The Kaszuby region is part of the Pomeranian region on the Baltic Sea. Being seafaring people, they have come in contact with many other cultures which have influenced their dances and costumes. This suite of dances begins with the men toasting themselves in a celebration. The women enter and engage in a flirtatious dance with the men. The dance known as Woltok, which means “quarreling waves” imitates the different moods of the sea.
History of the Kaszuby Region
The present day Kashubian Region (region kaszubski [REH-gyohn kah-SHOOB-skee]) is situated in the Northeastern part of Pomerania (pomorze [poh-MOH-zheh]). It is the Baltic Sea area, Poland’s window to the maritime world. Because of its sandy, beaches, the picturesque and unusually narrow “Hel Peninsula” and numerous lakes found in the so-called “Kashubian Switzerland.” (the area between the towns of Kartuzy [kahr-TOO-zih] and Koscierzyna [kosh-chyeh-ZHIH-nah]), this part of Poland is a popular vacation and camping spot. Other points of interest are: the medieval city of Gdansk [gah-DYNE-sk], the birthplace of “Solidarity”; one of Poland’s three biggest ports, Gdynia [Gah-DIH-nyah] which only two generations ago was a small fishing village; Kartuzy, the cultural capital of Kaszuby named after the Carthusian monks from Chartreuse, France, who built a monastery and a settlement there in the 14th century. Pomerania was originally inhabited by various Slavic tribes, including the Kashubians. Scholars divide the Kashubian territory into a western and an eastern part with the border running along the Słupia [SWOO-pyah] river in the north and the town of Szczecinek [shcheh-CHEE-nehk] in the south.
The history of the Kashubian people is very complex. Their culture was exposed to various influences: 1) Throughout the centuries, they were successively ruled by the Teutonic Knights, the Swedes, the Germans (the Brandenburgs) and the Prussians. 2) Merchants traveling to Gdansk from the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Germany brought the imprints of their way of life, and some people from these countries decided to settle in Kaszuby. In search of seasonal work, the Kashubians traveled to Saxony, Rheinland and Westphalia. 4) Their fishing voyages took them to various countries on the shores of the Baltic Sea.
In 1454 the entire Kashubian territory was incorporated into Poland. In 1772, however, as a result of the First Partition, Poland lost Kaszuby to Prussia. In 1919 the World War I peace treaty gave back to Poland a part of Eastern Kaszuby and in 1945, after World War II, Poland regained most of the territory inhabited by the Eastern Kashubians. Throughout the course of history, the Western Kashubians became partly Germanized, but the Eastern Kashubians managed to cling to their Slavic culture, language and traditions.
The Kashubian people make their living from sea and fresh water fishing, farming, cattle breeding, hunting, collecting the honey of wild bees and working with amber which is so plentiful on the Baltic Sea shores. In olden times, the main occupation which was sea fishing was managed by ancient traditional fishermen teams, usually composed of members of one family, called the mazoperia [mah-shoh-PEH-ryah]. The leader of such a unit, the szyper [SHIH-pehr], was the most trusted and most experienced member of the maszoperia. It was an honorable and responsible position and the duties included the careful guarding and carrying out all of the traditional rules, regulations, privileges and punishments. In olden times, primitive sea fishing was often dangerous. Men were injured and lives were lost. The sea was feared, respected and loved. Before each fishing expedition, special prayers were offered to the Holy Madonna of Swarzewo [svah-ZHEH-voh], the patroness of Kashubian fishermen, for their safe return. Scary maritime tales and legends were recounted during the long winter evenings. The Kashubian woman helped her man as much as she could in his work. Besides her usual female tasks of rearing children which brought her personal pride and respect of the community when she had many, cooking, knitting, sewing and repairing garments, she had other duties. She also cleaned and repaired the fishing nets and made new ones, accompanied her husband or her son on smaller fishing trips, sold the freshly caught fish in the market and worked in the fields, turning the soil for planting potatoes and spreading the sea grass fertilizer. Despite these numerous tasks, she still was cheerful and often joked and sang while she worked. Because the soil was sandy and fishing unpredictable, the Kashubians often suffered great poverty. Many emigrated to Canada and the United states in search of a better living. The biggest wave of immigration took place between 1859 and 1898. Entire Kashubian colonies were formed abroad. In them the old customs, traditions and the rural dialect was preserved for a period of time until they were assimilated by their new culture.
Meanwhile in Poland, the process of industrialization and modernization almost annihilated the ancient folk culture of the Kashubian people and the old traditions. Songs and dances are not continued anymore on an everyday basis, although many Kashubians are familiar with them. Luckily since the beginning of the 20th century and especially since 1945, much effort has been put into research, preservation and promotion of that culture. Books and periodicals are being published; folk art exhibits of pottery, embroidery, amber jewelry, etc. are being sponsored; folk orchestras and song and dance ensembles are being organized; they not only use the old musical instruments while presenting the old songs and dances, but also reenact old customs and family traditions and sew and wear the reconstructed folk costumes. As far as dance research is concerned, one must acknowledge here the tremendous work of Mr. Pawel Szefka [PAH-vehw SHEHF-kah], a school teacher and a former member of the Szefka Family Kapela [kah-PEH-lah] from Strzebielino [stchen-byeh-LEE-noh]. During the years 1918 through 1936, while playing at various village festivities, weddings and other family celebrations, he was observing the local customs, dances and songs. These dances originated a long time ago and were especially popular during the years of 1860 through 1890. Using his notes, he has written between 1956 and 1979 several books on the dances, songs and customs of Kaszuby which reflect the love of the culture in which he was born and raised. These books offer a wealth of information. They not only helped to preserve the folk culture in the Kaszuby region itself and in the rest of Pomerania, but also introduced it to groups in other parts of Poland and, later on, to the Polonian ensembles abroad.
The Kaszuby dances are mostly gentle, joyful and graceful. Although they have many characteristic traits of the dances from the rest of Poland, especially from the neighboring regions of Warmia, Wielkopolska and even Slask, they reveal obvious Swedish and German influences both in music and in dance steps. They can be divided into dances of the rural population and of people of the sea – the sailors and the fishermen. They were danced during various events in the life of the Kashubian people. They were part of seasonal or family celebrations (such as harvest or wedding), and of rituals and ceremonies which often had their origin in pagan customs. Examples of such dances are Rebacki tonc, Koses, Brutci tonc, Wiwat and Taniec ognia [reh-BAHTS-kee TOONTS, KOH-sehs, BROOT-chee TOONTS, VEE-vaht, TAH-nyets OHG-nyah]. Others were done just for the sheer pleasure of dancing as recreation as well as courtship. (Examples: Nasza nenka, Maruszka, Okrac se wkol, Zanc, Wiem jo wiem, Nasza koza, Krzyznik [NAH-shah NEHN-kah, mah-ROOSH-kah, OH-kronte seh FKOOW, ZAHNTS, vyehm yoh vyehm, NAH-shah KOH-zah, KSHIH-zhneek]). Others illustrated the work of a trade as for instance Dzek (sailor [dzehk]), Szewo (shoemaker [shehvts]), Kowal (blacksmith [KOH-vahl]) or Owczarz (shepherd [OHV-chahsh]). Some of them have a show-off characteristic (Dzek).
The simple tunes which accompany the Kashubian dances are written mostly in 2/4 and 5/4 meter and often in major tones. The titles of the dialect tunes and the words to the songs are in the Kashubian dialect “gwara” which differs greatly from the literary Polish. It even has accents such as ö ẽ which are not used elsewhere in the Polish language. The Kashubian way of speaking differs so much from the rest of Poland that, for instance, a Polish goral [GOO-rahl], a mountaineer from the Tatra mountains whose “gwara” is influenced by the Carpathian shepherds’ culture and a polish rybak [RIH-bahk], a fisherman from the Baltic Sea, might not be able to understand each other.
The traditional Kashubian “kapela” (band of musicians) in addition to the usual accordion, violins and clarinet included ancient instruments. These were the bazuna [bah-ZOO-nah], a long wooden trumpet and the burczybas [boor-CHIH-bahs], a wooden barrel double bass, i.e., a friction drum in which a tuft of horsehair is attached to the membrane. The player pulls it, thus obtaining a low rumbling sound and since the horsehair must be kept moist, the musician needs an assistant who from time to time pours some water on the horsehair. Another instrument was the diabelskie skrzypce [dyah-BEHL-skyeh SKSHIHP-tseh], “devil’s violin,” which is a percussion instrument in the form of a long stick with untuned strings and jingles attached to it. These are put in motion by hitting them with a drumstick or by raising the instrument and hitting the floor with it.
In Kashubia there are really three different costumes. One is worn by peasants in the countryside, a different one by the coastal fisherman and a third by the townsfolk. In the late eighteenth century the clothing became more modern in style. The costume illustrated is typical of the Kashubian Lake district in the early nineteenth century. The men wear dark-blue heavy cloth coats with brick-red belts. Their yellow trousers are of lambskin and are tucked into tall black boots. Their black hats have a red embroidered band, however, their cotton or linen shirts are unadorned.
The women’s dresses are blue with floral pattern embroidery on the bodices which have a turned out red collar. Over their skirts they wear white aprons decorated with eyelet work, while their white blouses are simple and unadorned. Their blue silk or velvet bonnets, first made in convents in the eighteenth century, are ornamented with raised embroidery.
Description and History of Kaszuby Dances
DZEK [dzehk] – WILD DANCE
Dzek was originally a men’s dance and only later, a woman’s part was added. The name is either derived from the noun dzik [dzeek] (boar), or the adjective dziki [DZEE-kee] (wild). The latter word is probably more justified, as the story has it that the peaceful Kashubian fishermen learned it from the wild pirates who roamed the seas. The pirates and the fishermen soon became good friends and were often in alliance against the mighty landlords who may have exploited the Kashubian peasants and fought the pirates. The pirates often supplied the Kashubians with material goods and in return they knew that in the Kashubian homes they could safely nurse their wounds suffered in fights, without having their hiding place betrayed to the authorities. The lonely, hard working, and monotonous Kashubian existence was enlivened by the visiting pirates who came with loot, spirits, and partying. No wonder then that some piratical customs, including the dances, have been imitated by the fishermen.
Dzek was first adopted only on the Baltic shoreline and from there spread all over the Kaszuby region. In the southern part of the region it is sometimes called Zek or Zuk [zhehk, zhook] (beetle). Only one tune exists for Dzek. It has 2 versions: a slower one from Zelewo [zeh-LEH-voh] in the north and a faster one from Brusy [BROO-sih] in the south. The tune, written in 2/4 meter, is very simple and is composed of 8 measures which are played twice. Each dance figure takes 16 measures. There is a special 2-measure introduction which is played at the beginning of each figure to give dancers time to move into the next formation. Different solo parts in Dzek figures were still being done in the 1930’s by the local people of Jastarnia [yah-STAHR-nyah], Strzelno [STCHEHL-noh], Luzino [loo-ZEE-noh], Wejherowo [vey-heh-ROH-voh], and Chylonia [hih-LOH-nyah].
Dzek lends itself better for stage presentation than as a recreational dance. Using 2 groups of men, it may reenact a fight of pirates with their enemies, or of fishermen with pirates, or using one group of men, it may be arranged as a sailors’ (or fishermen’s) dance, or in either version women dancers may be included.
MRUSZKA [mah-roosh-kah] – LITTLE MARY
The name Maria (Mary), given very often to newborn girls in Poland (Marian to boys), has very many endearments, Marysia, Mania, Maryla, to mention just a few. Maruszka, Mareszka, or Marychna [mah-RIH’H-nah], Maruchna [mah-ROO’H-nah] are the Kashubian versions, popularized in many songs. The dance done to theses tunes is charming and flirtatious. Originally from Smolno [SMOHL-noh] and known for a long time all over the Kaszuby region, it shows Scandinavian and German influences. It belongs to the category of the sea people’s dances as opposed to the village people’s dances. The sailors in their voyages saw modern dances and changed the style of some figures.
Maruszka is being taught in Poland with slight variations and ensembles there interpret it in different ways too. It is easy to prepare the dance for a stage performance by doing some of the figures on straight lines instead of around the circle, by changing directions, by using some variations even by adding one’s own combinations of steps, as long as they are kept in the character of the dance. The Maruszka tune is in 3/4 meter and is composed of two 8-measure parts, both played twice.
REBACKI TONC [reh-BAH-tskee TOONTS] – FISHERMEN’S DANCE
Rebacki tonc – in the Kashubian dialect, or Taniec rybacki [TAH-nyets rih-BAH-tskee] – in literary polish, is a men’s dance. It used to be a part of rites which the Kashubian people practiced before and after their fishing expeditions. Successful fishing, as the main source of food and livelihood, was as crucial to them as successful harvest is to farmers. If a shoal of herring, salmon, or sprat was rumored, every able body would drop whatever they were doing at the moment, be it even attendance at a church service, or participation in a wedding, baptismal, or any other party, and run to the shore to either help in the preparations for the fishing trip and/or take part in it. With the passing of years, the fishing rites were discontinued but the dance stayed on. It expressed the joy of a successful fishing trip and was also a show-off in front of womenfolk. Actually, all the onlookers bolstered the dancers’ spirit by calling heja hip [HEH-yah HIP!] at the end of musical phrases. The rhythm of the dance was enhanced by men wearing Dutch-like wooden clogs, called korki [KOHR-kee] in Kashubian.
The use of korki gave the dance a special character and it also made the execution of the steps more difficult. In their right hand the dancers would carry a kufel [KOO-fehl] (beer mug), since beer, not wine, was the Kashubian fisherman’s drink. That is why the dance is also called kuflorz [KOO-flohsh]. Sometimes the dance would end with the fishermen breaking the mugs by hitting them against each other until all but two were left. In some localities instead of mugs the dancers carried pipes or red checkered handkerchiefs. Could it be that after breaking all the mugs, they could not afford new ones?
The Kashubian people consider the Koseder their most representative dance and they believe that as long as it is done, Kashubians will exist. Like Chodzony [hoh-DZOH-nih] (old walking dance), or Polonaise, in other parts of Poland, Koseder is danced at the beginning or as an opening to any seasonal, family, or work celebrations. Doing it is proof that this family, or locality, or community adheres to the old Slavic Kashubian traditions. Therefore, although it is not a slow dance, it is done with a certain amount of pride and dignity and is led by the oldest or most honorable couple of the gathering. Koseder has two parts: the moving forward figure with the actual Koseder step and the turning polka figure. However, the oldest inhabitants remember their grandfathers telling them that they did it in the manner of a slow march. So, in order to add more spark to the dance, later on, the first part must have been sped up and the polka part added. But the dignified character was always kept.
There are several theories about the origin of the name Koseder (in the Kashubian dialect an accent is placed on the first “e”). It is supposedly derived from the word Kosej or kusej [KOH-sey, KOO-sey], a 19th century word for banquet, or from the expression na ukos [nah OO-kohs] (diagonally), as there is a diagonal movement of the leg in the main step. A dance named Kosejder [koh-SEY-dehr], done differently, is known in the neighboring region of Warmia and Mazury [VAHR-myah & mah-ZOO-rih].
The Kashubian people diversified Koseder by dancing, especially the first part, in different patterns (several circles, front basket position, stars, crosses, vertical, parallel, or diagonal lines, men and women dancing separately, etc.) and in different directions. Present-day ensembles, both in Poland and abroad, create their own arrangements too. There exist at least 5 different Koseder tunes, all in 2/4 meter and all composed of two 8-measure melodies, each of which is played twice. The tune below comes from the village of Strzepcz [stchehpch], near Kartuzy.
WOLTOK [VOHW-tohk] – DANCE FOR THREE
Woltok a dance for 1 man and 2 women from the Puck [pootsk] area in the northern part of the Kaszuby region. In some localities Swarzewo [svah-ZHEH-voh] and Wielka Wies [VYEHL-kah VYEHSH] it is called Wetrodnik [veh-TROCY-neek] (dance for three). The name Woltok means “quarrelling waves” in the Kashubian dialect. And it truly is a dance of the sea. In the music you can hear the swaying rhythm of the waves. The dance movements of the slower first part represent the wavesâ€™ peaceful rolling, while the faster second part, which has several variations, represents the rough waters and whirlpools of a stormy sea. The variations of the faster part are similar to the figures in the best-known Polish dance for three, the Silesian Trojak [TROH-yahk].
Woltok was researched in the 1930’s by Pawel Szefka in talking to old fishermen. The tune which comes from Sobienczyce [soh-byehn-CHIH-tseh] is in 3/8 meter and is composed of a slower, 8 measure melody A, played twice and a faster, 2/4 measure melody B.
OKRAC SE WKOL [OH kronts SEH fkoow] – TURN YOURSELF AROUND
All over the world, there have been and always will be shy young lads who do not dare to speak, and even more, to dance with young ladies, and are most comfortable in the company of their male friends. Such was also the case in the Kaszuby region. The situation was aggravated by the fact that sea fishing, the main occupation there, kept them away from social life. As a result, near the town of Kartuzy, a song was born in which the impatient girl teased the shy young man, who was often called mruk or mruczek [MROOK, MROO-chehk] (grumbler). Later on, we are told, somewhere between the years 1895 and 1905, first a game and then a dance came into being. During the festivities of, weddings, St. John’s Eve, or harvest, the girls took the initiative (as in Sadie Hawkin’s Day) and with that special dance coaxed young men to dance with them. And so, Okrac se wkol became what is called a “white” waltz in Poland, or ”ladies choice” in the United States. In some localities the dance was also called Wol [voow] (ox dance).
The dance has two parts done to a slow 8-measure melody A and a faster 6-measure melody B; both melodies are in 3/4 meter and are played twice. Originally the dance had only two figures. However, several variations and different styles are being taught in Poland now. There are two primary patterns: a simple one based on Pawel Szefka’s book and a more elaborate one, based on instructions of several teachers/choreographers from Poland. Both versions may be used by recreational folk dances and the latter may be the basis for a performing number.