At the Croatian Heritage Foundation a book was recently presented titled "They beat the oceans: In search of lost people from Podgora" by journalist Smiljana Šunde. The work is devoted to the author's birthplace of Podgora, whose population was marked by early departures to countries across the ocean.
Podgora, a place at the foot of the Biokovo Mountain, with an average of 1,500 inhabitants in the 19th and 20th centuries, was one of the most inhabited places in which Croats live. Author Smiljana Šunde has been occupied by this theme since youth and in the book she follows the life and creativity of Podgora emigrants over a period of several centuries, from the discovery of the New World to modern transportation, located in Argentina, the USA, Canada and New Zealand.
"I devoted this book to my grandmother and grandfather who saw off from the house door five children, four sons and one daughter, three daughters in law and three grandchildren, and they never saw them again. This situation in my family was the same in almost in every family, in 98 percent of the families in Podgora, which is 57 family lines and more than 200 families. 1 to 10 emigrants have left from every family. And in a way, I went first to search for them, then I actually devoted everything to those who went, who suffered, for whom it was difficult, who worked, and so on, says Šunde "
Smiljana says she's been searching for part of her family for her entire life. She says that she lived with this since she was little and truly grew up in that atmosphere and knows everything about it. She prepared the book for roughly 40 years, but in the beginning she didn't think it would be like this, she thought it would be some sort of fiction, some sort of saga. In the end, however, she decided for it to be this way, because she thought she could then change anything later. Sometimes she would do more or sometimes less, in parallel to her other activities and her job in journalism.
“About 90 percent of the archive material is in this book, I actually went through all the archives and I went to families, so this is something that is nowhere in the archives. I was looking for photos, letters, wills, recommendations, requests, whatever I could find in families. And since I know that part of Podgora well, from which most people live in New Zealand, I approximately knew what could be found in each family. Because there are families that no longer exist, they are no more, all the sons and daughters left. They would have 7, 8 and 9 children and they all left, there is no one anymore, no one to ask. So I would ask neighbors who would remember something, and then I would go to the archives and so on,” explains Smiljana.
“The book, along with numerous documents and photographs, is very interesting, because it contains a special dictionary of the Podgora language and the English-Podgora language, including the title syntax of the book "Beat the ocean", by which the Pečalbari, or guest workers from Podgora, marked their painstaking navigation and then work in overseas destinations, such as New Zealand's kauri-resin fields”, notes the author.
“The book is big with 830 pages, and in those 830 pages one part, just under a third, maybe a quarter in the end, has stories that are actually true. These are in fact anecdotes about these people who left or about their families who stayed here. And since they all speak in that administrative speech and speak a local idiom, I have explained those words. So it is an interpretation of these lesser-known words, but there are also English words that are actually transformed into Croatian. There's the classic: ringati - to call and vokati - to walk. So there are those words, but this is not a special dictionary, it only applies to the book, that is, to all those words that are in it and ordinary readers can't understand,” explains Šunde.
Finally Smiljana Šunde wanted to send a message to all those who plan to leave their homeland and think that life is better somewhere else.
“I want to say that, all the people I met, while I was in New Zealand, and whom I met years before and after, especially after that, whose descendants massively came to New Zealand, all were sorry for leaving, all of them. I didn’t meet a single person who said "I don’t care". They all got rich, they all had so much that they didn't know how much they had and what they had, but they were very unhappy, simply because they were not in their homeland or in their country. And I think today's youth, and all those immigrants who are leaving, think about, as they say, their future. Yes, they think about their future and themselves today, but they don't think about their kids tomorrow, about their grandchildren the day after tomorrow and they don't think about how they will feel. I talked to hundreds and hundreds of children who were born abroad and they all complain because they say they don't feel like English or Croats. So they’re uprooted here and unrooted there, even though they didn't directly emigrate themselves, their elders immigrated, then they are what they call tainted, they are foreigner's children, their father is a foreigner. This, they say, is hard to bear. And I've seen it and really felt it among many”, noted Smiljana.
Prepared by Maja Raguž and Antonija Tomičić.