Belarusian traditions live in distance from native land of their ancestors, in Tyumen area
In March, Alena Timofeevna Shishova, from the Tyumen Region, celebrated her 80th birthday. After just four grades of elementary school she joined a collective farm – working as a cleaner and a scrub-woman in the District Centre of Vikulovo. She still lives there today, and has embroidered beautiful patterns all her life, as well as singing with Vyachorki folk group. She also raised her daughter single-handedly.
From where does her passion for beauty originate? Grandma Lena`s home is filled with embroidery, as we saw on visiting her during a trip to the Tyumen Region in autumn. Here, we present her unique manner of speaking – common to those who have lived in Siberia.
“I began to embroider when I was six years old. During the day, young girls would work, then sit and embroider in the evening. As a small child, I climbed the bench behind them to look. I was drooling with my desire to try – it was so beautiful!”
“With the evening gone, they would leave their patterns. My mother had run out of ‘sablatsi’ (embroidery threads – as they are called in Yermaki, Yelovka and other Belarusian villages) so there were only red and black threads remaining. I climbed onto the stove and waited until she returned home. People used to wear bast shoes and cotton foot wraps. and, as these were wet, she threw them onto the stove to dry. By that time, I had already prepared some threads to embroider her foot wraps. The stitches looked well against the cotton fabric. However, she cried out to me: ‘The women will laugh at me for you having embroidered my foot wraps!’ I then asked: ‘Mum, give me a towel, as I’d like to embroider.’ She gave me 1.5m of fabric and showed me how to embroider. It was in this way that I embroidered a ‘nametka’ (small drawing) on my first napkin.”
Grandma Lena told us that her grandparents Fedora and Yakov Chumakovy lived in Gomel but, trying to escape poverty, moved to the Yermaki village approximately in 1910 together with their daughters (Manya, Frosya, Fedora and Aksiniya). This village was founded in taiga, some 60km from Vikulovo, by the Belarusian settlers back in the 1880s. It wasn’t easy in the severe Siberian land either. The Chumakovs family had to live in the dugout in Yermaki for some time and then moved to the neighbouring Yelovka, when collective farms began to appear. Manya Chumakova, the mother of our Grandma Lena, worked from her childhood at the collective farm with horses, so she was called in the Belarusian manner Lena Chumachikhina. Her father, lieutenant Timofey Tarasov, died in the front. In line with the Belarusian tradition, the photo portraits of her parents hang, as if icons, in the house: nothing can be more holy than the parents.
The girl wasn’t keen on studies, unlike the embroidery, and after finishing the elementary school at thirteen, she wanted to become a shepherdess. The mother was trying to dissuade her but nothing helped. The girl seemed to have solid arguments, saying: ‘My friend, Nastasya Gretchenka, was a pig-tender, as was another my friend. Nastasya Mikhailova hogs down and sings songs and I will go to tend sheep’. The mother told her daughter that she would cry instead of singing songs but she didn’t listen and went to tend 150 sheep, becoming an assistant to an elderly woman. Grandma Lena continues: ‘We had a big and old ram with huge horns. I always took cabbage leaves with me into my cotton bag in order to feed the ram. I sat and embroidered while the ram came up to me and I gave a leaf and then sat on the back, as if it was a horse. The sheep scattered about the field and I folded them back while sitting on the ram’s back and then continued to embroider while the ram was walking nearby’.
I must admit that Grandma Lena was telling her story so humorously that we immediately imagined this beautiful Siberian pastoral and even understood Lena Chumachikhina that it’s much more interesting to be in the countrywide with the ram, sheep and favourite embroideries than to be at school with its discipline and textbooks…
Anyway, the woman’s fate and marriage brought her from Yelovka village to the Kemerovo Region’s Prokopievsk; however, her life with the husband wasn’t successful and in 1969 she returned to her relatives together with 12 year old Svetlanka to live at her brother Slava’s house. Now, when he’s dead, Grandma Lena lives here alone. Her daughter resides in Nefteyugansk while her granddaughter Albina is in Moscow and has her own three children. Meanwhile, granddaughters enjoy their grandmother’s embroideries but sometimes they criticise them saying that the background wasn’t chosen correctly. Nevertheless, Grandma Lena has her own criteria of beauty, saying that she embroiders beautifully using patterns from the journals.
Grandma Lena’s handicraft was very useful when Vyachorki folklore and ethnographic ensemble was established in 1986 at the Vikulovo House of Culture by women who were the descendants of Belarusian settlers. They needed stage costumes and had to make them themselves. “I decorated the black skirt with ribbons,” recollects Grandma Lena. “I was sewing jackets using my own materials and was also wearing them on the stage. People also made orders.” The ensemble was established by Yermaki-born Valentina Mikhienko, a cultural worker, while Grandma Lena assisted her as a friend and was singing in the group for a long time. Grandma Lena jokes that she has well practised her voice with the sheep – nothing similar to singing at schools. Many songs of her mother, Manya Chumakova (Tarasova after marriage) – a cheerful woman and an amateur singer (people from all over neighbourhood invited her to sing at weddings), acquired a stage life and were performed across all Siberia and even in Moscow, where the band was recognised as the best at the all-Russian contest of folklore bands in 1996.
It seemed to us that embroidered pieces are a multi-colour chronicle of life for Grandma Lena. It’s immediately seen that her favourite colour is blue – the colour of sky or dreams? Although everything happened in life, she was always trying to make her embroideries beautiful, pleasing eyes and souls. “I embroidered even when I worked as a scrub-woman. I spent one and a half months to finish this work,” says Granma Lena while pointing to the pieces, hanging on the walls of the house. “This is the Red Riding Hood with the Wolf, and the Silver Claw and here the Deer is going together with the Girl with a basket for mushrooms. There’s also the Fire-bird, the Rooster and it took me a week to embroider the Cat.”
Grandma Lena’s pride is her ‘tapestry carpet’. Her friend gave her an old and shabby carpet while she renewed it. Grandma Lena was greatly impressed when her embroideries, alongside needlework and pieces, made in mixed technique, were brought to Tyumen together with her. They took two big pillows, and a small one, as well as other items. A bed was specially placed at the exhibition to showcase everything. “Much people have arrived and I was standing there in an embroidered costume,” recollects the woman. “I was then asked to tell them about my works. There was so great buzz that I was even taken aback. I was presented with ‘A Master – Gifted Hands’ glass. The cushion was in Tyumen for a year and I was afraid that it would lose; however, everything was there under the glass and locked.”
Another peculiarity of Grandma Lena’s unique talent is to sing the songs that were left to her by her mother. “My mother had lots of songs that she sang at weddings,” she continues. “Moreover, there’re also unique charm-songs. People could sing these songs in order to call for rain. I once told my neighbour that I ‘ordered’ the rain and it rained by the evening. It was very hot, I went out, sat in an armchair and sang: ‘All-merciful Nikola/ Save us./ Our Lady/ Save us’. I was singing this and thinking that if neighbours would hear me they would decide that I was crazy. Meanwhile, it was very hot but it rained by the evening, in the middle of the summer, while people had to gather dried gay. I called my neighbour Galya and told her that it was me who ‘initiated’ the rain by singing the song, but she decided that I was crack-brained. Meanwhile, when it has been a long time since the last rain I often sing the song; it’s even better when it’s sung together.”
At parting, the Siberian woman with Belarusian family roots sang us a wedding song, which was then easily found by us on the Internet: ‘Something has knocked and clapped outside/ Mother, see if this is for me’. In 1999, student N. Khrankova wrote it down from her grandmother Khrankova Valentina, who was born in 1928 in the Chechersk District’s Shirokoe village of the Gomel Region. Just imagine that the Belarusian song lives in Siberia even within a century in almost its word-for-word variant. These precious spiritual treasures are preserved by embroiderer and singer Grandma Lena. May God give her health!
Continent of the nation
<img class="imgl" alt="" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-428.jpg">[b]Belarusian traditions live in distance from native land of their ancestors, in Tyumen area[/b]<br />In March, Alena Timofeevna Shishova, from the Tyumen Region, celebrated her 80th birthday. After just four grades of elementary school she joined a collective farm – working as a cleaner and a scrub-woman in the District Centre of Vikulovo. She still lives there today, and has embroidered beautiful patterns all her life, as well as singing with Vyachorki folk group. She also raised her daughter single-handedly.