01 September 2014

Folk Traditions of the Village of Jakubany, Slovakia

Presented by the Kečera (Kechera) Folk Ensemble

First American Tour

September 17 – October 3, 2014

(Translated and edited by:  Maryann Sivak)


Christening/Baptism (Kerstiny) (6 minutes)
One of life’s most beautiful moments is the celebration of birth and baptism of the new family member.  In this presentation, we see Jakubany’s beautifully unique costumes: the baby’s bonnet and Christening outfit, the godmother’s distinctive blanket costume and a lovely crocheted linen curtain that separates the mother and child from people attending the baptism.  When the godfather, godmother and mother of the child return home from church, the invited guests are already at the house celebrating.   The godmother has the baby wrapped in a special blanket (pylka), which is wrapped around herself as well.   When the godmother comes inside, another woman helps her unwrap the pylka.  Then the godmother lays the child on a scarf placed on the floor, saying: "We took a baby pagan and brought you back a Christian.  Whoever finds this child appealing may pick it up."  The father then comes and picks up the child to welcome him home.   Then the guests sing and dance and present gifts for the baby. An individual is appointed to collect the gifts.  He recites a few words from the Holy Scripture before accepting the first gift for the baby.  Those first gifts come from the godmother and godfather, followed by those from the family and guests.

During the festivities mother and child are behind the crocheted curtain which is hung on pegs around the bed.

Washing Clothes by the River(RajbaňapriPotoku) (6 minutes)
In Jakubany, traditionally women washed their laundry in the Jakubjanka river using only plain soap.   To do this they used a small stool and large wooden spatula (pranik).  They would wet the laundry, soap it and then beat it with the pranik.   During those times many nice songs were created.  The girls would often sing them while washing the laundry by the river.  Housewives would also carry their woven flax cloth (linen) to the riverbank, where they would weigh it down with stones.  They would pour water over the cloth, let the sun bleach it, then repeat the process until in a few days the cloth became pure white.   In the earlier years wooden ash was used as a bleach to brighten the linen.

The Sunday Dance by the Jakubjanka Riverbanks (ZabavanaKamjincu) (7 minutes)
This presentation shows how the Jakubany villagers (young and old) would spend their summer Sunday afternoons.  After the holy liturgy in the church, young men would ask local Gypsies to play while the locals danced and sang till dusk. Nowadays, the Gypsy musicians have been replaced by talented Jakubjanites and the singing and dancing have been relocated to the Jakubany cultural center.

Mountains (Hory) (5 minutes)
People from Jakubany once lived a pastoral life.  Most of their time was spent in the mountains, pasturing their animals or harvesting hay for them to eat in winter.   Shepherds spent the entire time from spring to autumn in the mountains.  In this presentation, we hear mostly slow, prolonged songs called travnice, designed for creating echoes from the mountains.   Men would leave for the mountains to cut grass in the early morning.  Usually this began after the feast of St. John the Baptist in late June.   In the afternoon, women came up carrying lunch/dinner wrapped in a blanket (portok) that they carried their on backs.  Mostly they brought pirohy and other homemade Jakubjany dishes.  While the men ate, women would rake the hay and spread it so it would dry faster.   If a woman came with a small baby/child, the husband would build a tripod.  On this a blanket (plachta) was tied, creating a cradle where the baby could rest.  

The dried hay was raked and loaded onto wagons pulled by cows, oxen or horses.  At those times, the forest roads were full of life as people were bringing home their harvest and storing it in their barns.  One could hear wonderful singing voices and their echoes throughout the valley.  The lyrics of those songs accurately depicted the hard life of the mountain people and how, via song, they would make their lives more pleasant.

St. John’s Fire  (JánskyOhni) (8-16 minutes)
This is one of the most beautiful celebrations and is held in Jakubany to this very day.  Every year on St. John the Baptist’s holy day, young single men and single girls meet behind the barns where they gather and party.  They then form in lines and parade down the main street singing and carrying torches (Svatojanskeohne). 
During the day, girls will gather straw, tie it in bundles and build a pile that they light.  Then, while singing, they will leap over the fire. 

Meanwhile, as the young men are pasturing cows, they fashion torches from pine branches coated with resin.  At dusk they light them and forming a line, wend their way through the Jakubany hills.  The whole village can enjoy watching this fiery procession.   At the finale, St. John’s Bonfire (JanskaVatra) is built.  Actually, more likely several Vatras are built and placed in
such a way that the whole village can see them.  Vatras are built only from wood and groups of young men compete to see which Vatra is the most spectacular.   The villagers are delighted watching their young and listen to their beautiful singing voices.

Scutching Flax   (Terťalenu) (8 minutes)

A  lot of work went into producing the thread which women would weave into linen cloth.  First, the flax plant was well drenched with water and then dried in bundles.  Next, seeds were beaten out using arjaf, while the fibers became really frayed.   Women then would scutch the flax by using the terlica until all the shiv, the woody outer coat, was gone.  They then pulled the fibers repeatedly through a metal comb (česadlo)until they had fluffy flax strands well combed and without contaminants ready to be spun into thread.   This demonstration shows how young girls helped to scutch flax and how boys would come by with music to enliven their work, letting the girls have a little fun.

 Decorating Hats for the Groomsmen (Pjirkoviny) (8 minutes)
The bride invites her bridesmaids to make a wedding wreath and also to gather plumes for the groomsmen’s hats.  The men come by while the bridesmaids are tying the feathers for them, and they dance and sing.   That night and the following day the groomsmen’s job is to personally invite guests to the wedding.  At every home as groomsman enters, the woman of the house ties a ribbon on his vest (huňa). She, thereby, confirms attendance of her family members at the wedding.  
Partying during the wedding preparation is for everyone, but especially for the young people who love to celebrate.  Both the bride and groom want this joyous kind of parting from their single friends with whom they have grown up, pastured cows and gone to parties (večurky).

Bonneting (Čepčyňa) (10 minutes)

Bonneting is one of the principal ceremonies during which a single girl become a wife.  A pillow is placed on a chair in the middle of the living room.  The women, briefly, place a boy on the pillow to express the hope that the first child will be a male.  Then the bride is seated.  The best man asks the master of the ceremony if he may remove her bridal crown.  When given permission, he lifts the crown with a sword, which he sticks into one of the beams.
The bride holds a mirror to watch the women as they position her newly-crocheted bonnet.  The bridesmaids sing a bonneting song while protecting it from the groomsmen, who  try to snatch it away.  Then the groom comes over and puts paper bills on the bonnet until it is covered with money.  The couple dance their first dance.  They are followed by the bridal party and finally the wedding guests.

Induction into the Military (Rukovaňa) (6 minutes)

In former days, the village 18-year-old boys were drafted into the armed forces.  Inductions were held miles away in Spišska Bela.  Accompanied by Jakubany’s mayor, the boys travelled there in a decorated horse-drawn wagon.  Along the way they sang military songs.  At the ceremony, each draftee received a tricolor ribbon in the national colors of red, white, and blue.

Upon their return, the mayor hosted them at a bar (karčma), giving each a bottle of spirits.  They had a party with singing and dancing.  Afterward they attended confession and a liturgy.  Later in the week, each boy had a party at home with family and friends.  Eventually he would kiss his parents and an icon goodbye.  Then his friends would pick up his luggage and they and the village girls would escort him to the train station.

 St. Andrew’s Day (Ondreja), Gathering for Spinning Flax (Večurky), and Mardi Gras (Puščaňa) (16 minutes)

A.          St. Andrew’s Day – The girls would drip molten lead into a basin full of water.  As it cooled, the lead would assume some form.  Based on the shape of the form, the girls could tell their futures.  For example, if the lead took the shape of a cradle, the girl would become a godmother.  If it formed a bonnet, the girl would soon be married.  If it cooled in the shape of a wreath she would become a maid of honor.

  When making pirohy, a girl would insert the names of village boys before pinching
them closed and dropping them into boiling water.  The first pirohy that bobbed to the
surface would contain the name of her future husband.

B.          Gathering for Spinning Flax – Throughout the winter, girls would spend evenings spinning flax into thread.  At some point while the girls were busy with spinning, the boys would come with musical instruments (mostly accordions).  They would tease the girls, then they would all dance and sing.  The day before Mardi Gras would see the last and best spinning party.  Once a woman had volunteered to host the gathering, the girls would come and clean her house and wash the floors.  Plenty of good food was also carried in.  They, then, presented her with a tree branch festooned with colorful ribbons.  When the boys arrived, the party began.
C.      Mardi GrasIn Jakubany, Mardi Gras is always celebrated on Sunday; Lent begins the    following Monday.  On Mardi Gras, the villagers have their last opportunity to eat meat for months.  Hence, it becomes a virtual meat feast.  After the evening church bells ring, they must forego all meat, dairy products and eggs until Easter.



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