Courtship games – “gonjanje, cigananje, malić, liganje”


If you are in any way connected to Lika, you’ve heard of the „prelo“, social gatherings of our ancestors during the winter, when they couldn’t work in the field. We know they would sort plucked feathers, play instruments, dance and joke around, but few of us wonder how those meetings actually looked like.

We know what dating looks like nowadays and we might say that the freedom to choose our partner, and the way in which we will start a relationship, is much greater, but would we be entirely right? Read about the old courtship customs in Lika and decide for yourself.

Gonjanje (Chasing) is probably the best-known name for what we will write about, and refers to customs not specifically limited to Lika, but spread throughout Dinarides rural areas in Croatia as well as parts of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Namely, it is a custom which denotes a process in which a young man chases the girl which initiates the game during livestock guarding or working on the field. After he catches her in a hidden place, she resists, even though she starts the game, and everything besides intercourse, i.e. „two lie down, three get up“ is permitted.

In Lika, it is specific that this game was played even in girls’ households during „prelo“ gatherings, while there was no field farming, so the hiding part of the game was just that – part of the game, and not hiding from other people. Lika youth had full support, even the encouragement of parents and the community to play „gonjanje“ game because the girl that no one chased had less chance of getting married and was thought to be undesirable to boys. Just for the record, girls had every right to turn down a boy, and if he would persist and be aggressive, everyone would condemn him, and he would be shamed in the eyes of the community. However, there is more than one version of this game. In Lika, according to Marija Friščić, these games are called „malić“ – going into the dark (in Pazarišta, Popovača, Bakovac), „malićanje“ – going into the dark as well (in Klanac, Velika Plana, Perušić), „cigananje“, „ciganje“ „ići u cigane“ – going Gypsy (in Ivčević Kosa, Malo Polje, Gacka Valley, Lički Osik). „Lying down“ (lijeganje or „liganje“) is the most extreme form of the game which occurs on set days of the week – some reserved for young men, and some for widowers who go to see the girls. The presumption that the girl who gets most visitors is most desirable was valid here as well, and the only difference was that…well, there were no rules – two can lie down and three get up!

If that was to happen, the girl could simply state who she thinks the father is, and he would have to marry her, which was sometimes a great tactic for ensuring a marriage into a wealthier family, so the parental support comes as no surprise.

If you were wondering whether only one couple participated in one or more games (i.e. boyfriend and girlfriend), the answer is no.

Changing partners and gathering experiences was allowed until two young people decide for each other (i.e. for marriage).

Still think we have more freedom today? 😀


Friščić, Marija. 1999. Seoski sastanci mladih (prela). Str. 53 – 59.Etnološka tribina 22, Vol. 29.