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Old tradition restored

Naddniprianshchyna wedding rite first practiced as part of project «Country of my Dreams»
17 October, 00:00
Photo by Borys KORPUSENKO, The Day

On Oct. 15 the ethnic festival «Country of my Dreams,» in collaboration with the folk study center Cossack Mamai and folk group Hurtopravtsi staged a traditional Ukrainian wedding party in the dendrological park Mamaieva Sloboda. Hurtopravtsi have an experience in restoring old wedding traditions, specifically in the miracle-play Adam and Eve. This time the newly married, their parents, best man, maid of honor, matchmakers, a parish priest, sexton, and guests were real. «Half a year ago two regular participants in our vechornytsi Iryna Kucherenko and Danylo Danyleiko announced they were going to get married,» says the organizer, Natalka Syd. «We decided to organize the wedding during the Feast of Saint Mary the Protectress. Back in the past matchmaking and weddings traditionally began after this feast (celebrated on Oct. 14).» Natalka also says that this kind of ceremony was arranged for the first time and carried out in accordance with the Naddniprianshchyna rite — that is in what we know today as Kyiv, Sumy, and Poltava oblasts. By the way, a traditional Ukrainian wedding is perhaps the richest among the old traditions in dramatic plots. As a rule, it lasted several days, even a week. Olha Veres of the performing group Bozhychi told The Day that the ceremony starts with the svatannia matchmaking. The matchmakers visit the fiancee’s home and deliver a speech about a prince hunting a marten (one is reminded of Kvitka-Osnovianenko play Svatannia na Honcharivtsi [Matchmaking in Honcharivka] where the retired soldier acts as a matchmaker and tells about a marten girl). If the girl agrees, she presents the matchmakers with rushnyky embroidered towels; from then on she and the man who wants her hand in marriage are considered engaged. Later, in the presence of all relatives, the engagement ceremony is performed. The guests are addressed using these words: «On behalf of our mothers and fathers, we request the honor of your presence at the wedding, so you can partake of our bread and salt.» A special kind of bread called korovai was baked on Thursday, on the eve of the wedding party.

On this particular occasion journalists were invited to the wedding ceremony that took place in a three-tier timber Cossack church. It should be noted that Mamaieva Sloboda is a unique place.

There are two windmills a short walk from the church, further on are the church warden’s home and those of dzhura orderlies of Cossack officers, Cossack sotnyk captain/company CO’s residence, a smithy, a potter’s shop, the traditional tavern owned by a Jew, the local witch’s home, and the Cossack outpost with the office, treasurer’s quarters, and a number of other structures totaling 98! These are characteristic of the Cossack period in Naddniprianshchyna, in the 17th-18th cc. All participants in the ceremony were clad in traditional festive Ukrainian attire. «We borrowed costumes from the Ivan Honchar Museum, Dovzhenko Film Studios, and private collections,» says Liudmyla Nahorna, chief production designer at the Children and Youth Opera Ballet Theater, while skillfully fixing the namitka woman’s head attire on the head of one of the hostesses. «It’s not easy to select the right kind of attire for everyone. We also had to allow for personal preferences while reproducing the style of garments worn in the 18th-19th centuries.» As we were conversing with Ms. Liudmyla, the wedding cortege, on horse-driven carts, on horseback and walking, was heading for the fiancee’s home. On the road they were confronted by the children’s pereima [lit., interception] consisting of several kids varying in age, blocking the road and demanding ransom payment in terms of sweets. Usually, there are several such pereimas, with young fellows of older age demanding glasses of liqueur, with grownups demanding vodka and girls expecting to be treated with sweets. This lasts all the way until the cortege reaches the fiancee’s place where a festively laid table is waiting.

According to Natalka Syd, the wedding drama scenario is a simulation of «purchasing» the fiancee (a military campaign of sorts, with the wedding cortege led by the bridegroom and meant to «seize» the fiancee’s home, with the girl’s family offering «resistance,» followed by a truce, with money changing hands for the fiancee’s family’s benefit); in the end the bridegroom and fiancee are ceremoniously seated under the hiltse decorated festive tree. Then the wedding party begins, with the korovai being cut up and slices given out, then the fiancee is taken to the bridegroom’s home where the two are left alone to «know each other better.» Incidentally, Oleh Skrypka’s role as the best man (also as the initiator of the festival «Country of my Dreams») included warming the bed (sic) for the newly married. He had to do this by getting in that bed with his wife Natalka Syd, because under a very old tradition this function is to be discharged only by a happily married couple. «Do you like it?» asks Oleh Skrypka clad in a military uniform dating from the Ukrainian National Republic (the costume he used for the video clip Kateryna). Under this tradition best men had a right to wear military uniform. His friends from the Japanese embassy, Taisuke Minamino and Caoro Iwasaki, bowed their heads in response to his question, indicating that they did. Incidentally, both Japanese also wore Ukrainian folk attire. Taisuke Minamino sported a vyshyvanka hand-embroidered shirt he had bought in Kyiv, and Caoro Iwasaki wore an embroidered blouse, kraika woman’s belt and zapaska apron borrowed from a friend.

«I don’t thing that many have been fortunate enough to take part in this traditional Ukrainian wedding,» says Oleh Skrypka. «I remember being at wedding party in Poltava oblast as a kid, where some of the traditions were observed. I’ve heard about true folk wedding ceremonies performed in the Diaspora.» «It is true that such weddings are staged in the United States and Canada, but the genuine rites are observed only partially, like the most widespread tradition of paying ‘ransom’ for the fiancee and treating the guests to the korovai bread,» say Oksana and Yurii Moshynsky from Denver (US), adding that «Under the Soviets we Ukrainians in the Diaspora used to hand down old traditions and now they must be naturally reborn in Ukraine.»

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