Blackened Faces and a Veiled Woman: The Early Korčula Moreška


Mock battles between Moors (or Turks) and Christians are one of the most popular features of the folk theatrical repertoire almost anywhere that Spanish culture was once dominant. Beginning, perhaps, in the late thirteenth century, and varying in form from small dances to massive street theater, they are still immensely popular along Spain’s Mediterranean coast and throughout much of Latin America. Scholars have tended to pay most attention to the tradition’s westward travels from Spain to the Americas, where the conquered peoples often insinuated a “hidden transcript” of indigenous resistance into the “public transcript” of European Catholic triumph. But the tradition also traveled eastward to parts of Italy and Germany under Spanish rule and, further, to parts of eastern Europe not ruled by but engaged in trade and diplomatic relations with Spain. One such place in eastern Europe where the tradition still thrives is the medieval walled city of Korčula on the Croatian island of the same name, where the mock battle takes the form of a sword dance in which (unusually) Blacks/Moors fight Whites/Turks for the hand of a veiled Bula (Muslim woman). In this article, the authors trace the early history of the moreška in Korčula and its possible antecedents elsewhere, and they show that in Korčula, too, a hidden transcript of resistance to external rule—in this case, by Ventian dukes—was insinuated into the imported narrative of Turks, Moors, and Christians.

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