The people of Istria and Dalmatia are a very mixed race, as might be expected from the history of the countries. On these shores and islands were Greek colonies and Roman municipia, which have left their trace in the names of places and families. Greek colonies were at Issa (Lissa), Pharia (Lesina), Epetium (Stobrec), Tragurium (Tra), Melita (Meleda), Corcyra (Curzola), Buta (Budua), and Ambrachia (Brazza), to name some of those which have survived as towns to the present day. Roman family names occur especially round Spalato, such as Lutia (Lucio), Cpia (Cippico), Valeria (Valeri), Junia (Giunio), Coceia (Coceich), Marcia (Marce), Cassia (Cassio), Delia (Celio), and Statilia (Statileo). Byzantine names testify to the rule of Byzantium, such as Paleologo, Lascaris, Andronico, Grisogono, Catacumano.

In Istria there is a considerable admixture of German blood; on the rocks of Zara the Crusaders abandoned sick Frenchmen; whilst thither and to Spalato also came Ghibellines in exile. Franks, Croats, Bosniaks, Hungarians, Genoese, Neapolitans, and above all, Venetians have held sway over portions of the coast at different times. Families of Hungarian and Bosnian gentlemen established the free commune of Poglizza; exiles from Spain, Jews, for the most part driven out in 1492, established themselves at Spalato and Ragusa; Lombards descended upon the coasts and islands; [7] and Venetians commenced to establish themselves in Dalmatia in the eleventh century, Istria coming even earlier more or less under their influence. In 1552, in the Council of Zara, out of seventeen noble families more than two-thirds were of Italian descent; and at Lesina the proportion was even greater. At Zara the Italians still preponderate, but the Slav element is in the majority in the greater part of Dalmatia, and even in the country parts of Istria. There are also many French, Hungarians, Bosniaks, Herzegovinians, Germans, Swiss, and gypsies, the Slav majority increasing towards the south.

In Istria the present inhabitants may be divided into Italians, Roumanians, and Slavs: to the last division belong the Morlacchi, the Tschitsches [1], Slovens, and Croats. The Italians are the most intelligent portion of the population, and are craftsmen, large occupiers of land, merchants, and sailors. They are the descendants of those who were subjects of Venice from the fourteenth century till the fall of the Republic. The Slovens were in Istria as early as the eighth century, and Paulus Diaconus mentions them as being near Cividale. Records exist of Croats raids in the tenth century, whilst further south there were two great immigrations the first, in the seventh century, by the "Belocroats," called by Porphyrogenitus, Croats, from the banks of the Elbe, descendants of whom may to-day be found in the islands; and the second, in the fourteenth century, by the people of Rascia, who now inhabit much of the interior and are known as " Morlacchi," a name derived from the Slav " Mauro vlach," the black Wallachs.

According to Lucio, who refers to William of Tyre, all Dalmatians used the Roman language until 1200. After the Croats came down, the name of "Dalmatian," strictly speaking, belonged only to the cities of Zara, Tra, Spalato, and Ragusa, to the western islands of [8] Dalmatia, and to Lissa and Lagosta Eastern Dalmatia was a Servian province; Western, a Croatian. It is known that Slavs came in 1463 to Salvore, in 1526 to the district of Rovigno, in 1549 to the district of Cittanova, Montona, Parenzo, and Pola, in 1595 to Fontane, in 1624 and 1634 (the plague years) to Fillipano, 1647 to near Pola, and 1650 to Peroi, near Fasano. Those now there came from the Bocche and Montenegro, settled in 1658-1659 by Doge Giovanni Pesaro, after the great plague. The women still wear the ancient costume. The Slavs are most numerous between Dragogna and Trieste. Procopius gives an interesting description of them worth quoting: " The two nations of the Autars and the Slavs know no monarchical government; but from ancient times live freely in common fashion. They take all questions of great importance or difficulty to a common national council. The customs of the two nations are alike in everything else. These barbarians believe, by an article of faith transmitted from their ancestors, that, among many, there is one sole master of all things, whom they look upon as the author of the thunder; and to him they sacrifice bulls and other victims. They do not know what the goddess Fortune may be, nor believe that she has any influence on human affairs. When they feel themselves threatened by death, either by illness or wounds given in battle, they are told to promise a sacrifice to God if they escape the danger. Then, if they soon get about again, they fulfil the vow, firmly persuaded that by it they have recovered their health. They offer worship to woods, to nymphs, and other genii, immolating victims to them, and prophesying in the act. They live in rough huts far away from each other, and often change the situation. The greater part of them fight on foot, armed with shield and with darts, but without corslet. Some of them do not wear [9] their ordinary clothes in battle, but draperies which scarcely reach to the thigh, and so they present themselves to the enemy. They all speak the same barbarous tongue, nor differ much in appearance, but are all tall and powerful. The colour of the flesh and the hair is neither vermilion nor brown, but reddish. They live a somewhat fatiguing life, somewhat neglected and uncultivated,like the Massagetae, and, like them,on sordid food. They are not cunning, nor evildoers, but follow the customs of the Huns in sacking and rapine. They possess vast lands and occupy the greater part of the further bank of the Danube." They have retained many characteristics of an earlier age, though not of the period of Procopius.

The men are tall and muscular, with strongly marked features. Their eyes are generally either grey or blue, the forehead broad and prominent, the teeth white and strong, the hair sometimes blonde, but ranging through all shades to black, and the countenance intelligent and expressive. The boys herd the flocks barefoot and half naked, so that their skin is always bronzed, and the men generally have bare breasts. Their sight and hearing are remarkably keen, and in Dalmatia they can make themselves heard from one hill to another, a feat which is partly owing to the quality of the air. Their excellent health enables them to support all kinds of hardships; they sleep out of doors (covering the head), except in winter, at which season they stay a good deal by the fire, though they may be seen in the city with icicles on their hairy chests. They have neither stoves, chimneys, nor glass in the windows. A case of a monk has been recorded, who, at the age of 105, made watches and read with the naked eye, ate and drank, walked and "wept" like a boy of twenty. The costume is distinctive and, with slight variations, is worn throughout Dalmatia. In [10] Istria there are considerable differences both in colour and form. "The Morlacco in full dress has on his head the kapa, a cap of scarlet cloth, with black embroidery on the border and hanging fringe on one side; in some districts bordering on Bosnia a rich band of silk or coloured wools is twisted round it. Over the skirt of rough linen (the kosulja), open to show the breast, is the krozet, a waistcoat crossed on the breast with flat buttons of silver, or tin, and embroidery; it is bound to the sides with a girdle {pas) made of red strings. The trousers (benevrechi) are of a coarse blue cloth fitting to the legs and very tight at the calf, below which they are split up and fastened by sponje, copper or silver hooks. The stockings (nazubei) are of wool of various patterns. The shoes (opanci) have a sole of ox-leather and uppers of strips of dried sheeps' skin (opute): a longer oputa passes several times round the ankle and holds the shoe firm ; it turns up at the toe and looks quite Oriental. Instead of the krozet, or over it, some wear the jacerma, a sleeveless red cloth jacket, covered in front with little discs of tin (siliki), or large balls of silver (toke), or by rows of coins. And over the pas they have the pasnjaca, a band of red leather covering part of the abdomen, with various divisions, in which they used to carry their rich arms, pistols, knives, &c, now filled with the pipe, pipe-cleaner, britva, a very small scimitar with a bone handle, and a small knife in a sheath. Finally, there is the koporan, a jacket with sleeves of blue cloth, with embroidery on the elbows and back; but few Morlacchi wear it.

"The women have a large handkerchief (jaćmak) on their heads, embroidered on the borders; instead of the kosulja, or above it, they have the oplecethat is, the coverer of the shoulders; it is closed at the neck, embroidered on the breast, and on the ample sleeves also. Round the neck is the gerdan, several strings of glass [11] beads of different colours; it is bound at the stomach by the litar, a long band of leather a couple of inches wide covered with little tin discs and very heavy. From the litar hang the britva and a lot of keys, by chains, which are sometimes costly. The gown (vustan) is of blue cloth, but in summer of linen, reaching to the middle of the calf. The apron (prejaca, or, in Venetian, travesa) is always a chef-d' uvre of workmanship, which the Morlacca thinks a deal of. The footwear is composed of three parts: bicve, of blue cloth reaching up to the knee, tightly laced up with little hooks, and finishing at the ankle in a ring; over them the true stockings (nazubei) of rough wool, with patterns in vivid colours and opanci, or filare, like the men's. The girl does not have the litar; on her head is no jaćmak, but a red cloth cap, sparkling with antique or modern coins of silver, and occasionally of gold. In some places the girl has on her bosom the gendar, several rows of coins which hang from the neck, sometimes below the stomach, tinkling at every step; this is her dowry, and sometimes worth as much as 50. When she is married she puts off the gendar and sparkling kapa. The men used to have a pigtail, of which they were very proud. The wife used to comb it twice a month, anoint it with butter, and tie up the end with ribbons and amulets. It was the only time when a Morlacco addressed his wife affectionately. In barracks and in prison the hair is cut, so the pigtail is rarely seen now. To complete the toilet the torba and torbak must be mentioned: the first of red wool, with embroidery, worn by both men and women on the back, laced round the shoulders; the second generally of skin, worn only by the men, and hanging crosswise by a broad band of leather on the left hip."

I have given this detailed description of the costume (quoted from Signor Modrich's "Dalmazia"), thinking it would be of interest; but descriptions of the costumes [12] as they appear to the ordinary traveller will be found in the sections dealing with the various places on the coast.

The Dalmatians are very fond of music and are constantly singing. They have a proverb: "He who sings thinks not of evil." Tomaseo thought their folksongs richer than those of any other nation, ranging as they do over all manner of subjects. They are generally heroical or amorous in character, divided into short verses and sung in two parts; the bass delivers a kind of recitative, and the baritone joins in, the long final note with which each finishes dying away in a full chord. It is extraordinary how serious the men are over it, even when singing over their wine, in which they sometimes exceed. At Tra one Sunday afternoon we saw a party of eight or ten sitting round a table in a caf as serious as if at a funeral, with wine before them, and enjoying their melancholy music. On this occasion the alto part was flat, and the effect was not as good as it is out of doors. Later we came across more than one group of four, standing where two streets met, and singing without looking at each other. In the narrow ancient streets the notes sounded quite in character with the surroundings and with the quaint dresses of the singers. Modrich says that they use the svirala, a kind of bagpipe with two canes, one with four and the other with three holes, and suggests that the long-drawn terminating notes of the songs are in imitation of its sound; but we neither saw nor heard this instrument, all the singing being unaccompanied. The principal occupations of the people are agriculture, cattle-raising, and fishing, or sea-faring. They are exceedingly religious, devoted to church and priest, and observe the great festivals with feasting and rejoicing, and with ceremonies many of which are evidently survivals of heathen observances. The greatest festival is Christmas. [13] In preparation all clothes are washed and mended, house and yard cleaned, and better and richer food than they usually have is provided. On the Eve they work hard; before sunrise house and yard are decked with bay or olive branches or some other evergreen, which they think protects from lightning. On this day the sun, which the ancient Slavs worshipped, woke from sleep, as one may say, and the days began to lengthen perceptibly.

The father of the sun was Perun [2], the thunder-god. To this god the oak was dedicated. In the folk-songs he is replaced by S. Elias, and to this day a great log of oak is placed on the fire on Christmas Eve, and kindled for the preparation of the evening meal. It burns all night and the whole of the following day, and in many places is kept smouldering for eight days. The customs observed are as follows. The head of the family bares his head and says: "Blessed be thou, O log; God preserve thee!" and sprinkles wine upon it crosswise. Then corn is thrown over it, and he invokes every blessing from heaven for the health of those belonging to the house, present or absent, for the success of domestic undertakings, and for the harvest, to which the others present reply "Amen," fire off guns in sign of joy, and say: "Welcome to the evening of the log." Then they sit down to table in the kitchen, even if other rooms are available, which suggests a survival of the practice of eating by the ancient family altar, the hearth. In the centre of the table are three candles twisted together in honour of the Trinity, lighted, and stuck into a great loaf ornamented with ivy. This loaf is afterwards broken up and given to the sheep and cows when bringing forth, or when sick. A little of every kind of food is thrown on to the burning log. If there are three logs (as in some places), the right-hand one must be the biggest the Father, the Son to the left [14] and the Spirit in the middle, the aspersion being made in this order. Boccaccio, in the "Genealogy of the Gods," refers to a similar custom in his day in Florence, evidently the survival, or transmutation, of some heathen rite. After supper the hymn "Es wurde geboren der Himmels Knig von der unbefleckten Jungfrau Maria" is sung, and then the young people usually play Christmas games. Little houses are made of flour or bran, with a piece of money in one, which belongs to the person who selects that house. On Christmas Day thev visit neighbours and relations, married daughters come with husband and children to the midday meal, bringing two loaves one of finer quality for the mother, one of the usual kind as big as possible for the father. During the octave groups of young people (and sometimes of men also) go singing carols from house to house, and are rewarded with money and wine in return for wishing the donors a rich wine, olive, and fruit crop. On New Year's Day the three tapers of Christmas Eve are relighted. Before drinking at the meal the head of the house uses the following formula: "I wish you a good New Year; may you enjoy it in health and happiness, neither offend God, nor lose your soul, but have every tender joy and celestial glory." Then he drinks in undiluted wine three times, and blesses those present in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and pours the remainder of the wine on the candles to extinguish them. If by chance one remains alight it is considered an augury of long life to the person in front of whom it stands. The holy water of the Vigil of the Epiphany, called "water of the Three Kings," and used by the priests to bless every dwelling, is preserved to sprinkle the fields and the sick also, and is thought to be specific against the temptations of the devil at the hour of death. It is said to remain uncorrupted for as long as twenty-five years. Children go about on New Year's [15] Day with a branch of rosemary stuck in an apple in which are kreuzer or ten-kreuzer pieces, wishing good fortune and collecting gifts. In Trieste and some of the Istrian towns, girls and boys go about throughout the octave of Epiphany with little lanterns, kneel on the steps of the houses, sing a song in honour of the three Holy Kings, and then, knocking, ask for money. The song tells how Christ was born poor, lived poor, and died on the Cross, and then goes on to wish friendly donors as many angels to take them to heaven as a sieve has holes; for the hard-hearted as many devils to take them as nails stuck in the door! In some neighbourhoods children are taken into the vineyards on Innocents' Day, when they strike the vines with switches and sing: "Bear, bear fruit, pretty vine, else will I cut thy head off."

Great preparations are made for Easter, when young lambs and turkeys are slain, which the folk-songs tell us used to be offered to the sun-god. Roasted lamb, cooked eggs, cheese, and bread and salt are carried early to the church to be blessed by the priest. When the bearers return, the table is blessed by the head of the family, and God thanked for the well-completed Lenten fast, after which they sit cheerfully down to their meal, burning all fragments left, since the food has been blessed, and taking care not to let anything fall to the ground. In Lent, and during other fasts, they eat neither flesh nor eggs, nor any kind of milk food. They have a saying that it is less culpable to kill a person in vendetta than to eat rich food in Lent. S. John the Baptist's Day is one of their principal feasts. On the Eve the shepherds light fires on all the hills. On the morning they swim for the first time in the year, or wash from head to foot, and also wash all their animals. The girls and boys make garlands of flowers and broom, set them on their heads, and dance "with devotional joy." This [16] is no doubt part of the ancient heathen festival of midsummer. Another festival which has nothing to do with the Church is the "Fasching" or "Pust," on Monday during Carnival. Groups of masked male dancers go through the villages with horns on their heads, or with bells at their girdles weighing several pounds, in one hand a strong stick, in the other a bag of ashes. They dance, jest, fight with other bands, and throw ashes over the women and children who run away. One of them generally carries a clothed figure like a man the " Pust" which next day, or on Ash Wednesday, is burnt or buried. This is a relic of the heathen custom of destroying Morana or Mora, the goddess of night, of darkness, winter, and death, who, the country-folk say, sits on men at night and drinks their blood, and of Mrak (twilight), her helper, who brings little children to her by twilight. The priest, who used to be an oracle to his flock, was asked first to every festivity, and consulted in every difficulty. " The priest says so "put an end to all questioning. With their religious feeling, superstition goes hand in hand. They believe in vampires, nightmares, witches, and "Vilen." The vampire is an evil spirit which appears by night to frighten men, in the guise of a lately dead man or woman "who had not lived piously." It is a human skin filled with blood, covered with a shroud, and shows itself at crossways and on bridges, in caves and graveyards, but also rattles window-shutters and throws down tiles from the roof. It is not safe to call to it; if it reaches out to any one three times that is taken as a sign that it is a good spirit from purgatory asking for help. For protection a thorn-stick is carried, with which the vampire is thrust through. The "Alp" (the nightmare) is an evil old maid who sits on the back or breast of sleepers, holds their hands and feet, and stops their mouth so that they cannot cry for help"; [17] therefore they never sleep on the back, but on the right side, and keep near the bed an open bottle-gourd, of which the "Alp" or "Mora" is afraid. It generally wears a white dress and black bodice, with a white veil over loose hair. Witches only appear in bad weather, and hold their assemblies under walnut-trees or on certain hills. Excessive hail is supposed to be their work. They can be killed by firing with three grains of corn and the Paschal wax-candle at the lightning before the thunder sounds. If this can be done, the witch dies. "Vilen" are maidens with horses' hoofs. They are found in caves and collect in woods, at the sources of streams or springs. The name comes from the Slav "bijela," the white; they are not regarded as evil spirits. In the neighbourhood of Spalato they think that new-born children, if strong and handsome, are likely to be taken away by "Vilen," and therefore watch the infants most carefully till they are baptized. These maidens busy themselves with rope-making, spinning, and gold and silver embroidery, and have the power of changing stones and coal to gold and silver. In summer, when hail falls on the vineyards, peasants may still be seen to turn to the black clouds and throw up salt and shredded garlic. It is said that the devil can be seen if one stand at the church door in such weather with a priest, treading with the right foot upon the priest's right. He is like a great dragon spreading his claws and reaching to the upper clouds from the earth; but the priests never allow the trial, for fear the man should die of fright at the sight. This reminds one of the Chinese and Japanese storm-dragon.

The peasants practise astrology to find lucky times to commence undertakings. Falling stars are considered to be the opening of heaven, and anything asked for at that moment will be granted. Thunders are the rumbling which S. Elias makes with his car. Amulets [18] considered lucky to spill wine on oneself. To meet a snake, a viper in the house, or a centipede crawling over the walls is also lucky. On the other hand, misfortune attends crackling wood, the birth of black lambs, the entering a house left foot first, sitting at table seven or thirteen in number, giving drink with the left hand, spilling oil or salt, and leaving two rods or knife and spoon crosswise. A crowing hen means domestic misfortune she must be killed to avoid it; and the baying of a dog or hooting of an owl at night imports the death of a neighbour. Their customs are patriarchal. The father has full authority over his sons, and their wives are merely fresh daughters of the house. Every boy is held to be worth more than the women, from the age of eight, and girls and women who meet a man are expected to salute him. In some places, in the middle of the last century, this salutation was accompanied with a kiss. The oldest man in the house (stareshina) was the only one who could leave anything by will. He said prayers morning and evening, blessed the table, welcomed the guests, sat with them at table, and hurried the service of his family. He arranged the work of each member of the household, carried on all commercial transactions, and disposed of the results as he pleased. If he found the duties too heavy for him he transferred the responsibility to some other male member. The stopanjica (the mistress) was the directress of the house, and the other women worked under her orders. These people are exceedingly honest, and in some of the villages no locks are to be found either on door or chest.

They have a ceremony by which two persons swear friendship before the altar, and are then called half-brothers or half-sisters. At one time the usage was also practised between persons of different sex. They are [19] also tenacious in prosecuting a vendetta, and, till about seventy years ago, there was but one way in which a blood feud could be extinguished. It was called the Karvarina, or price of blood, and its acceptance was preceded by several very curious ceremonies. The relations dipped the murdered man's shirt in his blood, and kept it till he was avenged, or the price of blood was arranged. The family of the murderer asked for a truce of several weeks, and sent a solemn embassy of twelve young women with their babies. Arrived at the house, the babies were put down, and the women wept, asking for peace and pity in the name of S. John the Baptist, and the putting away of anger for pity of the little ones. After a time the people of the house picked up the children and promised to bring to the font twelve of their children yet unborn to be attendants at the marriage of as many girls, and gave the mothers a piece of silver, a veil, and a cloth in sign of peace. Then the relations of the slain chose twenty-four judges, who were entreated by the other side to serve, and could not refuse, nor might they receive payment. To the preliminaries of the judgment on the appointed day the "dance of blood" succeeded. The criminal, with joined hands, and with the fatal sword at his neck, extricated himself from the slow, melancholy dance, and cried three times: "Pardon!" The nearest relation ordered the principal judge to drive him ignominiously away. The judge obeyed, and struck him to the earth with his foot, but as soon as his forehead touched the ground he turned and cried again: "In the Name of God, pardon me!" The dancing stopped, and the dancers burst into tears. The embittered relative of the murdered man went to him, raised him, embraced him, and kissed him on the forehead, and, turning to the rest, cried out: "This man has been my enemy hitherto, but shall be my friend my brother henceforward, to me and to you all also, and [20] to any who were blood-relations of our dear friend who was killed," and then broke a silver coin in two, giving him one half. Then the oldest of the judges read the sentence imposing the price of blood, from 50 to 140 zecchins of gold. Part of the money went to the Church, a third to the expenses of the judgment, and the rest to the family, who generally applied it to some pious use. Marriage customs vary slightly. About Pola and Parenzo the country people make a great display, and go through ceremonies pointing to the capture or purchase of the bride [example]. The cortege is headed by a standard-bearer, an unmarried relation, carrying a linen flag of different colours, and on it a wheel-shaped loaf with a great apple on the point of a long pole. The guests knock loudly at the door: after a time a voice asks who they are and what they want. The oldest man answers: "A rose out of the garden," or "A hind out of the thicket." After some debate, first an old woman is brought out, then a younger, then the bridesmaids. They take them all, but want another "A barefoot girl is still there." At last the bride appears. "That is the right one; we will take her away,'' all cry, and the bride-leader asks for her stockings and fine shoes, which generally contain a silver coin. These she herself puts on. The bridegroom gives shoes or some other gift to the mother and all the home people. Then one of the guests fires at an apple on a stick fixed to the roof, or on a tree-top, and it is considered a disgrace to all if he misses. Now the bride comes down, garlanded and with one or two apples in her hand, which she throws at the bridegroom, who tries to cover her with the flag. Whether struck or not, he picks the apples up, to eat with his bride after the ceremony. Then they go off to church. Other customs accompany the journey home.

The Morlacchi are very hospitable; if any one approaches one of their houses they ask him in, and [21] will not let him go without his tasting bread and wine. They are exceedingly loyal and devoted to their native land. They are very fond of proverbs, of which I quote a few: "The empty sack does not stand upright"; "Penitence does not make the madman well again"; "If you will not be a thief I will not watch"; "You can't shut out the sun with the palm of your hand"; "Be married by your ears and not your eyes"; "There is most milk in other people's cows"; "He who cries most loudly works the least"; "Promises console the foolish"; "He who has been bitten by a viper fears the lizard"; "The wolf changes his skin, but not his habits"; "As the mother spins, so the daughter weaves"; "Horses by their pace, maidens by their stock."

They are a powerful and a proud race, as the following story from Fortis shows, and will without doubt leave their mark on European history when their culture equals their physical powers; but the present race-animosity between Croat and Italian is deplorable. The Croats, being in the majority, are using their power to oppress the Italian-speaking portion of the population. The schools are now all Croat, and the Italians have no means of instruction for their children in their own language except at Zara. At Spalato the race-feeling is especially bitter; it is the only city in Dalmatia in which the anniversary of the Italian defeat at Lissa is feted with display of flags and music by the municipio. The Italian theatre was burnt down some years ago, and the Croat majority on the council voted a large sum of money (stated to have been 60,000) to build a new Croat theatre to replace it; and this they refused to let to Italian companies. But there are no Croat companies ready to bear the expense of coming to Spalato, so the theatre remains closed!

The story told by Fortis is as follows: "Venice was [22] exchanging prisoners-of-war with the Turks, and gave several Turkish soldiers for each Dalmatian. A deputy of the Porte observed that this was scarcely fair, to whom a Morlacco of Sinj replied fiercely: 'Know that our prince willingly gives many asses for a horse.' "

Editor's Notes:

  1. Jackson errs here. The Morlacchi and Tschiches (Italian Cici) are not part of the Slav group but are the Roumanians.
  2. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perun

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Created: Saturday, February 05, 2005; Last Updated: Sunday, January 31, 2016
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