Unia Europejska
Old Witches’ Mountain Highlanders

Old Witches’ Mountain Highlanders

The costume of the Old Witches’ Mountain Highlanders

The villages located to the north of the Old Witches’ Mountain – Białka, Górna Sidzina, Grzechynia, Juszczyn, Maków Podhalański, Skawica and Zawoja – are inhabited by Old Witches’ Mountain Highlanders. It is a mountainous region. Its southern part is taken up by the Old Witches’ Mountain massif, which constituted a border between Poland and Hungary for many centuries. The Old Witches’ Mountain Highlanders occupy a borderland in which various cultural influences intersected. As of the Middle Ages this land bordered on the Kingdom of Hungary, and in the period of the Partitions of Poland, it was annexed to Austria, which in the years 1867–1918 by virtue of a real union constituted the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

As of the 15th century, the Old Witches’ Mountain district, as part of the crown lands, belonged to the Lanckorona Starosty within the Cracow Province. The first settlers were arguably fugitives from the neighbouring magnate latifundia, as welll as hunters, treasure seekers and outlaws. An organised settlement campaign, inspired by subsequent monarchs and pursued as from the 14th century by Małopolska magnate families, typically took place in river valleys, and in this case in the valley of the Skawa river, and then its tributary Skawica; the campaign was agricultural in character. It is conjectured that the settlers brought to this land included prisoners of war of various origins, which is evidenced by the surname Tatar found in the 17th-century records.

By the mid-14th century the village of Maków was already there; today it bears the name of Maków Podhalański. The first half of the 16th century saw the establishment of such settlements as Juszczyn and Grzechynia, and towards the end of the same century – Biała (today known by the name of Białka), Miłoszowa (now bearing the name of Sidzina) and Skawica.

At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries the area experienced an influx of Wallachians, a shepherd people of a mixed ethnic composition, who brought a culture based on sheep and cattle husbandry. Their presence in the region can be evidenced by, inter alia, local toponymy (e.g. Kiczora, Magura, Przysłop, Zawoja), local surnames, as well as terminology related to architecture, shepherd implements, garments and folklore.

As the settlers were entering the mountain sides, they felled forests for clearings, the socalled zarębki, which in turn gave rise to little settlements. In time, such zarębki and subsequent settlements turned into large and extensive villages. Such development can be exemplified by Zawoja (the name derived from the Wallachian word of zavoiu – “a wood on the river”), today regarded as the longest and largest village at the foot of the Old Witches’ Mountain; Zawoja became an independent settlement only in 1836. Until that year it was a part of Skawica. At the beginning of the 20th century, Zawoja turned into a large holiday and tourist destination, a regional centre with numerous hamlets.

The original local culture arose out of the settlement processes in the region and its history. One of the distinctive elements that made the Old Witches’ Mountain Highlanders stand out against the inhabitants of the neighbouring regions was the outfit. Even though it was characterised by herding culture-specific features, also typifying other ethnographic groups inhabiting the Carpathians, almost until the end of the 19th century it managed to preserve many of its peculiarities. The attire worn by the Old Witches’ Mountain Highlanders was adapted to the mountain living conditions and herding activities. It was almost entirely made from materials manufactured locally.

Cattle and sheep farming was the main branch of economy here. It provided wool for cloth, and pelts for sheepskin jackets and coats, belts and kierpce. Also, flax was grown to produce homespun linen, used mainly for clothing. Fields of flax, beautifully peppered with blue blossoms, were a characteristic element in the ancient landscape at the foot of the Old Witches’ Mountain. The dominance of locally-produced homespun materials used for making Old Witches’ Mountain highland garments lasted until the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The attire typically worn by the Old Witches’ Mountain Highland men was composed of a linen shirt; white, cloth, ankle-length trousers called portki; and brown, cloth jacket called gunia, which served as an outer garment. Cloth waistcoats used to be worn underneath gunias. Leather kierpce were used as footwear, and a felt hat was worn as headgear. In winter, sheepskin jackets and coats, jerkins and caps were worn, as well as hand-woven, woollen gloves.

As late as the mid-19th century, women’s clothing was for the most part made of linen, and its colour scheme was dominated by white. Women used to wear linen blouses with long sleeves, and skirts, which originally were made of undyed, homespun linen. Skirts were covered with aprons called zapaski. Over blouses women would put bodices, and tunics called jadwisie served as casual, everyday garments. On religious holidays, they would wear rańtuski – shoulder wraps made of fine linen, and on a daily basis they would wear łoktuse made of coarser fabric. It was also customary to wear all manner of headscarves, and kierpce were the usual type of footwear. In winter, well-off housewives used to wear sheepskins.

Inaccessibility and ruggedness of this region resulted in slow change in the local attire. Some modifications began to appear in the mid-19th century on account of the improving economic conditions in the region. The modifications were to be seen in the changing cuts, development of ornamentation, and in time – in the selection of new, machine-made textiles, as well as the adoption new elements in men’s attire. The development of ornamentation applied to the festive outfit. In the second half of the 19th century men’s portki began to be embellished. The fashion for military trouser ornamentation played a certain role here. Once discharged from the military, highlanders would readily transplant the fashion onto the native soil, as the military uniform was associated with fame and vigour. Hence, the Old Witches’ Mountain highland trousers feature characteristic parzenica patterns. The fashion for embellishing the outfit was also to be seen in the gunia jackets, which in time came to be reckoned among the most lavishly embroidered and appliquéd outer garments worn as part of the folk costumes in the Carpathians. Shirts, made of thin linen and sometimes of cotton damask, served as the festive element in the attire. Over the shirts worn were waistcoats, made of navy-blue, sapphire or green, machine-made cloth, fastened with goldor silver-coloured metal buttons, and featuring lapels at the top. As far as possible, kierpce were gradually replaced with urban-style shoes.

Women’s festive attire was particularly amenable to ornamentation. Adornment in the form of embroidery began to appear on blouses, petticoats called spodniki, and zapaski (aprons). Bodices, which in the 19th century were still made of woollen cloth, and featured modest woolen or linen embroidery, at the turn of the 19th and 20th century began to be made of machine-made fabrics and embellished more and more lavishly. Naturally-coloured skirts were supplanted by druki – skirts made of fabrics imprinted in the batik technique at rural and small-town workshops In time, they began to be made of machine-made fabrics, inter alia, tybet (a thin woollen fabric with floral patterns). Linen rańtuski came to be replaced with szale – silk headscarves trimmed with tassels, worn in summer. In winter, it was common to wear odziewacki – thick, woollen or thinner, checked, machine-made shoulder wraps. At fairs and from local shoemakers, well-off housewives used to buy high-heeled shoes nailed with little, iron horseshoes.

They would also embellish their outfits with strings of genuine coral beads, among which fixed were crosses inset with coral, or devotional medallions.

Today’s costume of the Old Witches’ Mountain Highlanders, which can be seen in different situations – on stage or during family and church occasions – is patterned on the attire worn in the region at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It has been painstakingly reconstructed with the aid of archival photos, materials and field research. Even though the civilisational changes brought about its decline, now recovered from the recesses of the past and revived, it carries a lot of value and strength. On a daily basis it is hardly ever worn. However, it has become a formal, entirely festive attire, and many people involved with the tradition and regional matters regard it as an important element in their identity as well as an outer sign of respect for their own roots.

Karolina i Marcin Kowalczykowie