The sculpture has been completed and was unveiled at a modest ceremony that brought together representatives of associations active in culture from all four recognised Molise Croatian settlements: Kruč, Mundimitar, Filić (Stifilić) and Tavela. The project is the brainchild of Paolina Ferrante, president of the Luigi Zara culture association of Filič.
A boat has appeared in the hills of the Molise region! But how? What’s a boat doing in the woods, between valleys and mountains where there are no waterways? A long time ago it was the means by which many people came to settle in this Apennine countryside.
The villages of the Molise (Campobasso) region in neighbouring Italy populated by ethnic Croatians, united by a shared heritage that has marked the history of these places, recently completed an initiative that is, for them, of great historical and cultural significance and reaffirms their identity: the installation of a sculpture that memorialises the boat (lađa) their ancestors made the crossing from the northeastern to southwestern shores of the Adriatic Sea with in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
The global corona scare and the restrictions that have been imposed caused delays to work on this significant undertaking. After months of delays the sculpture memorialising the ancient lađa was finally completed and recently celebrated with a modest ceremony that saw the participation of members of local culture associations in all four of the recognised Molise Croatian settlements: Kruč (Acquaviva Collercroce), Mundimitar (Montemitro), Filić (or Stifilić, San Felice del Molise) and Tavela (Tavenna). On hand was project initiator Paolina Ferrante, president of the Luigi Zara culture association of Filić (named in honour of her late husband). The project was also motivated by the idea of creating a lasting monument to celebrate the many years the association has participated in the lađa marathon on the Neretva River, part of which runs through Croatia, with a Molise Croatian crew. It’s also worth remembering the historical re-enactment of the Adriatic crossing staged in 2010 during which a lađa boat left the mouth of the Neretva, crossing the breadth of the Adriatic to land on the shores of the Molise region.
It was in fact to emphasise the bonds with their Croatian brethren and the history of the community, which remains active in the Molise region to this day, that Paolina Ferrante and her friends wished to create this monument in the form of a lađa, as a tangible memorial to the Molise region, the land that welcomed and provided sanctuary to these people from the other side of the sea over five centuries ago.
The Luigi Zara association and its president were not alone in this initiative. They quickly found support and collaboration from all of the other members of the Federation of Molise Croatian Association: the Agostina Piccoli foundation, the Most (“Bridge”) association of Mundimitar, the Hrvatski otok (“Croatian Island”) association of Molise, the Naš život (“Our Life”) association of Kruč, and the Stara zemblja (“Ancient Land”) association of Tavela. Representing these groups and their settlements at the unveiling ceremony on provincial road No. 158 Castellelce were Paolina Ferrante, Antonio Sammartino, Corrado Ientilucci, Donato Manuele, Ivano Zara and Simone Spadanuda.
The organisers had hoped to see representatives of Italian and Croatian governments and institutions, including regional, provincial and local representatives, in attendance. The corona scare, however, saw the politicians and other public servants choose to not participate, such that the ceremony was a rather modest affair. Whenever they do decide that their participation is possible, the organisers plan to stage a ceremony for a broader public with institutional representatives on hand.
The monument is in the form of an authentic lađa, the typical watercraft of the region of the Neretva valley to which the Molise Croatians trace their roots. This is a small boat that in the past was important to the local economy and linked the people in the Croatian region with the outside world. For centuries it was their chief means of transport.
The annual amateur race featuring these traditional boats is run on the Neretva River every year in memory of their long history. Participating teams race the 22.5-kilometre route from Metković to Ploče. The race involves some forty teams and about seven hundred rowers. For a number of years, the race included a crew fielded by the Molise region. Winning is not important in this prestigious event. What counts is courage and the strong desire to keep the tradition alive, to remember the lives and sacrifices of our ancestors. There is, then, along with the language, no better symbol of the land of origin of the Molise region Croatians.
The monument was installed at an intersection on the Castellelce road and includes two inscriptions that remind us of the historic crossing of the Adriatic Sea and the coming of the people from the southern Croatian region of Dalmatia to the hills of the Molise region, memorialised in the oral traditions kept alive to this day about the arrival of these Croatians iz one bane mora (“from the other side of the sea”). The inscriptions are in the ancient Molise Croatian dialect and in Italian: ODE SU DOL ČELJADE IZ ONE BANE MORA / QUI GIUNSERO LE GENTI DALL’ALTRA PARTE DEL MARE (“People came here from the other side of the sea”).
And while the lađa monument has been installed at a site from which the sea is not visible, the great boulders on which it rests evoke the great waves and the dangerous crossing of the sea, the rocks and crags of the northeastern shores of the Adriatic that the people of the Molise region recall in the tales and legends of their ancestors.
The choice of location was by no means accidental. The construction of a roundabout here at this time in fact seems almost the work of the fates as this is a natural intersection that leads in various directions to the villages that are home to the local ethnic Croatian communities. There is no solid historical evidence but it is likely that the refugees coming from the Dalmatia region in southern Croatia upon crossing the sea followed the Trigno River and then the valleys that lead to the Apennine hills to arrive at the places they ultimately settled. The monument, then, facing the sea, is located at the presumed intersection of routes along which our courageous ancestors walked into their new lives.
The Luigi Zara association wishes to extend its particular gratitude to the regional government in Campobasso which agreed to the installation of the lađa monument at this site in support of the community and continuing to work for the community in this cultural initiative. The association is also grateful to the Croatian institutions, in particular the State Office for Croats Abroad and the head of this government agency, state secretary Zvonko Milas, which channelled budget funds to the ethnic Croatian community in the Molise region in neighbouring Italy.
Gathered around the monument and fulfilled in the achievement of this project the participants said their goodbyes in the earnest hope that this symbol of an ethnic Croatian presence in Molise would stand for the coming five hundred years.
By: Antonio Sammartino