Folk festival shares its legacy
Belarusian Polesie brings together various forms of European folk culture at its Call of Polesie Festival
By Veronika Dovlatova
Pripyat Polesie differs from other places, having remained unique, preserving its traditions for centuries. Its rapid pace of progress hasn’t destroyed its identity, with its landscapes, lifestyles, crafts and spiritual values as pure and beautiful as ever. Its residents recently shared their rich heritage at the 2nd National Festival of Folk and Cultural Traditions, Call of Polesie, bringing together over 10,000 guests.
The event was hosted by the agro-town of Lyaskovichi, in the Petrikov District, welcoming visitors from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Poland. Alexander Lukashenko opened the event, emphasising, “There is no other festival in Belarus which rivals its spirituality, so rooted in the past and founded on the land of true Belarusians.”
About three years ago, Mr. Lukashenko supported the idea of holding the festival in Lyaskovichi and noted his continuing reverence and admiration for the town. He asserted, “Everyone has some place where they love to return. For me, Polesie is one of those hidden gems. Those who visit it even once are captivated by its beauty.”
Despite its modest biography, Call of Polesie has already outgrown the framework of a regional festival and has been offered international status by the President. He told those present, “I address foremost the delegations of Russia, Ukraine and Poland. Let’s make this festival international. The third time will be a charm; we’ll start with the third.”
The Republican Festival Call of Polesie was not only impressive in scale but rich and diverse, including films about life in Polesie (Garland of Polesie). An open air wooden sculpture, Wooden Miracle, was unveiled by the President to mark the opening of the unique Museum of Nature at Pripyatsky National Park. It is obvious that nothing similar exists in any neighbouring European country. An international conference was also held within the event, gathering researchers from those countries bordering Polesie; all are keen to see local traditions thrive and remain accessible to all at Pripyatsky National Park’s Nature Museum. Two years ago, Polesie residents asked Mr. Lukashenko to build the museum, which now stands in the centre Lyaskovichi.
The first day in the modern building was certainly busy, with visitors fascinated by all it has to offer. There is a map of the waterways of Polesie, guiding fishermen to the best spots (with the help of museum staff) and halls exploring local archaeology, the history of the waterways and Polesie folk traditions. There is even a recreated house.
What purpose does a ‘tseber’ serve?
The Festival saw Polesie residents (from 11 districts in the Gomel and Brest regions) demonstrating their creative achievements, including the singing of harmonised songs on the main stage; over 30 amateur choirs from the provinces entertained the audience with ancient folk songs and modern ballads inspired by the past.
Meanwhile, the 2km of Polesskaya suburb saw every courtyard filled with rare crafts: weaving, embroidery, bee-keeping, pottery and carving. ‘Polesie Corner’ — organised by the 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 the 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 the owners explained that few such barrels exist, due to a lack of craftsmen. At the next festival, they promise to teach beginners and make barrels for sale.
The Festival may be over but its legacy lives on. The town has its own Festivalnaya Street, whose masters are now not just famous but in demand, with orders from Minsk, Moscow and Warsaw. In the villages, new courses and craft centres are opening, inspired by the famous festival and the special land of Pripyat Polesie.