Entry into the meadows

The most incredible spectacle and event on the Hutsul land is sending off the cattle to the meadows.

Entry into the meadows

Late spring, after the 7th of May villagers send cattle and seeps to pasture. Exit to the mountain is accompanied by sounds of trumpet and horns. Sometimes this process could take several days. Shepherds prepare carefully before entering the mountains. On 6th of May – St George’s Day (who is their patron) according to tradition they pray, fast and bless their livestock.

Only after this ceremony the send off begins. They built their huts in the meadows. There are a fires burning in the middle of the booths during the whole grazing season. Animals are sent to pastures. During the stay in the mountain’s valleys shepherds stick on to customs and traditions, which were passed on to them through the generations. You can see lots of this folklore in the Mykulychyn village.

There is little that changed in the life of the Hutsuls over the centuries, except for the ownership — under the soviets, all the land was owned by the state.

When the shepherds and the deputat and the cattle arrive at their polonyna, the staya is built. Staya is a sort of a house where people live, with pigsties and corrals and stables situated next door to it. Every staya must have an easily accessible source of water, with large trees nearby, so that the animals could find shade in the heat of summer or hide during snowstorms which happen in the Carpathians even in the midst of a warm season. Corrals have partitions for little calves, grown-up animals and for sheep. There is no ceiling in the staya, only a roof, with no fireplace either — the fire is kindled right in the middle of the floor, with smoke escaping through the door. A big cauldron, which is suspended over the fire, is used for cooking, boiling milk and making cheese. Cheese is the main product made at the polonyna, and it is also the Hutsuls’ staple food.

Vivchari — shepherds proper (“shepherds”) look after the sheep, and cowherds look after the cows, and pigherds look after the pigs, and horse-herds look after the horses, with the deputat being in command, and also working hard. The deputat hires a vatah, a head shepherd who supervises over all the herdsmen. There is also a polonyna hand who looks after the fire, brings in firewood and water. The herdsmen and the deputat wear shirts which were previously boiled in oil or in oxen fat — such shirts do not get easily soiled and no vermin can live on the human body clad in such a shirt.

The vatah and a couple of herdsmen are the first to come to the polonyna, ahead of everybody else. There are age-old rituals that the vatah and herdsmen observe. The first thing that the vatah does is giving a prayer: “Thank you, Lord God, for protecting the staya, for helping us and all the Christians and the animals to live through the winter and for helping us to live through the summer.”

After the prayer, the vatah builds the fire and he does without matches, using a millennium-old method of rubbing a wooden stick against wood, and with dry grass to catch the sparks. The fire will burn until the end of summer.

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