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The Ritual of Boat Incineration on the Island of Vis, Croatia: an Interpretation

Keywords: traditional boats , incineration ritual , Komi a , St. Nicholas , Vis , maritime culture , anthropomorphic conceptualisation , semiotics

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In the fishing village of Komi a, on the island of Vis, Croatia, there is a centuries-long ritual of incinerating traditional wooden fishing boats which is linked to the celebration of a Catholic holiday. Boats are not recognised as a part of the cultural heritage of Croatia and traditional boats are not being produced any longer because they are not seen to have any market value. Therefore, the continuation of the burning ritual is seriously threatened. It is argued here that through a re-contextualisation of the ceremony within an eco-museum and through similar projects, the boats could actively contribute to the economic life of the community. This issue is addressed from the standpoints of the endangered ritual and the cultural significance of the boat. While predominantly investigating its sociological importance and the underlying semiotic implications of the ritual, and discussing the anthropomorphic conceptualisation of the boat within the Komi an community, this article also explores the origins of the burning ritual and similar practices around the world. The article aims to increase the recognition of the boat as an object of tangible and intangible heritage, namely as a product of the traditional maritime art of ship-building.


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