Provinces attracting visitors

The Belarusian towns of Pogost, Gorodnaya and Motol are much spoken and written of, being guardians of tradition. Minsk’s Tourbusiness-2011 fair recently tackled the challenge of how best to use our national customs, traditions and crafts to attract tourist.

By Yekaterina Medvedskaya

Dribin’s felt hatmakers surprised all those at its workshop with their mastery. Delighted spectators watched boots being made from pressed wool (once the most popular form of winter footwear). Amazingly, the youngest craftsman is not even ten years old. The tradition is passed down from generation to generation; every house in the Dribin District (Mogilev Region) produces its own felt boots, caps and mittens. In fact, they have their own language associated with the craft: of 905 words. A glossary of the vocabulary was presented at the seminar, allowing everyone to understand the secret lexis which once guarded their techniques. “The craft is difficult, requiring physical strength and patience,” stresses the oldest felt hatmaker from Dribin, Lyubov Tikhonova. “Young people aren’t in a hurry to turn their skills into a profession.”

The felt workers tend to show their talents at their local house of creativity and at folk crafts fairs. Recently, the Belarusian Association of Rural and Ecotourism — Country Escape began to organise excursions to allow tourists to see the craft first hand, from the shearing of sheep to the working of the wool and final sewing. You can even make your own felt boots to take home.

So far this year, seven tourist tours have been organised to various corners of Belarus, allowing people to see unique customs. The Association now has some idea of how regional festivals and crafts can be used in tourism. For example, in May, ‘Yurauski Karagod’ — a round dance on Yuri’s Day — is organised by the residents of Pogost village (Zhitkovichi District). Meanwhile, those in the Lyuban District go in search of mermaids in spring and summer. Legend tells us that the water beauties emerge to walk through fields and meadows at that time, hoping to meet villagers. Potters in the village of Gorodnaya (Stolin District) have their own holiday while Motol (Ivanovo District) is known for its food festival and ‘wedding karavai’ tasting (a karavai is a special round loaf baked for the occasion). You can try on a Tsar’s costume in the village of Semezhevo (Kopyl District) or find a sweetheart at the ‘Tereshka’s Wedding’ Kolyady game.

Interestingly, the village of Semezhevo became known worldwide a few years ago for its ‘Kolyady Tsars’ customs, which date back several centuries. These are now registered on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, and are considered a national treasure — like Japanese Kabuki theatre, Argentinean tango and Lithuania festive songs. Each year, the number of tourists coming to Semezhevo before Christmas rises; it’s quite fashionable now to spend your winter holidays there.

Dribin’s felt crafts may also soon join the prestigious list, as its application has already been submitted to UNESCO’s headquarters. Belarus’ State List of Historical and Cultural Treasures currently boasts 53 folk customs and traditions: all popular with tourist agencies, and included on tours.

Folk customs continue to live on in Belarusian villages. “The unique habits and way of life of villagers, as well as their distinct dialects, attract tourists to rural areas,” notes Natalia Borisenko, a project manager with the Belarusian Association of Rural and Ecotourism — Country Escape. “Many take part in customs with great pleasure, learning about crafts and really immersing themselves in the way of life of a certain location for a time. Meanwhile, agro-estates are restoring forgotten recipes of Belarusian cuisine, while organising holidays relating to the farming calendar.”

Valeria Klitsounova, the Chair of the Association, is confident that many rural customs are worthy of being registered on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, being unique and authentic in our contemporary world.

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