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Culture /

Immaterial culture

Boyko people – an ethnic group of Ruthenian and Wołoskie origins – also called the mountain people of the pastures, neighboured with Hutsuls to the East and with Łemkowie to the West. During the World War II most Boyko people were moved inside of the Soviet Union, and the rest was scattered around Poland during the “Vistula” operation. Today Boyko people live in Ukraine – mainly in  the areas: iwanofrankowski, Lviv, and zakarpacki. The traces of material culture that are left by Boyko people in Bieszczady are the sacred buildings (Orthodox churches) and residential buildings (chyże).

In the Boyko constructions, there was one-building part, combining under the one roof the residential and utility parts. Narrow and very long huts (so-called chyże) were built from pine wood and covered with a hipped, thatched roof. The cottages had concaves. There was a big cauldron hanging under the ceiling, used for heating water. On the wall, near the furnace the dish rack was mounted, for wooden or clay bowls and saucepans. The chamber was lit with primitive metal lamps, filled with grease or petroleum. The furniture included a table, mobile bench, and stove; chromolithographs decorated the walls. In the separate chamber the food and valuable items were kept. The Boyko villages were established in the river or stream valleys. They stretched over several miles. Since the times of Wołoskie settlements they formed chains of villages in the valleys. The farm included the fields on both slopes, forests with meadows and pastures.

Boyko people lived on  the barren, mountainous terrain, which favoured the persistence of the tradition cultural forms. The basis of the economy was agriculture and herding, mainly on the mountain meadows called the pastures. When cultivating the land, the villages had a rule: one year the land was dug with hoes and the plants were sown on the one side of the village, and on the other side the cattle grazing was carried out. Due to the late sowing, the crops were poor. This is why herding was the main source of income. Boyko people grazed large flocks of sheep – from 100 to 200 sheep. Every-day life on the pastures wasn’t easy. The shepherds lived in huts, drank milk and ate whatever they could prepare from it. Boyko people also bred domestic birds, and dried fruits to later sell them. Until World War II the flints were used to start the fire. They also collected a large amount of the hazelnuts, which during the periods of famine were the only source of food for the entire families. Men earned their living by felling trees or working during the harvest. They also handled coal and bred horses. Additionally, the peasants engaged themselves in such activities as carpentry or wheel-making.

Boyko people’s spiritual life was strictly linked with the Orthodox church. There were three types of churches built by Boyko people, including the triple-built temples. Traditional material used was wood, of which the chancel, vestibule and the main nave were made. The whole of the church was surrounded by the roof eaves, which was based on beams. The next type of the churches built were the buildings based on the rectangular shape, and covered with the roof ridge. The last type was the churches built on the shape of the cross. There were also constructions with the upper chapel over the vestibule. Except the religious meaning, it also had a defence function. The churches were built on the hills, in places difficult to reach.

Boyko people were exceptionally superstitious, so they could preserve the customs of their ancestors in a completely unchanged forms. They were deeply religious, but believed in supernatural. They double-secured themselves against evil forces. They asked the priest to pray, and then called for a sorcerer, whose task was to undo all evil and prevent it. They protected their cattle from evil spells, and asked good spirits for good weather and the hunting weapons. The weather was particularly important for farmers and shepherds, so the weather sorcerers were especially respected, and in some villages they were given certain goods because of their social position. The peasants believed that their strength comes from both good and evil. Boyko people were also helped by the herbalists, who treated and brought the diseases. They placed the diseased in the herbal smoke in a particular time of night and day, and said their incantations. The spirits of the dead were feared, and particularly the spirits of those who committed suicide. According to the Boyko people, the cross helped to prevent evil powers, so it was put up on the crossroads. Such archaic beliefs and rites were still present in Bieszczady until 1946. In Wołosate in the funeral procession the sleigh with the coffin was pulled by the pair of black oxen, followed by the group of mourning women.

In every village there were fairies and witches, which were thought to be the reasons for various diseases and bad luck. The quack doctors were the ones who would take back the evil spells. It was believed that a human being has two souls. Only one of them was baptised and after death it was going where it should: into Heaven or straight to Hell.

On Christmas Eve 12 traditional dishes were prepared. The host brought a sheaf of grain and put it on the table. During the whole day the lent was in place, and this rule was very strict. In the morning, the so-called “połaźnicy” walked from home to home, giving everyone their best wishes. But the women could not go out or borrow anything. Later the hay was brought into the house and the supper was prepared. The family ate the meal from one bowl. The hazelnuts were thrown into the hay, so the kids could look for them and have fun finding them.

In the Boyko land especially popular were St Jurij’s Day and Whit Sunday. In the Ukrainian Carpathians the custom of decorating cattle with garlands of spring flowers and green for St Jurij’s Days still persists. According to the tradition, the cattle decorated in such a way was never attacked by the wild animals. The meaning of the wreaths is also said to be the protection against the evil spells. The importance of this day was enhanced by the special songs, sang by the shepherds during leading the cattle to the pastures. The songs themselves are now forgotten; all we know today is that the melody is the same as that of wedding chants.

Wreaths of flowers were usually made for cows and calves. The wreaths for bulls and oxen were made of beech branches and beech leaves. After the cattle’s return, the farmers took off their garlands and tore them. They were either given to cows to eat, or the cows were showered with their remains.

A week after the birth of a child, the rite of baptism took place. The godparents were the closest neighbours. They brought a piece of cloth and put money in it. The child was baptised by the priest laying on the brought-in crosses. After the baptism, there was the celebration.

The father who wanted his son to be married, asked his neighbour to go with him to visit the parents of the chosen girl. The parents asked their daughter if she wants to marry the young man. If she accepted their choice, they informed the matchmakers of the dowry, which the girl would have. Then the bargaining took place, as both sides wanted to negotiate the best deal. After two days the young man’s parents would go to see the home of the future bride. The priest, after receiving the appropriate gifts, officially confirmed the engagement – then the official engagement celebration took place. During this gathering the gifts were exchanged. Before the wedding the priest would check the young couple’s knowledge of prayers and catechism; they also had to work one day in his household. They handed him gifts again, too. The same day they were going to invite their guests to their wedding celebrations, took part in the holy mass, and had to undergo the confession.

Young couple knelt in the church on the outstretched canvas. The priest led the wedding ceremony, and after they left the church, the newly wedded went straight to the inn. When the young couple returned home, they were welcomed by singing. They ate dinner in the chamber and stayed there until the evening, until a traditional rite called “oczepiny”. The dancing was what came next. The second day the celebrations took place in the groom’s house.

The funerals also had their special settings. Next to the body of the deceased a cross and candlesticks were placed. He or she was dressed and laid on the bench covered with white cloth. The dead were dressed in a special outfit before their bodies were put into coffins. For example, young people were dressed in their wedding robes. Every-day use objects were put into the coffins, so they could accompany the dead to the new life. On the lid of the coffin the cross was painted. The four corners of the coffin were covered with salt, then licked by the family while its members were circling it around, which was supposed to keep away the evil spirits. After the funeral, a wake took place.


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