Notes from jury member of Avtyuki-2016 Festival of Folk Humour

I was there — joking and enjoying myself

Notes from jury member of Avtyuki-2016 Festival of Folk Humour  

It’s scientifically proven that laughter prolongs life, and residents of Bolshiye and Malye Avtyuki, Kalinkovichi District, Gomel Region, have known so for many years. They recognise that having a sense of humour is good for the constitution.

Humour is a serious matter  

Avtyuki residents have long known the importance of laughter, as is natural for Polesie people. When young writer Vladimir Lipsky, now a journalist, spent several days there collecting information on Avtyuki and its people, he chatted with heads of collective farms, spent nights with ordinary villagers and focused on the small details of life.

Life in those post-Perestroika years wasn’t simple, especially in the villages, where people could hardly dare to imagine today’s present wealth. However, they endured hardships with jokes and humour. Attentive Mr. Lipsky — who was born in the Polesie area — recorded local jokes and stories and, in doing so, realised that something more lay behind those (often rude) jokes. He suggested that a Belarusian festival of folk humour be arranged, noting that five minutes of laughter is worth two blini with caviar, or a feast of bacon, onion and salted cucumber! The festival lasted not minutes but days, and he knew that more would be likely to follow. Avtyuki might yet join the international festival circuit.

Belarusian Gabrovo of Avtyuki

With the support from the Ministry of Culture, the Grodno Regional Executive Committee and local authorities, Avtyuki’s villagers organised the first All-Belarusian Festival of National Humour in 1995. During that first event, among the honourable guests were comedians from Bulgarian Gabrovo, Lithuania and Ukraine. This year, the Festival took place for the eighth time: on July 9th-10th.

Russians and Ukrainians are regular guests and participants, sharing their jokes and laughter in Avtyuki, alongside local villagers. This year, comedians from Ukrainian Slavutich and Russia’s Krasnodar Region took part, as did a delegation from Moldova.

Due to the popularity of the festival, it’s become less easy to gain a place. Early competitions are organised across Belarusian cities and villages to choose winners worthy to attend, from towns on the Bug and the Dnieper, on the Nieman and the Pripyat. Among those who are now well known for attendance are Kalinkovichi People’s Theatre of Humour — Veselye Avtyukhovtsy (Merry Avtyuki Villagers), Molodechno People’s Comic Troupe — Tary Bary, and Drogichin’s Smekhovie (Humour) Troupe.

Avtyuki Festival is now attended by top competition winners, across various nominations. This year, anecdotes, theatres of miniatures, humourous songs, Mr. Lipsky-based shows, humorous dancing, pripevki and the Miss Avtyuki Pageant (which greatly impressed everyone) featured on the programme.

As a jury member, I gave the highest mark of ten points to Nelly Zasinets, from Yelsk Folk Theatre of Pop Miniatures: for her Ladies’ Stuff. Truly, this mother of three children is beautiful and smart. The crown of winner looked perfect on her head!

Green light from custom

The Festival opened at the crossroads of Bolshiye and Malye Avtyuki, a day before the competition began, gathering participants, guests and jury members near the monument to Spikelet and Kalinka (in Avtyuki, women are called Kalinkas and men are named Spikelets), next to the Museum of Humour.

To avoid any quarrelling during the competition, chairmen of the endlessly competing councils of Bolshiye (Large) and Malye (Small) Avtyuki (Malye is actually larger than Bolshie) were put on ‘a bench of reconciliation’, specially made by local craftsmen. Everything was conducted most seriously, like at the Olympics. Teams of artists and comedians then went to Kalinkovichi District villages to perform and next morning gathered in the centre of Kalinkovichi to give a major performance.

Traditional Avtyuki customs included many anecdotes and funny songs, Avtyuki roulette with ‘rogotukha’ and visits to Avtyuki courtyards. The humorous Avtyuki ‘draft board’ and funny ‘fishing’ were hilarious, and the traditional Town of Masters enjoyed much popularity, as did a football match between Avtyuki men and women.

Guests and hosts of the holiday enjoyed an exhibition of satirical drawing, called Peace. Culture. Avtyuki, hosted by Kalinkovichi Central Library. Photos show participants’ initial surprise and then smiles, having received a proposal from Kalinkovichi to take the exhibition to Rogachev’s Day of the Belarusian Written Language.

Sadly, while covering the event, most reporters focus on the external features of the Festival. Meanwhile, Avtyuki is the result of a great job by organisers, participants and local villagers. These people are always open and friendly, welcoming guests with bread and salt, famous Avtyuki ‘rogotukha’ and ‘adidas’ lard (with three layers of meat). I sincerely bow to all of them for arranging Avtyuki Festival. After all, humour unites everyone: teachers, farmers, scientists, milkmaids, students, workers, Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians: all earthlings.

By Oleg Karpovich
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