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Gorals – Slavic highlanders

Gorals from Zakopane.

The Gorale (Polish: Górale; Slovak: Gorali; Cieszyn Silesian: Gorole; literally “highlanders”) are a group of indigenous people found along southern Poland, northern Slovakia, and in the region of Cieszyn Silesia in the Czech Republic. There is also a significant Goral diaspora in the area of Bukovina in the western Ukraine and in northern Romania, as well as Chicago, the seat of the Polish Highlanders Alliance of North America.

Gorol men’s choir from Jablunkov (Jabłonków) during the parade at the beginning of the Jubileuszowy Festiwal PZKO 2007 in Karviná (Karwina).

Spread

In Poland they live in the region of Podhale of the Tatra Mountains and parts of the Beskids (Cieszyn Silesia, Silesian Beskids, Żywiec Beskids). In present-day Slovakia they live in 4 separate groups: in northern Spiš (34 villages subdivided in two groups), Orava and Kysuce (2 villages) and smaller groups in 7 other enclave villages in northern Slovakia.

Traditional Gorol wooden house (drzewiónka) near Filipka mountain meadow in Silesian Beskids

Origin and language, dialect

Gorals are part of a continuum of Carpathian Slavic highlander groups, including Hutsuls, Lemkos, and Boykos. The various dialects spoken by the Gorals descend from Proto-Slavic from the Eastern Lechitic, Old Polish area, superimposed by Slovak. In other words, the language is of Polish origin, but has been influenced by Slovak in recent centuries. In addition to Polish, the language contains some vocabulary of other origins, including Slovak, Vlach, and words of uncertain origin that have cognates in other languages of the Carpathian region. Mazurzenie may occur.

Young Gorals of Żywiec (pl: górale żywieccy) during performance at 43rd Week of Beskid Region Culture in Żywiec.

National identity

For most Gorals today, the decisive factor in their self-identification with a nationality is not ethnic but territorial. For example, those living in areas under a long tradition of belonging to the Polish state identify themselves as Polish, while those living in Slovakia have identified themselves as Slovaks, with notable exceptions to this rule on both sides of the border. While the origin of the Goral dialect is Polish, the language of Gorals in Slovakia and in the Czech Republic is gradually shifting and increasingly becoming more similar to the literary standard in their respective countries. Gorals of the Czech Republic identify themselves on the nationality level as Poles and are members of the Polish minority in Zaolzie, which is proved by their communal activity – annual Gorolski Święto festival held in Jablunkov (Jabłonków) is a showcase of a local Polish Gorol traditions and is organized by the PZKO (Polish Cultural and Educational Union). This Gorol festival preserves the traditions of the Polish nationality group in Zaolzie. It is the largest cultural and folklore festival in Zaolzie area gathering thousands of spectators each day of festivities.

However, in none of the towns and villages of the area the Poles form a majority and some local Gorals identify themselves on the nationality level as Czechs. In this respect the village of Hrčava (the second easternmost village in the Czech Republic), with vast majority of citizens declaring Czech nationality, can be mentioned. In this village the Poles form only a 2% minority.

Local Gorals formed (as indigenous people) a majority in the past. They speak the regional dialect in everyday communication.

Historically, the issue of their ethnic identity has been controversial and resulted in claims and counterclaims by both Poland and Czechoslovakia. Gorals, like many other peasant communities in Central Europe, determined their own ethnic identities within the nation state system during the 19th and early 20th century. Although nationalist propaganda was generated by both Poles and Slovaks, this process of the Gorals’ identification with a nationality was still not complete when the border was finalized in 1924. A notable example were Ferdynand Machay, a priest born in Jabłonka, Orava, Piotr Borowy from Rabča, Orava and Wojciech Halczyn from Lendak, Spiš, who went to the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 and, during a personal audience, lobbied president Thomas Woodrow Wilson to sign these lands over to Poland. After the world wars, some of the Gorals who had opted for a different national identity to the state they found themselves in emigrated to their chosen side of the border. On the other hand, in the present day, some Gorals opt for the ethnic identity of the neighbouring state, rather than the one they live in.

Goral of Podhale – member of Trebunie-Tutki folk band from Zakopane.

In a wider sense Gorals refers to an ethnographic (or even ethnic) group comprising certain highlanders in the northern Carpathians, more precisely these ethnic groups:

Gorals in a wider sense

  • Hutsuls (in Ukraine and Romania)
  • Lemkos (in Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine)
  • Boykos (in Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia)
  • Gorals of Żywiec (pl: górale żywieccy), Poland
  • Gorals (Gorols) of Cieszyn Silesia in Poland and Czech Republic
  • Gorals in Podhale (pl: górale podhalańscy)
  • Moravian Vlachs (Moravian Wallachia)

Gorals of Żywiec (2008)

Notable Gorals

  • Tomasz Adamek – boxer
  • Stefan Banach – mathematician notable as the founder of modern functional analysis and for the Banach-Tarski paradox
  • Andrzej Dziubek – musician, artist, founder of Norwegian-Polish groups De Press and Holy Toy
  • Juraj Jánošík – outlaw hero
  • Sebastian Karpiel-Bułecka – lead singer of the Polish Goral folk band Zakopower
  • Władysław Orkan – Polish writer from the Young Poland period. He is known as one of the greatest Polish writers from Podhale.
  • Jan Kanty Pawluśkiewicz – Polish composer
  • Józef Tischner, eminent Polish Goral priest and philosopher, author of a number of texts in both literary Polish and Goral. The first chaplain of the Solidarity trade union.

Goral from Zakopane (1938)

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