"Old songs have found me, and called on me to follow them": Interview with the Folk Camp Canada Director Bozena Maria Hrycyna
July 21, 2019
What do you think of when your the word...
"I think of the threads of culture that keep me tethered to my people, my kin, and all people. I think of going deep to the place where stories have been formed, the place where customs have been forged, where songs have been composed, where prayers have been stitched".
Living folk culture?
"Well... what is folk?? Essays and books have been written on this topic... For me, folk culture has a connection to a people, a group that has forged some common identity over the years (perhaps centuries)... and is rich with meaning. Living folk culture: a remembering by living. Dancing, Singing, coming together to cook, to bake, to break bread, to share "the way we do it"...Choosing to continue traditions because they connect you to one another and to yourself.
There are very few true "living folk cultures" in the world today, in remote communities, remote villages, where people don't "have a choice", they simply have a life, and live the way they do because of custom, or circumstance.
Urban diaspora communities consciously enact customs codified as "such and such folk culture" to hold on to identity amidst change and displacement...
is that living folk culture? Not in the same way.... But maybe. It's something.
That's what I grew up with... and in that grab bag of nationalist and religious potpourri, there are rich jewels. Those rich gifts that I've inherited can light up my life if I choose to keep them living, and share them, and live them, not just produce and catalogue symbolic gestures".
"Yes! Yes! Yes!! Nothing can save us more than this! :)
Let us stitch and carve and weave ourselves to some sanity. Let us clothe ourselves in a cloth of dignity, in clothing that our old timers may recognize us in.
Here I would like to quote my neighbour and friend, the leather tanner and craftsman Daniel Stermac-Stein (The Herd's Throne):
"There was a time when what you wore signaled to the world where you came from, who your people were and who you were among them. The colors, the materials, the weave, the tanning, the embroidery and elaboration all were part of an intricate and complex code of meaning and belonging. Certain Eastern European embroidery motifs are direct descendants of paleolithic carvings and drawings. Designs on Central Asian felts can be maps of ancestry, kinship and migration. Great significance was placed on certain colour combinations and pattern placement, often only showing up on garments particular to certain stages of life. When clothing was handmade in this fashion, every colour was not only beautiful in its own right but could be read as certain plant combinations that went into the dye, where the flax was grown could be read in the nap of the weave, the leather tells the age of the animal and when in the year they were killed and by how skilled a hunter. For peoples the world over, there was a time when clothing meant all this and more."
"Not only clothing, but other material culture too, signals to the world where we come from. Do you want to signal to the world that you come from a mall, or from a factory/sweatshop that could be anyplace?
Would you rather feel the joy of the earth in your hands, sculpting clay, plying fibre, turning wood, and in turn, make your life richer and more beautiful? Like food, the 'Western' industrialized world has started to wake up to the necessity of leaving behind these mechanisms of mass production that have de-valued and destroyed so much. Yet, the enormous mechanisms persist, and those that are awake to the ugliness of it all see a different way... handicrafts offer a way. Everyone has some craft that speaks to them, but perhaps you don't feel "crafty" or really don't want to do handcrafts, perhaps you feel called to engage your body in other beauty making- gardening, or athletics, or animal tending. Craft can take many different forms. An interesting read on this is the recent publication: Craeft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts by Alexander Langlands."
"Folk music has always spoken to me, but when I encountered the old polyphonic folk songs of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, oh wow, then I was moved to a whole different level. I was smitten by the folk music of central Ukraine, especially the sweeping acapella lyrical songs sung by women's choirs. I was suddenly drawn so deep into those songs. They enchanted me, they tugged on me, they made my insides soar, my skin shiver.
Old songs have found me, and called on me to follow them. And they have shown me so much. Worlds I knew little about, but had an inkling about... around poetic turns of phrases, behind the old words whose meanings had been lost in my lexicon, under the trees and meadow grasses and paradise birds of the imagination... This music has connected me to the mythopoetic language of my ancestors, to their worldview, and their personal stories.
The stories embedded in folk music are not really any different from any human stories, except that delivered on the wings of melodies and harmonies that vibrate with a keen energy, the old stories have a way of piercing through the layers, to reach the depths of one's soul.
And beyond the telling of personal stories, there is the music of ritual and ceremony, the enacting of prayers and intention, the practice of communicating with one another, the living earth. To call this all "folk music" sometimes sounds like oversimplification; Given our modern society's tendency towards fragmentation, departmentalization, and secularization, it strikes me as important to speak of folk music as encompassing all of these songs, both ceremonial and "everyday" lyrical songs. Folk music has taught me about what's been lost over the years regarding our connection to one another
When devotion is a way of life, and life is ceremony, all music is the way a people's devotion manifests. It is all folk music.
I am forever grateful to all the song keepers of the ages, and the new generation of artists and singers who have made it possible for me to know these songs. Drevo, HIlka, Dakha Brakha, Bozhychi, Werchowyna, Ukrainian Village Voices, and so many others".
"Sitting in circle, lighting the fire together, sharing in song, and storytelling late into the night.... what a rarity in these times. Campfires offer this opportunity for gathering in this old way, with Fire, and sharing in an intimate way that is just not possible elsewhere".
Bozena Maria Hrycyna
I grew up in Canada, fully ensconced in the Ukrainian-Canadian diaspora, learning the language, customs and traditional crafts of this community. In university, I completed a teaching and bachelor arts degree at York University in Toronto with a personal concentration in Canadian and Eastern European history and literature. On my own, I pursued a self-directed education in native plants, herbal medicine, and Slavic folklore, supported by my lifelong involvement in Plast (a Ukrainian youth mentorship organization akin to Scouts), and summers spent outdoors, hiking, canoeing, and camping.
After graduation from university, I moved to Eastern Europe, first to the Czech Republic (south Moravia), then to Ukraine (Lviv, Galicia). I lived there for two years, working, and exploring many things, including my ancestral roots. I hiked mountains, rode trains, cycled through enchanted forests and observed the folk traditions of my people, the Slavs, and fell in love with the land, its people, its spirit.
I'm mostly back in Canada since 2010 and things have shifted for me a little bit- I am grounding myself in the land here, the land where I grew up, the land that is just as full of life and tradition as "over there". I want to connect the energy that I feel from my ancestors, with my living breathing kin here.
There is a lot of wisdom and beauty shared with us from the past, that can help us make Canada the place we want it to be, figuring it out as we are, in a place of colonialism and multiculturalism. Looking with the lens of a folklorist, an artist, a singer, a Slav, a Canadian, a woman, a traveller, a homesteader, (etc ., etc., etc.) at all that I see around me, I am filled with awe and gratitude and a fierce desire to make change-- for the better. I see possibilities and I see the need to learn, share knowledge, and together, build the village anew, and together share in that joy. Folk Camp is a way for me to engage in that work.
I've also had the privilege of being a part of the birth and flourishing of the Kosa Kolektiv in Toronto, a group that nourished me and many others in exploring the possibilities of remaining connected to one's Eastern European/Slavic roots in Canada. With Kosa Kolektiv I've been supported in going deeper into my folk heritage, and sharing in the mysteries of community through song, ritual and communal beauty making.