Every year the inhabitants of Kostrena Saint Barbara organize a dinner in honor of St Nicholas, the patron saint of seamen. It is a centuries old tradition, but the Fraternity was officially founded in January 1869 as “The Fraternity of Saint Nicolas “. The Statute of the Fraternity was printed in one hundred copies, stamped with the official Fraternity stamp and signed by the initiator and co-founder Anton Burmašević, the Pastor, on the 20th of February1869.

The sole purpose of founding the Brotherhood or Fraternity was to help poor families who were left without a provider, without the father or son who went missing, died or in any way perished at sea. The Fraternity had many members who paid the yearly or lump sum membership fee. Apart from membership fees, donations were given by well-to-do members. One of the ways of acquiring money was by “sajanje”, a term signifying the collecting, on a door-to-door basis, of money and other donations such as clothing, footwear and other useful items. This ritual was carried out on the day of Saint Nicholas, the 6th of December every year and it was performed by four seamen, mostly by a boatswain and senior sailors from each village. The two collectors were sailors from the village of Šoići and two from Randići and Urinj. Their attire was the traditional navy raincoat with hood and rubber boots. They always carried a small anchor, a bell and a lit petroleum lantern, regardless of the daylight.

When they approached the house they would ring or bang on the door. When the host opened the entrance, they would hook up the anchor on the door preventing it from closing, and they would recite words “saja, saja – inkoča”, which meant that they were anchored, and the host could not close the door until a donation was given. After receiving a donation, they would unhook the anchor, and with the words “saja – saja”, leave the yard. Where does this term “saja” come from? It is not known, but there are a few vague explanations. One is given by the poet Tin Ujević who in his poem about Marko Marulić mentioned this word, which in translation means “thirst”. It is assumed that the seamen were thirsty during the “sajanje” and expected to be offered a drink, and as the performance went on, they would sing and sing until the completion of “sajanje” or collection of donations. At the end of the day, they would go to the tavern in the village Šoići where dinner was held for all Fraternity members. The second definition for the word “saja” says that it is a Turkish word for a sack made of soft red Turkish felt, in this case for collecting donations. The third definition says that it is the chimney sooth through which St Nicholas descents into the house. Regardless of these various explanations of the word “saja” or “sajanje”, it meant collecting donations, as previously explained. This traditional charitable ritual probably existed many years before the Fraternity was established in 1869, it was kept alive during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until the onset of the Second World War in the Balkans in April 1941.

After “sajanje”, the money and other donations were turned over to one of the senior maritime captains or to one of the shipowners. They set apart a small amount of the money for the Fraternity dinner and for the Pastor’s expenses of holding the traditional holy mass.

The dinner in most instances consisted of traditional stew made of codfish, which was then considered the food of the poor. The shipowners and captains had their dinner in separate premises on the first floor while the sailors had their meals in the kitchen on the ground floor. After dinner and singing, the enjoyment was followed by little finger wrestling, the so-called “little finger duels” between the sailors, where the winner was always declared by loud cheering.

In the aftermath of the Second World War the inhabitants of Kostrena Saint Barbara, who these days live throughout the region, gather once a year on the day of Saint Nicolas for the traditional dinner. Sometimes at that time of the year, the Fraternity president and committee organize various exhibitions with exhibits such as sailing ship models, old nautical instruments, old maritime books, sailing ship logs and other maritime themes.

(I. Stipanović)