Grasshopper no 6, Spring '95

(part II)

contd from no 3


Lack of natural pastures made shepherding in the Lower Beskids underdeveloped. When the Walachian shepherds abandoned their nomadic life, they exchanged farming methods with the Ruthenian farmers. As a result, the villagers cultivated the soil in the lower and middle parts of the slopes and used ridge and forest clearings as pastures for sheep, goats, and, later on, cattle.

Between the crop fields and the forests there was a transitory strip of land used as a pasture or as a field for undemanding crops. The functions of this infertile land varied. One year the cattle was pastured on one slope of the valley (the pasture was called "tołoka"), while the strip on the opposing slope ("tsaryna") was cultivated. The next year, "tołoka" replaced "tsaryna", and vice versa.

The level of agriculture was very low due to the limited knowledge of farming methods, shortage of tools (wooden ploughs were in use there until the late l9th century), and fertilizers. Oxen were used as draft animals. The three-field system, leaving one-third of the soil fallow, was favored for a long time. Harvesting or threshing machines were unknown until the interwar period. The chief crops were oats, rye, and, since the first half of the l9th century, turnip and rutabaga, an early substitute for potatoes.
Łemkowie w charakterystycznych czuchach
Lemkos in characteristic czuchas

In grubbed out forest clearings, the farmers fertilized the soil with ashes by burning branches and bushes to cultivate oats and two-year rye, so called "krzyca". Once the soil got impoverished, the abandoned field was covered with forest.

Taking advantage of climatic differences, many Lemkos worked during harvests in Hungary. They received wages in grain. Their agriculture improved in the interwar period when steel ploughs, a certain amount of artificial fertilizers, and horses came into broader use. However, their economy has significantly improved only recently, after their return from resettlement, when they acquired modern farming machines and knowledge they had lacked before.

Lack of credible statistics makes it hard to present l9th-century levels of shepherds' production and cattle stocks of the Lemkos. During World War I and afterward, an average Lemko family owned several sheep and cows, and two to four oxen. Milk cows grazed in pastures near villages, while the other cattle and sheep spent the summer in season stables made of wood or stone in "tołokas" or forest clearings. Larger herds of sheep were in pastures in the mountains only in the Krynica Beskids, where sheep-cheese production also developed.

Insufficient pastures and frequent epidemics of fascioliasis caused the Lemkos not to keep their sheep for the winter but to sell them for slaughter in the fall and buy young sheep in the spring from Boikos and Huculs. The slaughter of sheep and distribution of mutton was monopolized by inhabitants of Rychwałd (now Owczary). The language of the Lemkos contains many terms connected with shepherding derived from Romanian and southern Slovak dialects.

Poor results of the basic branches of their economy made the Lemko seek additional sources of income. Weaving cloth was the most common occupation of women -- they made flax linen and treated wool for manufacturers of woolen cloth. The forests were a significant source of income for the Lemko. They produced construction timber and shingles. In some villages (Nowice, Przysłop, Leszczyny) wooden spoons and various turned wooden objects were manufactured. Where appropriate resources were found (villages of Bartne, Przegonia, Folusz), masons manufactured millstones and grindstones. Villagers of Losie, near Gorlice, traded with axle grease. Their neighbors in Bielanka traded with wood tar melted in earth dugouts. Some villagers manufactured baskets of juniper roots, hazel baskets for feeding horses, or willow basketwork lining for horse-carts.

All these occupations offered but modest incomes. The Lemkos sought improvement of their economic situation away from home, in the United States and Canada. They started to emigrate after 1880 and the process continues unabated until now.


The traditional costumes of the Lemkos, distinguishing them from their neighbors, fell into three local varieties - western, central, and eastern. Most of the traditional elements have been preserved in men's cloths -- flax linen shirts (always worn inserted into trousers) and summer linen and winter woolen trousers. The usual footwear was primitive "kyrpcie" made of a single piece of hide sewn up with a thin strap. The Lemkos wore short sleeveless fur coats or homespun woolen cloth vests, which were replaced in the l9th century with blue, navy-blue, or black vests, made of factory-made woolen cloth and decorated with metal buttons. The outer wear was a tight mid-length brown or white jacket called a "hunia", made of homespun woolen cloth. On cold or rainy days, well-off farmers wore on their shoulders large coats called "chuha" or "chuhania", made of thick brown homespun woolen cloth, with a wide mid-back-length collar. The shape and ornamentation of sleeves and collars of the "chuhas" signified belonging to particular groups --Torokarys, Swicakys, Pupkarys, or Koroliwcys in the Osłava River valley. In the region of Krynica, one could meet a rare white coat called "dolha bila hunia", made of homespun woolen cloth, worn on sleeves, narrow in the waist, with flaring puckers at the sides. The costumes were of a very simple, primitive cut similar to that of the costumes of Ukrainian or Polish highlanders. A characteristic Carpathian element were black broad-brimmed felt hats that the Lemkos purchased in Hungary.

Lemko women's costumes also differed locally. In the west, they wore flax linen or calico shirts decorated at the collar and cuffs with factory-made laces; velvet, preferably black, corsets decorated with floral glass-bead embroidery; long skirts made of factory-made dark fabrics and white aprons with lace inserts. Married women used white or colorful caps made of calico, worn under factory-made kerchiefs (most often red) knotted at the back of the neck.

In the central part of Lemko territories, the corsets were made of thin red, blue, or green woolen cloth or silk decorated with sewn-on colorful ribbons. The skirts and aprons were made of homespun flax linen printed by dyers in towns in white and blue patterns against a dark navy-blue background. Women also wore "hunias", similar to men's but shorter and closer to the body. The married woman's festive head-dress, called "fatselyk", was made of white linen knotted at the back of the neck. The rear embroidered end of the "fatselyk" was long enough to protrude from under a corset or "hunia". Both in the western and central regions inhabited by the Lemkos, old women used to wear on their shoulders white flax cloths reaching down to their knees.

Women's costumes in eastern regions were the most decorated. There women wore shirts with cross-stitch embroidery on the sleeves and cuffs and corsets made of factory-made blue woolen cloth decorated with metal buttons and chain-stitch embroidery. Their skirts and aprons were made of bright flowery calico decorated with vertically sewn-on ribbons. Girls and young women wore necklaces of colorful glass beads. Before the women's costumes of eastern Lemkos became so colorful, they had worn primitive white flax linen clothes similar to those worn by the neighboring Boikos until 1939. The women's footwear was also "kyrpcie", or boots on holidays. In villages bordering Hungary, women borrowed some elements of their costumes from their southern neighbors.

The post World War II resettlement caused the Lemkos to stop wearing their traditional costumes so as not to stand out in their new environment.

from ¦ladami Łemków by Roman Reinfuss

to be continued in next issue of "Grasshopper"

Grasshopper no 6, Spring '95 | Contents