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Objects of identity: Tradition as resource in Istria

Kažun, sopele, the folk costume of Vodnjan: pre-historical, medieval and baroque influences on various segments of the Istrian multicultural world and their changing symbolism.

Kažun (or casita) is the circular field shelter made of stone un-mortared walls. The building material was usually collected by cleaning fields of excess pieces of stone. The roof was made in the technique of the "false cupola", by piling up layers of thin stone plates in the circle, without any mortar. It was used as a shelter in fields, for the storage of tools needed for agriculture and for guarding the fields and vineyards before the harvest. This is a paleo-Mediterranean cultural element that is not tied to any ethnic group, because it is older than any known colonization of the Istrian peninsula. It could mainly be found in Southern and Western Istria. Similar buildings have been found elsewhere in Europe (in the British Isles, Ireland and Scandinavia) and in the Italian region of Puglia.

Sopele (or roženice) is an oboe-like, double-reed folk instrument that has been preserved in Istria, Kvarner Islands and Croatian Littoral. It is usually played in pairs (the big and the small sopela) or as a single instrument. It can accompany other instruments - such as accordion in the more recent tradition. Sopele have traditionally been played for processional music, as well as for dances.

The town of Vodnjan/Dignano, near Pula, was historically one of the biggest Istrian towns. Vodnjan/Dignano was also one of the most important centers of the culture of Istrian Italians, which were called there with the local name Bumbari. After the great post-WW2 exodus of Istrian Italians, Vodnjan was mostly abandoned by its previous inhabitants, as many other Istrian towns. Today, hardly any Bumbari families remain in the town. But, the Italian Community founded in Vodnjan, after most of them left, gathers those who mark their identity mostly by the activity in the folklore group. One of its most remarkable elements is the female folk costume of Vodnjan/Dignano, perhaps the most important material symbol of the former culture of that town.

All three of these exclusively cultural phenomena have been exposed to changes in function and significance. They were also instrumental in the recent process of shaping a cultural identity for Istria - which has also been used in the tourist promotion of the region. Sopele was, in addition, the object of ideological interpretations of culture, while the Vodnjan folk costume, after being recognized almost a hundred years ago as a symbol of local identity, today shapes and serves the myth and memory of the "better past".
In contemporary Istria, the kažun acts as a widespread symbol of "Istrianity" and, as such, may be found newly-built in the courtyards of family houses or restaurants, functioning as logos of many companies and as an endlessly repeated motif in tourist brochures. Kažun now emerge where they have never traditionally been built, and they have become part of the overall process of "Istrianisation", i.e. a tendency that some identified symbols, characteristic in the past for a specific area, tend to colonize and represent the whole Istrian space. Many souvenirs are made in the form of kažun - in ceramics, stone, wood, glass, even in gold - for the jewelry made in the form of kažun.