To my late uncle Rev. Ljubo Čuvalo, OFM (Proboj, February 29, 1908 – Chicago, January 24, 1975) who came to the USA in 1935 and for the rest of his life served the Croatian ethnic community in various American cities as a true friend, pastor, and editor of the weekly newspaper Danica and the annual Croatian almanac Hrvatski Kalendar.
Name of the Town
According to oral history, the town of Ljubuški was named after Ljubuša, the wife of Herzeg Stipan (c.1404-1466)1, famous ruler of the lands that would later be known as Herzegovina, that is, Herzeg’s lands. Presumably, they lived in the fortress above today’s town of Ljubuški.
The Municipality of Ljubuški is located in the Western part of Herzegovina; it stretches along the border with the Republic of Croatia, specifically the area covered by the municipalities of Metković and Vrgorac. Presently, it is a part of the West-Herzegovinian Canton in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The town of Ljubuški, the seat of the Municipality, is a short distance from Medjugorje – one of the most visited Marian pilgrimage sites in the world, and not far from Mostar, Makarska, Split, and Dubrovnik. Ljubuški is connected to the European main highways via the “Vc” expressway that connects to “A1” in Croatia (EU). Furthermore, one of the two main BiH – Croatia (EU) international border crossings is situated at the village of Bijača, only about 6 km from Ljubuški.
Besides the town of Ljubuški, the Municipality includes the following 34 settlements: Bijača, Cerno, Crnopod, Crveni Grm, Dole, Grab, Grabovnik, Gradska, Greda, Grljevići, Hardomilje, Hrašljani, Humac, Kašče, Klobuk, Lipno, Lisice, Miletina, Mostarska Vrata, Orahovlje, Otok, Pregrađe, Proboj, Prolog, Radišići, Stubica, Studenci, Šipovača, Teskera, Vašarovići,Veljaci, Vitina, Vojnići, and Zvirići. Its territory consists of 289km2 of mostly rocky hills with smaller tracts of productive land.
However, the Ljubuški plain, an area of about 25km2, is a very fertile oasis, less than 100m above the sea level, surrounded by the rocky hills of Herzegovina and neighboring Dalmatia. The 10km long and about 2.5 to 3km wide Ljubuški plain abounds in water resources. Through it flows the river Trebižat, in some places known as Mlade, which connects the Ljubuški region to the Neretva river valley and further to the Adriatic Sea. A number of springs, small rivers, and irrigation canals make this part of Herzegovina uniquely fertile. The following are some of the better known springs: Klokun (in Klobuk), Grabovo Vrilo (in Vitina), Vrioštica (in Vitina), Potočina-Draga (in Proboj- Radišići), and the springs of Vrilo, Vakuf, Kajtazovina that create the river Studenčica in Studenci.
On the river Trebižat, near the town of Ljubuški, there are two famous waterfalls: Kravica and Koćuša. The first is a short distance to the southeast of the town; the second is to the west. While the Kravica Falls are 120m wide and 26-28m high, Koćuša is 30m wide and 10-12 meters high. Both places, as well as the Vrilo in Vitina, are very popular tourist attractions and enjoyable cooling off spots during the hot summer months.
The Ljubuški region has a Mediterranean climate, where summers are dry and hot, winters mild and rainy, and springs full of blossom and pleasant fragrances. While the southern wind called Jugo brings much needed rain, the dry northern one called Bura clears the skies and invigorates the human body and uplifts the spirit. The average annual temperature is around 15C (60F) degrees and Ljubuški enjoys about 2,500 sunny hours a year. The temperature seldom falls below 0C (32F) and snow falls are rare but joyous occasions, especially for the children.
From the middle of the 17th Century the region of Ljubuški was an unstable and insecure borderland situated between the Ottoman Empire and its neighbor, Dalmatia, which, itself, was under Venetian power. Under such circumstances, and subject to the power of others, the economic, cultural, as well as all other possibilities for development were made impossible. Under Austro-Hungarian rule, the region made some significant strides; however, the life of the peasants did not change in any significant manner: the feudal system remained in force. Except for small subsistence farming there was little else. As soon as the possibility to emigrate to America-“the promised land”- became a reality, the youth of the region hurried to seek work so as to help themselves and those they left behind.
The first to leave Ljubuški for America did so at the break of the 19th and 20th centuries. The greatest number of those who left, did so in 1907. The very next year, the number of those who emigrated fell precipitously only to rise once again in 1909, and then to once again drop in 1911. This up and down pattern continued over the next years. Based on the statistics found in the Center for Immigrants on Ellis Island in New York, (http//www.ellisisland.org/), one can conclude that between 1902 and August of 1914, some 2,225 men and women from Ljubuški entered America. To this number, we must add an additional 15 persons whom we located in other sources; hence, we know the names of 2,240 persons from Ljubuški who departed for America up to the start of the First World War. Most of these set out for the state of New York or for Manhattan itself. The largest concentration of those from Ljubuški found their new home in Alsen and Cementon where they found work in the cement industry.
Of those who set out to seek a better future and life, most were young males. There were some who were as young as 10 years old. More than 50 percent of those who emigrated to America were illiterate; however, for those who employed them, it was less important that they knew how to read and write: what was important was that they were healthy, strong, and willing to work. Those who emigrated from Ljubuški had these qualities and were eager to include themselves in the industrialization of America. Even though they were despised and considered to be culturally and racially inferior, these immigrants succeeded in enriching America through their disciplined work, good family life, and their faith in God. At the same time, the majority of those who emigrated from the region of Ljubuški never forgot their native land or those they left behind: they continued to dream of their native land and its better future: they lived in the hope of freedom for their homeland. Even though these brave souls gave much of themselves, little is said or written about them: they are forgotten. Sadly, in all too many instances, even their grand children and great grandchildren know little or nothing about them. Through this work, we once again give life to their names and call to mind that they, too, are a part of the history of the Ljubuški region. By doing so, we hope to give permanent remembrance to the sons and daughters of Ljubuški who were forced to leave their beloved land out of want and poverty and to depart to a world foreign to them. To the end of their lives, they did not cease to love their place of birth and the loved ones they left behind. Let us not forget them!
I am grateful to my good friend Duško Čondić (Chicago) for the translation of the text and to my wife Ikica for proofreading.
Many thanks go to Niko Penava (New York), Steve Bubalo (Los Angeles), Ana Mišetić (now in Ireland), Luka Mišetić (New York), Sandra Tasić and Mime Čuvalo (Oakland), Stoja Kosir (Chicago) who gave their financial help for the publishing of this book.
Also a big “Thank You” goes to the Ljubuški Municipality for its cooperation and support.