The swift water of Cheremosh

Although Alexandr Dovzhenko’s movies of 1939-40 were made for propaganda films, nevertheless they became important documents of the age, among other things, through the many ethnographic records included on the peoples just returned to the bosom of Soviet power. In the final scene of the recently mentioned Буковина – наша земля (Bukovina, our land) we can listen to the Rusyn folk songkolomeika – on the Cheremosh river. The Russian text recited in the middle of it praises the Stalinist constitution which has dispersed the dark Romanian night and brings a bright future for all peoples.

Верховино, світку ти наш!
Гей, як у тебе тут мило!
Як ігри вод, плине ту час,
Свобідно, шумно, весело.

Ой немає краю, краю
Над ту Верховину!
Там би мені погуляти
Хоч одну годину!

З верха на верх, а з бору в бір
З легкою в серці думкою,
В чересі крис, в руках топір,
Буяє леґінь тобою.

Черемоше, Черемоше,
Бистра твоя вода!
Дівчинонька хорошая,
Гарна твоя врода!
Our highland, our brightness!
How good it is being with you!
As water plays, so time passes
freely, loudly, cheerfully.

Oh, there is no other region
better than our highland!
I wish I could walk there
at least one hour!

From hill to hill, valley to valley
with light thoughts in my heart,
knife in the belt, ax in the hand,
with you I abound in everything.

Cheremosh, you Cheremosh,
swift is your water!
What a gentle young girl are you,
so great is your beauty!

(Studiolum: As to how gentle girl the Cheremosh is, it is attested by the fact that when we travel in a company through the Carpathian Mountains towards Czernowitz/Chernivtsi, someone always asks why we do not turn off after Körösmező/Yasinya (the source of Tisza river, at the left edge of the map below), at Tatariv on the shorter Verkhovyna-Vyzhnytsa road passing along the Cheremosh, but we climb up the longer road in the direction of Yaremche and Kolomyia instead. Well, because the Verkhovyna-Vyzhnytsa road exists only on the Ukrainian road maps, while in the reality the Cheremosh washes off at least half of it at every spring thawing, so in the rest of the year it works as a dirt road viable at a maximum speed of 5-10 kms. And the rafters at the end of the film are the same Rusyns who in the Hungarian newsreel, made about the same time, carry the wood down the Tisza on the other side of the same ridge.

On full screen

However, the Verkhovyna mentioned in the song is not the present-day town of Verkhovyna along the Cheremosh. The latter one was called Żabie since its first mentioning in 1434, and received its current name only in 1962 to cover up its Polish past. “Verkhovyna” means merely “highland” in the language of the Rusyn – here: Hutsul – mountaineers. The genre of the song, the kolomeika, which alternates slow and fast dance rhythms, was named so after the town of Kolomyia, center of the Hutsulshchina (and Pokuttya), which was also one of the most important Jewish merchant towns of the region until 1941.

The version sung in the film, however, omits two strophes of the original song. This could be of course justified by the lack of space, but in the knowledge of the text perhaps this was not the only reason. The strophe immediately following the reference to the ax sings that with the ax in the hand, the Hutsul lad is not afraid even of the Germans, which was not yet politically correct in a Soviet film in 1940. And the next strophe says that he does not need Podolia – the region laying over Bukovina, in the Russian empire –, since all that is there he also has here: but this was also not politically correct in 1940, when the Soviets enlarged the territory of Ukraine just by annexing Bukovina to Podolia.

Ironically, the original context of the song is just the opposite of the film. In fact, as it can be suspected from the text, it was born as an urban Lied, written by Mikola Ustiyanovich (1811-1885), a Galician Polish patriot and Greek Catholic priest, one of the creators of the Little Russian ethnic identity. It was precisely against the external Ukrainian and Russian political pressure that this identity attempted to organize the last “nationless” Slavic groups, the Rusyns – Hutsuls, Boykos and Lemkos –
into one people, living within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and faithful to it. The urban origin of the song is well reflected in the performance of the legendary American Ukrainian singer Kvitka Cisyk (1953-1993).

And as to what an extent the song has become a kind of an unofficial Hutsul anthem, a gesunkenes Kulturgut, is well illustrated by the following – and in this sense perhaps the most authentic – recording, in which an ordinary Rusyn group of friends tries to reconstruct the song as a common cultural treasure.)

And this is how the melody comes back sixty and more years later in the heart-warming and dance-inviting performance of the Rusyn Band of Técső, in the movie The Last Kolomeika, in the Fonó Music House of Budapest. The performers are the old traditional Rusyn musicians of Técső/Tečiv, Jóska Csernovecz, Misi Csernovecz, Gyurka Csernovecz and János Popovics. The dancer is Bob Cohen, the klezmer musician from Veszprém-Bessarabia-New York-Budapest, founder of Di Naye Kapelye and author of the Horinca blog, who discovered the Band of Técső during his extensive musical trips in the region, and still plays together with them the Subcarpathian Jewish and Rusyn melodies faithfully preserved by them.

5 comentarios:

Areta dijo...

Very interesting post. I've always really liked this song but never new its history. And also interesting to learn for sure that the song is not about the present-day town of Verkhovyna (which I visited a few weeks ago), although I did have a feeling it was not about a specific place.

Studiolum dijo...

Thanks a lot! A really great praise from one so knowledgeable about the region as you. And although Verkhovyna lays along the Cheremosh, it would have been indeed too small subject for such a song, which intend to embrace all the Hutsul highland. I wonder whether this song playe any role in giving to Verkhovyna its present name.

Tamas DEAK dijo...

@Areta: and how is the life now in L'viv? :)

Areta dijo...

Life in L'viv is great as usual :)

Tamas DEAK dijo...

I wait the spring/summer to be there again :)