WHEN I was still in school, my male schoolmates and the males of my family would knock on the door of my apartment early in the morning on Easter Monday carrying buckets of water (vedrá s vodou) and wicker whips (prútené korbáče).
Because I knew what was going to happen, I immediately went to hide while my mother opened the door. The boys splashed and whipped my mum while chanting the first line of the famous Slovak Easter saying, "Šibi-ryby, mastné ryby, kus koláča od korbáča (Whips-fishes, greasy fishes, piece of cake from the whip" - it doesn't make sense in Slovak either!). Then they would start to look for me.
It would never take them too long to find me, because like most girls who live in apartment blocks, my favourite place to hide was the one room that you could lock - the bathroom. After several minutes of persuading me that they would not pour any water on me, I would believe them and open the door. I need hardly add that they did not keep their word.
As soon as I unlocked the door they would pull me out and whip me far more than my mother had been whipped. Then I would end up in the bath, soaking wet.
After I changed my clothes and dried off, the kúpači (literally, men who bathe women) would spray perfume on my mother and me so that we would smell nice the whole year round. Then we would give them gifts. For my uncle it would be some kind of strong alcohol; for my friends and cousins a chocolate egg, or some money.
For those who have never experienced this custom, the whipping might seem like a violent act against women. But for us girls, when we were in school, the act of being whipped brought with it a bit of prestige, because it was generally accepted that the more a girl was whipped, the more attractive she was.
In the past, some women chose to get back at the men by whipping them on the Tuesday after Easter, but this custom is dying out.
Keeping all that in mind, if you are in Slovakia at Easter time, it might be useful for you to know how to braid a whip (korbáč, or šibák in slang).
On Easter Sunday or a few days earlier, groups of boys and men set off on their search for the young, green willow branches that grow near streams and rivers. They cut several switches of about one meter long. Then they adjust their lengths accordingly - a little boy's whip is usually 15 to 30 centimetres long, while that of a young man is around 80 centimetres.
There are several methods for braiding an Easter whip, but most people use either the angular or round way. The angular way is the most popular, and is also considered the least complicated.
photo: Source: Praktická žena magazine
You need eight switches (prúty) of the same size for making the whip's body and one of any size for making the whip's handle.
1. Take the eight switches and bind them at one end with a string or cord (see a and b above). Then split the ninth switch in half to wrap it around the other switches to create a handle (this can also be done as the very last thing, after you have braided the whip).
2. Divide the eight switches into four and four and start braiding: Take the switch at the far left and bring it from above to the right, placing it in the middle - between the four switches on the right. Then take the switch back from below to the right side of the left group.
3. Repeat the same but from the right side: Take the switch at the far right and bring it from above into the middle of the left group, placing it back to the left side of the right group from below.
Then repeat 2 and 3 until a single braided cord is formed.
In some regions the tradition is that after a boy whips a girl she ties a ribbon around the top of his whip. The number of ribbons on the whip then shows how successful the boy was with his whip.
If you have problems with the violent aspects of this tradition, there is another way to become a whip star: You can try to break this year's Slovak record of braiding a 40-metre whip.
Foreign Affairs is a regular column devoted to helping expats and foreigners navigate the thrills and spills of life in Slovakia.
14. Apr 2003 at 0:00 | Kristína Havasová