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Trunks as a phenomenon of traditional culture


A collection of Ukrainian traditional trunks and of what they used to contain was shown at the Ukrayinsky Dim Culture Centre in Kyiv at the end of 2005. The organizer was the Ivano-Frankivsk community of Kyiv; most of the trunks and other items exhibited originally came from the land of Halychyna in Western Ukraine.

Lyubava MALYONA reports what she has seen at the exhibition.


Judging by the guest book, the exhibition was visited not only by Kyivans and Ukrainians from other parts of Ukraine but also by diplomats, businesspeople and tourists from Syria, Iran, Peru, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and other countries.

For several centuries, big trunks made of wood and reinforced with metal strips and corners were widely used in the Ukrainian countryside (and in towns too) for keeping all sorts of things in them  clothes, bed linen, money, valuables, keepsakes, souvenirs or whatever else might be thought desirable to keep against possible future use, or for some sentimental reasons. The historian Romana Kobalchynska studied the huge carved trunks as a cultural phenomenon that reflects traditions and lifestyles. The trunks from Halychyna contained not only the usual things that were kept in trunks but also photographs or pictures, often pinned to the inside of the lids, calendars of events in the life of the family  births, marriages and deaths, and in the life of the community  social and political upheavals, revolutions and wars.

All the things were packed into the trunk not pell-mell, or randomly, but in a well-organized order  folded lengths of fabrics went in first, then all kinds of garments, and so on. Money, valuables and other items of particular importance were put at the very bottom. The wealthier the owners, the more well-stocked the trunks were.

Petro Korpanyuk from Kyiv, a descendant of Semen Korpanyuk who used to be a remarkable wood carver from the village of Yavoriv in Halychyna, has 45 such trunks in his collection and he lent them to be shown at the exhibition in Ukrayinsky Dim.

When a girl was born, her family began putting together a dowry with all the items being placed in a separate trunk  all sorts of garments, decorated, embroidered and plain, made of different materials, decorations, outdoor and indoor footwear, headscarves and anything else that might be needed for everyday, wedding and festive occasions. The dowry was built up over a long period of time, with most of the items made at home. But some of the items came from abroad  corals, pearls, necklaces, gold coins or highly prized, brightly-colored headscarves. At the wedding, the girl was presented her dowry trunk to take it to her husbands house.

There was also a trunk in which families kept things for the boys  lavishly embroidered shirts, complete with all kinds of symbolic designs and the boys initials; embroidered trousers and even onuchi (shoes made of thick cloth) for festive occasions. All kinds of dried medicinal herbs that were collected by women went into the boys trunk as well, including the herbs that improved the male potency.

The garments that were worn at the wedding were afterwards kept in the trunks and they stayed there until the owners death. A ninety-year old man could say, producing a shirt or a bed sheet  I was wed in this shirt, and this bed sheet was spread on the bed on my first wedding night

The boys trunk was also a repository of decorations, trinkets and other items of sentimental value dear to the mans heart  crosses to be worn on chains, timekeepers with chains for them, hats decorated with beads, and other similar things.

Some of the traditional items and garments stored in trunks show amazing continuity of tradition in ornamental patterns, design and symbols that go back thousands of years. Even the colours of garments had symbolical meanings, or in many cases reflected the dominant colours of natural environment people lived in  the garments that people wore in the colder climes are of colder colours, and those from the sunnier climes are much brighter.

The garments from the private collection of Mykhailo Strutynsky from the city of Ternopil are mostly of dark, somber colours  they seem to reflect those times of old when the land of Ternopilshchyna was a scene of military confrontations between the invading Turks and the Ukrainian locals; for a stretch of time, the Turks dominated the area and the men were conscripted to serve in the Turkish army in the distant lands, and many women were handpicked for harems and seraglios of Turkish pashas and sultans. Even the ornaments embroidered on the garments seem to reflect the grief and pain.

But the general tenor of the exhibition was very cheerful. It presented a facet of traditional Ukrainian culture which is worth retaining in the collective national memory.


Photos by Oleksandr HOROBETS


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