When I first talked to
Vladimir about my contributing to the newsletter Slovak Heritage Live, we
were consulting the topics that could possibly be chosen and suitable.
I've already written about the children's folk group Maticiarik, folk
festivals and now it's time to mention some old traditions.
The fall is almost over
and, of course, harvest time's gone. When I look at the bare fields around
the roads now, it inspires me to take some books, tapes, remind of some
memories of old people who still remember the old traditions of the
harvest. And so I did. This is what I found in those materials.
Long, long time ago, the corn was being mown manually. Women mowed it with
sickles, men with scythes. Sickles were used especially in mountainous
parts of the country, where it wasn't possible to use scythes. Women cut
the corn, they picked it up, made so-called hollows-hrste, and they were
putting them behind themselves. Men tied the corn to make sheaves-viazance, and then placed them in the fields in
that the corn could dry well. Besides they took care of the sickles-these had to be well sharpened. During this
"manual harvest" not a one
ear got lost, not a one stem was left in the field. Children had to help
as well, they picked the "forgotten" ears, and they put the geese
out to field-which pecked all the grains.
Bigger farmers and sovereigns-gazdovia a zemepani-had large fields,
so here scythes were used for mowing. Here the roles changed-men mowed
the corn and women collected it. Farmers hired "harvest workers"
for this work-they usually came from northern parts of Slovakia to the
"low land"-the Hungarian part of the country-to earn some
money and bring a "share"-podiel of the harvest home. Farmers
used to hire the workers in pairs as many men as women. A rich farmer
could have 40-60 pairs. These were mostly married couples or relatives.
They lived together in barns or in some wooden barracks. Sometimes they
brought children with them, but the kids had to take care of themselves.
Workers had their own leader who controlled over the harvest. He had to be
a good organizer. They called him a "harvest farmer"-zatevny
gazda. Before the harvest this man and the farmer agreed on the reward
workers would be given and they also signed a contract.
In one radio program I listened to, our great Slovak ethnomusicologist Dr.
Ondrej Demo talked about an example of such contract.
Each 13th-15th cross of the harvest was left for the workers. Besides
they got a weekly ration of food-each pair was given 1 kilo of bacon, 2
kilos of flour, 1 kilo of fat, 1 kilo of beans, then half a kilo of meat
for Sunday and 3 deciliters of brandy for each day!!!
People sang beautiful songs to make the hard work more pleasant. These
weren't brisk, rhythmical songs, but slow songs-in harmony with their
content. They used to sing the songs while working and having a rest as
well. In the songs girls and guys would tease each other, they tried to
draw each other's attention and they communicated through the songs.
Singing helped them if they felt tired.
There are many traditions and customs connected with harvest. Before
starting the work, people crossed (blessed) the field with a sickle or a
scythe or they knelt down and prayed. When the farmer came to the field,
women tied a bunch of corn to his right arm. For this he had to pay the
women and give brandy to the men. If the farmer's wife or their cook came
to the field, men would sprinkle her with water, so that she would be
"fresh" and they wouldn't have to wait for her long. After the
men returned from the field, the cooks watered them, too, so that they
would stay fresh as well.
The end of the harvest was a great festivity. Women made a wreath from the
ears and stems of the corn, they decorated it with ribbons and paper
roses, and they brought it to the farmer's house. They entered his yard
singing songs. The "harvest farmer" who was responsible for the
harvest was leading the crowd. A girl and a guy with the wreath were next-znica a
znec-and then the others entered. Znica gave the wreath to
the farmer, she said her wish and told him that the harvest is finished.
He took the wreath, thanked to all and for their good work he prepared
oldomas for them-a party where everybody could eat, drink, sing and
dance as much as he wished. This final entertainment is called dozinky-harvest festival.
Bringing the wreath or the last sheaf
became a symbol of the end of the harvest. Smaller farmers who worked at
their small field themselves also kept this tradition. They would also
bring small sheaves of corn decorated with ribbons and flowers to their
photographs are for sale
National customs and
traditions slowly vanish from our lives. But thanks to the bearers of the
tradition, enthusiastic folklorists and collectors, we'll be able to
revive them in books, recordings and various materials found in archives.
Folk songs are, however, here around us and these will stay forever.
You can also see some harvest traditions in a very old movie directed by
Karol Plicka-The Land Is Singing
(ZEM SPIEVA); and the harvest festival
in a bit "younger" TV setting - Adventure At The Harvest Feast.
(Dobrodruzstvo pri obzinkoch).
P. S. I'd like to take
this chance now to say some personal things. I want to say THANKS to
everybody who wrote me a letter or sent Email for the encouragement, which
I felt from their words. I'm really happy that you accepted my articles
and even more because I am neither a writer nor a journalist and my
contributions to Vlado's newsletter might not have this "journalistic
Contributing to SHL also helped me to make many new friends-I want to
mention Mr. William Dzurko from Glassport, PA together with his family,
whom I'm very grateful to.
I don't know if I can say this, but, Vlado, the chance you gave me could
probably help me to fulfill my big dream, which is visiting the countries
across the ocean USA and Canada. I have a lot of friends there now.
Thanks to all for your offers and friendships. I've received many letters
and though I haven't succeeded in answering them all yet, I promise to do
my best and help the ones who asked me to, if it's possible.
I'd like to mention my mother as well, she is such a great help and such a
fantastic mother. She is a musician and together with me she is a big
fanatic of Slovak folklore. Thanks mom for your great support.
And I can't forget to say
thanks to you Vlado, for coming here to Slovakia in November and taking me
to Vlkolinec-something everybody who feels to be at least a bit Slovak
should see. Thus you would understand why we are so proud of our culture
A. Bernolaka 2
962 12 Detva
Can I ask for your
opinion? I'd like to write about Banska Bystrica and about the university
where I studied and where I teach now. Do you think you might be
interested in such a topic???
Editors note: Please do
write about Banska Bystrica a town where I was born in 1949, many thanks
in advance, Vladimir
photographs are for sale
TO FOLK CUSTOMS
Published in the Slovak
Heritage Live newsletter Volume 4, No. 4, Winter 1996
Copyright © Vladimir Linder 1996
3804 Yale Street, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5C 1P6
The above article and photographs may not be copied, reproduced,
republished, or redistributed by any means including electronic, without
the express written permission of Vladimir
Linder. All rights reserved.