The Górale of the Polish highlands are seen as a people apart from the rest of Poles. They are afforded this special status through the romanticisation as Poland’s very own “noble savages” by the writers and travellers of the 19th century. This was the time of Poland’s search for nationhood (when its territory was occupied by Russia, Prussia and Austria). The Górale have always been described, even in those early accounts, as pastoralists.
During the season, when the sheep went up to the alpine pastures, the villages were almost deserted. In the 20th century the pastoral system dissolution took place starting with the establishment of national parks after the Second World War. Further unfavourable developments decimated what was left of it since the late 1980s. As a result of the dissolution of the pastoral system the Górale chose to amplify their internal unity by strengthening the ethnic identity. The revival of pastoralism as it currently presents itself today, may be seen as yet another rallying call around Górale identity. It is a come back to the pastoralist “core” of the highland culture, while changing and re-inventing the tradition to suit new economic, social and political circumstances.
In the Polish pastoralist tradition there have always been two seminal community events which bracketed the winter season. There was the autumn event of “Redyk Jesienny” when the sheep brought back from the summer alpine pastures were given back to their owners and there was also a spring event of “Mieszanie Owiec” which literally means the Mixing of Sheep. Historically, they were very important events of the pastoral calendar, while the pastoral system itself has been crucial fixture and backbone of the social system of the Górale people. The paper examines how these traditions changed from old ethnographic descriptions and how they are being re-invented in the context of reaffirming the Górale identity today.
In the Polish pastoralist tradition there have always been two seminal community events which bracketed the winter season. There was the autumn event of “Redyk Jesienny” when the sheep brought back from the summer alpine pastures were given back to their owners and there was also a spring “Redyk” also called “Mieszanie Owiec” which literally means the Mixing of Sheep. Historically, it was an important event in which the head shepherd, or the baca had to use his magical knowledge to ensure that the big herd made up of sheep from the individual owners would keep together as one and produce enough milk to make this summer venture profitable. To do that he used magic spells and performed rituals learned from his predecessors. The bacas' magical knowledge was frequently in opposition to the powers of the priests who viewed them with suspicion. Today, this spring event of “Mieszanie Owiec” is much changed. It is no longer a private affair of the baca and the sheep owners. Frequently, it is a public event, a tourist attraction, with the priests often taking centre stage. There is even a new, “invented” tradition of region wide “Mieszanie” at the sanctuary of Ludźmierz. There, a small herd of around 200 sheep is symbolically used to bless all the herds going up the mountain pastures for the season. The paper examines how these traditions changed from old ethnographic descriptions and how they are evolving in a modern economic and social reality.