Festival of ancient traditions
[b]2nd National Call of Polesie Festival gathers over 10,000 quests and participants from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Poland to the agro-town of Lyaskovichi in Petrikov District[/b]Three years ago, the President of Belarus supported the idea of holding a festival in Lyaskovichi. Opening the event, he admitted that he has a special relationship with Polesie.
Three years ago, the President of Belarus supported the idea of holding a festival in Lyaskovichi. Opening the event, he admitted that he has a special relationship with Polesie. “Every person has a place to which he loves to return again and again. For me, one of those secret places is Polesie. Anyone who has ever been there is fascinated by the beauty of its land.”
Despite its modest biography, Call of Polesie has already outgrown the framework of a regional festival; next year, it may become an international forum, gathering poleshchuks from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Poland. They all have much to show and share.
Pripyat Polesie is really unique. Over many centuries, it has kept its originality, despite the rapid pace of progress. Nature, life and crafts have retained their ancient flavour, as celebrated by the festival. The event promotes the talents of its inhabitants to visitors, alongside its natural beauty, aiming to reveal its potential to tourists. Pripyatsky National Park is truly the pearl of Belarus, so it’s no surprise that it brought forth the unusual festival. There, nature, culture and heritage are on show, of which Belarus is rightfully proud.
The second festival has proven vivid and impressive, gathering a record number of participants and visitors, while boasting diverse content. An ethnographic expedition and international conference gathered scientists from the Polesie borderlands beforehand — from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Poland. All are eager to see traditions preserved, working with the newly opened Museum of Nature at Pripyatsky National Park to make their findings accessible to the public. The beautiful modern building, which stands in the centre of Lyaskovichi, is the pride of the town. Locals say, “Here, our history is seen as if on your palm!”
The Museum of Nature enjoyed its official launch at the festival, welcoming crowds of keen visitors. Some viewed a map of the waterways of Polesie, displayed on the floor. It guides fishermen to the best spots (with the help of museum staff). Meanwhile, the halls explore local archaeology, the history of its waterways and Polesie’s folk traditions. There is even a recreated peasant house. Almost everything can be ‘touched’ or inspected by eye closely.
“Visitors appear delighted,” note museum staff. “Many came after their museum tour to ask where they might see a particular bird or animal seen in the exhibition. It takes about two hours to view everything, including at least an hour in the hall of nature, which has four dioramas. These represent the four seasons and the four major landscapes of Polesie, with its inhabitants: the Pripyat River floodplain, the first over-floodplain terrace of the Pripyat, the second over-floodplain terrace of the Pripyat; and Lelskaya water glacial plain. Children are just as enchanted as expert botanists.
Meanwhile, the ethnographic halls are filled with rarities from the past, each lovingly restored for display. Many are donated by museum staff: a spinning wheel; homespun blankets left by a great-grandmother; and, even, a ‘choven’ — a boat, used by someone’s grandfather.
Lyaskovichi is a special place at all times but really comes alive for the festival; you gain a true sense of how people lived in a past age.
Polesie residents from 11 districts in Gomel and Brest regions took part, demonstrating their skills. There was harmonised singing on the main stage and over 30 amateur choirs from the provinces entertained audiences with ancient folk songs and modern ballads inspired by the past.
Meanwhile, the 2km of Polesskaya suburbs saw every courtyard filled with rare crafts: weaving, embroidery, bee-keeping, pottery and carving. ‘Polesie Corner’ — organised by Pripyatsky National Park — boasted a blacksmith, working his forge to create red hot horseshoes.
On asking to try my hand, he willingly gave me his seat. Of course, it has taken years for him to learn his craft, but he patiently showed me the basics and I created my own horseshoe — for good luck. A couple of metres away, a courtyard run by Yelsk District offered barrels to suit every taste. I was told, “This is dezha for dough, and this is tseber, used for salting meat. Small barrels are taken to the fields, filled with water which remains cold from morning to evening.”
A crowd soon gathered, asking if they could buy them, but demand exceeds supply. For future festivals, the owners promise to make lots of barrels for sale.
I can hardly pass by the Pinsk District courtyard (Brest Region) where women treat flax. They allow me to thresh some, giving me detailed instructions: ‘Sit in a semi-split, press the flax hard with your leg and beat it with the beater.’ After 20 minutes of hard work, I feel that, for the next two days, I won’t need any further exercise.
I grow only more excited as I pass from courtyard to courtyard. I notice an ancient loom and watch the making of clay pots, asking so many questions and always eager to try my own hand. The crafts are fascinating in their calm sincerity and pure beauty.
The first festival brought about Festivalnaya Street, with craftspeople taking up residence; they are not just famous but in demand, with orders from Minsk, Moscow and Warsaw. In the villages, new courses and craft centres are opening and the fame of the festival is being felt far and wide. Once seen, distinctive Priyat Polesie is never forgotten.
Pripyatsky National Park is one of the most popular tourist sites in Belarus, welcoming around 250,000 visitors annually — including over 15,000 foreign tourists. Its forests are considered to offer the best preserved flood basins of the Pripyat and Dnieper, covering up to 85 percent of the area. For rich biodiversity, they are unique across Eastern Europe. In 2009, the 30km Pripyatsky Wild Animal Park opened, allowing close observation of forest wildlife.
The Cranberry Holiday is celebrated annually in Stolin District (Brest Region) — one of the regions of Polesie. There is no other like it in Belarus, including a parade in the village of Olmany in late autumn, after the harvesting season. Festivities and celebrations abound in honour of the best cranberry collectors.
By Violetta Dralyuk