Spring procession of “ljelje” from Gorjani

The spring procession of “ljelje” is held once a year, on the Catholic feast of Pentecost or Whitsunday (“Duhovi”). On this day, the Catholic Church commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles. Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter Sunday, anytime between 10 May and 13 June.

The holiday is celebrated two days in a row: on Sunday (“Duhovi” or “Dovi”, the first day of Whitsuntide) and on Monday (Pentecost Monday, the second day of “Duhovi” or “Dovi”). Although the ljelje custom is held at Pentecost, it doesn’t contain any religious elements. It took place in the village of Gorjani until 1966, and then again from 2002 until the present. As the custom hadn’t been maintained for 36 years, it has been, in its renewed version, somewhat adapted to present times.

The custom today (2002-2011)

Although few people thought that the ljelje custom would be renewed, just such a revival took place in 2002 and the procession has taken place in Gorjani every year since then. The initiative to renew the custom was started by the then artistic director of the Culture and Arts Society “Gorjanac”, Marija Bučanović, who had the support of the Society’s general manager at that time, Karlo Šipoš, and of other members of the Society and the inhabitants of Gorjani. The members of the “Gorjanac” Society have been in charge of maintaining the custom since its renewal.

In the past, before the custom was discontinued in 1966, it rarely took place for a few years in a row, and often had several one or more year breaks between events. Since its renewal in 2002, the custom has taken place regularly, at each Pentecost.

The “Duhovi” feast is not called “Dovi” anymore, as it used to be called in the past, but just “Duhovi”, and the custom is held on Sunday only, on the first day of Whitsuntide.

In Gorjani, the custom had always been referred to simply as “ljelje”, but the name “queens” has been used of late as well. The name “queens” was used mostly in Serbian villages in the Đakovo town area, as well as in Croatian villages in other parts of Slavonia, Syrmia, Baranja and Bačka. Today it is also used in Gorjani, as a general term for this group of customs. In Gorjani, queens are the girls who play one of the roles in the ljelje custom.

The main participants in the ljelje custom are girls, usually aged 13-24, but boys also take part. Married men used to take part in the event too, but they do not anymore. Girls play the roles of kings and queens, and boys act as beggars and play music. The number of participants is not strictly determined; there are usually eight kings, except in the years 2008, and 2009 and 2010, when there were 12 and 10 kings respectively. The number of queens has varied between three and eight, while the number of boys has been between four and 21.

On Pentecost Day, the participants in the ljelje custom get dressed at their homes, after which they gather at the local Voluntary Firemen Society where the “Gorjanac” Society has been given a room of their own. After they have gathered and taken the necessary props, the participants leave for the Parish Church of St Jacob the Apostle, where they attend Mass. In the church, they sit right in front of the altar, in the front rows; first kings, and then queens and boys.

Songs relevant to the occasion (i.e. dedicated to the Holy Spirit) are sung during the Mass. Meri (Marica) Gotovac, a Sister of the Order of the Holy Cross from Đakovo, has been in charge of music in the church at Pentecost and in general. The song is started by one of the older women, the so-called “počimalja”, and then taken over by the rest of the congregation. In 2010 and 2011, a tamburitza orchestra from Gorjani, conducted by the teacher Tomica Ivanović, played during the Mass.

After the Mass, the kolo is danced in front of the church, and it is usually accompanied by the tamburitza.

This is the Kolo song[1]:

All the villages around are white,

And Gorjani stands like a chapel.

Hey, Gorjani, it’s a rich village,

Boys are like silver, and girls are like gold.

Hey, Gorjani, a village in two rows,

It looks like Zagreb when looked at from a distance.

Following an unwritten rule, the songs Sitno and Kabanica are played after Kolo:

A raincoat that cost six Kreutzer, hey, hey,

The sweetheart will come as soon as she dines, hey, hey!

The raincoat with a fringe around the edge,

Hey, shepherds, there is no need to be afraid of the rain!

The raincoat made from four pieces of fabric,

Kiss me, my sweet darling!

Once the Kolo has been completed, the participants start a procession through the village. In 2009, ljelje did not attend Mass; instead, they started their procession from the schoolyard. If the parish priest will receive them, they go and see him first; if not, they visit the houses of the hosts that volunteered to offer them hospitality. The villagers who want to have ljelje as guests need to contact the “Gorjanac” Society, which then decides on the order in which ljelje will visit the hosts’ houses.

The procession usually walks down a path alongside the main, asphalted road, although it sometimes takes the road, too. First go kings followed by queens, then beggars and finally bagpipe and tamburitza players. Kings and queens walk in pairs, two by two. If there is an odd number of kings and queens, the three remaining girls walk together after the last king/queen pair. In the past, in the same situation, the three girls would walk before the first pair. Another change in the initial order of participants concerns the position of beggars, who used the walk at the head of the procession, while today their place is between queens and players. The exception was the year 2011, when they once more occupied the position at the head of the procession.

While they walk down the street towards the host houses, the girls sing the ljelje’s song. The verses in all songs – those sung in the street as well as those sung in the house yards – have the same melody but different lyrics.

These are the songs that are sung:

We are going, ljeljo, we are going to the king, ljeljo

From a courtyard to courtyard, a courtyard to courtyard, ljeljo

To the emperor’ s table, to the emperor’s table, ljeljo

Where the emperor drinks wine, drinks wine, ljeljo

And the empress is sleeping, the empress is sleeping, ljeljo

The emperor wakes the empress up, wakes the empress up, ljeljo

He kisses her between the eyes, between the eyes, ljeljo

Get up, oh, empress, get up, oh, empress, ljeljo

The queens have arrived, the queens have arrived, ljeljo!


We are going, ljeljo, we are going to the king, ljeljo

To the immortelle field, to the immortelle field, ljeljo

To pick immortelle, to pick immortelle, ljeljo

Immortelle and feather-grass, immortelle and feather-grass, ljeljo

To adorn kings, to adorn kings, ljeljo

Kings and queens, kings and queens, ljeljo!


A peacock is walking in the valley, in the valley, ljeljo

Its feathers are fluttering, feathers are fluttering, ljeljo

It often turns back, often turns back, ljeljo

To check if it fits it well, fits it well, ljeljo

Like a silk skirt and a shirt, silk skirt and a shirt, ljeljo

And a thin dress, a thin dress, ljeljo

Fits a girl, fits a girl, ljeljo!

As they cross the street, the ljelje sing the following verses:

We are going, ljeljo, we are going to the king, ljeljo

To the Danube river, to the Danube river, ljeljo

To the cold water, to the cold water, ljeljo!

These days, ljelje are usually offered hospitality in around ten houses in the village, so the distance between the houses receiving ljelje has become bigger. When the girls come to the end of one of the songs, they stop singing. It is then the players’ turn to play, usually one of following songs: Bećarac, Drumarac or Gorjansko kolo.

These are are the verses of Bećarac[2]:

Look what nice shade there is,

It’s good for collecting clover to feed the animals.

It is nice when the tamburitza’s playing,

Its sound touches my heart.

How I love when a dark-haired girl is sleeping,

Spreading her arms over the pillows.

A bećar[3] is pulling his hat over his eyes,

He can’t wait till it gets dark.

A girl has opened her window wide,

So that a lad can strike her with his hat.

A girl is putting flowers in her window,

As long as I’m here, she will not get married.

Here are my brothers, here are boys from Gorjani,

Those who kiss penniless girls.

Here are my brothers, here are boys from Gorjani,

They sit in a jail each Wednesday.

We are the brothers from the Gorjani hills,

Whoever makes fun of us will get into trouble.

I’m walking down the road, shooting my gun,

To make a girl and her lover fall out with each other.

I’m having fun, my folks don’t know it,

But if they knew, they would give me money.

When the bećari sing in the street,

All the windows get thrown open wide.

Oh, my hat, worn-out and without shape,

You’re not good for me anymore, now that I’m a bećar.

Having fun, singing and drinking,

Oh, God, I can never get bored of that.

Dear God, has it risen,

The big clouds have risen, it’s going to rain.

Come on, baby, come out into the street,

I’ve lost my hat, please go and find it.

Oh, my baby, you need a bigger window,

I’ve hurt my back getting into your house.

Oh, my friend, the bridge is rocking,

Let it rock, you’re my friend.

There are no horses like Lipizzaner,

Nor the bećari like the ones from Gorjani.

Hey, Gorjani, a village in two rows,

It looks like Zagreb when looked at from a distance.

This tamburitza of mine knows well,

Where to find girls.

Roses bloom as I walk,

Along this road and on this street.

This road is never muddy,

Except now and when it’s raining.

Roses and lilies are in bloom,

Making the whole Slavonia smell wonderfully.

The hosts open their front yard doors wide. In the yard, they have laid out tables and filled them with drinks, savoury foods, such as cured meat, and cakes. They often also put out chairs with pillows on them for the kings to sit down on. In the past, the seats for the kings were arranged by recently married young women only, but today they are also set in the yards of the houses where there are no new brides. There are as many chairs as there are kings.

As they approach a host’s house, the tamburitza players stop playing and the ljelje start singing a song for the host. The host meets ljelje at the front yard gate, sometimes holding a small bottle of brandy in his hands. The ljelje enter singing, take their positions in the yard and sing the song to its end. If there are chairs in the yard, the kings stand in front of the chairs or sit on them, and the queens stand behind the chairs. If there are no chairs, the queens stand behind the kings, all of them occupying their adequate positions in the yard, facing the hosts.

The song that ljelje sing as they enter the front yard and once in the yard is an occasional song whose lyrics depend on who lives in the house (for example, if the hosts have a son and a daughter that live with them, the ljelje sing: They tell us, they tell us, ljeljo / That a brother and a sister live here, ljeljo… etc.).

If a brother and a sister live in the house, the ljelje sing:

They tell us, they tell us, ljeljo

That a brother and a sister live here, ljeljo

Marry your daughter, marry your daughter, ljeljo

But give us your son, give us your son, ljeljo

And we will marry him, we will marry him, ljeljo

To our rightmost king, our rightmost king, ljeljo

Or to our leftmost queen, our leftmost queen, ljeljo!

If there is an unmarried young man living in the house, the ljelje sing:

They tell us, they tell us, ljeljo

That an unmarried young man lives here, ljeljo

Either you marry him, either you marry him, ljeljo

Or give him to us, or give him to us, ljeljo

And we will marry him, we will marry him, ljeljo

To our queen, to our queen, ljeljo!

If there is an unmarried young woman living in the house, the ljelje sing:

They tell us, they tell us, ljeljo

That an unmarried young woman lives here, ljeljo

Either you marry her, either you marry her, ljeljo

Or give her to us, or give her to us, ljeljo

And we will marry her, we will marry her, ljeljo

To our king, to our king, ljeljo!

If there is a recently married young woman living in the house, the ljelje sing:

They tell us, they tell us, ljeljo

That there is a young bride in this house, ljeljo

Young, but good at housework, good at housework, ljeljo

She has swept the courtyard, swept the courtyard, ljeljo

She has fetched water, fetched water, ljeljo

She has made pastry, made pastry, ljeljo

She has welcomed kings, welcomed kings, ljeljo

Kings and queens, kings and queens, ljeljo!

If one of the girls that participates in the ljelje custom lives in that house, the ljelje sing:

Hey, the king’s mother, the king’s mother, ljeljo

Come out to meet the king, meet the king, ljeljo

The king is tired, the king is tired, ljeljo

He’s broken his sabre, broken his sabre, ljeljo

Either forge him another one, another one, ljeljo

Or buy him a new one, buy him a new one, ljeljo!

When they enter the front yard of distinguished villagers, such as the parish priest, the ljelje sing:

They tell us, they tell us, ljeljo

That a respected man lives in this house, ljeljo

Who’s been doing well, doing well, ljeljo

Earning a nice fortune, nice fortune, ljeljo

They have met the kings, met the kings, ljeljo

They have given nice gifts, given nice gifts, ljeljo

To kings and queens, kings and queens, ljeljo!

A ritual play then takes place in the host’s house; while all the girls sing, the kings obey the commands sung in the songs. The queens stand still. If the kings are sitting, the ritual play starts with the following song:

Rise to your feet, king, rise to your feet, king, ljeljo!

The kings rise from their seats and the following verse is then sung (if the kings weren’t sitting, this verse is sung first):

Walk around, king, walk around, king, ljeljo!

The kings split into two groups that move in opposite directions and walk around the queens. When the two groups meet behind the queens, they flick their sabres, repeating the action when they meet in front of the queens. The song “Walk around, king…” is too short to allow them to complete all of these actions during the song, so they continue during the next song:

Come together, king, come together, king, ljeljo!

While this song is sung, the kings complete their walk around the queens, and then form a “kolo” (a circular dance formation). After that, they sing:

Dance for us, king, dance for us, king, ljeljo!

A bagpipe player or a tamburitza player then plays the kolo music. A similar ritual used to be performed by the old-time “ljelje”. Since the renewal of the custom, another ritual play, different from the one described above, has been introduced, and it is this play that is most often performed nowadays, while the one described has become very rare. The new play also starts with the song “Rise to your feet, king…”, after which the kings rise up. Next is the song “Walk around, king…”, when the kings split into groups and move in opposite directions, forming two small half-circles. After that, the song “Come together, kings…” is sung and the kings go towards each other, forming two lines, one next to the other, as if they were walking down the street. Then comes the verse that the old-time “ljelje”, i.e. those who took part in the processions up to 1966, did not know: “Flick your sabre, king, flick your sabre, king, ljeljo!” The kings face each other and flick their sabres in the rhythm of the song.

Then they sing “Come together, king…”, and the two groups of kings walk around each other and form the kolo. After that they sing “Dance for us, king…”, and the bagpipe player plays the kolo music.

Although the kolo is played differently by different players, it is actually a type of traditional Šokačko kolo. In the first two years after the renewal of the custom, the Kolo was played by tamburitza players from Gorjani; in 2002 it was Tomislav Bogdanović, and in 2003 Marko Birtić. In 2004, the bagpipe player Domagoj Pavić from Đakovo played the Kolo, and since 2005 until today, the bagpipe player is Ivan Lović from Gorjani. The exception was the year 2009, when the Kolo was played by a group of tamburitza players, since the regular bagpipe player was not able to take part in the procession.

While dancing Kolo, the girls keep holding sabres in their right hands, while holding the right elbow of the dancer next to them with their left hands. The ljelje’s Kolo is danced in the same way as the Šokačko kolo. The dancers interrupt the bagpipe player with a song, which is sung in decasyllabic verse. While the player plays, the girls in the kolo sometimes lower their swords simultaneously while dancing, pointing them towards the centre of the kolo, then raising them again.


The girls also strike with their sabres: while one dancer strikes with her sabre, the next dancer moves hers to the left and to the right, so that it can be struck by the dancers standing next to her.

The girls in the kolo sing a song in decasyllabic verses about “ljelje”, the host, the mothers-in-law and the people of Gorjani:

It’s nice to see how ljelje

Create so much joy.

Girls who are like heads of grain joined the ljelje,

Girls who are like weeds trot after them.

Girls who are like grain became queens,

Girls who are like rye walk silently behind them.

Hey, you, the master of this house,

May your family live long.

Hey, you, the master of this house,

May your wife live long.

Hey, you, master, we praise you,

For everything that you have given us.

A mother raised a handsome boy,

A son to her and a sweetheart to me.

One doesn’t love what’s beautiful or rich,

But what’s sweet and charming.

Dear mother-in-law, spruce your son up,

I’ll spruce myself up, we’ll be as neat as two babies.

They ask me: “Where are you from, sister?”

Oh, my, dear, I’m from Gorjani.

Gorjani is a charming village,

Boys are like silver, and girls are like gold.

After a few songs, the player stops playing. The girls then sing:

Spread apart, king, spread apart, king, ljeljo!

The kings open the kolo and stand in a line, resuming their initial positions. Then they sing:

Bow, king, bow, king, ljeljo!

They bow to the hosts while still singing, and the hosts in turn offer them food and drink, and give them presents. The presents, which are collected by beggars carrying baskets, usually consist of money, but sometimes also wine, home-made sausages or something similar. All the gifts are kept by the Culture and Arts Society “Gorjanac”.

While still at the host’s, the tamburitza players sometimes play a song or two – well-known songs such as Bećarac, Vesela je Šokadija, Oj, dorati, U mog baće or some more recent song.

The verses of Bećarac go like this:

Hey, you, the host of this house,

May your family live long.

Hey, host, open the front yard gate,

Here are the guests coming to your home.

You’ll nowhere get such shade

As under a young walnut tree.

There is no woman as good as brandy,

It keeps me swaying for three days.

Hey, Mary, wine and brandy,

I don’t know if I should drink or if I should kiss you.

Hey, brandy, I want to drink you so much,

I’d beg three days to be able to afford you.

I’ve torn the heel of my shoe,

And now I keep thinking about a hole.

Hey, my hand, you are longer than my sleeve,

Would you recognise the one that you fondled?

Seven roads, seven, but mine,

Each night I’ll visit another girl.

There are bećari everywhere in the street,

From the pub to the rectory.

My heart is bathing in love,

I haven’t heard it beating for three days.

Oh, my heart, I’ll stab you with a knife,

I won’t let you be sad yet.

The master is standing at the gate, shouting,

Hey, players, come for a drink.

Play for me a slow bećarac,

Let it be known that I’m from Gorjani.

Hey, Šokadija, we’ll keep your customs alive,

As long as your name lasts.

All bećari are from Gorjani,

There are few that aren’t.

My tamburitza is made from maple tree,

My baby has a hawk’s eye.

Oh, tamburitza, I’ll buy strings for you,

Once you bury me, me – a good-for-nothing.

Oh, tamburitza, with your four strings,

Take me to my little girl.

For three days my hand smelled,

Of pomade and a young girl.

Wine, wine, it’s all wine’s fault,

That my head sleeps without a pillow.

Sometimes the tamburitza players play Kolo, Sitno and Kabanica. All the participants in the procession start dancing, including – very often – the hosts and everyone present. The following decasyllabic verses are sung:

Play to me the Šokačko kolo,

That’s my favourite dance.

Look at how big our kolo has got,

It’s bigger than on St Bartol’s Day.

When the youth of Šokadija starts dancing,

The earth rocks under them.

I looked all around the kolo,

Here, there, until I set my eyes on you, my girl.

Since the days the village was settled,

There has never been a kolo like this one.

When it is time to move on to another host’s house, the procession participants resume their places in the procession and leave the host’s courtyard while ljelje sing their song. Nowadays, the participants stay longer at their hosts’ than they used to in the past, especially at the last house, but the whole ritual lasts shorter than before since there are fewer houses to visit. The whole event usually finishes in the afternoon hours.


[1] This is a free translation of the original song, which is written in decasyllabic verses arranged in couplets that rhyme (translator’s note).


[2] “Bećarac” is a genre of music popular in eastern Croatia. It is sung in decasyllabic verses organised in couplets, which lead singers interchange striving to out-sing each other. There is a wide repertoire of old and new couplets that lead singers skilfully combine, while often also adding new ones in order to shape “bećarac” to suit the context. The text of “bećarac” is often humorous, and sometimes erotically ambiguous or even openly lascivious (t/n).

[3] “Bećar” is an unmarried young man who spends his nights in a pub with his fellow “bećari”, and loves drinking, singing “bećarac” and seducing young women (t/n).


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To be translated :)





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