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Ochotnica Highlanders

Ochotnica Highlanders

Ochotnica, which is one of the oldest Wallachian villages in the Polish Carpathians, was founded under the so-called Wallachian law in 1416, and is also the longest and most extensive chain village in the Małopolska Province. Its development lines both sides of the valley of the Ochotnica stream in the Gorce Mountains; the valley is located between the Gorce Mountains and the Lubań range, and stretches for more than 20 kilometres. The valleys of the streams feeding the Ochotnica river have been settled as well. Currently, both parts of the village – Ochotnica Górna (Upper Ochotnica) and Ochotnica Dolna (Lower Ochotnica) – are separate administrative units (sołectwa). Until the time of the Partitions of Poland, the village belonged to the royal demesne, and was administered by the Czorsztyn Starosty.

In the north and the northeast, across the Gorce slopes, Ochotnica Dolna borders on such villages belonging to the Sącz (Łącko and Kamienica) Highlanders as Zasadne, Kamienica and Zabrzeż; in the east, at the Ochotnica stream mouth into Dunajec, lies Tylmanowa (more precisely, its development called ‘Rzeka’), a village culturally similar to Ochotnica, and frequently referred to in combination with it under the appellation of Ochotnica Highlanders. In the south, across the Lubań and Runek ranges, Ochotnica borders on Grywałd and Krośnica, which belong to the area of the Szczawnica Highlanders, as well as on Mizerna, Maniowy, Huba, Szlembark and Knurów – villages characterised by a transitional culture, and included in the area of Podhale influence. In the west, Ochotnica Górna comes into contact with the forest belonging to the Podhale village of Łopuszna. In the 1880s the land that had been sold after felling of the Gorce forest, was settled with numerous families from Podhale villages. In the culture of this small region (especially in its folk music and costume) one could easily discern the influence of the Sącz culture (Ochotnica Dolna), the Szczawnice Highlanders (Tylmanowa) and Podhale (Ochotnica Górna).


The chain-type, once well-laid-out development of Ochotnica was associated with the medieval rural arrangement of forest łany (units of land measurement), where lands belonging to individual settlers originally took the shape of long strips stretching between the buildings in the settlement plot at the bottom of the valley and the higher parts of the slopes and the forest edge. In time, as a result of subsequent land divisions made by families, the clear-cut łany layout became blurred. Ochotnica used to be economically diverse. The largest area in Ochotnica was taken up by forests, in which after the Second World War there were still numerous clearings that had been created through slash-and-burn methods and adapted for agriculture (hardly productive). Oats and later potatoes were grown; haying was pursued. In summer, cattle and sheep were grazed here by individual farmers. These purposes were served by seasonal, wooden buildings suited to the forest clearing conditions. Apart from oats, the valley part of the fields was sown with rye, barley; also vegetables were grown here. However, the basis of livelihood for the inhabitants of Ochotnica Górna was sheep farming pursued in numerous Gorce mountain pastures and forest clearings under the mountain herding system (szałaśnictwo górskie) and under the direction of professional senior shepherds. In the grazing season a shepherd chalet was a place of sheep cheese making; grazing fulfilled an important function of fertilizing mountain pastures by means of penning in the animals. The Gorce mountain pastures also used to serve as the grazing ground for oxen, as well as mixed herds composed of sheep, goats and cattle. In Ochotnica Dolna, just like in the neighbouring village of Tylmanowa, agriculture played a somewhat bigger role. On account of the favourable microclimate, it yielded a touch better crops, and in places even wheat growing was possible. The climate of the eastern part of the valley also favoured horticulture and fruit tree breeding, and in time – fruit farming. Sheep pasturing was also pursued here under the so-called agricultural herding system (szałaśnictwo rolne) by using poorer-quality, higher fields which were temporarily fallowed. 

Throughout the village, flax was commonly grown, as it was necessary for the manufacture of clothing linen. In the wintertime, women kept themselves occupied mainly by spinning flax and wool thread. Linen weaving and cloth-making were very important branches of local craft, as they provided a livelihood for many families. Home-made woollen fabrics to be used as cloth were fulled at local fuller’s workshops (in the Ustrzyk hamlet in Ochotnica Górna, and at “At the Cliff” in Ochotnica Dolna). They were water-powered. As for the rural industry, milling was thriving (in the 19th century there were eleven peasant watermills). Local oil making had a long-standing tradition. As of the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries there was a wooden piston-driven oil mill of the Polaczek family, which pressed linseed oil.

Many men in Ochotnica found employment in the timber industry: logging, timber transport, shingle-making factories or sawmills. In the second half of the 19th century, apart from a few manorial sawmills, there were four peasant-owned ones. Towards the end of that century the above-mentioned water machinery was often combined into a kind of “conglomerate plants” with shared drive.


For a long time, the Ochotnica development remained traditional, and its appearance did not differ from the neighbouring villages. At least until the mid-20th century wooden architecture was predominant, even though after the Second World War new buildings were more often made of bricks. In Ochotnica there was a majority of multi-building homesteads with a detached residential house, but there were also old, chimneyless (kurne) cottages perched under one roof with the farming section (a stable, a threshing floor and a shed). Traditional Ochotnica cottages were constructed na zrąb (of a framework construction), and were made of sound and dry spruce płazy – logs cut lengthwise in half (originally – of whole logs). Roofs, of a rafter construction, were usually gable ones with extensive gable eaves, or gablet ones. In general, they were shingled. In Tylmanowa and Ochotnica Dolna, the process of roofing sometimes involved combining shingle with straw. A residential building, which usually faced the road, typically had two rooms (a kitchen and a living one) separated by an entrance hall and a larder. More affluent cottages had two larders, or a bedchamber and a kitchen. Poor peasant cottages (chałupiny) usually comprised one room and an entrance hall. Until the First World War chimneyless (kurne) cottages were quite common; the kitchen floor was made of clay instead of wood. Outbuildings, usually housing stables, a threshing floor and a shed, were erected parallel with the cottage. If there was enough room in the settlement plot, they were perpendicular to the house, which protected the residence against the wind. More affluent homesteads had small, detached granaries with underpinned masonry cellars. Cellars built into slopes were a frequent thing. In zarębki, (freshly cleared forest areas) and hamlets homesteads with an irregular arrangement adjusted to the lie of the land were predominant. Single-homestead farmyards were not a rare thing. Shepherd buildings (e.g. shepherd chalets, koliba huts, portable animal pens) in mountain pastures and grazing clearings, which were seasonally in use, were of a distinct character.

The traditional festive costume worn by the Ochotnica Highlanders used to be made chiefly of homespun linen and hemp cloth, was of a natural-colour, home-made sheep cloth, as well as sheepskin and cowhide. Men’s most ancient outfit was composed of a long-sleeved, waist-length linen shirt, white Highland-cut (a leg seam continues up the buttocks) cloth trousers with quite wide legs, with one or two flies; a broad, leather belt fastened with several buckles; a white sheep cloth gurmana (sukmana) russet coat in the Szczawnica style, modestly decorated with red and navy wool string sewn onto the right, front part and reaching from the collar to the waist. Similar gurmanas were worn in Tylmanowa. Legs were covered in footwraps or cloth (sewn) socks, over which leather kierpce shoes, sewn around w kostkę (with the leather strap forming a pattern of little squares on the instep) were worn. Kierpce leather straps were wrapped around over the trousers. Heads were sometimes covered with black hats decorated with a “crown” – a leather band serrated at the top, and studded with metal centki (little metal buttons). On “Sunday’s best” occasions, shirts would be fastened at the front with brass clasps in the Podhale style, which were typically bought in Podhale. Men’s ancient costume would also include a navy-blue lajbik waistcoat with little brassy buttons, though it was not that common.

More contemporary festive costume

At the beginning of the 20th century, on festive occasions already cotton shirts of a traditional cut, decorated on the collar and the binding with flat, whitework embroidery featuring smrecki (little spruces), gałązecki (twigs), kwiotki (flowers) were worn. White cloth trousers preserved their traditional cut, and the legs were sewn “in a wide manner.” Until the First World War they were modestly trimmed along the side stripes and at the back with a plaiting of intertwined red and navy-blue strings, enriched at the lower slit with a circular liszaj (a lichen-like pattern), and at the thighs – with little wool trimmings called kurnytki. The slits were edged with a triple, navy blue or black janina stitch, or trimmed around with several parallel bands of black string. Another ornament featuring on trousers worn in Ochotnica and Tylmanowa was the so-called klucka sewn from several strips of string in the shape of a letter “U” surrounding the slit, and enriched with a loop at the bottom. Originally, kluckas were red-blue, but later in Ochotnica Górna (under the influence of Podhale) blue or black ornaments took on. In time, the klucka decoration was extended to include chain-stitch embroidered circles, chevrons, heart and trillium patterns, etc. Further development of trouser ornamentation in Ochotnica Górna included such decorative elements as the Podhale-style parzenica, which was predominant already in the period of the Second Republic of Poland.

A broad belt of double leather, trimmed with saffian and a money pocket at the front was called sros or a senior shepherd’s belt. It was fastened with several oblong buckles, embossed and decorated with large brass buttons. Sros belts were bought in Hungary. Apart from them, also long, narrow belts were worn; these were decorated with large buttons arranged in the spiralling ośmina pattern, on a second twist around they were loosened at the hips. Rich men used to wear both belts at the same time.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries white Ochotnica gurmanas were supplanted by corne (black ones), which were still made of homespun. The appearance of the black sukmana russet coat in Ochotnica involved a Podhale-style oblamek, that is an ornament composed of several strips of red cloth. It was used to trim the right part of the sukmana from the waist up, the slit on the right, the collar and the armholes. Besides, sukmanas were decorated with dainty appliqués of coloured pieces of cloth.

As for headgear, black, felt hats with large, turndown brims were worn. The leather crown, which originally served as decoration, was at the turn of the centuries replaced with little brass chains, several times wrapped around the dome. At the ends they were decorated with red chwościki (tassels) made of wool. Poorer men used to wrap the hat in red wool. Little, Podhale-style kostki (little cowry seashells) were another kind of ornamentation that came into use.

At the beginning of the 20th century, instead of the former kierpce made w kostkę the fashion for the Podhale-style kierpce set in; these had a leather strap running at the front, on the toe. On “bell-ringing occasions” (most frequently at weddings), the wealthiest farmstead owners would wear calf-length boots. They were made of yuft leather, and had some thickening (corrugation) at the ankle. They were usually bought in Łącko.

As for the women’s more recent festive garments (at the beginning of the 20th century), homespun linen was still used to make blouses (with a thicker nadołek attached at the bottom and serving as underwear) and skirts worn underneath; these were actually former white, festive farruchy (aprons) decorated with whitework embroidery and trimmed with serration. On top of these, skirts of colourful, machine-made fabrics were worn; they were still long, very wide and richly gathered at the waist. Unmarried women from wealthy families would gladly make them of flowery, machine-made tybet fabrics (originally made of wool of Tibetan sheep or goats, hence the name) imprinted with dainty roses; housewives – of plain, coarse wool cloth. Zapaski (narrow aprons, worn mainly by housewives) were usually white, flaring and pleated; they covered the sides and were decorated with machine-made, whitework embroidery or lace; alternatively, they were made of dark (navy, black) wool fabric featuring a broad band of multicoloured, flowery embroidery. Young girl’s bodices, more and more often made of velvet, were decorated with bead embroidery of floral motifs (in time bigger and bigger), after the fashion native of the Sącz region, or of carline thistle, a borrowing from the Podhale inhabitants. Former linen rańtuchy (ample shawls), flung over the shoulders as an outer garment, were supplanted by a variety of machine-made shoulder shawls, imprinted with patterns or plain. The kierpce leather shoes worn by women managed to preserve the ancient w kostkę cut for a longer time. In the period of the Second Polish Republic, woollen, knitted socks became widely popular.

Maria Brylak-Załuska



Stanisław Czajka, Ochotnica, dzieje gorczańskiej wsi 1416-1986 [Ochotnica, the History of a Gorce Village 1416-1986], Jelenia Góra 1987; Zdzisław Szewczyk, Materiały do stroju męskiego Górali Ochotnickich [Material Used for Men’s Attire Worn by Ochotnica Highlanders], Prace i Materiały Etnograficzne, vol. X, bull. 1, Wrocław – Kraków 1952/53