An East Slavic tribe, mostly known as the white Croats, are considered the ancestors and founders of the Lemko settlements. Long ago they lived on both sides of the Western Carpathians. The name "white" at that time meant "Western". In old beliefs colors were used as geographic markers, so that ‘white’ indicated west, ‘black’ - north, ‘red’ – south, and ‘green’ - east. The name "croat" (‘khorvat’, ‘gorvat’) meant that this group of Slavs settled in the mountains.
The name ‘Lemko’ is often traced back a word ‘lem’, often used in conversation by the tribe, which meant "only". The Lemko tribe, however, mostly referred to themselves as Ruthenians or Rusnaks.
The end of WWII was a great tragedy for the Lemkos. Because of the 1944-1946 repatriation & evacuation two thirds of the Lemko settlements (about 95 thousand) were forced out of modern day Poland to the then territory of the USSR, and the rest (about 30-40 thousand), during the ‘Vistula’ Operation (Polish: Akcja "Wisła") (1947) – were exiled to the north-western parts of Poland.
Lemkos are one of the most unique ethnic groups in Ukraine. Their originality is primarily determined by the geographic factor. Living in the far west, Lemko lands were surrounded by very different neighboring ethnoses and, hence influences, like - Hungarian, Czech, Slovak and Polish. The continuous communication with these people left an imprint on the materialistic as well as spiritual life & culture of the Lemkos. However, it did not destroy the authentic Lemko identity, but rather transformed these influences into a completely new cultural quality, impressive in its beauty and artistic uniqueness.
One can find a variety of Lemko Folk costumes. On the border with the Boyko region, you’ll see clothing similar to that of the Boykos; closer to the Southern parts - garments greatly resemble Slovak costumes. And nearby Transcarpathia one can observe an extreme diversity of women's clothing, where every village has its own peculiarities in garment construction, design and embellishment.
Nonetheless, some pieces are similar in all the different parts of the Lemko region, e.g. short dress shirts, blue vests called ‘katanka’, multicolored A-line skirts with aprons and ribbons, scarves tied below the chin etc.
Dance, of course, is an integral part of the culture, and was also affected by the Lemkos’ neighbors. In this region one can find versions of Polish ("Krakowiak", "Mazurka"), Czech ("Polka", "Tromblia", "Grozhena", "Koliczko"), German ("Waltz", "Half Waltz", "Links", "Schteier"), Hungarian ("Magyar" "Czardas") dances. However, they differ from the original in their style and mannerisms, characteristic just for the Lemkos.
One of the typical ancient Lemko dances is "KARICHKA". This piece is most popular in Transcarpathia, but nonetheless Lemkos living in Slovakia and Poland also gladly perform this dance. Its name comes from a Slovak word for a ‘circle’, as the construction of the main dance figures in Karichka, is based on circles – big & small.
We would love to talk about all the Lemko dances as there are sooo many! But to better practice the dances, explore the culture and literally taste the region’s specialties, join the 2016 Ukrainian Dance Workshop Tour!
Info Source: Oleh Holdrych «Lemko Dances»
Yurii Skobel «Choreographic Culture of the Lemkos»