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32870Gateeway to the Carpathians - Minority/Ethnic Group - Boykos

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  • Danuta Janina Wójcik
    Apr 1, 2010

      Highlanders from the Bieszczady. An ethnic group, which lived along the northern arch of the Carpathians, on a 40–70 km wide and 140 km long strip of land, stretching from the Upper Solinka Valley in the west, to the Opór Valley in the southeast. Cisna, Liszna, Dołżyca and Sukowate were the farthest all-Boyko villages. The northern border of the Boyko Land within the present-day territory of Poland led to the south of Lesko and Ustrzyki Dolne. To the north, there were the so-called Boyko-Dolinian and Boyko-Ukrainian transient zones. The only unquestioned border was the one in the south, because it was also the border of the Republic of Poland.

      Boykos were a Ruthenian ethnic group, which began to form due to mixing of Walachia settlers with the earlier Ruthenian ones. Ancestors of Boykos, a conglomerate of Balkan nations and Boyko ancestors from the South Carpathians – Walachians – came here in mid XV century. The “Boyko” name was first used in ethnographic classifications in mid XIX century, but originally it was an informal name, which denoted a tardy, rusty person, or a white ox farmer. Boykos called themselves “Werchowiniecs” (Verhoviniets) or “Hyrniaks”, which meant “People of the mountains”.
      Walachians brought with themselves their common law, called the Moldavian or Walachia law, suited to their herdsmen–farmer way of life. The general rule was colonization based on 24 years free of taxation (the so-called wolnizna), during which time they were supposed to establish their farms on stubbed pieces of land. Each village had its leader, called “kniaź” (“kniaz” or “knyaz is a word found in some Slavic languages. It is usually translated into English as either Prince or Duke, although the correspondence is not exact), who was responsible for collecting tributes and rent for the squire or the king, and reigning according to the common law. Several villages formed a province (kraina) ruled by a governor (krajnik). Such provinces were located in Sobień, Szczawno, Ustrzyki Dolne and Olszanica.

      The Boyko language was based on the Ruthenian language, much influenced by the liturgic Old Church Slavonic language. Polish, Slovak, Romanian and Hungarian languages also influenced the Boyko dialect, which never had a written form.
      Boykos were great farmers of white ox (Verhovska breed) and for many centuries, farming was their only way of making money. They bought cattle in Podolia, where it was the cheapest, and after pasturing them in the summer, they sold them with significant profit on fairs in Lesko, Baligród, Lutowiska and Rymanów. They also farmed goats, sheep, and sometimes Hutsul horses. Cultivation was a secondary activity. Because of the climate and infertile land, harvests were often not enough even for one family. The First World War and manumission brought the end of cultivation, because Boykos had better access to land. Since the XIX century, Boykos ate potatoes, oat-pies, sauerkraut, and sheep cheese. They drank milk and whey. After using up all their supplies, they made do with mushrooms, which grew on beeches and they used to fish.
      Originally, Boykos most probably lived in shacks constructed close to where they pastured their cattle. In the XV century, they started constructing their first houses, which looked like their herdsmen shacks. They were made out of coniferous tree-logs, covered with roofs with four hip roof-ends made of rye-thatch, and the spaces between the logs were filled with moss and clay. At the beginning, each hut had one large room with a small window, a stove with a fume hood, a floor – made of chaff mixed with clay, and all the necessary equipment. Later houses were equipped with a hallway and outbuildings. With time, Boykos began to build huts with one opening in the ceiling, through which the fumes escaped to the attic area. At the beginning, the basic equipment of a Boyko farmhouse included: a wooden chest, a table with a chest for food supplies and a sliding tabletop with cavities carved out in shape of bowls. Later, the equipment became more varied. Cast iron and clay pots were used, wooden bowls, spoons, tubs, cups, butter churns, troughs, ladles and tubs. There was a simple loom almost in every house, and tools for processing linen and hemp. Hemp seeds were used to produce oil. Boykos also produced wool cloth.

      There were three types of Boyko Orthodox Churches. The first type was a three-room one, although at first, the main nave was constructed and then a presbytery was added and women-section. The churches were made of wood, and each section had a separate hip roof, later replaced with domes. The construction was surrounded with an eaves–roof supported on hew beams. The belfry was usually a separate construction. Boykos also constructed Orthodox Churches on a rectangular layout, covered with ridged-roofs. Later, they build towers over women-sections. The third type was constructed on a cross layout, and it was covered with domes with eight hip roof-ends supported by eight tambours. The transept arms were also covered with multi-ended roofs. In the Boyko Land, there were also Orthodox Churches with an upper chapel above the women–section, which might have served defensive purposes, because they were constructed on hills and in hard-to-reach places. In the chapel, accessed by stairs leading from the women-section, there was an opening in the wall, with a view of iconostasis.
      Boykos dressed modestly and very simply, and their clothes were made of self-made fabrics. Men wore long linen shirts on top of linen trousers, leather clogs or bast shoes, and a straw hat, rarely a cloth one. Women wore shirts on top of farbankas – homespun skirts with aprons, and they wrapped their heads with white cloth. Boykos did not use shoes on a day-to-day basis – they wore them only if they were to visit a church or when they were going to the city. They adorned their festive clothes with simple, cross-stitched embroidery. In the summer, a wool siarak was popular (a long peasant coat, pleated on the sides), in the winter – a kurtak (a jacket) and sheepskin, and heads were covered with fur hats. The most popular colors were white and grey. Only after the war, people started buying color fabrics in cities.

      They disappeared from the cultural landscape of the Bieszczady after the Second World War, dislocated before the „Wisła Operation”. They were forced to move to Soviet Union territories and the so-called “Regained Territories”. They never returned to their homeland, and in their new country, they quickly assimilated and lost their cultural originality. Many valuable souvenirs and Boyko culture objects are preserved in the Folk Architecture Museum – the Heritage Park in Sanok.

      Placed by: Karol Tworz


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