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April 4, 2013


HOW FOLK CULTURES SURVIVE  by Dr. Thaddeus V. Gromada

The Tatra Eagle, Vol. 66, No.1, 2013

One of Poland’s eminent ethnographers, Roman Reinfuss, has put forward  a provocative theory that urban civilization does not by itself cause the extinction of folk cultures. But rather the inferiority complex of village folk vis a vis urban culture  is the actual culprit.   He insists that wherever a folk group has a positive self image and highly values its culture, it can co-exist  and even flourish taking advantage of urban culture’s amenities.  To support his theory he points to the Tatra highlander (góral) folk culture in Podhale, Poland ,  which not only  continues to exist but has moved into a new phase of development.

The “górale” according to him, have a  high self image and are very proud and attached to their folk culture.  No doubt, this positive attitude is due in part , to the myth that Polish elites have created  in the late 19th and early 20th century which lionized and idealized them and which has been  reinforced by more recent accolades from Pope John Paul II and the popular philosopher Rev. Józef Tischner.  The Pope’s famous comment made in the summer of 1997 in Zakopane to a multitude  of 350, 000, that “that I can always depend on you”. (Na Was można zawsze liczyć), will never be forgotten.  Reinfuss’s evidence of the vitality of góral folk culture and its tradition focuses on the following areas:

Strój Ludowy/Folk Attire.  Reinfuss does not deny that urbanization has had its impact on Podhale.  No longer is it common to see górale wearing their traditional attire in everyday life.  But on Sundays, special occasions , religious and national holidays, family celebrations (weddings, christenings, and even funerals) it is a different story.  Suddenly  one will see crowds of górale and góralki proudly wearing their colorful , traditional garments.  If you call them costumes, they will be very offended.  They do not get dressed up in their traditional clothes for the benefit of tourists but rather for their own satisfaction.  The traditional attire is very costly but the highlanders are willing to bear the expense since it makes them feel  good and more honorable and emphasizes their góral identity.  Many are of the opinion that only persons of góral origin should have the privilege of wearing “strój góralski”.

Styl Zakopiański/Góral Architecture.  The houses built in Podhale since the 1950’s are no longer one story chalets built out of logs stripped of their bark that inspired Witkiewicz’s “styl zakopiański”.  Instead two and even three story  brick houses are being built  with interiors equipped with the latest “civilized” comforts.  But like the Japanese the górale were able to  make these improvements  and still retain their traditional architectural style.  The folk  furnishings inside the home are made by góral craftsmen  and the walls are decorated with paintings on glass  by local artists who have revived this traditional art form.

Gwara /Dialect.  Today,  the highlanders  even those with higher education are in effect bilingual, because in addition to speaking literary Polish they also speak in the “gwara góralska” (highlander dialect).  In mixed company the highlanders will speak literary Polish,  but between themselves  especially at home they will  use their dialect.   An interesting phenomenon  has recently developed in Podhale that has surprised scholars.  More and more even ordinary highlanders are expressing themselves by writing poetry using  the “gwara”.  In fact, annual Poetry Festivals are held in various villages giving highlanders  an opportunity to recite their poems in public.  This phenomenon has been studied by Dr. Anna Mlekodaj, from the Podhalańska Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Zawodowa in Nowy Targ.   The dialect  in prose was used very effectively by Rev. Jozef Tischner, in his best selling book “Historia filozofji po góralsku”.  Yet, there are some who question the use of the góral dialect as a legitimate form of literary expression, because for them it is a dead language.  A góral  will respond, “How could it be a dead language, when I speak it every day to my parents and friends.  It is our mother tongue”.

Muzyka Góralska/Highlander Music.  Folk musicians may be difficult to find in many regions in Poland but that is not the case in Podhale. They can  be found in increasingly large number in almost every Tatra mountain village.  Yes, many of them are old timers, but surprisingly many more are youngsters, teen agers who mastered the art of  fiddling  the ancient Tatra tunes and are eager to display their virtuosity.  You can hear the Tatra Highland ensembles in the hotels, restaurants of Zakopane and its environs that delight the native górale as well as the “cepry” (lowlanders) .  But more important are the spontaneous gatherings of young people in their homes or other spaces where  they  sing and dance to the accompaniment of “muzyka goralska”. These young people are having fun and a jolly good time. For the last forty six years an Annual Festivals featuring the Music, Dance, Song and Art of Podhale known as “Sabałowe Bajania”  have been organized in Bukowina Tatrzanska , usually in the month of August, which attracts several hundreds of highlanders who perform in front of thousands.  These festivals are enormously popular and play an important role in the maintenance of folk culture.   At times other regions in Poland incorporate  into their culture the popular elements of góral culture like for example the “brigand dance” (zbójnicki).  This is not appreciated by the górale who are very  careful not to adopt non-góral elements into their own.

At times there are allegations made that góral folk culture exists in Podhale for commercial reasons, to attract tourists to their region.  But that is not  the case. Podhale, the alpine Tatra mountain region is so beautiful and attractive , that tourists would flock to it even without the local folk culture.

The Tatra folk culture is alive and flourishes  today because the górale continue to be staunchly loyal to the faith and traditions of their góral  ancestors







One Comment leave one →
  1. July 9, 2016 2:28 pm

    I appreciate your comment.

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