More on the Subject of Lemkos....

In 1867, the Moscow Universify Digest (Moskovskiye Universitetskiye Novosti) carried an essay by Professor Neil Popov entitled "Ruthenian Residents of the Eastern Carpathian Slopes." It should be noted that during that period Lemkos were referred to — especially by people in the Russian Empire — as Carpatho-Rusyns or Rusyns. The name originates from Kievan Rus, centuries back, and has been preserved ever since. It is specifically used by Lemkos in their respective countries or residence.

Professor Popov, apart from Lemko and Ruthenian (Rusyn) uses the term "highlander," indicating people living in a mountainous area. 

At a conference of Moscow University scholars held on December 19, 1866, Professor Popov’s survey was discussed and highly praised. Let us take a closer look at the life and cultural heritage of our ancestors of the past century as seen through the eyes of this Russian scholar.

In his fundamental work Professor Popov portrays Lemkos as courageous, strong-willed, well-built, physically attractive, energetic and habitually cheerful people. They are straightforward (he writes), outspoken, sensitive to others’ misfortunes, religious, hospitable, clever, and remarkably patient. They willingly take part in any new undertaking and never abandon it until they have accomplished it. Their frank and open-hearted disposition is testified to by their words as well as deeds. You won’t find another individual with whom it is as easy to reconcile as with a Lemko. All it takes (Professor Popov continues) is a bit of convincing him that he would be better off if he confessed to a wrongdoing. He will oblige and will sincerely repent. He will quickly forget insult because a Lemko has a kind and forgiving heart. He wishes well to one and all.

Professor Popov explains the strong religious affiliation of the Lemkos by the fact that this people lives high in the mountains, being closer to the firmament, surrounded by all those wonders of nature that constantly remind them of His Almighty Presence.

The soils of Lemkovina are anything but fertile writes Professor Popov. They call for back-breaking daily toil. Still, these farmers are inseparably bound to their land because they regard it as a heritage handed down by their forefathers. To a Lemko, no valley can match the beauty of his beloved highland.

Every spring the Lemkos herd flocks of sheep up the precarious Carpathian footpaths. Once they reach a polonina pasture they build a "koshara" (sheepfold) where the cattle is driven at the end of the day and left to spend the night. They also put up special shepherd huts, known as kolyba, in which they make ewe cheese and where the "baky" or "yoogazie" (senior herders) sleep.

This people is in constant, close contact with the elements, so they have a keen awareness of the climate and can forecast the weather with a fair amount of accuracy, often in the form of a folk poetic narrative, based on ancient legends, sagas, and fairy tales.

In talking of legends writes Popova, they owe their existence to the Christian faith. One of the most popular folk renditions is about Kanigunda, a woman made saint, whom the angels saved from a Tartar horde by building an impregnable castle high in the Carpathian Mountains, in which she hid with the swift, violent Dunajes raging down below. Other versions have it that Kanigunda found refuge from the heathens by stepping on a stone somewhere in the Carpathian Mountains, leaving her footprint there. Still other narratives say that there was the river Poprad and that salt deposits were discovered in Velichka. Quite a number of legends are about St. John from Ducla and the brothers Sts. Hevrosiy and Protasiy.

The term "Lemko" originates neither from a place-name nor from that of some or other tribe or clan. It comes from the word "lem" (Professor Popov stresses) in the vernacular, meaning "if'; "only"; "however," etc.

Lemkos are known for their jealous care about ancestral history and folkways. Separated from their maternal roots in Kievan Rus they have preserved their identity in the strange environs with the assistance of their Orthodox faith. They observe their rites and build and decorate their Houses of God with loving care. It is in the Church that they seek and are conferred their ultimate wisdom. They also frequent the monasteries at Krasny Brod and Mt. Bukova in Priashevshchyna. No Lemko is likely to begin any undertaking without first seeking counsel and inspiration from Our Lord just as he will always turn to Him in time of grave need or disaster, and will praise Him when some luck has come his way.

Christian morality exerts a ponderable influence upon the Lemkos. A Lemko will steal a pinch of salt or a small strip of leather only when hopelessly in need. No cases of theft on a larger scale have been reported from Lemkovina, Professor Popov writes.

Lemkos don’t prosper by tilling. There is even a folk saying that a Lemko is happy only when his oat and potato crops are good. They sow barley which they grind in mortars to make "pentsaky;" also wheat to make "styranka" (dough boiled in water or milk), which is a special festive treat, and rye to grind flour to bake bread (in mixture with oat flour).

Professor Popov proceeds to inform us that what a Lemko farmer cannot receive from his plot he tries to compensate for by trading in sheep and young bulls. Almost every Lemko farmstead sends a couple of its younger children to earn a living in Hungary.

Lemkos are quite fond of singing. Their women sing when harvesting, raking hay, grinding grain, milking cows — in other words, whenever they are busy with farm chores.

There is a standing tradition in Lemkovina. When a girl begins to sing, the tune is picked by another, then another, and then by many other maidens, until the song seems to be heard all over the mountains. Lemko men seldom sing — never at work, and only sometimes when dancing. More often than not they prefer to play their flutes and fifes.

Lemko songs can be divided into those sung during work hours, also when dancing, enjoying one’s leisure time, and at wedding parties. Of course there are also lullabies. The songs sung when working are basically Slovak by the contents and lyrics because in these songs one can discern the mixed Slovak-Lemko dialect. These songs often use purely Slovak names, but the songs vary in terms of the plot. Generally such a song is made up of two parts. The first tells of the beauty of the native land and the second one describes one’s sense of joy, happiness, and grief. Such songs are performed using three essentially similar melodies. Those sung when dancing are also partially Slovak with the tune answering the beat of the dance. By and large, these songs originate in Hungary.

Lemkos love new songs. They learn them adapt them to their folk style by substituting Lemko words for Slovak, so that an originally Slovak song may turn into a Slovak-Lemko one eventually to assume a wholly Lemko character.

Lemko character dominates in wedding songs which are absolutely devoid of Slavic influence. These preserve the spirit, the vernacular, the history, and the cultural heritage of the people. Most of the lullabies are essentially Lemko in spirit. Their tunes are slow and sad. Religious songs are also widespread. These are performed during Matins and during the Lenten period. Numerically few, these songs boast excellent lyrics and slow, bewitching music. They are informative and their origin reaches deep in the mist of centuries...

Professor Popov writes that Lemkos have another beautiful tradition. They always come to work wearing clean clothes-men, women and children alike.

Lemkos wear short light garments known as "chuga." Their trousers are adorned with blue or red stripes. In winter, men wear "kholoshnya," white thick cloth pants. In summer, they sport fine linen trousers. Special fesuvS* occasions warrant "better wear"-blue pants of woolen cloth. All of these are worn tucked in the boots, and every pair of pants is held in place with the aid of a long black strip of leather, a belt adorned by rows of ornate buttons. The shirt has a slit-front. The "hunka" is more often than not a short coarse woolen jacket, dyed white or black, reminding one of its Hutsul prototype. Lemkos also favor the "leibyk" (vest) done in blue cloth with two or three rows of buttons running both sides, and threading the shoulders. Black hats have broad rims, bent upwards after the Hungarian fashion. Men’s fedoras have string or broadbands with clustered ends inside which they fashion flowers or feathers. In winter they wear low hats of special design, complete with earflaps.

Lemko footwear is made up of "kerptsi" or "khodaky" (shoes). Like the other Carpathian highlanders, young Lemkos sport "skimi" (boots) to which they attach spurs on festive occasions like village dances, holidays, etc.

Lemko women’s wear is more "homogenous" than men’s-the only difference being the type of stitch used in the head kerchief (shawl), the form of the corset, and the shape of the "pyatsjurka" (string of beads). Most women favor white shawls, but the elder ones wear blue kerchiefs (babushkas) with white or yellow dots for work.

On festive occasions, middle-aged women put on red shawls, tying them so that the longer end can be tossed over the shoulder. Maidens wear no shawls or babushkas. They tie their hair in a single braid.

A sixteen-year-old girl would be scandalized if she were to enter church with bare feet, so she would carry her boots in her hands all the way to church and put them on before stepping inside. After the service she would remove them again and go barefoot all the way home.

Both women and maidens wear "polka" dot, long narrow shawls, folded twice, to church. In fact, a woman or girl cannot go to church, to a party or a neighboring village unless she wears a "polka."

"Menta" is a very special, beautiful garment native to every Lemko woman. It is a green woolen skirt, lined at the hem by fox fur and adorned with blue bands. A bride cannot appear for the wedding without wearing a "menta" (skirt). The same applies to the maids of honor.

Many a generation has come to pass. People’s living conditions, their way of life has undergone noticeable changes. New political and economic systems have appeared. Still, Professor Popov’s essay has retained its ethnic topicality. At present, every Lemko must not only pride him or herself on the character and culture of their forefathers, but also try to know them better.




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