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THE HARVEST

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 crosses-krize, so 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 homes.

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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 spirit."
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 and nation.

Best wishes

Yours, Dana.

Dana Hodulova
A. Bernolaka 2
962 12 Detva
Slovakia

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

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GO 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.