Strong, surefooted and not afraid of the sun, the donkey was once such a common sight in Dalmatia that for Croatian people donkeys are synonymous with the region. While the standard Croatian word for donkey is magarac, in Dalmatian dialect the word used is tovar, which is related to the word for loading goods or a burden. Inland folks unkindly refer to Dalmatian people as “tovari”, while the Dalmatians themselves (including Hajduk Split fans) wear the badge with pride.
For centuries donkeys were used to carry heavy goods such as wood across the rocky terrain of the hinterland and islands, and many families had a few of the animals to help with regular tasks. Donkey hooves are smaller and tougher than horses’, and since donkeys can survive on the meagre grass and scrub around here they’re perfect for this terrain.
Nowadays, of course, people have other ways of transporting things around, and ever fewer people live from agriculture. So the braying of a donkey has become a rare sound on our holidays, just a reminder of a disappearing way of life.
However, thanks to a number of enthusiasts, there has been a revival of donkey-breeding in the past few years. Kids, of course, love donkeys, so they’re a tourist attraction in their own right. Some towns, notably Tribunj near Šibenik, hold donkey races - a fun evening out in the summer. And some folks are selling donkey milk for its health-giving and beautifying properties. (Cleopatra knew a good thing when she saw it).
So, if you see a donkey while you’re in Dalmatia, be sure to give it a friendly pat. Just don’t mention the word “stubborn”. We’d rather say the donkey knows it’s own mind and will be glad to oblige you – just so long as you ask nicely!
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