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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

A Ukrainian Adam and Eve

Understanding the man-woman theme through folklore
1 February, 2005 - 00:00
SEVERYN DANYLEIKO: WHOM SHOULD I CHOOSE? / OLEH SKRYPKA, THE MAN BEHIND THE FESTIVAL TARAS KOMPANYCHENKO PERFORMING A RITE HONORING THE FOREFATHERS WITH A SHEAF OF WHEAT RECREATNG RITUALS OF THE FOREFATHERS UKRAINE’S FUTURE AND PASI

On January 25, the ethnic festival “Krayina mriy” (Dreamland) was held at the Ivan Honchar Museum in Kyiv. The brainchild of Oleh Skrypka, the festival presented Adam and Eve, a fantasy play staged by the folk group Hurtopravtsi. The theme of man and woman is an enduring one. The author of the play, ethnographer Iryna Klymenko, traced it throughout Ukrainian folklore, beginning in the 5th century and ending in the 19th. She discovered that the woman’s name Kateryna and man’s name Vasyl appear most often in Ukrainian folklore. This explains why she used the names Adam and Eve in this miracle-play. The deepening feelings between these two characters are conveyed with the aid of rites and songs. Dialogues are reduced to a minimum. “These works were mostly recorded during our expeditions to Kyiv, Volyn, Chernihiv, Polissia, and Pereyaslav oblasts,” says Iryna Klymenko. “Their creators are anonymous peasants and city residents. We also discovered ancient songs, dating back almost a thousand years, maybe 1,500 years. This can be scientifically proven. Some of them originate in the pagan period. For example, the song from the river nymph cycle “A Rusalka Perched on a Bent Birch”, the wedding song “There’s Nothing in the Village That Kateryna Has on Her Table.” In our discoveries relating to a later period, the 11th—12th centuries, pagan rites are closely linked to Christian ones, for example, the harvest-home ceremony known as “Bless Us, Mother of God, In Harvesting This Field!”

The author of the play says that such ancient works were preserved mostly in the Desna and Prypiat river basins, and in the Carpathian Mountains. Obviously, folkways were deeply rooted there, and for many centuries life did not change fundamentally. Ukrainians in these regions had a keen sense of place, which explains why they even assimilated the culture that came from outside.

The fantasy-ritual play begins with the symbolic birth of Kateryna and Vasyl, which is announced by a lullaby and an 18th-century Christianized cant. In earthly life, both will encounter the forces of Light and Darkness. Summer solstice nights are especially dangerous, with river and wood nymphs wandering through the woods. Vocal works from the Ukrainian baroque period and Classicism are used to celebrate the most intimate emotions that arise between the man and woman; after performing several rituals — a feud between clans, mourning the passing of maidenhood, and of course, courtship — they get married.

This original love story, based on a composite, centuries-old image, was performed during the Days of Ukrainian Culture in Switzerland last year. According to Hurtopravtsi’s Taras Kompanychenko, the Swiss audiences were captivated by the emotional and historical charms of the ancient Ukrainian songs, as well as by the dazzling diversity of folk rituals. Ukrainian audiences have their turn next.

By Nadiya TYSIACHNA, photo by Mykhailo Markiv, The Day
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