Welcome to our home
[b]Simple yet practical timber five-walled home typical accommodation for Belarusians for centuries.[/b]For many of us, a ‘faceless’ urban flat is home. However, when our thoughts turn to a traditional country cottage, located in a picturesque village, our hearts glow. Perhaps we were born in such a home, or we have fond memories of visiting relatives or friends. Belarus boasts few such houses and not many are in good repair but their essential elements remain. These homes are part of our heritage, handed down through the generations. Moreover, such cottages come with the old-fashioned utensils used by our grandmothers.
For many of us, a ‘faceless’ urban flat is home. However, when our thoughts turn to a traditional country cottage, located in a picturesque village, our hearts glow. Perhaps we were born in such a home, or we have fond memories of visiting relatives or friends. Belarus boasts few such houses and not many are in good repair but their essential elements remain. These homes are part of our heritage, handed down through the generations. Moreover, such cottages come with the old-fashioned utensils used by our grandmothers.
In surrounding of five walls
In choosing a location for a home, our ancestors considered many factors. The house and its surroundings are known as ‘dzyadzinets’ — the legacy of our ‘dzyady’ (forefathers) — while our ‘dzyatsinets’ is the place where we spend our childhood.
Rural lifestyle influenced houses’ planning, interior and decorations, with four exterior walls and one dividing interior wall being the most common configuration for ‘middle-class villagers’. Other interior walls could be present, made from round logs or square timber. The lowest levels were called ‘padvalina’: originally laid directly on the soil but later on stones or on foundations and, being the thickest of all logs, also served as a sill.
Double-sloped roofs were common and usually thatched, although thin boards, called ‘dranki’, were later used. Entrance doors were wide, with a latch (‘klyamka’) or simple lock; the small key was usually placed above the door-frame or in a small hole between the logs in the side wall. In bad weather, the hole could be blocked from the inside but, in good weather, was used for ventilation.
House doors were thick, also having a latch, while interior partitions were made from thin board, with doorways. As a rule, old houses had a mud room, called a ‘seni’, and a ‘kamora’ (storeroom), with a straight ladder leading to the ‘garyshcha’ (attic).
Stove at the heart of the home
A late 19th-early 20th village home was divided into certain zones, with furniture and utensils placed in particular locations, in line with their functionality. Everything was well thought out. The ‘red corner’ held the stove and was the heart of the home: this ‘chyrvony kut’ was the most honoured place, including icons hung above a dining table where the family gathered for all meals. Meanwhile, family portraits were placed on the opposite wall. A folk proverb exists regarding these three attributes of the red corner: ‘There’s a pine, with linen on this pine and grain on the linen’.
The diagonal orientation of the interior space preconditioned an asymmetric placement of windows. The stove occupied about a quarter of the interior space, with other items placed accordingly around its warmth. Of course, it also served to cook food and was a place of relaxation. It was a place for making vows and concluding agreements. The ‘uslon’ bench was situated close by, being used to knead and rest bread dough: bread being the major part of their diet. Women spent much time working near the stove, inspiring the place to be called the ‘babin kut’- the women’s corner.
Handicrafts on high
Naturally, utensils tended to be handmade, with the secrets of making them passed from one generation to another. One particular folk riddle is pertinent, recalling the process of a ‘sagan’ pot being made: ‘I was in the smoke house, in the fire place, on the table, in the fire and at the market before feeding anyone’. We can imagine the pot’s life from the clay mine to the potter’s wheel, to the kiln and so on.
Most household utensils and dishware were made from clay, although many techniques existed in making the various types of tableware and pots: ‘gladyshy’, ‘zbanki’, ‘glyaki’ and ‘sparyshy’ for storing and transporting food; ‘miski’ (bowls) and ‘paumiski’ (shallow-bowls); ‘kubki’ (cups) and ‘buketniki’(flower vases). Rich diversity remains at the heart of these traditional crafts, which are being kept alive and revived by today’s folk masters.
Belarusian carpentry tended to be more functional than decorative, although fretwork and carving might be seen on house facades, window surrounds and doorsteps. Woven straw items have been found dating from Neolithic times, alongside the remains of lime bast nets, and weaving was certainly among the most widespread of folk crafts, with embroidery often decorating woven textiles.
Village homes would have been filled with articles linking them to a particular period. Besides this material legacy, a system of labour skills, folk knowledge, traditions and customs existed, relating to our economic, social and family life. Intermixed, these elements created our spiritual culture, passed on from one generation to the next — through storytelling and teaching.
We hope this article inspires our readers to gain greater understanding of their spiritual and material heritage. Perhaps, you may like to introduce some of the age-old elements of home arrangement in your own house. Your dwelling may be modern, but you can make it a place of warmth and tenderness: functional yet symbolic. Invite guests and welcome them into your home with all happiness and sincerity.
By Rozalia Tufkreo