Gratitude for the Gifts of the Earth
It is the same everywhere beneath the vast skies over the Plain. It begins in April, when wheat is blessed, and ends in late September, when bread is symbolically handed over. In Bunjevci region, the harvesters are called risari, and they are led by the bandaš. Dužijanca, the harvest festival, has been celebrated in Subotica for more than a century. Since 1993, it has grown into a special cultural, religious and tourist event. As the locals would say: ”During hay mowing, I should be with the sheep, during meals, I should be with the mowers”

Text and photo: Dragan Bosnić

is a harvest festivity originated in the granges of Bunjevac in the north of Bačka. Practically, the festival begins at the end of April, by blessing the grains, and ends by handing over bread, at the end of September. The most interesting and perhaps the most important part of the festivity is harvest, namely competition of reapers, called ”risari”, held this year in mid-July in Đurđin, a village near Subotica. The celebration also includes few other festive events in Bunjevac villages. We should mention the creation of straw paintings in Tavankut. A grand final ceremony is held in Subotica. All this is in honor of bandaš, risar and their female companions who have completed the harvest. Besides filling the farmer’s stomach, the bread grain also fills the farmer’s wallet.
Risari, hired mowers, appeared in the north of Bačka when the consolidation of the estates began and when one reaper could not complete the harvest in the field alone. And this is work that has to be completed in a couple of days, one must not wait too long, because summer storms can destroy a year worth of hard work in the field in a couple of minutes. This custom originated at the end of the 19th century. The grain that the reapers would harvest was called ”ris”, because the reapers were paid in kind.
The reaper’s work starts already in the crack of dawn, by making ropes for tying bundles. The rope is made of two strands of grains that are interwoven, then then moisted to remain wet because the bundle is easier to tie that way. Immediately after, the harvesters’ lunch begins. This is what they call a strong breakfast that allows the risar to withstand the heat and hard work. This lunch is provided by the host and consists of bread, white bacon, onions and sour cream. Apricot rakia helps them to digest bacon more easily and sour cream prevents dehydration. At noon, the risars eat snack, that is, lunch. In the afternoon, they take a short break for a small snack. The working day ends around seven o’clock, and then tarana dinner is prepared usually with a lot of pasta.


Risar has his female assistant, risaruša, who collects the harvested grains and binds it in bundles. The leader of the risars is a bandaš and his companion is a bandašica. The first cut is done by the bandaš. Formerly, the straw was in high demand, and the cuts were low. Bandašica and risaruša always lag a few steps behind reaper, in order to avoid injuries. The bundles are bound at the end of the day and are stacked together in krstine. This work is done by risari, while the risarušas with large rakes collect the scattered stalks, tie them in bundles and put them on krstine. When the krstine are formed, furrows are made between them so that, if fire should start in one of them, it would not spread to all of them.
The clothes of the reapers and their female companions are adapted for working with sharp straw that can seriously hurt the skin. The same applies to footwear, because the low-cut stalks are uncomfortable for walking. A hat is an integral part of working clothes. It protects it from the sun, and when it is damped, it comfortably cools.
A part of the traditional harvest, called risa, is also threshing, with a thresher driven by a tractor. The old machine with metal wheels is probably older than the oldest reaper. It was as lively as the old reapers, so the threshing was completed without any problems. The tractor and the thresher must be paired, and were usually purchased together. The threshing is serviced by about fifteen people. It was common that the threshing is followed from one farm to the next, or from one yard to the next, by about fifteen people, most often the reapers. One loads the bundles on the machine, which are then handled by the female companions who cut the ropes on the bundles. The machinist loads the untied bundle into the thresher. One or two men are filling the sacks, and at least as many are taking away the full sacks. One man removes the straw scattered around by the machine and another two take it away. At least one man makes a haystack, and when it grows, another one is needed to throw the straw on top. Two women take away the chaff. The harvester has simplified the harvest and threshing, reducing it to two to three people. Only, the old reapers say, that the harvester mowers high, scatters the chaff and, most importantly, does not sort the wheat grain as the thresher does.


Lunch here is called snack, as in some southern parts of Serbia. They usually snack tarana (greasy stew) with bread or beans with pasta. We should remind that tarana is a stew with different meat ingredients and thin noodles, after which the dish was named.


The Festivity
”In Subotica, Dužijanca, the festival celebrating the end of the harvest, has been celebrated for over a century. It is an expression of faith and culture, a unique blend of prayer and appreciation, customs and cultural values. Originally, it signifies a happy ending of harvest in the field, and everything ends in joy. When the mowing was finished and the harvest completed, a young risaruša would make a grain wreath in the field and put it on the hat of the bandaš, the leader of the reapers.”


”When bandaš takes off the grain wreath from his hat, he gives it to the host and says: ’Thank God, the harvest is completed.’ In 1911, priest Blaško Rajić introduced the family Dužijanca under the roofs of the church, where the bandaš couple, until today, has a special role in church ritual. The custom to thank God for the fruits of the earth, has been shaped into a beautiful and solemn event, radiating abundance, joy, and faith. In 1993, Dužijanca assumed a new form and content, by merging the so-called city and so-called church Dužijanca, becoming a cultural, religious and tourist event.


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