Polissya - ethnographical region of Ukraine

Polissya is a special historical and ethnographical region of Ukraine, a part of former pre-fatherland of the Slavs, an ancient ethnocontact zone. Just like the Carpathians, it has preserved the most ancient relics of pre-Slavic and pre-Ukrainian culture, which are objects of constant study by researchers and archaeologists, historians, folklorists, ethnographers. But it is also a long-suffering land, which has experienced the Chernobyl disaster. Probably, it was the latter factor that activated scientific research of Polissya's folk culture, which in the XX century took a devastating blow. The historical and ethnographical region of Polissya draws attention of scientists and amateur researches by its peculiarities of traditional and daily material and spiritual culture, the language of its population. Contemporary ethno-cultural processes of this territory are strongly specific.
For the first time the name Polissya was fixed in the chronicle by the Ipatiy list. In sources of the XIV-XVI centuries this name mostly functioned as one-root toponyms Подлесьє (Podlessye,) Полясє (Polyassye), Полєсє (Polyessye). Historical and ethnographical boundaries of this zone are defined in different ways, but the dominant idea is that it includes the basin of the Pripyat river and the adjacent woodland belt regions. That territory was considered the center of Polissya's region even by researchers of the XVI-XIX centuries M.Striykovsky, G. de Boplan, V.M. Tatishchev etc., which is convincingly evidenced by the cartographic material left by those researchers. The establishment of the name Polissya in scientific literature was accompanied by further specification according to the names of ethnic zones - Byelorussian Polissya, Ukrainian Polissya, Russian Polissya, Lithuanian Polissya, Polish (Lyublin) Polissya. Such a division also partly reflected a certain ethno-linguistic heterogeneity of the region.

It is known that the population of Polissya consists of representatives of different ethnoses. In particular, in the past its ethnographical peculiarity was represented by traditional culture of rural population, while towns allocated on the territory of the region were mostly polyethnic. In the course of historical development strengthening of relations between the village and the town had a respective effect on the culture and daily life of rural population, especially in the last decades of the XIX century and at the beginning of the XX century.
According to archeological data, as early as in the V-VI centuries A.D. Polissya was a zone of interaction between Slavic and Baltic cultures with an approximate boundary along the line Yaselda - Pripyat - Goryn (according to a series of linguistic data such a demarcation line was retained up to the XIX - ХХ centuries). It is no wonder, as since the olden times Polissya was the zone of pre-Slavic culture creation, the territory of interethnic contacts between the Slavs and the Balts. During the time of formation and development of eastern Slavic early-feudal associations that region was the contact zone of Dregovichi, Volynyany, Radymychi, Derevlyany, partly Polyany, Siveryany /tribes/, as well as western Baltic unions of Yatvyagy; according to ancient Polish sources one tribe of the latter had a slavonized name Polexiani. In the XII-XIII centuries Polissya's lands were divided between several major principalities: Kyiv, Chernigiv-Siversky, Volodymyr-Volynsky (later - Galytsko-Volynsky).

Linguists maintain that eastern Slavic etymology of the name Polissya is rooted in the semantics of the forest (woodland, grove). It has its Baltic counterpart (Pala, Pelesa, Pelysa), which in Lithuanian and Latin means swampy grove. It may be the evidence of a common Baltic-Slavic root of the name Polissya, and hence - of the parallels between the eastern Slavic ethnonym Polishchuky (fixed for the first time in the documents of the XVII century) and the ancient exoethnonym polexiani.
Ukrainian Polissya is divided into right-bank Polissya and left-bank Polissya - depending on its location on the banks of the Dnieper river. In accordance with the same principle we also use the names eastern and western Polissya. Western Polissya is also called Pripyatske Polissya, eastern - Naddesnyanske or Chernigiv Polissya, distinguishing these nominations in case Polissya on both banks of Dnieper is concerned. Very often in ethnographic literature eastern Polissya means the eastern part of right-bank Polissya, approximately to the east of the Yaselda river, further - Pripyat, up to the place where the Goryn river flows into it and down this river. Lands to the west of the mentioned boundary and up to the Western Bug river make up western Polissya.

Until the 20th of the XX century Polissya's division was based on provinces and districts to which the land belonged: Volyn Polissya, Kyiv, Chernigiv, Bryansko-Zhyzdrynske, Minsk, Mogyliv, Grodnenske Polissya. According to present administrative division we distinguish Ukrainian, Byelorussian and Bryansko-Zhyzdrynske (Russian) Polissya. The regions of Ukrainian Polissya are named after the names of the regions: Volyn Polissya, Rivne, Zhytomyr, Kyiv, Chernigiv, Sumy Polissya. But the up-to-date Ukrainian physical map divides the Ukrainian part of Polissya into the following zones: Volyn Polissya, Male, Zhytomyr, Kyiv, Chernigiv, Novgorod-Siversky Polissya. According to current administrative and territorial division Polissya embraces northern Kyiv land, Chernigiv land, Zhytomyr land (except for southern regions), northern regions of Sumy oblast (oblast - a unit of administrative territorial division), Rivne land and Volyn oblast (except for extreme southern part of the latter two oblasts). Linguists define Polissya's southern boundary according to dialectal features as a conditional line Volodymyr-Volynsky - to the south of Lutsk - Zdolbuniv - Zhytomyr - Fastiv - Vasylkiv - Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky - Pryluky - along the Seim river.

Natural conditions of Polissya determine the main directions of economical activity as well as the specific character of development of cultural and daily life sphere. Ukrainian Polissya is a flat plain with minor eminences. In the region of Podilska eminence absolute heights reach 210 m and more. Among lowland plains of the south of Polissya there are isolated hills and eminences, Ovrutsky ridge (316 m) being the most noticeable among them. Hills and swells with the height of 10-20 m alternate with river valleys.
The climate is moderately continental, with warm damp summer and mild cloudy winter.
Rivers of Ukrainian and Byelorussian Polissya (with wide valleys and swamped floodplains) belong to the basin on the Dnieper river. The largest among them are Dnieper, Pripyat, Desna, Goryn, Styr, Teteriv, Uzh, Oster, Berezyna, Ubort, Pina. Lakes are an integral part of Polissya's landscape.
Forests also are a characteristic feature of Polissya's landscape. Forest types depend on soils and the terrain features. On the specified territory they cover an area over 2,5 million hectares. The main wood species are pine-tree (57,4%), oak (20,6%), birch (10,2%), black alder, hornbeam.
Polissya's vegetation is extremely rich and various. There are approximately 100 species of medical herbs, 90 species of vitaminous plants, over 90 species of plants used as dyestuff. A considerable number of melliferous plants (approximately 200) contributed to development of beekeeping.
Polissya's fauna is also colorful. There are over 60 known species of mammals (from among 100 species distributed in Ukraine), 276 species of birds (from among 350), over 30 species of fish. No doubt, it has a profound influence upon economical activity of the population. Polissya's natural conditions and resources historically were very important for settling and life of local population.

The Slavs appeared on the territory of Polissya on the break of a new era due to complicated ethnolinguistic and anthropological processes, which had an influence on formation of the anthropological composition of that region.
Bunak V. reckons the population of Ukrainian Polissya and regions to the south of it among the Carpathian-Dnieper type, which is very close to the Byelorussians, but in comparison with the Byelorussians it has darker pigmentation, narrower cheekbones, narrower and more prominent nose. The well-know Ukrainian anthropologist V. Dyachenko reckons the population of Ukrainian Polissya among the Volyn and Polissya variants of the Central Ukrainian complex. According to his opinion, the Volyn variant includes population of Volyn oblast, southern part of Rivne oblast, northern regions of Ternopil and Lviv oblasts. The scientist emphasizes that this complex of features is very close to the Central Ukrainian one, but in comparison to it has lesser body length, greater rate of straight nose ridge, massive frontal bone and retreating forehead, absence of additional mongoloid features observed in the Central Ukrainian variant.
The Polissya variant localized mostly in the northern, forest part of Zhytomyr and Rivne oblasts has its own differential peculiarities: broad and the lowest face among the Ukrainians with quite massive frontal bone, quite dark color of eyes (approximately a third of the population has fair eyes) and relatively fair hair. A typical feature of Polissya's inhabitants' appearance is straight nose ridge, which is also typical for the Ukrainians in general. Medium height (167,5-168 сm) dominates.
The Desna variant includes northern regions of Chernigiv and Kyiv lands. It is characterized by low height (166,5-167 сm), low face (brachykephalia), medium-sized head and face, quite fair color of hair (only 35-40% have dark hair) and of eyes (a half of the population have fair eyes and only 3% are dark-eyed).

Ukrainian dialectologists define the dialect of Polissya as the northern dialect in the dialect system of the contemporary Ukrainian language. It is a wide zone of patoises of the northern part of the Ukrainian territory. In comparison with southern patoises the Polissya dialect has a series of peculiarities. Among phonetic peculiarities the most distinctive one is pronunciation of diphthongs of narrow vowels /e/, /o/, for example in words such as діед, ліес, сіено, вуол, куонь, піеч, шуостка or дeд, лeс, сeно, вoл, кoнь, пeчка, шoстка). In the unstressed position they correspond to usual vowels /е/, /і/ and /о/, which is also a peculiarity of these patoises.
Among differential peculiarities of Polissya's patoises there is also an availability only of the hard consonant /ц/ as well as voiced consonants at the end of words and in position before voiceless consonants (дуб, город, мороз, сторож).
Not going deep into further analysis of phonetic, lexical, grammatical peculiarities of Polissya's patoises, we would just like to remark that linguists divide them into three basic groups: western Polissya patoises, middle Polissya and eastern Polissya patoises. Of course, each of them has its own distinctive dialectal features - these data may be found in numerous and solid works by Ukrainian dialectologists.
For the purpose of demonstrative familiarization, we would like to illustrate texts of several stories recorded in different parts of Polissya, in which peculiarities of the Polissya patois were preserved.

Here is a story from Central Polissya about mermaid rites. Asked what people do to make cabbage grow well, a peasant woman answers: "Сє ўже ў нас на Русални тиіждень плєтом вєнкі, а ў кладбішчя кладом оагонь… Ў нас кладбішчя от сєла нєдалєчко.., і тадо [туди] їдом [ідемо] і тиє вєнкі перекідайом. От біто [ніби-то] я с табої стаю, тиі мнє сваго кідайош, а я табє сваго, тиі мнє сваго, я табє сваго, через оагонь трі рази пєрєкідайош, так усє чісто. І то тиє вїнкі їдом на коапусту рассаду пасадім же, да ўже на качяни пакладом, шоб такіє ўже качяни здарові заўйазовалісь. Осьо такє у нас було. Калісь абіччя [звичай] такє було" (She says that during mermaid weeks they twine wreathes and build a fire near a graveyard, which is not far from their village. Then they go to the graveyard and throw wreathes to each other over the fire. It is necessary to throw the wreathes over the fire three times. After that the wreathes become "clear". Then they go back to the village and put the wreathes on cabbage seedling and cabbage heads.) Recorded in the village of Chystogalivka of Chornobyl District of Kyiv oblast.
An example recorded in western Polissya contains folk idea of how to treat a sick child: "Треба на середохресну дорогу винести хліб і взяти в рубажечку тей детини і винести. То як перейде ніч, як нічо не троне того хліба і тей рубажечки, то детина буде жива. А як забере, то детина умре. Ідеш туди класти - ни оглядуйся, ідеш уперод, никуда головою. І назад ни оглядуеся" (It is necessary to wrap a loaf of bread in a shirt of that child and put it at a road crossing. When the night is over, if nothing has happened to the bread and the shirt, the child will stay alive. And if there is no bread and shirt - then the child will die. When a person is going to the road crossing to leave the bread and the shirt there, he or she should not look back or round.) Recorded in the village of Shchedrogor of Ratnivsky District, Volyn oblast).

Or another fragment about oberegs /amulets/ for cattle against evil forces (mostly against the brownie or cattle-shed spirit - mythological characters, which showed special "interest" in cattle: "Сороку заб'ють і вєшають посиредь хлєва, юстро [дзеркало] над двєрими, як худоба ідьоть. Сєрпа вєшають, косу кладуть [на порозі]. Мужчинскіє брюкі раздірають і вєшають над двєрямі… [Щоби сотана не рухав худоби, треба] ўстаті до усхода сонца, раздєца, под ліву руку ножа чи косу, обігти кругом хліва три раза і ў стєнку ножа заткнути" (One should kill a magpie and hang it in the middle of the cattle-shed; also a mirror is to be hanged above the door, through which the cattle comes into the cattle-shed. Also one should hang a sickle and put a scythe on the threshold. It is also necessary to tear man's trousers apart and hang them above the door. Then if one wants to protect the cattle from evil forces, he or she should get up before sunrise, get undressed, take a knife or a scythe with his left hand, run around the cattle-shed three times and stick the knife into the wall). Recorded in the village of Svarytsevychi of Dubrovytsky District, Rivne oblast).
Texts about oberegs /amulets/ for cattle were also recorded in eastern Polissya: "Свєтять вєрбу у церкві, дак тим дубчикам виганяєш скатіну. Да принесуть у хлєв і ўстіркнєш пад паплот, пад стрєху, шоб кароўка да дому хаділа. На Івана вєшають на хлєв крапіўку, шоби калдунниє нє хаділі". (You should consecrate a pussy-willow twig in the church, then punch the cattle with that twig. Then take the twig to the cattle-shed and put it under the roof, and cows will always find their home. On St. John the Baptist's Day hang nettle on the cattle-shed and witches will not go there). Recorded in the village of Stari Yarylovychi of Ripkynsky District, Chernigiv oblast).
Texts of songs can also be examples of similar dialect peculiarities. There is, for example, a spring song (vesnyanka), written down by Lesya Ukrainka in Volynske (western) Polissya:

Ой вербо, вербо, кучерява,
Хто ж тобі, вербо, кучері звив?
Хто ж тобі, вербо, кучері звив,
Хто ж тобі, вербо, корінь підмив.
/Curly pussy-willow,
Who has waved your curls?
Who has washed away your roots?/
A variant of this song with pronounced linguistic differences is fixed in the book of songs and instrumental music from Polissya by F.Kolessa and K.Moshynsky:
- Да ох ти ж, вербо кучиравая,
Хто ж тобі, вербо, кудри розвив?
Розвила кудри красна веисна,
Пудмила корень бистра вода.

Three-field farming system prevailed. Different kinds of plant crops were grown in Polissya: field crops (spring wheat, barley, millet, winter rye), industrial crops (fibre flax, hemp), vegetables (potato, swede, turnip, beet, carrot, onion, cucumbers, cabbage, peas, bean, haricot) and spicery (parsnip, garlic, mint, parsley, caraway, dill, horse-radish, mustard etc.).
At the end of the ХІХ - beginning of the ХХ centuries regional specialization was formed in animal husbandry. In the northern east of Ukrainian Polissya meat and milk animal husbandry was the key direction, in southern parts it was sheep breeding and horse breeding. Traditional ways of looking after domestic animals were retained. Great cattle and pigs were turned out to grass in early spring. The first pasture of cattle fell on "warm George's day" (the 6th of May) or "Nicholas's day" (the 22nd of May). In many regions the pasture form of animal husbandry was retained - cattle was turned out to forests under shepherd's supervision until cold weather set in, in most cases until Pokrovy (Holy Protection of the Mother of God celebrated on the 14th of October). Simultaneously another pasture form of animal husbandry was practiced, when cattle was driven into a cattle-shed for the night.
Fishing, hunting, beekeeping, collecting were among additional occupations of the Polishchuks. Folk crafts and arts also developed, such as pottery, weaving, wood working, metallurgy and metal working, leather working, wickerworking, stone working, forest crafts, fulling, glassworking etc.

Doctor of Philosophy in Historical Science

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