Once an essential part of men’s attire, this woollen item is now a popular souvenir

ONCE used to warm men’s private parts during harsh winters in rural Croatia, the woollen codpiece or ‘nakurnjak’ is making a comeback as a popular souvenir, thanks to a handful of women preserving traditional handicrafts from oblivion.

“The nakurnjak sparks laughter, a lot of positive energy, jokes. Many (tourists) take one as a nice Christmas gift,” explains Sonja Leka, a 55-year-old who runs an association of knitters preserving the old-fashioned arts in their tiny village in the central Lika region.

In 15th and 16th century Europe, crotch coverings known as codpieces became fashionable items, seen in portraits of kings like Henry VIII of England.

The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne went so far as to lambast the accessory as an “empty and useless model of a member that we cannot even decently mention by name, which however we show off and parade in public”.

But ordinary men in the Balkans wore the coverings for more practical reasons – as underwear to stay warm and to soften the impact of horseback riding.

In Lika, a mountainous region in central Croatia known for cold winters, the nakurnjak was a must-have item knitted by women from sheep’s wool.

“Men’s folk costumes had large pants, without any protection below, they had to ride horses and walk through forests to collect firewood, that’s where the need to make nakurnjak comes from,” said Leka.

“Our ancestors were practical, there was no shame in naming useful items,” she said.

Part of dowry

Leka runs the Tara association where women have been gathering to knit, crochet or weave traditional socks, handbags, towels and nakurnjaks.

The elderly knitters say the nakurnjak was once an important item in a woman’s dowry, which included the “bride’s chest” of handicrafts that women prepared for their future husbands.

“We come here to socialise and work at the same time so that these old crafts are not forgotten,” said Anka Prica, 73, who is part of the association. She and 83-year-old Bozica Leka regret youngsters are not interested in learning the craft.

“It’s a pity not to pass this on to young people so that the tradition continues. The tradition will die with us,” Leka said. – AFP-Relaxnews