Songs infused with May dew

Brest Region’s folklore groups successfully present themselves to foreing neighbours
By Yury Chernyakevich

…Yelena Bukach begins to sing a song which she has known since early childhood, having listened to her mother and grandmother sing the melody. The Kobrin District’s village of Magdalin is known for its beautiful singing but few would have imagined that these melodic Polesie motifs would find an audience in the Polish trans-border area. Yelena has travelled to the Białystok area’s Bielsk Podlaski many times, joined by other members of the Zaranitsa song and music ensemble. When she sees audiences enjoying their performances, listening attentively and thanking with their applause, she can’t hold back her tears.

Those who attend Zaranitsa’s concerts love hearing familiar melodies, joining in with songs recalled from their own younger days. Meanwhile, the group’s recent performance in Poland saw them end with a Polish folk song (at the audience’s request); every member of the audience joined in singing the poetic lyrics, raising their voices to the sky.
Traditional Belarusian Polesie songs are extremely melodic, like an ancient chant, as heard over the Pripyat River hundreds of years ago. It’s wonderful that such Polesie traditions are being revived, bringing delight to audiences in Belarus and beyond.  

At present, Brest’s Regional Public and Cultural Centre is involved in popularising folk traditions, helping folk groups in the region gain a platform for performing to tourists and touring abroad.

Jointly with partners from the Białystok Voivodeship, the Centre has been organising folklore and ethnographic expeditions to collect information on ancient songs, dances and village rituals in the Pruzhany, Drogichin, Kobrin and other districts across the Brest Region. Meanwhile, our Polish friends have invited bands from the Brest Region to visit the Bialystok Region, where many ethnic Belarusians live. Members of groups are welcome abroad, being offered great hospitality.

In my opinion, the most successful project being run by the Kobrin District Executive Committee’s Culture Department involves international co-operation. During the recent There, Along May Dew Folk Festival, Kobrin groups toured the Bialystok Region, presenting traditional customs and organising joint evenings of song with residents of Polish villages. Organised by cultural employees from Kobrin, in close co-operation with the Muzeum Małej Ojczyzny w Studziwodach (Museum of the Little Fatherland), the festival did a wonderful job of promoting the traditional culture of Polesie.

“Of course, such tours enhance the prestige of our ensembles and attract youngsters to them,” notes the Head of the Kobrin District Executive Committee’s Culture Department, Nadezhda Zhuk. “This is a real foundation for preserving folk traditions and an opportunity to widely promote them.”

The strongest and most friendly ties have been established between Brest folk bands and those from the Białystok Region, especially from Bielsk Podlaski. Museum Director Doroteusz Fionik tells us, “Our contacts began back in the 1990s. The first Polish-Belarusian expedition was organised around a decade ago; our joint field research resulted in the release of a book and materials being published in the Belarusian and Polish media, alongside the recording of discs.”

Mr. Fionik is known across Poland and Belarus for his work as an historian, ethnographer and folklore researcher. Hailing from Bielsk Podlaski, he has made many trips to Polesie and Podlasie villages to gather source material. He tends to visit every two months, accompanying folk groups from the Białystok area. He also invites groups from the Brest Region to his own home town. His museum displays works by masters from Belarus, such as Nikolay Tarasyuk and Ivan Suprunchik; soon, it will be hosting its regular folklore festival. Mr. Fionik explains, “In early May, we’ll be again organising our festival but we plan a much larger event next year, when we celebrate 450 years since the Bielsk Privilege was declared for our town, during the times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuanian Sejm. In 1566, the Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuanian was also approved. We are planning a city-wide holiday involving knights and historical clubs from Poland and Belarus; I’m confident it will be a success.” 

Clearly, with so much forward planning, the event cannot fail to be magnificent. Belarusian knight groups will be pleased to take part and international co-operation between the Brest Region and Białystok Voivodeship will certainly continue.

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