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    The Desna River and Bolva River basin appears to be of special interest in the whole huge territory of Smolenskaya, Bryanskaya and Kaluzhskaya provinces. The area of this basin is extremely mysterious, especially in the vagueness of local rituals, and the discrepancy of characters of mythological stories. The evident heterogeneity of ritual and musical traditions testifies to complex symbiosis of linguistic and folklore phenomena.

Data collected byThe birch gates (Smolensk province). Photo Karen Baker archaeologists, ethnographers, dialectologists show that this area (between Desna River and Bolva River) was the border territory of the two Slavic tribes Krivichi and Vyatichi. During next centuries the relative proximity of Byelorussians and Ukrainians throughout centuries left a specific imprint on the traditional culture of these country people. Possibly, this complex interlacement of different ethnic groups' traditions was one of the reasons for such fine state of both the material and spiritual cultures. In this part of Russia 'the well' of folklore and ethnographical traditions still exists. Traditional Russian birchbark woven sandals - lapti (Briansk province). Photo Lilly Otto A fantastical, bright, enigmatic world of folklore images lives in harmony with the fascinating beauty of the Middle Russian landscapes, with it's small rivers and calm lakes, and mysterious thickets.

Peasants of this region preserved the most archaic layers of traditional culture because of the lack of large migrations, relative isolation of villages (which are surrounded by dense forests), and the fact that the railway was built rather recently. These folklore layers in many cases genetically go back to the period of All-Slavic unity.

Content analysis A wooden bridge across Desna-river (Briansk province). Photo Lilly Otto of folklore traditions of Southwestern Russia shows a peculiar continuation of folklore culture of the famous Polesie (a province of Poland before the Second World War; now divided between Byelorussia (the northern section) and the Ukraine (the southern section), a unique area in the center of Europe. Cutting rye with a sickle (Smolensk province). Photo Gary Asteak For two centuries this area attracted the attention of ethnographers who viewed it as an archaic region, a territory of conservative folk culture. But the Southwestern part is still scantily explored in contrast to Polesie, not due to the fact that few field researchers worked there. On the contrary, the Southwestern part of Russia attracted the attention of such outstanding scholars as dialectologist N. N. Durnovo; ethnographers N. I. Lebedeva, V. N. Dobrovolskii, M. E. Sheremetieva, E. N. Yeleonskaia; musicologist F. A. Rubtsov. Many institutes organized field studies in this area: Smolenskaya /oblast/ province (Russian Academy of Music named after Gnesins, the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, etc.); Bryanskaya /oblast/ province (Moscow State Conservatoire, Russian Academy of Music namedPine forest (Smolensk province). Photo Karen Baker after Gnesins, Moscow State University, the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, etc.); Kaluzhskaya /oblast/ province (Moscow State University, State Russian Historical Museum, etc.).

The principal shortcoming of these studies was that the indivisible and integral tradition was studied in fragments. Some scholars took on the task of recording folklore texts, others studied the phonetical sounding of texts and dialects; some were interested in musical folklore traditions, or in the description of folk Russian costume, or in studies of peasant social life studies, or in the design of wooden buildings. Thus, the indivisible culture became divided in to separate ethnological disciplines.

Since the 1960's Russian scholars have perceived the need for complex studies of folklore traditions. But all valuable ideas and conceptions which interpret folklore as an inseparable socio-cultural phenomenon have remained in articles and books for the simple reason: there was no universal way to record folklore materials and to describe ethnographical phenomena in all their completeness. If a philologist, a musicologist and a choreographer record simultaneously the same musical folklore performance, and after this an ethnologist interviews singers and dancers, their efforts still will not reproduce the real integrity of folklore tradition, only make  contact with performers more difficult.

Birth of a morning (Kaluga province). Photo Nadia Pestrak

The authors of this project worked out their own system of methods of folklore conservation.





University of Virginia Slavic Languages & Literatures Dept.Dr. Natalie Kononenko

University of Wisconsin Dr. James Bailey

University of Colorado   at Boulder Dept. of Germanic and Slavic Languages & Lits Dr._ Laura J. Olson 

Slavic and East European Folklore Association (SEEFA)

University of Kentucky Russian and Eastern Studies and Linguistics Dr. J.Rouhier- Willoughby

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Copyright 2001 Russian Folklore Expedition
Last modified: 09.27.2002