Spring Procession of Ljelje/Kraljice (Queens) from Gorjani

Spring Procession of Ljelje/Kraljice (Queens) from Gorjani

The village of Gorjani near the town of Đakovo is the focal point of a very special tradition that was once widespread across Slavonia, Baranja and Syrmia. The proud and tenacious people of this small village managed to preserve the custom of the spring procession of the queen that takes place on Pentecost Sunday, when young girls (or ljelje) take a walk around the village bearing sabres, of all things. Weapons are an integral part of their costumes as they are used in the ritual dance that the ljelje perform, accompanied by bagpipe (gajde) and tambura players or bećarac singers. The festive atmosphere, filled with song and dance, is complemented by colourful attires, silk dresses, ribbons and scarves (called ljeljare) decorated with gold ducats. Each detail is made to perfection, all for the purpose of making the ljelje look magnificent.

 

An unusual element of the costumes is the rule which stipulates that some of the girls wear white wreaths, which is why people call them “queens”, while others who dress as men and wear hats with flowers on them are called “kings”. Legend has it that the women of Gorjani dressed in men’s clothing and took up sabres during the Ottoman siege, making the frightened soldiers think they were ghosts.

 

Ethnographers, on the other hand, claim that the custom is ancient Slavic in origin, with the distinction between men and women pointing to a matrimonial context and ceremonies involving girls of marriageable age. All in all, no-one can say no to the songs and dances performed by the ljelje in their backyards. The central part of the procession, the sabre dance, involves the queens who comment on the dance steps of the kings in verses. The tradition of hosting and treating the ljelje to gifts such as food and drink, and especially to the well-known alcoholic drink rakija, is particularly respected and cherished. The happy group, comprised of the queens and music players, continue their spring procession in other villages of the greater Đakovo area, riding in horse-drawn carriages specially decorated for the occasion. Like many folk customs, protectors of this intangible heritage take pride in preserving the tradition. These sabre-bearing queens really do seem to be something else, since they’ve managed to earn global recognition. Whether or not the reason lies in the sabres, we may never know :)