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Hut from the region of Polissya

The ethnographic region of Polissya is represented by a hut that was transported from the village of Didkovychi in the Zhytomyr region, built in the second half of the 19th century. The hut has a traditional for this period three-celled planning:inner porch or “siny”, rooms and a pantry).

The hut is made up of two separate logs produced of pine blocks, connected by means of a lock. In the room to the right of the entrance there is a stove made of clay rollers. The smoke comes out through a hole in the wall that separates the hut and the inner porch, and through a wooden chimney. The ceiling and the roof are held on one longitudinal beam, with the cross beams and the plank ceiling, insulated with a layer of clay 25-30 cm. To the left of the door, one can see a light fitting, a structure for lighting the room with long dry pine sticks.

How building wood was chosen

Ukrainian Polissya is a historical and ethnographic region that occupies virtually the entire northern part of the country. More than 40% of all forests in Ukraine are located in Polissya. Due to the availability of large forests, wood was the main building material from which almost all structural elements of housing (foundation, walls, ceiling, doors, etc.) were made.

The very first stage of housing construction was the selection and harvesting of wood, which was considered by Ukrainians to be a very important and detail-oriented process, as wood had to meet both practical and philosophical ideas of local people.

Huts were usually built with log cabin construction techniques, with pine used. In addition, oak, alder and aspen could be used as well, poplar or sedge were less popular, in some cases, spruce, linden and elm could be seen.

Birch was not usually used for construction purposes. We have a dual attitude towards aspen. On the one hand, there is a widespread ban among Ukrainians to build a hut made of aspen. The motivation for such a taboo has strongly pronounced Christian context: the tree on which Judas hung himself, and the Saviour’s cross was made of Aspen wood. A log hut made of aspen is believed to cause misfortune to its inhabitants. On the other hand, the analysis of the building material of the 19th century housing in Western and Middle Polissya showed that more than 10% of the huts were built of aspen.

Perhaps the most dangerous locals considered the trees that were struck by thunder. Such a tree was called a “sinful tree”, or a “devil’s tree”. It was believed that the tree was punished by God in this way.

Trees at least 60 years old were considered suitable for construction, although centuries-old pines were preferred. Wood was harvested mainly in the winter months because it is not destroyed by bark beetle then.

Light fitting

The most interesting are things, that arose hundreds of years ago, but have survived in the traditional life of Ukrainians. Such rudimentary elements of the interior of the Polissya include light fitting, a device for lighting a living space with the help of resinous pine sticks.

In Polissya, several types of lighting devices were used to illuminate an accommodation: pine sticks, lamps, wax candles, kerosene lamps, and glazed lanterns. As for wax candles, they were mostly made by beekeepers for churches or personal needs, and they were far from being the main means of lighting. Candles were lit only on holidays or on the occasion of family celebrations, they were also used in calendar ceremonies.

However, most often the room was lit with resinous pine sticks, which can be explained by a number of reasons. First, the economic situation of the locals after the First and Second World Wars was perhaps the most difficult among the rest of the population. Secondly, this sub-ethnic group has a rather conservative worldview, which is reflected in the style of farming and everyday life. Preference was given to sticks, because such light “was giving both heat and a lot of light”. In addition, this type of lighting device played an important role in terms of hut hygiene, as it not only illuminated and partially heated the hut, but also served as an excellent fan that disinfects the air.  

The main structural elements of such a lamp were an exhaust pipe suspended under a round or square hole in the ceiling and a device for burning the sticks, placed under it. Such lamps were usually located in front of the stove.

In Polissya, huts used to be lit only in the autumn and winter period, while in spring and summer lighting was not practiced.

Ceiling

The ceiling was made of broken or cut boards, and insulated with a layer of earth. Well-dried white or yellow sand, as well as clay, were most often used for this purpose. The soil powder was preceded by a lining of straw, moss, fescue grass, flax stalks, etc. Sometimes turf, birch bark or oak leaves were used for this purpose, and, arranging the powder of the ceiling, several components of the gasket could be successfully combined in one ceiling. The motivation for the use of a particular building material in different areas could be slightly different.

The use of one or another component for building the ceiling locals motivated by their rational properties. In particular, sand was added to keep the hut warm. At the same time, sand was a fairly good fire-fighting agent: “Sand was for ramming moss and against fire”.

Thatched covering is mainly motivated by the need to prevent sand from falling through the cracks in the ceiling. Moss, according to the observations of the locals, was also a good insulator: “Moss was laid to keep warm”. The use of moss was also explained by the fact that it burns poorly and is better than straw, and “because it was not eaten like straw by mice”.

Clothing tradition

The most common traditional type of women’s clothing in this region is a shirt with inserts made of home-woven fabric, with a stand-up collar, decorated with woven ornaments and sewn in three, rarely two saws. This shirt was sewn from three asymmetrically folded widths. In this case, the sleeves and the base of the shirt were sewn from different fabrics.

Later, shirts with a yoke began to be made. They used to be less ornamented, with shorter sleeves, sometimes called as work shirts. In the 1920s and 1930s, with the advent of the percale, shirts began to be sewn from factory cloth, and the ornamentation changed. Instead of geometric weaving or embroidery techniques that imitated it, polychrome floral ornaments made by hemstitching appeared.

Traditional men’s clothing is a shirt made of home-woven fabric, often made of coarse, gray unbleached linen or hemp, knee-length or slightly shorter. They were worn over pants and girded with a belt. The festive shirt was sewn from a thinner cloth and decorated with embroidery.

An apron was a mandatory thing for a woman, it was worn on top of a skirt. As noted, in the hottest weather you could go to work without a skirt, but never without an apron.

Traditional outerwear in Polissya is most often represented by jacket, coat, caftan, or “svyta” (long unbuttoned homespun outerwear). The jackets were made from sheepskin, dyed in oak bark to brown. The peasants did not make the outerwear on their own, but ordered it from fellow villagers who did it professionally or went to the city to use the services of a tailor.

Women’s headwear is represented by winter and summer scarves. Summer scarves used to be made from a thin home-woven cloth, had a rectangular shape and could be woven at the ends with red stripes.

Another item worth mentioning here is “namitka” (a long, thin fabric wrapped around the head and tied in the back). Nowadays, almost no one remembers it, not even older people, because they did not use it in everyday life, they only mentioned that older women still wore these things when they were young. However, in the wedding ceremony, “namitka” remained for a long time as a symbol of the girl’s acquisition of the status of a married woman.

Footwear

Traditional footwear in Polissya were bast shoes made of the bark of trees, most often of vine. Both men and women were equally involved in its manufacture. Usually, a stock of bast itself was prepared in advance, and when the peasants had free time or need, they made shoes. The shoes were worn on top of the “onuchi” (cloth wrapped round feet in boots or shoes). Most often, onuchi were made from old linen shirts, and in the cold season they were sometimes insulated by straw. Bast shoes and onuchi were tied with ropes, and there was a clear gender differentiation: women’s ropes were made of hemp fiber, and men’s ropes were made of horsehair (they were stronger but used to embed in the skin).

There was also a type of shoes, made from a solid piece of wood, often linden. Carved wood patterns could be delivered for extra money. They were also worn not barefoot, but with onuchi, as well as bast shoes.