Unia Europejska

About the project

Ethnography of the Province

The Małopolska Province is an extraordinary land. The geographical and natural diversity (ranging from the Jurassic landscapes in the area surrounding the town of Olkusz and the village of Ojców to the fertile Vistula Lowland, the former Niepołomice Forest, the vast Carpathian Foothills, the numerous mountain ranges in the Beskids and Tatras) is coupled with an amazing cultural diversification among its former inhabitants. Apart from the natural environment, its wealth was materially influenced by the history of the region, and especially the history of settlement. Both the proximity of the Kingdom of Hungary, which lasted from the Middle Ages, and the later so-called Wallachian-Ruthenian colonization (15th-17th century) contributed to the cultural identity of the Carpathian Highlanders. The changing fortunes of history ethnically enriched Małopolska: next to Poles, it was home to Ruthenians, Germans, Slovakians, Jews, Romanies (Carpathian gypsy settlers), who all made up this extraordinarily colourful cultural mosaic.

The area that today constitutes the Małopolska Province used to be inhabited by almost twenty distinct ethnographic groups. The northern part was occupied by the Krakowiaks, with a multitude of western and eastern subregions; in the southern part a dozen or so groups of Carpathian Highlanders lived, and in between them, the Carpathian Foothills encompassed a broad belt of Lach regions characterized by a transitional culture combining Krakowiak and Highland features. They all differed in their dialects, traditional costume, folk music and dance, rites, local customs, as well as everyday lifestyle. In time, by radiating their characteristics onto the neighbouring lands, the groups with distinctive and expansive cultures (e.g. Krakowiaks, Sącz Lachs or Podhale Highlanders) created – especially in the periphery – more areas affected by their own cultures, thus giving rise to the changing colours and flavours of Małopolska. Some of the groups, or their parts (e.g. around towns or in areas of developing industry) were more susceptible to losing their former distinctness or even their sense of identity. As early as the beginning of the 20th century, this led to a sustained blurring of the boundaries between some of the regions.

It is also noteworthy that in more recent times the ethnographic map of the Carpathian Highlanders was drastically changed by the complicated political situation right after the Second World War. Enforced displacements of the Ruthenian (Ukrainian) people – inter alia, Lemkos and the so-called Shlakhtov Ruthenians (1945-1947) – severed the cultural continuity in the areas which had been inhabited by them.

The territorial ranges of the individual groups mentioned in a number of publications devoted to ethnographic or regional studies are ambiguous. The delineations made, since the mid-19th century until almost the present times, by many researchers of various specializations are quite distinct. This results from a choice of different research criteria, but above all from different times in which the research was conducted. It is impossible to verify the results, because the focus of the research, that is the traditional rural culture, is simply no longer extant; for almost one hundred years it has been a historical category only. The ethnoHOMESTEAD map shows one of the currently recognized versions of the ranges of the individual groups (with one exception), at points commenting on a given choice in the introductory outline.

The rapid civilizational changes that took place throughout the 20th century gradually led to the diminution – and at the present time – the disappearance of the cultural distance between the rural and urban environments. However, the widespread family memory supporting the awareness of the former distinctness of the so-called folk culture makes the present inhabitants of Małopolska search for their own identity, and their own place in the cultural space. A great number of folk ensembles, folk bands, singing ensembles as well as groups presenting traditional rites and customs (especially Christmas carolling groups) that operate in our province may serve here as the living proof of these aspirations. Country Housewives’ Associations are just flourishing, workshops of once common and today disappearing rural crafts as well as handicrafts, such as embroidery, lacemaking and ceremonial visual arts are being established anew. Traditional folk arts have found their continuators, e.g. sculptors, reverse glass painters.

This growing interest in almost all spheres of the traditional rural life was the motivation for us to work on the ethnoHOMESTEAD project. As we invite you to wander around every ethnographic nook and cranny in Małopolska, we are hopeful that this project will help you understand the phenomenon of the cultural wealth and diversity of this land.


Maria Brylak-Zaluska