing of Gottscheer songs. We were joined by Mrs Ani Šober Jankovič, a choirleader of the Dragatuš Folklore Group. Mrs Ani teaches singing with utter devotion. We feel like little children next to her. A Gottscheer, Mr Johanes Hans Jaklitsch, helps us with the pronunciation. Mr Jaklitsch trusts in our work and has supported us financially from the very beginning. He became a patron of the Gottschee Folklore Group. Mrs Sophia Stalzer Wyant from USA later joined the sponsorship. Let me extend a sincere thanks to both of them for their help and trust.
Past two years of operation
In 2018, our Gottscheer costume got a completely new look. We returned the borrowed garments. We sewed skirts, blouses, men’s pants and shirts. All that was missing were hats. We acquired them at the beginning of 2019. In the spring of 2018, we performed for the second time in a row at the Regional Gathering of Children and Adult Folk Groups organised by Public Fund for Cultural Activities of the Republic of Slovenia (JSKD), Novo mesto RO. The progress of the Gottschee Folklore Group dancing was also noticed by the expert jury. Quite a few performances followed. You can read more about the work of the folklore group in the Bakh newspaper No. 26, March 2020.
In 2019, we handed over the supervision of the folklore group to the younger generation. The new coaches, Simon and Sanja Cerjak, grew up dancing and listening to music. Folklore and the desire to learn about folk dance presented a new challenge to them. Unfortunately, the dancers were not satisfied with the progress of the folklore group, therefore in 2020 its management was taken over by the experienced Mrs Branka Moškon, the leader of the Kres Novo Mesto Folklore Group.
The Epidemic and the Cultural Life
During the COVID-19 epidemic, culture is faced with a great challenge. Cultural life has practically come to a standstill. The activity of the Gottschee Folklore Group is currently in stand-by mode. Further development will be influenced by many factors. Current decrees negatively affect people’s social lives and the functioning of amateur culture groups. However, we can use this time to reflect on the development of our work, invest it in new research and seeking new opportunities. In fact, the future is based on interconnecting new virtual life and traditional customs.
In our previous post you can read more about the Days of Gottscheer Culture.