Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Workday Wednesday: Pasekář, Farmer

This is one of those untranslatable words that means a specific kind of farmer in Czech. You cannot simply translate it to, “a farmer on a clearing” without losing the nuanced, rich meaning of this word.

When my husband and I went to Trojanovice, we were told point blank, “this is a paseka.” Well, actually, they probably said, “To je paseka.”

This is a paseka, this field which we walked through, which had a small house and was right next to the Beskydy mountains.

This article describes the origins of Moravian Wallachian pasekář in this way:

“Ten spočíval v klučení lesů a zakládání luk určených pro pastvu dobytka. Chovaly se především ovce, ze kterých se využívala vlna, maso a mléko na výrobu sýrů. 2 Na hukvaldské panství první valašští osadníci přišli někdy na přelomu 15. a 16. století, v době zástavního držení Hukvald Benešem a Dobešem Černohorskými z Boskovic.3 Vrchností byli 1 Příliv nových osadníků nepředstavoval jednorázovou akci, nýbrž Valaši přicházeli nejprve jednotlivě, následně pak ve vlnách. Proudili na severní Moravu ze dvou směrů, a to z Těšínska ( popřípadě z jižního Polska) a ze středního Trenčínska. Navazovali na starší fázi horské kolonizace, při které na konci 15. a v první polovině 16. století obyvatelé již starších osad pronikali dále do hor.”


A new type of farming developed which was characterized by clearing forests and meadows into a foundation for cattle grazing. Sheep were the main cattle of choice, bred for their wool, meat, cheese, and milk. The first Wallachian settlers arrived in the Hukvaldy Estate between the 15th and 16th centuries...their influx did not constitute a single event, but rather the Wallachians came first individually, then in waves [doesn’t this sound like chain immigration to Texas?]. They flocked to northern Moravia from two directions: from Těšínska (possibly from southern Poland), and from Trencin. They built on previous settlements and continued to extend further into the mountains throughout the 15th and 16th centuries.

Here is an excellent documentary video about pasekář (in Czech) that can show you what pasekář are and how they live today. You really should watch it even if you don’t speak Czech, because this video will show you what it means to be a pasekář:
  • a culture of “contented” poverty
  • rural to the point of isolation
  • in a wooded mountain area
  • homes on slopes with less than ideal (for crops) farmland
  • connection to ancestors and traditional lifestyle
  • raising animals like sheep, goats, fowl, and a few cows
  • fields for crops are limited
  • self-sufficient lifestyle, no waste
  • traditional building methods and materials, e.g. wooden timber homes
  • small homes with traditional heating methods
  • traditional wood burning stoves
  • cooking outside over a fire
  • resistance to modernization/change
  • quiet people
  • connection with nature, forest, tradition
  • connection to Moravia, specifically to Wallachia

We observed the Kocians cooking a pork stew outside in this cast iron pot. It smelled delicious.

I am not the only person curious about pasekář. Here is a link to somebody else’s question about Frenštát pasekář on a Czech genealogy forum. They were specifically interested in learning about how pasekář could make a living. The answer, “for centuries [they] lived on livestock, dried fruits, agriculture and small scale handicrafts.”

The other answer: they didn’t. Something like ⅓ of the inhabitants of Trojanovice emigrated to Texas at the end of the 19th century because the struggle for personal solvency was too great, the lure for cheap land in Texas too strong, the ever-present shadow of political oppression too dark, and the struggle with disease, crop failure, and poverty too devastating.

I am really interested in learning how pasekář in present day Trojanovice survived to continue this lifestyle through communism and the horrors of collective farming, which was itself another dark period of political oppression. I can see a very brief glimpse of the situation from the town’s website, but there is so much left to read between the lines.

The Period of People’s Committees 1945-1990
The period of people’s committees represents the recent history and temporary end of self-government in Trojanovice. The committees were political bodies that changed the long working social and economic system. The descendents of the clearings dwellers who cleared the forest with their own hands were forced to join the collective farm (United Agricultural Cooperative – JZD) and hand over their property. They had to hand the property over to the collective farm even when it was in debt, yet they were left the pay the debts. Thus the villagers often had to watch strangers stealing and destroying their former property. Those who had a bigger farm had to accommodate alien people and were frequently left with a single room for their own family. It was the period of building and development – the village was electrified, roads were tarmaced and the system of sewerage was started. Trojanovice opened a cinema, built a number of new recreational facilities and Co-op shops. The construction was carried out in the system called “Project Z”, sometimes without much regard to quality of work or the traditional architecture. Too much benevolence was also shown to builders of residential houses: building permissions were given to designs that did not fit into the landscape character. Development of weekend cottages left another permanent scar on the countryside. The unfortunate period culminated in connecting and straightening of the former “salt roads”. Joining them into one straight road – Solárka – made Trojanovice a through-traffic village. The megolamanic project of opening the Frenštát Mine below Kozinec meant the final disaster for Trojanovice. However, the period was very rich as to culture and social life. The villagers founded the LUT (Folk Art Creativity) ensemble Radhošť; the beauty of Trojanovice was pictured with great success by the Strnadel brothers – Antonín, Josef and Bohumír (his penname was Četyna) and another native of Trojanovice, Jan Knebl, their uncle. To commemorate their work the community built and opened a memorial hall in 1989. The hall includes a common room, where public gatherings, social events, weddings and similar happenings take place. Population growth in the period of people’s committees registered only a minimal change: from 2,000 people in 1948 it grew to 2,030 in 1990.
It would be really interesting to vicariously experience this period of turbulent change. I wish that I could find more information written in English that could help me understand this recent and relevant part of history better. I feel like there is a lot that I am missing. I wish I could read firsthand accounts of the experiences of the people who stayed behind. I also wish I could read Czech novels written by people who lived in this time period.

What I observed when I went to these places was that, compared to other mountain villages, Trojanovice was less run down, the homes were farther apart and bigger, and it was generally much quieter. It seemed almost like a place full of either rich vacation homes or small, humble farms (which turned out to be the pasekas). There was no center of the village; that was in Frenštát. There were some penzions (bed and breakfasts) and a few random shops/pubs but really, for any significant shopping, one would have to drive (or walk) to Frenštát. Now that I think of it, it was kind of strange to have one straight road running through Trojanovice; no other places we went had that layout. It is a typical American layout so it didn’t strike me as odd at the time, though it does now. There was a steady stream of cyclists going up that straight road, which led right up the mountain, perhaps to Pustevny?
The straight, controversial thoroughfare through Trojanovice which symbolizes modernization.

We enjoyed walking on the smaller, more meandering roads and paths, trying to find various ancestral homes and connect in a small way with my ancestors. I kept thinking to myself that it would have been extremely difficult and painful for my ancestors to have left such a beautiful place, especially to go to flat, brown, nearly treeless, East Texas. They would have missed the wind in the trees, the rolling variety of the landscape, and of course, the constant presence of the mountain. “But when you’re starving, those things don’t matter very much,” I remember the former mayor of Trojanovice, Pan Sternadel, telling us.

With the former starosta of Trojanovice, Pan Strnadel.

Do you see the path in the middle of the picture? That is where we walked, straight through two pasekas. It is the invisible property line.

Trojanovice č. 105, where my Lidiak ancestors lived. We didn’t think anybody was home, so we took a risk and walked around. Obviously this house would not have been there, but perhaps some of the trees are the descendants of my ancestor’s trees.

And perhaps this captures the feeling of how it would have been, anyway.

We ate some of these raspberries growing at Trojanovice 105.

This well probably existed back then. Did Veronika Lidiak, my great x grandmother, draw water from it? Did she meet the unknown father of her illegitimate daughter there?

This is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I am glad my ancestors were pasekář.

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