Shlakhtov Ruthenia, a small enclave of Ruthenian villages in the vicinity of Szczawnica, encompassed four villages: Szlachtowa, Jaworki, Biała Woda and Czarna Woda. The native people inhabited them until the forced resettlement of the Ukrainian population after the Second World War, in 1947, as part of the Operation Vistula. This small group, which researchers had earlier associated with the Poprad Lemkivshchyna, was in the 1930s given its present name by ethnographer Roman Reinfuss, who thus recognised its cultural distinctness from the villages located in the compact range of Lemkivshchyna, as well as remarkable similarities with the Ruthenian villages in the Slovakian region of Spiš (R. Reinfuss, The Ethnographic Borders of Lemkivshchyna, Ziemia, 1936, no. 10/11).
The Shlakhtov Ruthenia villages were located to the east of Szczawnica Wyżna, in the upper part of the valley of the Grajcarek river (formerly named Ruska), which flows through both Szczawnicas and drains into the Dunajec. In the north and the east, the valley is separated from the Poprad drainage basin by the high ridge of the Radziejowa range in the Sącz Beskids. In the south, it is enclosed with a lower range of the Little Pieniny, the ridge of which marks the national border. In the west, the valley is open, providing the only roadway connecting Shlakhtov Ruthenia with Szczawnica, the capital of the region inhabited by the Szczawnica (Pieniny) Highlanders.
In the north, the Shlakhtov Ruthenians bordered (across the Radziejowa range) hamlets of the Polish highland villages, e.g. Łazy Brzyńskie, Gaboń; in the northeast – mountain hamlets of Piwniczna; in the south (across the Little Pieniny) – Ruthenian villages in Slovakian Spiš: Litmanová, Folvark, Veľký Lipník; in the west – Szczawnica Wyżna.
The oldest historical sources treating of Szlachtowa and Jaworki appeared only around the mid-16th century, e.g. conscription records. We know that back then both the villages belonged to the Nawojowski family, in total encompassing 4 Wallachian półdworzyszcza (a unit of land measurement). The first mentions about Biała Woda and Czarna Woda date from the second half of the 18th century. However, it is conjectured that the first two villages in Shlakhtov Ruthenia were founded much earlier, while the other two, located much higher, probably became independent as separate settlements. A process like this was common in many other Carpathian villages. Most probably, the Wallachian settlement, which originated the villages of Shlakhtov Ruthenia, was coming in from the south, from the direction of Slovakian Spiš, Culturally, the Shlakhtov enclave villages are much closer to the Spiš Ruthenians than to the villages of the Poprad Lemkivshchyna. In the 19th century, the Stadnicki family of Nawojowa were the owners of all the villages in Shlakhtov Ruthenia. In the 20th century, after the enforced displacement of the Ruthenian population in 1947, Szlachtowa was settled with the people coming chiefly from Szczawnica, while the other villages – with the Ochotnica and Podhale inhabitants.
The main source of livelihood for Shlakhtov Ruthenians used to be sheep herding and cattle (mainly draught oxen) husbandry. Until the abolition of the grazing servitude, in the summer season, large sheep flocks were grazed on mountain ridge clearings and in forests, mainly on the slopes of the Radziejowa range. Collective pasturing, under the shepherd-chalet system, was conducted under the supervision of professional sheep herders – baczowie, who were responsible for proper animal grazing, chalet-based sheep’s cheese making, as well as pastureland fertilizing by establishing animal pens throughout the season. Even though sheep pasturing fell into sharp decline at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, still in the 1930s, in the Shlakhtov Ruthenian villages, homesteads used to keep between 5 and 20 sheep, and in the Radziejowa range clearings, three shepherd chalets run by local senior shepherds continued their operation. Also, individual pasturing was organized in the villages in question, which involved family members running seasonal, filial homesteads in fallow arables and numerous, family-owned forest clearings. In the times of Galicia, oxen breeding was widespread throughout Shlakhtov Ruthenia; commonly, oxen were bought at fairs in Spiš towns in spring, collectively pastured over the summer season in high-lying mountain pastureland, and in autumn sold for slaughter, most often to Viennese traders.
The level of agriculture quality and efficiency was low. From the beginning of the 19th century potatoes were the staple diet of families. The grown cereals included oats and barley, but rye rarely yielded a good crop. A lot of flax was sown for own use (manufacture of garment linen). Until the Second Polish Republic, traditional, hand-powered, agricultural tools were in use, and in forest clearings also archaic farming methods were applied (e.g. slashing and burning of bushes, sowing seeds right onto fresh ash).
Privation made the Shlakhtov Ruthenian Highlanders go around looking for occupation providing additional sources of income. The Czarna Woda inhabitants usually worked in the forests owned by the Stadnicki family; they were employed in logging, transportation of sawmill and construction timber, as well as in floating timber down the Dunajec and further. The Szlachtowa and Jaworki inhabitants used to make wooden spoons, whisks, as well as woodware (e.g. boxes, caskets), which were sold to Szczawnica spa visitors. By way of tradition, men from Biała Woda (and in time also from other villages in Shlakhtov Ruthenia) occupied themselves with itinerant tinkering, just like their fellow Ruthenians from the Spiš villages: Litmanova, Jarabina, Veľký Lipník, etc. Originally, tinkering (the tradition of which in Slovakian Spiš went back at least as far as the 18th century) was about wrapping ceramic dishes in wire mesh protecting them from breaking. In time, tinkers took to making all manner of objects from wire, such as mousetraps, pot mats, colanders, bird cages, etc. From the beginning of the 20th century, they also busied themselves with repairing tinware and making small tin kitchen utensils, thus extending their custom base. Tinkers used to ply their trade on a house-to-house basis, and their wanderings would last from two months to even as long as one year. They had their “own” routes with their customary clientele, who in the tinkering families were passed from father to son. They provided their tinkering services all over Galicia, but also the highlands, Subcarpathia, Lesser Poland (Małopolska), as well as former Congress Poland, Silesia and Greater Poland (Wielkopolska). Some routes would take them even further, e.g. to the Ukrainian interior as far as Kiev or Volhynia. Itinerant tinkering pursued by the Ruthenians from Biała Woda came to an end the moment the Second World War broke out.
The architecture in Shlakhtov Ruthenia was wooden, with a little admixture of stone (e.g. underpinnings, cellars). Homesteads were typically composed of a cottage house (chyża) and a farming shed. Quite often, they also (especially lonely homesteads) constituted dense quadrangles of buildings joined with a sturdy, roofed fence. Buildings were of a framework construction; rafter roofs were shingled and originally mainly hipped, and as from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries they were more and more often gabled and had gable eaves, frequently decorated at the gable with a semiconical gontowy koszyczek (an ornamental, convex, fan-shaped element made of shingle) with a finial-like pazdur (typical of the region of Spiš). Also, stonework cellars with little, shingled roofs, built into a slope were a characteristic thing. Sometimes, as they were arranged side by side in a line, they formed a kind of street. The oldest houses often had only two rooms: a living room and an entrance hall. In newer chyża houses, there was a larder (a granary) behind the entrance hall, and rich farmstead owners used to have two rooms separated by an entrance hall. Chimneyless houses were a frequent occurrence in the region for a long time. Farming sheds were usually composed of a threshing floor and a stable, a steep-roofed loft acting as a storage crib. Wealthy homesteads typically had two stables, and sometimes a place for a sheep’s pen was sectioned off. More often than not, in Shlakhtov Ruthenia, the stables construction included the so-called priczyna, that is a utility arcade formed by pushing back a part of the building wall.
The Shlakhtov Ruthenian attire, which used to share many similarities with the attire worn by Spiš Ruthenians, began to yield to the influence of the Szczawnica Highlanders. Until the First World War the clothing style was dominated by homespun linen, linen and cotton mixes (kanafasy) and wool, the latter of which was fulled into cloth at local fulling workshops in Szlachtowa and Jaworki, which were in operation until the late 1930s.
Men’s attire typically included short, linen shirts with sleeve cuffs decorated with red, woven stripes. In summer, the shirt was complemented by simple, wide leg trousers made of thick, homespun linen. In winter and on major holidays, homespun linen chołośnie were worn; they had a highland portki cut, were most often white, with one fly (chlywek) on the right-hand side, not very thin legs unsewn at the bottom. Earlier trousers were modestly decorated with a single red or blue string running along the leg seams, over the buttocks and around the fly. Around the time of the First World War, under the influence of the Szczawnica fashion, trouser ornamentation developed significantly, especially in the bottom part of the legs, where red trimming and chain-stitch embroidered loopy bands were added.
On holidays, men would wear, over shirts, black waistcoats (lajbiki); the standing collar, pocket flaps and edges were bordered with red trimming; the front featured a row of little, brass buttons. At the beginning of the 20th century lajbiki began to be decorated with modest chain stitch embroidery, and in the 1930s they were superseded by blue waistcoats, typically worn by the Pieniny bargees, with rich floral embroidery spangles. A cloth czucha (also called hunia) was an older type of outer garment worn by Shlakhtov Ruthenians; it was knee-length, flared from the hips down with pleated gussets, and made of white, homespun cloth. The characteristic thing about the czucha was, inter alia, edge trimming made of wool (red, black or white-black) string and a horizontal appliqué of blue cloth, the so-called kogucik (a stylised young spruce motif) on the right-hand side at the waist. Later on, czucha jackets were superseded by sukmanka (huńka) white, cloth jackets slightly flared around the waist. They were decorated with red, cloth borders, and the front slit was trimmed with a number of horizontal stylized, chain-stitch embroidered “twigs” predominantly in red. Large, black, Spiš-style hats with a high, turned-up brim served as summer headwear in the 19th century. Their domes were decorated with raki (a serrated leather strap studded with little brass nails). From the beginning of the 20th century onwards, hats with semicircular domes and a narrow, turned-down brim became widespread. They were decorated with red, wool string. Leather kierpce were a common type of footwear; they were worn over footwraps and – as of the beginning of the 20th century – over thick, hand-knitted woollen socks, and laced up around the ankle with woollen string. Women’s, homespun linen, blouses were short, ruffled around the neck, with the so-called smużki on the shoulders and cuffs (sewn-on scraps of homespun with red and white woven stripes). Skirts worn in Shlakhtov Ruthenia were ankle-length, loose and billowy. At least until the First World War, a wybijanka was the most popular type of skirt, made of homespun linen imprinted with white, dainty patterns against a dark blue, navy or indigo background; it was usually purchased in Slovakian Spiš. Also, a red and white striped, drill kanafaska skirt was worn, commonly in Spiš and the Szczawnica area. More often than not, over the skirt, linen aprons imprinted with large, floral patterns (fartuchy łabate) were worn; sometimes, they were imprinted with different patterns on either side. In addition, white, linen aprons with whitework embroidery were worn. Bodices used to be made of fine, red or black, woollen fabric (anglija) with box-pleated ruffle from the waist down, and with little, brass button fasteners. They were trimmed with colourful tape (krepinka), and the front was decorated with horizontal bands of chain stitch embroidery. Later bodices, made of velvet or flowery tybet, were already fitted with kaletki (tooth-like flaps). If they were monochromatic, they were trimmed with tape or embroidered with bead and spangle flowers after the Szczawnica fashion. On cold days, women used to wear short, white homespun huńka jackets similar to ones worn by men, and decorated at the front with a red kogutek (a stylized, young spruce). Long, white, linen rańtuch shawls were worn do przyodziewku (as a shoulder-covering garment); in the 20th century these were displaced by factory-made shawls offered in a wide variety. Married women used to wrap their hair around a wire disc (hymla) and cover it with a tybet mob cap ząb (a tooth-like flap) over the forehead, in the Spiš style. Another Spiš borrowing was a tkanka – a kind of headwear used by brides, in the form of a rich wreath of artificial flowers with a broad stream of ribbons trailing down the back, and fixed to a rectangular, cardboard pad.
Roman Reinfuss, Próba charakterystyki etnograficznej Rusi Szlachtowskiej, na podstawie niektórych elementów kultury materialnej [An Attempt at Ethnographic Description of Shlakhtov Ruthenia on the Basis of Some Elements of Its Material Culture], Lublin - Kraków 1947;