The Sister Cities Delegation’s first visit to the town of Vela Luka was some fifteen years ago during Dean Maxwell’s administration. My late husband Nick, was on the city council, so, at that time, I was lucky enough to be part of the first delegation, There was much warmth, hospitality and laughter given the exuberant nature of our group which included Don Wik and my husband , Nick, who kept the official events extremely enjoyable, much to the delight of our city hosts.
Our friend and devout Sister Cities booster, Marius Hibbard, is currently in Croatia, joining our most recent delegation to visit Vela Luka. Luckily there was a local festivity that included a spectacular folklore performance in the town square. At the finale, he was able to video the local brass ensemble playing a wonderful rendition of ” When The Saints Go Marching In.”
The Vela Luka community is very musical as is all of the Dalmatian Coast and the rest of Croatia. Vela Luka, however, has given that country an exceptionally large number of its pop stars. Also, on any given Sunday, at mass, you will hear a Bach or Mozart mass sung by the congregants. Musicians, small string ensembles and acapella groups abound and the community brass band is an institution.Protocol demands all funeral processions be accompanied by the brass. This custom is as old as Vela Luka.
In the 1600’s the Spanish discovered Las Floridas, as they called it, and many locations on the Gulf Coast such as what is known today as New Orleans. Yes, the Spanish beat the French there .Many of the sailors and priests were Dalmatians. The island of Korchula, where Vela Luka is located, had a great deal of interface with Spain and the kings of Aragon. In fact, their galleons fought side by side against the British in the historic battles for supremacy of the seas.
The same sailors and priests who set foot on the now shores of Louisiana brought with them the custom of the religious procession and the musical funerial accompaniment .Today’s brass bands at Mardi Gras are a vestige of the religious procession which later became secular parades but harken back to the mariners and monks of Dalmatia as do the shrimping and other fishing industries of new Orleans. Although “When The Saints Go Marching In” is an American invention, the Brass and its attendant customs are old world Adriatic and Coastal Dalmatia. To this day there remains a vibrant Dalmatian community in the New Orleans environs…but that’s the subject of another story.
Founder of the Anacortes Croatian Cultural Center