Аа

Ethnography of Eastern Europe and the Baltics

Tне Russian Wedding
Belarusians origins of People and Ethnonym
From the Ethnic History of Belarusians
Belarusians .Traditional Economic Activities

Usually the three stages of the wedding are distinguished: the period before the wedding (matchmaking, bride shower, marriage agreement, girls’ party), properly wedding (wedding train, crowning, banquet, wedding night) and the period after wedding (the rites of the first day, visiting). 

The symbolic of the Russian wedding

In Russian tradition the wedding rite is the most consistent realization of the symbolic language of culture, realization of both mundane and spiritual longings of ethnos. As a ritual the wedding shapes and regulates creation of new family and in perspective it secures change of generations, continuation of collective’s existence in time.

Matchmaking and Girls’ Party

Usually the three stages of the wedding are distinguished: the period before the wedding (matchmaking, bride shower, marriage agreement, girls’ party), properly wedding (wedding train, crowning, banquet, wedding night) and the period after wedding (the rites of the first day, visiting). 

 Matchmaking was usually carried out in the evening; horses were adorned with ribbons and bells were tied to a bow. The behavior of the main characters got increasingly ritualistic, matchmakers stepped over the threshold only with their right foot, they sat on a bench alongside floorboards, and they spoke in parables using hunting or trade vocabulary.

After the matchmaking the bride’s behavior changed drastically. She rarely left her home and tried to move quietly and unnoticeably in house. She communicated with help of wailings, gestures and carefully observed food prohibitions. Changes also concerned the bride’s appearance: she put on unprepossessing clothes, a shirt with long sleeves and covered her face with a kerchief, which symbolized her symbolic death.  In accordance with the logic of the rite, one should get rid of the entire previous, the maiden one in order to become a man’s wife. Girl should die ritually for her new life as a woman with new name, new hairdo, new clothes, new family in new house and new environment.  This motif in great measure determined particular dramatics of the Russian wedding. These changes in behavior weren’t so relevant for a groom.

The cycle of the rites before the crowning included: the marriage agreement − rukobt’e (also zaruchiny, propoi) and the hen party− devichnik, plakanye, where exchange of gifts and refreshments took place. The most important symbol of these rites was the maiden beauty (volya) to which the bride said   farewell on the eve of crowning at the hen party. The hen party  was a complex of ritual acts  including unbraiding the bride’s braid, the bride’s bathing in bath as well as making and elimination or transmission to a friend of the “beauty – the symbol of maidenhood incarnated in a braid, a tow, a small tree, a wreath or a band.  

The crowning and the wedding banquet

The culmination of wedding was the crowning which was carried out in on the next day after the hen party. The church crowning gave marriage the legal force.

In church the groom and the bride sled in different sledges: the groomsman druzhka rode in front, the groom with the tysyatsky followed him, then the bride with her godmother and further the rest of the wedding train people.  The crowning was accompanied with exchange of rings, reciting of prayers, blessings and putting crowns on the heads of the bride and groom which was interpreted as the imposition of the God’s glory.

The wedding banquet which followed the crowning was a form of official recognition and approval of marriage. In the northern and central Russia banquet was held on in the house of groom immediately after the crowning, in the south - first the authorizing rites were carried out in the house of bride and only after that wedding festivities were moved to the house of groom. The newlyweds were brought to the table and set on the benches covered with fur coats so that “the life will be rich”. As a rule the newlyweds ate nothing at the table, guests sang songs and praised the newlyweds.

The First Wedding Night and Otvodiny

One of the most important wedding rites symbolizing transition of groom and bride into new social age group was the wedding night. The transitional character of rite determined strict constraint of behavior of the newlyweds and their entourage.  The place of the wedding bed was a cold room, a basement, a porch, a closet, a bath, a barn, a stable or a summer construction. It is characterized by the “liminality” of location (neither house nor street) and reflects the specifics of the newlyweds’ condition; they are husband and wife, but their wedding night is still ahead.   

The bed brought to the house of groom together with dowry was made by the bride’s mother-in-law, sister-in-law or matchmaker – “the bed matchmaker”.  The plants possessing the fertility semantics like rye sheaves, straw, oat and hop were placed under the bed. In order to protect the newlyweds against the evil eye the people circled the bed with a  rowan branch, an oven fork, a poker, a frying pan were placed under the bed and a whip was put under the bed headboard. During the wedding banquet the newlyweds were brought to bed. In different provinces it was done by women, groomsman or groom’s godmother. In the Russian North it was accompanied by sweeping the road with a brush and the groomsman stroke the door and the bed with a whip.  Everywhere the rite of bed’s warming was performed when the wedding bed was occupied by a sister-in-law, a brother-in-law of bride or groom, a happy pair of newlyweds, a groomsman or girls to whom a ransom should be paid   with a towel, ribbons, vodka or money. 

The wedding night determined the character of   the newlyweds’ relations in future In this case every gesture or uttered word acquired magic power.

For example, before going to bed the bride should take off the boots of the groom recognizing his headship in the family. She received money hidden in a boot for this service. Sometimes husband also should take the bride’s shoes off for money. At first the matchmaker and the groomsman undressed the groom and then the bride and brought them to bed wishing good health.  They noticed who would take offer the boots first or go to bed first or who would get up first, this person would rule the family. Sometimes the bride placed her earrings on a pillow and asked the groom to bring them to the table if he would do what she asked the wife would head the family.

The groomsman, the matchmaker or the mother-in-law usually woke the newlyweds up by making noise; they rattled frying pans, shouted, rang a bell, broke pots with peas or money pronouncing good wishes: “As many pieces as many sons”

Checking of the bride’s virginity was important moment; people examined the bedding and the bride’s shirt, asked the groom: “Did you break ice or trample on dirt?” They observed the groom’s behavior at the table. If he touched the bottom of glass with fork or drank red vine it meant that the bride was a virgin; otherwise the groom broke the glass or asked white vine.

After the wedding night the purifying rites followed: the wedding bath was prepared for the newlyweds or they were just showered with water.  These rites were oriented to return of the newlyweds to life, their incorporation into new social structure.  The end of wedding as a particular state for its participants was marked by otvodiny – joint visit of the newlyweds to their parents and mutual treats.

Belarusians are the Slavic ethnos formed in the ethnocontact territory of Slavs and Balts. The name of the people Belarusians (Belorusy) is the ethnonym given to the Slavic population lived near the White and Baltic Seas by other peoples.

For the first time the mention about the Slavic population named Belarusians are found in the German trade maps of the XIII century. The image of the Belarusian which in many respects conserved up to our days was shaped in the ethnographic works and historical studies of the early twentieth century, The ethno-cultural landscape of Belarus in that times are small villages and towns or boroughs. There the main bulk of the population consisted of merchants and tradesmen who made and sold their production in the same place at the fairs for the needs of rural population.

Man and woman

The objects of Belarusian home interior were generally made of natural materials wood and textile related to division of man and woman functions in culture. The fences around villagers and homesteads, walls of living facilities and utensils, all this was created by man and must protect the interior world of community and family.  

The man is the master, the farther batzka for children and the uncle dyadzka for younger members of family.  The sphere of his activity was outside the house: agricultural works, hunting, communication with the outside world. Woman is organizer of domestic works and younger children were under her care. The proverb about division of man and woman places states: “Man should smell like the wind, woman should smell like a smoke.            

For Belarusians the world of his family is self-sufficient space which includes his entire world.

Ritual function of textile in culture

The home world is created and marked by the hands of women. They made textiles, the first nappy for a baby, towels rushniks, rugs postiki and clothes for the entire family.

Fabric, the symbol of life way accompanies and protects Belarusian all his life. The new-born is put on a piece of fabric; the ritual “woman porridge” is covered with napkin hustka. After the crowning the head of bride is covered with towel-like headdress namitka. The bridal dowry generally consists of textiles as well. In funerals towels are placed in coffin and tied around a tomb cross.

Brief information about the people

The Belarusians are one of the most numerous Slavic peoples living in the territory of the Eastern Europe. Today they live in all continents and according to the data provided by S. I. Bruk in the late 1970s there were 968000000 Belarusians, 7568000000 of them lived in Belarus and 2112000000 abroad.

The Belarusian language together with genetically related Russian and Ukrainian languages belongs to the Eastern Slavic group of the Indo-European family.  Its formation took place during thirteenth seventeenth centuries.  Linguists believe that some specific traits of local dialects existed in the period of feudal disunity of the Ancient Rus State. 

Different opinions about origins of Belarusians

In research literature the questions related to the ethnic history of Belarusians in particular its early stages have different interpretations. Some of them appeared in nineteenth century denied existence of Belarusian language and specific Belarusian culture. In ethnic respect the population of Belarusian territories was considered to be a part of the Polish ethnos — the "Polish concept" or as a part of Great Russians — the "Great Russian concept." However, the most of existing concepts are based on the notion about Belarusians as an independent ethnos with specific culture and language but they lack unity in interpretation of Belarusians’ ethnic history. Ethnic history resembles mythology: every people have their own myths about their origins and scholars follow this tradition. For example, the adherents of the Krivich theory believe that the origins of all the specific features of Belarusians date back to their ancestors the Eastern Slavic tribe of Krivichs. At the same time such outstanding scholars as E. F. Karsky and V. I. Picheta thought that the ethnic base of Belarusians were not only Belarusians but also Dregovichs and Radimichs, Others, predominantly the state oriented Russian scholars supported and developed the idea about origins of Belarusians and Ukrainians from the Ancient Rus people.  On the base of this idea the concept of origins of three Eastern Slavic peoples was created. This concept was shared and is still shared by the most of Soviet and Russian scholars. Nevertheless, there are other opinions about the origins of Belarusians in the modern historical science. In past three centuries the “Baltic theory” has been considered and discussed. The milestone of this concept is that the appearance of Belarusians and formation of specific features of their culture are related to migration of Slavs and respective assimilation of Baltic population by them.  In opinion of V. V. Sedov the Baltic substratum was the most important factor in formation of Belarusian cultural complex and language. Basing on linguistic, toponymic, historical and archeological data E. F. Karsky in his works draw conclusion that Belarusians are “autochthons in their country, they generally live in the Proto-Russian and Proto-Slavic territory".

The etymology of the term “Belarusians”

Scholars explained the etymology of the name “Belaya Rus” differently. It appeared in the period of incorporation of Belarusian lands into the Great Duchy of Lithuania and was associated with the Vitebsk and the north-eastern Mogilev regions.

In historical sources the territory of the Grodno region except its southern part - the Brest region, the western portions of Minsk and Vitebsk regions  were called the “Black Rus’’ and the southern forest and marshy plain was named Polesie. The etymology of the latter name hasn’t different interpretations.  According to numerous documents of thirteenth-seventeenth cc. the toponym “Polesie” was localized in the Basin of the Propyat River and in some neighboring lands – the Beresteiskaya and the portions of Volynskya, Kievskya and Podlyashie areas.

As for the place names the “White Rus” and the “Black Rus” various sources interpret them in different ways. The most common version of the name the “White Rus” can be recognized its interpretation as “free, unbounded, and independent”.

Some authors suppose that the same names had the parts of Rus in XIII-XV cc., which were relatively independent from the Golden Horde, for example the regions Rostov-Suzdal, Kiev, Moscow, Smolensk and some others. In respect of Belarus this name is most frequently mentioned in XII-XVII cc. The name "Belaya Rus" was included in the title of the Russian tsar Alexei Mikhailovich and after division of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the late XVIII century the north-eastern lands annexed by Russia were named “Belarusians”.   

The name Chernaya Rus− “The Black Russia” appeared in the earlier period of XIV century and is applied to the lands which already in the middle of XIII century became dependant of the princes of the Great Duchy of Lithuania, therefore, it’s correct to believe that the free and independent from the Lithuanian princes north-eastern part of Belarus was named the “Belaya Rus” in contrast with the “Black Rus”. The name “Belaya Rus” was gradually spread to the entire ethnic territory of the Belarusians and its population got the name “Belarusians”.

Agriculture — the base of peasants’ life

Agriculture was the base of economic life of   Belarusian villagers and the entire population of the East-European cultural space.  

By the XIX century the main agricultural system was the three-field system when one portion of land was planted with fall cereals, the second one with spring crops, and the third was left fallow. At the same time more archaic slash-and-burn agricultural system persisted, which was used in the small plots in forest regions, as rule for planting flax, hemp, potatoes. In this case after two or three years of planting and exploitation of a field the land was left fallow for a period from two to seven years or was used for pastures and mowing.

The main cereal culture of population was rye. The other sowed cereal was barley which was used for making croup and as raw material for beer.  The favorite croup for alimentation was the buckwheat which plantings crops occupied significant spaces.  People planted millet, peas and oat generally used for feeding livestock but also for making jellies and as an addition to flour in years of poor harvest.  Among the industrial crops plantings of flax and hemp which fibers were used for making linen and seeds for producing edible oil occupied vast space. 

Vegetables had great importance for Belarusian diet. Apart of field vegetables the orchard cultures such as cabbage, cucumbers, onion, garlic, carrots, turnips and beetroot were planted. Due to climatic conditions Belarusian horticulture wasn’t distinguished by diversity of fruits; however planting of apple, pear, cherry and , plums trees, as well as  raspberry, currant and gooseberry was typical for it.  

Agricultural tools

Environmental and soil-climatic differences in the territory of Belarusians   left their stamp on the agricultural techniques, agricultural instruments and transport means.

The sokha a light wooden ard, consisting of two body ards with local construction particularities was spread everywhere. Specialists distinguish the Polesian ard (also Lithuanian, Podlyashkaya), the Vitebsk ard (Russian "perekladka” — a device with a spade-like component that turned over the soil on the right and left) and the Podneprovskaya one alias Mogilevskaya. Two latter variants adapt the body ard to a single animal harness when ploughing. The Polesian ard is harder and adapts to bullock harness, the area of its use coincided with spreading of the sokha among Ukrainians in Polesie. Everywhere both Ukrainians and Belarusians used the ard pulled by a horse to spud potatoes the second in importance plant after cereals up to present time.

The instrument for spud the soil and seed coating was a harrow embedded in a grill. It was with wooden and later metallic teeth which were fastened with thin twigs in crossings of two patches, longitudinal and lateral beams. In Polesie where the most archaic slash-and-burn technique for a longer period the harrow vershalina, made of a top of a fir tree with branch stumps were used in layads— the plots cultivated in forests. 

Alongside the ploughing implements manual tools mattocks, hoes and spades wer used as supplementary equipment.

Belarusians used the equipment known by all agricultural peoples of Europe a sickle, a scythe, and a rake for harvesting. As a rule, women harvested rye and low cereals with a sickle. Men used the scythes with grabs fastened to them which allowed lying tall recently harvested wheat evenly.

The ways to keep harvest

Harvested cereals were dried in sheaf in fields which were transported to threshing floors or to a barn-floor where they were threshed with flails and beaters, then they were winnowed separating grains from chaff with wooden spades or trowels. Prepared grain was put in stores and barns; it was also kept in barrels hollowed out in cut trunk of the tree and barrel-like straw containers koshes for daily use. For longer keeping Belarusians used more archaic construction — pits dug in the soil and covered with the birch bark.

Farmed and prepared for the winter root crops and potatoes were put in vaults and a part of them in koptsi   — the pits covered with planks inside and with many lays of straw and land on the top.

Milling grain:  Traditional beliefs associated with miller

Grinding grain was made in wind or water mills; people also used mortars and millstones at home. 

Millstones− the manual mills were was for making fine-ground croup, flour and salt.  Grindstones were made of fine-grained quartz, the upper one was framed with metallic frame and a handle to roll it was fastened to this stone with a hole.  Grain was put in a hole and after grinding it fell in a gutter. These grindstones used to grind small amount of grain predominantly millet, buckwheat and maize at home. 

Mill is construction for grinding grain in flour with help of the wind or water. This circumstance in combination with noise accompanying functioning of mill made it the place concentrating the evil powers in popular conscience. Therefore, the miller was thought to be a person acquainted with evil powers in particular   with the vodyanoy a male water sprit helping or preventing to roll a ring of mill. The water spirit was blamed if a mill failed or a dam broke. In order to secure  uninterrupted work of a mill offerings of grain, flour, bread crumbs and vodka were thrown or spilt  in water; in case of frost a piece of lard was put under  a mill ring  for “greasing”.

Not all days milling grain at mill was allowed; people tried to carry new grain in Monday, Wednesday and Friday. At mill it was forbidden to curse and quarrel, to take something from it without permission, and it wasn’t safe to fish near the mill as though it could bring misfortune. Millers themselves often supported rumors and beliefs about their connection with the evil powers; the miller endowed with supernatural power could demand a higher price for milling.   

Livestock breeding: the second in importance occupation

The livestock breeding was and remains the second in importance occupation of the population directly linked with agriculture. The livestock breeding provided people with food products, animal labor, fertilizers and raw materials for crafts such as skins, hides and wool. Almost every Belarusian peasant family kept several cows for milk and meat; horses were bred not only for personal needs using them as pulling animals and transport but also for sale in other regions. In north-eastern part of Belarus a local breed of horse strong and enduring was bred. Usually the master of house showed strong affection to horse trying to find for it the best place in barn and to feed it as better as possible.  Sheep breeding also had significant importance in household economy because wool was considered to be necessary material for production of outdoor clothes, textiles, and meat was a part of peasants’ diet.

Pig breeding had significant importance and pork was the favorite meat of Belarusians, one of necessary product for cooking festive and meat dishes. Preparation of salt or smoked lard was particularly important. Caloric and fit for long shelf life it main the main food when people departed on a long trip, to make hay in remote places from their home and during the harvest time.

Pigs were usually kept at home; very seldom they were allowed to pasture under the supervision of boys-herders. In the Polesie free pasturing of pigs also existed when they were sent to the islets, reed beds  or sent to  the forests rich in oaks where pigs were fed with grass  and acorns and returned with offspring  to home stead. It was believed that meat and lard after half-wild living had particular taste. Belarusians kept in small number.

Poultry was bred everywhere as well as ducks and geese in the nearby pools but usually no more than 10.

Fishing in Belarus

In some regions, for example in the river areas of the Polesie with abundant fish resources fishing was traditional and essentially important occupation. 
Fresh fish was served at the table and dried or salted one prepared by local population was sent to fairs where it was bartered for bread and other food products. 

The ways of fishing depended of water sources and fishing tools they were almost the same among the Slavic ethnic groups: Ukrainians, Belarusians, Poles, and Russians. In small rivers various keepnets, traps and peremets (a sort of rope with hooks on laces) were placed, fish was also “hunted” with harpoon especially in night time, illuminating the water and attracting fish with burning oakrum.  Damming of streams with different dams with passes for fish and traps behind them from which the fish was taken was also widespread.  Various kinds of dragnets and seines made of flax or hemp fibers were frequently used as well.

Hunting – supplementary occupation of men

Like fishing hunting maintained its economical importance in spite of intense deforestation meanwhile peasants considered forest as common property.  Traditional worldview conserved specific rules and taboos related to personality of hunter and the object of hunting.  In Polesie and Podlyashie – the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands precisely in the Białowieża Forest hunting continued to be an important component of the image of earner for male population. Alongside firearms skillful huntsmen used traps, snares, and pitfalls to catch wild animals and birds   such as boars, wolves, hares, wood grouses, black gouses, partridges and water fowl. In different seasons various species of animals and birds were supplement to the traditional diet of population especially in spring when the food stored in autumn get scarce. For instance in the Pinsk Polesie in spring young men went to the marshes to gather duck eggs regarded as delicacy in every house on Sundays and festive days.  

The beekeeping and honey hunting

There were two types of apiculture as a supplementary occupation in Belarus:  honey hunting and bee keeping. The first one continued to exist in Polesie in the most archaic form; the second type developed in the areas where the conditions   for cultivating gardens existed or woodlands alternated with meadows.  For honey hunting in forest peasants searched the trees with holes or hollowed them adapting for bee trees. They also made wild hives borti hanging them on the high trees in forest with help of the lifting devices lezivo and petli. The honey hunting has its origins in the pre-agricultural human activity — gathering. The secrets of profession were passed in family from father to son; the occupation was endowed with the sacred meaning. The prohibitions strictly required that no woman in the state of menstrual period approached to the belongings of honey hunter and honey gathering.

Among Belarusians apiary beekeeping was developed in the Sub-Dniepr, in particular, in the Mogilev province and the Eastern Polesie; almost everywhere, bee hives were placed in the gardens of peasant farms. Market production was seldom produced in peasant apiaries; more frequently honey and wax were used for domestic consumption. Honey was additional delicacy and candles were made of wax.

The Bee Keeper in Popular Conscience: Sacred Semantics of Honey and Wax.

Apiary was generally the occupation of old people which was due both to plenty of “leisure time” and traditional notions about the person of bee keeper who should possess moral integrity and avoid sexual contacts. According to popular beliefs old men and monks fit the best these requirements. The honey hunter should not curse, be irascible and stingy: the first honey should be shared with the fellow-villagers and a part of it was given to the church. It traces back to the custom of collectors’ times when honey was divided between all the members of village community. Honey and wax as products of bees’ activity were endowed with sacred semantics. Candles were made of wax.  In life cycle rituals honey was used raw and for making dishes and beverages. It was considered to be the food for the dead. During funeral rituals kolivo, kanun (bread crumbled in honeyed water) and syta - honeys diluted in water were prepared; kytya with honey was traditionally served at wake. Moving to new house people smeared all its four corners to make life sweet; constructing house honey was placed in corners alongside bread and coin. Honey was used in popular medicine.

 

The region is the specific historical area populated by different ethnic groups. The East European Plain which characterized by integrity of territory, severity of climate and meriodional direction of large rivers and latitude position of natural zones occupies the most part of territory.

Peoples

Today three related peoples Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians similar in linguistic and cultural respects and belonging to the East Slavic subgroup of the Slavic group are the most numerous on the territory of the East Russian Plain.

Of other Slavic peoples Poles, Czechs, Bulgarians, Slovaks and some small-numbered groups generally established in large cities live here.

The Non-Slavic peoples occupy predominantly periphery territories.

The Finno-Ugric peoples – Karelians, Izhora, Vod’, Veps, Finns, Sami, Komi, Komi-Permyaks populate the North.

In the Volga Region and Prikamye the Finno-Ugric ethnic groups Udmurts, Mordva and Mari also live alongside with the Turkic peoples Chuvashes.

Tatars and Bashkirs.

The Mongolic Kalmyks inhabit the South-East. 

The Finno-Ugric Estonians and Livonians and Baltic Latvians and Lithuanians live on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. 

The South-West and the South of the East European Plain is populated by Moldavians belonging to the Romanian group in linguistic respect, the Turkic-speaking Gagauzes and Greeks.

Jews and Romani live almost everywhere, Germans, Hungarians, Karaimes and some other ethnic groups live more compactly. 

Although environmental conditions in greater degree favored formation of cultural-economic unity in the East European Plain, the areas distinguishing by original elements of material and spiritual culture exist in the ethnocultural space.

The Central Area

The Central Area is predominantly populated by the Eastern Slavs.

The economical complexes of the area are characterized by combination of agriculture and livestock breeding with other occupation — hunting, fishing, foraging. 
The geographical conditions and socio-political, economical factors are the reason of formation of specific economical groups within each ethnos (Cossacks, Pomors, Odnodvortsi, etc among Russians, Rusins, Verkhovins, etc-among Ukranians; Polekhs — among Byelorussians).

The Baltic Area

The Baltic area is populated with Balts and Baltic Finns. The cultural specific of the area in greater degree was determined by its intermediate location between the Central and the Eastern Europe.

The Northern Area

The northern area is populated by Russians and Finno-Ugrians. As a result of century-long vicinity these people got many common features in their culture which in its characteristics (occupations, settlements, dwelling) resembles to the North Russian one.  

The Volga Area

Apart of Russians the Volga area is populated by Finno-Ugrians and Turks. The economy of ethnic groups is characterized by combination of agriculture and livestock breeding with hunting, bee-keeping and crafts. In course of centuries common ethno-cultural symbols of the area appeared – the heavy plough saban, woman jewelry, embroidery, etc. Kalmyks who were nomads up to the recent time stand apart in linguistic, anthropological and confessional respects.

The  South West Area

The South West area is populated by Moldavians, Gagauzes and Bulgarians whose ethno-cultural interaction facilitated formation of common cultural base including viniculture, wattle-and-daub houses, costume set, etc. Jews and Romani live almost everywhere, Germans, Hungarians, Karaimes and some other ethnic groups live more compactly. 

We use cookies (cookies with data about past visits to the site) to personalize the services and user experience.

By continuing to browse this site, you agree to the use of cookies and accept the terms.