Warning: This blog post contains images of dead animals which some viewers may find disturbing/offensive to their personal tastes, so if that’s not your cup of tea then I’d suggest reading no further. Those of you who don’t mind such images please free to continue and I hope you enjoy this little story of a lovely Czech tradition that I was honoured to attend.
I’m a huge supporter of traditional customs and practices and I think it’s a shame when they are lost or pushed aside by modern conveniences and political correctness. For my final year thesis project I travelled around Ireland documenting traditional crafts and trades and it was fascinating journey full of interesting characters still holding on to their traditions in the face of “progress”.
One thing I love about the Czech Republic is that traditions that have long since died out in Ireland, or are certainly hard to come by, are still going strongly today. One such tradition is the hunter’s ball, an evening of appreciation for those who manage the wilderness and the flora and fauna within it. I won’t call them hunters because they do so much more than that, so I guess park rangers is the most suitable title for them.
They looked resplendent in their green jackets, there’s something about a uniform that makes people look larger than life, to be looked up to and respected.
I remember my parents telling me about dinner dances they used to go to, and this ball was I believe something quite similar. There was a band on stage playing a myriad of songs that the attendees could dance to, and they sure could dance. Couples well into their 70’s would be gracefully swooping around the hall, hand in hand, still as in love as the day their first met, it was really heart warming and there was a great sense of community spirit in the room.
The event took place in a sports hall in the village of Dlouhomilov, in the Olomouc Region. This was the furthest East we’d been in the Czech Republic and it was a delightful place. The stage was setup at the far end of the hall and we were scheduled to have our table on it but it seems we escaped and were able to take our place in a more secluded area amongst the others.
I don’t know if it’s typical of these kinds of events but if you wanted to get a drink there was a bar in a side room where people were sitting down to have food also. There was just one catch though, they were only serving spirits. For anything else you had to walk upstairs to the “other” bar, wonderful stuff!
Up on the stage there was a stand lined with pine branches and on this all the various animals that had been killed for the raffle were displayed. There were several ducks and pheasants, a couple of rabbits and deer and the grand prize, a wild boar. These were to be given out to the winners towards the end of the evening in a raffle. Alas we arrived too late to purchase any tickets as they had all been eagerly bought up by the excited guests.
But before the raffle there was food and drink to be consumed, conversations to be had, memories to be relived and of course lots and lots of dancing. Sinead and I are somewhat shy when it comes to dancing in public and it takes us a while (i.e. a few glasses of wine) to get into the spirit of things so we sat and watched for the most part before clumsily taking to the dancefloor and awkardly standing on each others’ toes (note to self, take classy ballroom dance lessons)
And then it was on to the main event, the raffle. I know there’s many people out there who are horrified by the very notion of hunting, of killing defenseless animals for sport or trophies and I’d tend to agree with them, however it’s also a question of management, of ensuring one species isn’t dominating and damaging the ecosystem and that I fully understand. I wasn’t disturbed by the evening’s events, the sight of dead animals didn’t bother me in the slightest. One thing I did find strange was the way the winners paraded around their prizes as if they themselves had been the one to slay their quarry. This was best seen by the couple who won the grand prize, the wild boar. They triumphantly carried it down off stage and brought it to their table where they placed it on the ground, and accepted the cheers from their fellow guests, these brave warriors, the man in his nice green shirt and his partner in her cocktail dress standing over the carcass of their victory.
And then it was back to dancing, the spoils of man vs nature had been distributed and it was time to waltz to their memory. It had been a really nice evening, a surreal evening of new experiences and cultures that we hadn’t seen before and despite the somewhat grizzly nature of the prize ceremony, it really was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Regular readers of the blog will know I often have a bit of fun with my image captions, no offence intended.
Check out the Facebook page for an extended gallery of black and white images from the evening.