The Poklad (Carnival) event held yearly on the remote Adriatic Island of Lastovo is one of the most distinctive and authentic carnival traditions celebrated in all Croatia today. All the island residents participate in it by wearing folk costumes.
The origins of the Lastovo carnival are related to a historical event. The legend says that approximately 500 years ago Catalan pirates attacked neighboring Korčula and sent a Turkish messenger to Lastovo to tell the islanders to surrender or they would be the next. The inhabitants of Lastovo did not let themselves be intimidated. On the contrary, they armed themselves and decided to fight back. The women and children walked barefoot from Lastovo to Hum, praying to Sv. Jure (St. George) for help. Their prayers were answered – a storm destroyed the pirates’ ships and the inhabitants of Lastovo caught the messenger. In order to mock him, he was taken through the village on the back of a donkey and was afterwards sentenced and burned to death. This event is celebrated through the Poklad every year over a period of two days just before Lent.
The Lastovo Carnival season starts immediately after New Year, on January 6 – Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day, and ends in the night preceding Ash Wednesday.
If you plan to experience one of the most authentic events during the Carnival, you should be in Lastovo on Carnival Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday) at eleven o’clock when church bells halt all their activities in the village.
The carnival crowd, known as “Pokladari” gather and start playing their lyres. The carnival procession begins and is accompanied by music. The Poklad doll is placed on the village donkey judged to be the most beautiful. The procession halts when it reaches Pod kostajnu (the tree growing in the middle of the village). The length of the rope measuring over 300 meters has already been stretched between the pole set here and another mounted on the top of the hill in the background of the western side of the village. The procession climbs up to the top of the hill and the puppet is attached to the rope down which it slides three times, with fire crackers cracking under its feet. Each time it reaches the bottom of the rope, the Poklad doll is met by drawn swords.
After this, the procession heads to the parish church where they are joined by the masked women at dusk. After dancing with the “beautiful maskers” and a sword performance, the Pokladari set Poklad on fire and start running with the puppet around the circle of dancers. Once the Poklad is burnt down to ashes, the crowd starts shouting: “UVO! UVO! UVO!” After this, the islanders head home and the church bells mark the end of the carnival.
The Lastovo carnival can be explained as a whole system of symbols. Hanging and sliding of the puppet down the rope, as well as its death at the stake, stand probably for the purification by air and by fire, i.e. for the ritual redemption of the community from the evil which had settled in the village during the preceding year. Lastovo is a typical farmers’ and cultivators’ community. The episode where the Poklad is lowered down the rope is observed with silent attentiveness because it is immensely important for the community that the Poklad should not slip from their hands or turn over on the rope. This would otherwise predict a bad year for the island’s vineyards and harvests.
Whether this is true or not, the villagers take this ancient carnival extremely seriously and it is in no way meant to be a mere tourist attraction. People who are originally from Lastovo and live around the world return to the island for this event every year and all the participants take part in the festival with a certain level of pride.