The Czech Easter tradition of whipping girls
The Czech Republic has a rather unusual tradition on Easter Monday. Boys get willow branches, braid them together into whips and decorate them with ribbons to whip girls with for luck and fertility. The word for this whip in Czech is pomlázka, which has also become the name of the tradition itself. To learn more about pomlázka I interviewed three Czechs. The first is a 17 year-old-girl with several brothers, the second is an active feminist and the third is an expert on Czech folklore.
Noemi: “In my family there are three guys. Come Easter they make whips from willow branches and put ribbons on the whips, for the day after Easter, for Monday. In the morning they whip the girls with the pomlazka. They do it for the girl's health and they sing a song ‘Hody, hody, doprovody, dejte vejce malovaný, nedáte-li malovaný, dejte aspoň bílý, slepička vám snese jiný " which means something like "Feast, Feast give me a painted egg if you don't give me a painted one give me at least white one, the hen will give you another.’"
And do you like the tradition?
Noemi: “Uh, I don't like it because boys have fun, and girls not. But sometimes my brothers are considerate.”
Has it changed from the past till now?
Noemi: “In the past it was worse because boys came really early in the morning. They hit the girls a lot, they poured water on the girls and then they wanted an egg or something sweet. It's terrible. ”
Jitka Hausenblasová is from the NGO Gender Studies.
Jan Pohunek works at the Ethnographic Museum, part of the National Museum, in the picturesque setting of a villa in the park Kinského zahrada in Prague 5. It’s not well known to tourists but is well worth a visit. I went along to the park to find him.
Jan Pohunek: “I am the curator of this museum and its collections.”
And here we can see the willow whips that are used. Can you tell me more about the exhibit?
Jan Pohunek: “Our permanent exhibit is mostly about traditional folk culture and it shows the best part of traditional folk culture – from the artistic and historical points of view. So the things we can see here are mostly things that are chosen for the exhibit. Downstairs there are things presented which are more connected to the daily life. This upper part that we are standing in houses an exhibition or gallery.”
How did the tradition of pomlázka actually begin? Is it related to religion or is it more pagan?
As I'm standing here can you tell me some of the reasons why you chose to display, for example, the traditional costumes and the eggs?
Jan Pohunek: “This room shows traditional folk custumes from the time of Carnival up to Easter. So, we do not have only Easter in this room. We also have Carnival and Carnival costumes, and of course there are other things which are directly related to Easter. Like those whips and those small machines for making noises, and the painted eggs and so on.”