A Proud People
HOME OF A FORGOTTEN PEOPLE
The Village of 12,000
A HUGE village of 12,000 inhabitants is the “capital” of the Hucul country. lts name is Jasina, derived from the Ukrainian equivalent for ash-tree. It lies in the broad valley of the upper Tisa) stretching for
some ten miles like a great snake.
As the last major locality before the nearby frontiers, Jasina has sonic claim to be considered an outpost of civilisation in Carpatho—Ukraine. Its station is the terminus of the direct railway line which connects Jasina with the West. A traveler from Prague may board an express train, but on reaching the Carpathian Mountains this express has to slow down to the pace of a local train. The last lap of the journey to Jasina, up and down wooded hills, past steep gorges and ravines, through countless tunnels and round numerous hair-pin bends, is romantic and picturesque, but surprisingly slow. After passport and luggage examination at Jasina, one can take another slow train and travel still farther east, towards and across the frontier. In its quiet and unassuming way Jasina has been a link between West and East for the last fifty years or so.
The centre of Jasina is about a mile away from the main station as if the Hucul “ capital “ were a little shy of intrusive civilisation. But it has not remained immune from its influence. The one-storey building of the Town Hall, the bank, the post-office and the two or three hostelries, through all built of wood, give the cobbled square a semi-urban appearance. This impression is enhanced by the streamlined modernity of the whitewashed Bata shoe store, which stands out conspicuously against the humble shops of the small traders. . There is also the large, modern Greek Catholic church which, unlike the few traditional churches, is not built of wood. Last but not least, Jasina has several new schools. Amoung them is a Ukrainian secondary school, the first institution of its kind in Carpatho-Ukraine. The woodwork school, where local boys are given an opportunity to develop their aptitude for carving, is of particular interest; many of its pupils become skilful cabinet-makers, joiners and carpenters. While those who show special talents are sent to higher art schools.
These few innovations arc practically the only signs of urban civilisation in Jasina, unless one includes a number of houses built fairly recently, chiefly for the officials of the administration. For the rest, this Hucul centre is just a village or, rather, a succession of villages forming together one long, sprawling settlement. Its wooden dwelling-houses are little more than peasant cottages, somewhat trimmed and polished. Peasant carts drive up and down the streets, cows, sheep and geese stray in the ditches to give Jasina a homely atmosphere. Long stretches of the road are unpaved and sewers do not exist; but there is electric light, and on Sunday nights films are shown in a large public hail.
The great attraction of Jasina is its age-old wooden church which overlooks the village from a hill. It is a beautiful example of the rural architecture which once used to flourish all over the country. Very few churches of this kind have been preserved to this day, and the church of Jasina is the best of them all. Unlike some of the barn-like and rather crude churches of the Verchovina, this Hucul place of worship is a neat and compact structure in the shape of a symmetrical cross. And above its overhanging shingled roofs rises a single cupola of the Moscow type, except that it is not round, for wooden beams can be joined together only at an angle.
The story goes that this original place of worship is older than the village itself. After it had been built, small traders started settling down in the neighbourhood in order to sell their wares to the churchgoers, and this is how the Hucul " capital “ is supposed to have sprung up. This story is open to doubt. The church is probably about three hundred years old, while the village might not be older, although it claims to) have been the first major Hucul settlement in the Carpathians. Be this as it may, Jasina’s unique wooden church is an outstanding monument, a silent, yet eloquent witness to the quality of traditional Hucul craftsmanship.
This solitary relic of the past may look unassuming and deserted during the week. But its greyish tinge seems to take on colour when the bell, housed in a detached belfry, peals to summon the faithful to worship. Flow strange the peasants’ dress, how quaint and picturesque! What a variety of hues and patterns!
In the whole of this strange country there is nothing to compare with the Hucul sleeveless jacket of lambskin, white and soft like fine leather. It is richly embroidered in many colours and decorated with little straps of dark leather, pierced metal rings and loops of lace. And there are the gay woolen pompons orange, red or green hanging on a thin white cord down the front. Both men and women wear these precious jackets but, of course, only on special occasions. As a rule, young Huculs have them made for their wedding and keep them until they die.
The skirts of the women are another feature. But they are not skirts at all - they are two aprons which the women wear, one at the back, the other at the front, over their long ‘smocks.’ They are woven in close strips of light and dark red wool, with silver threads shining between Tartar-like splendour. Around the waist there is more colour in the ornamental belt of different coloured wools, interwoven with golden threads. It cannot compare with the red leather belt of the men, but it undoubtedly adds variety to the picturesque feminine dress. The women also have attractive bands of embossed embroidery on the shirt sleeves, and wear striped stockings of heavy wool, white, black and red, with a crude, coloured pattern round the top. Their sandals are not coloured, but they arc conspicuous by reason of their turned-up toes.
This spectacle can, be enjoyed only when the weather is fine; for if the sky is overcast arid heavy clouds threaten rain, the peasants put on short greyish coats of thick sheep’s wool which hide the kaleidoscopic
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