Folk Culture Origins
Dance, costume, artwork, architecture, customs — all of these make up what has become Poland’s greatest national asset: Its Folk Culture. And, every tourist who enters Poland immediately becomes aware of this intoxicating attraction. A prime example are the Polish regional costumes, especially those from Cracow and the Tatra Mountains, that have long become among Polonia a symbol of Polish ancestry and an indispensable element of national ceremony.
Folk culture has become a subject about which much has been said and written. The origins of Polish folk culture go back to a distant period of primitive tribal culture. There exists in Polish folklore a historical legend related by the 15th century chronicler Jan Dlugosz which describes the migrations of Slavonic tribes in search of new places of settlement. In the dawn of history of the Polish state the culture of these tribes showed certain differences confirmed by archeological excavations. These were regional differences determined on the one hand by geographical conditions and on the other by external influences. Peasant population lived in small, usually scattered settlements surrounded by irregularly arranged fields. The dwellings were built of wood. The farmers of these days cultivated the principal crops, they kept bees, knew the qualities of herbs, manufactured thread and linen as well as cloth from the wool of sheep, which they dyed to achieve different colors.
The life of a traditional village was not restricted, however, to the work necessary to provide the peasants with only a means of living. All aspects of country life, work in the fields and in the household, family life, crafts and social life, were marked by a beauty reflected in the creation of specific art. Polish cabins contained characteristic equipment — folk chests ornamented with flower motifs and drawings, coffers, the painted designs of which varied depending on the region of Poland, and carved cupboards.
The art of costume designing flourished in western and northwestern Poland between 1850-1870, whereas in eastern and southern parts of the country between 1870-1890. Dresses regarded today as the regional Polish costumes date mainly from that period. Folk costumes have been preserved and are being worn in the most conservative regions or in those parts of the country where they have won the wide approval of the society (costumes from the Tatra Mountains region, Lowicz, Opoczno). Embroidery is inseparably connected with the art of ornamenting folk costumes. Richly embroidered are shirts, aprons, bodices, wraps, sheepskins and trousers. Equally remarkable are folk lace trimmings.
Artistic creativity of inhabitants of Polish villages has also been expressed in the spoken word, songs and dances which are part of tradition of the Polish folk culture. The traditional rites connected with the wedding ceremony belong to the most colorful and rich elements of folklore.
A characteristic feature of Polish dance folklore is its close connection with instrumental and vocal music, mainly with couples. Bands and singing were an indispensable element of any countryside feasts. The Polish folk song is usually performed solo no matter whether it belongs to the customary ceremony or is part of a social dance routine. The prevailing type of couple dance repertory makes it possible to distinguish several separate regions: The region of Krakowiak (western Little Poland), region of Polka (eastern and western Little Poland), region of Oberek (folk dance of Central Poland), region of Mountaineers’ dances (Krzesany, Drobny, Zbojnicki), Silesian dances (Trojak), and vivat in Great Poland.
People and its culture had aroused interest of the past generations. Tadeusz Kosciuszko put on a peasant’s Cracow overcoat for the ceremony of his swearing in at the Cracow market place in 1774. This event became a theme of many paintings which adorned the interiors of most of Polish homes. Kosciuszko in a peasant’s coat thus became a national symbol.
Another great Pole, Hugo Kollataj, studied the “customs of the country people” in order to enrich the history of Poland. Many writers and poets such as Franciszek Karpinski, Stanislaw Kleczkowski, Ignacy Krasicki, Jan Skorski, Stanislaw Wyspianski (The Wedding) and others resorted directly to folk tradition. They looked in it for such values which would be worthy of elevating them to the rank of national assets.
Franciszek Karpinski and Ignacy Krasicki were the first to discover the beauty of Polish folk songs. Karpinski, the “poet of the heart,” modeled his poems on the patterns of folk poetry. Famous are also the compositions of the great Fryderyk Chopin based on the motifs of folk music. Also, the music of other Polish composers such as Karol Szymanowski (Harnasie and Kurpie Songs) or Zygmunt Noskowski (Morskie Oko) is under the strong influence of folk art.
The interest in the life and culture of the country people is also reflected in numerous works of eminent Polish painters such as Piotr Michalowski (portraits of peasants), Jozef Szermentowski (realistic Polish landscapes), Aleksander Kotsis (scenes from the country life) or Gierymski brothers. Beautiful and very Polish are the cabins of Polish mountaineers with their slopping roofs and ornate construction. This specific style also has been introduced to the architecture of other regions of Poland.
And, Poland to keep this folk culture alive continues to maintain and plan programs and to internationalize it. For example, every year a great international festival of highlander’s folklore is held in Zakopane in the early fall.
Wherever you go in Poland, its folk culture will be ever present. Isn’t it time to visit and find out about your roots?
. . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .