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Photo by S.Gordeev 



CULTURE AND TRADITIONS

Folk Art: Living Things

Until the 20th century, women were engaged in patterned weaving, knitting and embroidery in every peasant family. Although they never considered their works as art, their clothes, tablecloths, towels, mittens were truly beautiful.

From early childhood, girls were introduced to female needlework; by the age of five or six, they were presented with small children's spinning wheels which were used to spin flax, hemp, and wool. Mothers introduced their daughters aged 10 to weaving, strictly following the ornamental motifs. They weaved using a loom “dora kyan”, similar in design to that of the northern Russians. The patterns were quite complex. Most often, the pattern was applied with red threads on a white background of homespun fabric. Towels, tablecloths, hemlines, yokes and sleeves of women's shirts, canvas stockings were decorated with such patterns. 

Women usually wove patterns from memory, but sometimes they “removed” them from finished clothes or created new ones. Rugs were also woven ― “dzhodzh dora” characterized by rich color depth. Patterned belts tied on sarafans (pinafore dresses), men's shirts, outerwear were woven on special "tab" tablets ― small plates with holes in the corners. They used the conventional loom to weave wide belts. Gift belts were especially gaily decorated. They were woven from green, red, blue, yellow and pink wool and decorated with tassels. The bride gave these belts to the bridegroom and his close relatives.

Рукодельница.
Photo by E.Kozmodemjanovoy 

Knitwear made by Komi craftsmen including stockings, gloves, scarves, mittens, waistband are especially beautiful. They are richly decorated with ornamental patterns that varied according to region, gender and age. The material is sheep wool, which women spin and dye themselves. Knitwear was necessarily part of the male and female costume, they also served as wedding gifts, which the bride gave to her new relatives.

They rarely wore knitted clothes without patterns, and there are reasons for this. In ancient times, ornamental patterns not only adorned clothes, but had mythological meanings, which today are largely lost. It was believed that it was a pattern that gives things life enabling them to exist. The pattern enlivens a thing, so a living thing not only saves a person from the cold, but also protects them from evil spirits. It is also practical as knitting from several colored threads made the patterned clothes thicker, and therefore warmer.  

Embroidery was popular only in the south of the Komi region among the Luza and Letka Komi. It was used to decorate headdresses, shirts, towels and in many respects corresponded to ornamental motifs typical of weaving. A headdress of a married woman ― soroka, “yur kortod” embroidered with various geometric patterns looked very beautiful and authentic. The soroka is a headband with a frontlet embroidered with multi-colored threads, two “wing” ties and a “tail” that covered the back of the head. A girl began to embroider this headdress before her marriage, sometimes several years before it. Izhma Komi used beads and gold threads in their embroidery. “Yurnoys”, bride’s headdresses, were embroidered with beads. Kokoshniks and sborniks, headdresses of married women, were embroidered with silver and gold threads. 

Фото Владислава Грасса
Photo by V.Gross

Wood processing was popular art among the Komi as forest people. Men were mainly engaged in this art. The main adornment of the log house was the ridge “chibo” ― the butt of the roof, the log fastening the gable roof. “Chibo” translated as a “horse” was carved in the shape of a horse, and often a horse-bird with wings were the pitches of the roof. The roof could be decorated with antlers of a deer or a moose, or with wood carvings.

Sometimes, window surrounds were decorated with carvings. Gables were often painted on the Vashka and Mezen. These could be symmetrical paintings depicting two lions standing on their hind legs, geometric patterns. In 1940s-1950s, Soviet symbols: red stars, sickles and hammers were depicted on the gables. 

The interior of the house: the icon corner, the bunk on top of the stove, cut-in shelves, doors, the stove bench were decorated with simple carvings or paintings. Wooden cabinets, sofas, beds, benches, tables were made by owners themselves or by local craftsmen. These items were also decorated with traditional carvings or paintings.

You can still see large wooden duck- and swan-shaped bowls, ladles carved using warts in the form of a bird's head and tail. Until recently, a wooden duck-shaped salt shaker with carved ducklings on the lid could be found in almost every house. Historically, these duck-shaped salt shakers were an indispensable element of a bride’s wedding dowry. The bride brought a salt shaker carved by her father to the new house as a symbol of future family happiness. The symbol of the duck is not accidental in the applied art of the Komi. It is famous for archaeological finds of the Middle Ages, as well as for the creation myths of the Komi.

Woodcarving art was also used to decorate household items and tools. Among the traditional patterns on the carved details of the loom, solar symbols, tooth wheels with rays, are especially interesting. Wooden caskets, pencil cases, spindles, needle boxes were covered with carvings. Birch-bark bast baskets, boxes, saltcellars were decorated with carved and embossed ornaments.

Birch bark dishes were decorated with painted flowers. Painted flowers, branches, horses and birds can be found on spinning wheels. Vychegda spinning wheels were decorated in a peculiar way: the leg had carved ornaments, and the entire surface was covered with a blue “cinnabar” background with the concentric circles, rosettes, spirals and zigzags ornament applied on it.

The painting was done by professional masters, often local icon painters. Masters were united in artels (co-operative craft societies) and created painted spinning wheels, chests, cabinets, sledges, arcs for sale. There were “painting centers” in the Komi region. These are the villages of Toyma and Verkhozerie on the Vashka, Otla and Luga ― on the Vym, Kerchemya and Vomin ― on the Vychegda, Izhma and Mutny Materik ― on the Pechora. The artels of carvers and icon painters made iconostases with icons for churches of the Komi region, painted highly artistic icons for peasants. Some of them are crown jewels of the National Gallery of the Komi Republic. 

Painted floral patterns (flowers, leaves) prevailed in the interior and furniture of the Komi log house, while geometric patterns were mostly used on dishes and weaving tools. Floral patterns were also a popular decoration of chests and baskets. The Komi decorated items had bright paintings and rich colors. Nevertheless, in the early 20th century, they gradually went out of use. Wood carving is still preserved among the rural population of the Komi region. 

“The houses are excellent”

Passing through the Zyrian settlement called Ust-Sysola Pogost in 1771, the Russian traveler and scientist I. Lepekhin wrote that “the houses are excellent there”. At that time, Ust-Sysolsk did not differ much from other Zyrian villages, so we can safely say that “excellent houses” were typical of Komi villages from the earliest times.

Дом в Эжолты
Photo by A.Peretjagin 

Kerka, the Komi log house, is a log house that combines residential accommodation and household outbuildings: a house-yard. The covered courtyard adjoined the residential house and was separated by the entrance hall from it. The cowshed was placed on the lower tier of the courtyard. Hay was brought to the upper tier through a special porch.

The house was built of pine, but the lower crowns were preferred to be made of larch, less susceptible to decay. The house was built with logs stacked in a pile of 21 rows with an underground reached two meters, and man-sized windows. 

Scientists distinguish two types of the Komi houses: Sysola and Vym. The Sysola house was common along the Sysola, Upper Vychegda and Upper Pechora Rivers. This is a square building consisting of residential and household parts, each with its own roof pitch. The residential part is divided into winter (voy kerka) and summer (lun kerka) log houses connected by an entrance through the entrance hall. The log house adjoins it (styn). The stove is at the back of the room, in the corner, with its mouth facing the door. There is an entrance to the underground, the stove bench (goboch vyv), the bunk on top of the stove nearby. The icon corner En uv pelos, "God's Corner", is located horizontally from the stove.

The Vym type was common on the Vym, Lower Vychegda, Udora. The residential part and the yard have one roof. The residential part also consists of two log houses, but the Russian stove is in the corner by the door, with its mouth facing the side wall windows. 

These types of dwellings are rarely found today. In addition, owners often refused to use canonical forms. In the early 20th century, residential accommodations were divided into rooms, separate log houses for children were built in the backyard shed, and the house often consisted of 4-6 residential accommodations. Two-story houses were built on the Izhma and Udora.

 

Folk costume: both koty and soroka

The Komi folk costume, similar to the clothing of the northern Russians, has a number of local varieties or complexes ― Izhma, Pechora, Udora, Vychegda, Sysola and Priluzie. The male costume is the same throughout the territory with the exception of the winter clothing of the Izhma Komi, whereas the female costume has significant differences in cut techniques, fabrics, and ornament.

Women wore a sarafan complex. It consisted of a shirt (dorom) and an A-line or straight sarafan (sarapan, kuntei), a headdress, an apron and patterned stockings. The top of the shirt (sos) was made from the motley fabric (colored checkered fabric), kumach, the bottom (myg) was made from white canvas. The shirt was decorated with inserts made from different colored fabric or an embroidered pattern (pelpona koroma) on the shoulders, a colored border around the collar and trimming on the sleeves. Women always wore an apron (vodzdor) on top of the sarafan. The sarafan was tied with a woven patterned belt (von). The working female outwear were dubnik or shabur (homespun clothing made from canvas), in winter ― sheepskin coats. During holidays, they wore dresses made from the best fabrics (fine canvas and broadcloth, silk fabrics bought), and on weekdays they wore clothes made from coarser homespun materials. Fabrics bought became popular in the second half of the 19th century. 

Headdresses for girls and married women varied. Girls wore headbands, ribbons (golovedets), head scarfs, shawls, married women ― soft headdresses (ruska, soroka) and solid headdresses (sborniki), kokoshniki (yurtyr, treyuk, oshuvka). Yurnoy served as a wedding headdress (a gown without a bottom on a solid base, covered with red broadcloth). After the wedding, women wore the kokoshnik, soroka, sbornik, and older women used to cover their heads with a dark scarf. 

Men's clothing included a knee-long loose canvas shirt, tied with a woven or braided belt, canvas pants (gach). The kosovorotka (shirt with collar fastening at side), which was in fashion in the early 20th century, was much shorter ― up to 70 centimeters. 

Men wore trousers with high boots or low leather “koti” shoes, tucking the trousers into “sera chuvki” (patterned stockings) tied under the knee with a patterned lace. Outerwear included the caftan, a robe or tunic variety, the zipun, a homespun coat (sukman, dukos). The working outwear were canvas sacks (dubnik, shabur), in winter ― sheepskin coats (pas, kuzpas), short fur coats (dzhenyd pas). 

The Izhma Komi borrowed clothing from the Nenets: “malicha” (straight-cut outer clothing with no slits and with fur inside, with a hood, long sleeves and fur mittens sewn to them), “sovik” (reindeer skin outer clothing with fur outside), pimy (reindeer skin footwear with fur outside), etc.

Komi hunters wore a cape (luzan, laz), a rectangular piece of homespun broadcloth with leather sewn on top and a hole for the head in the middle. It is a waist-length cape in front with a bag-pocket attached and an opening for killed game at the back. Luzan is tied with a leather belt with a hunting knife. The ax is suspended in a special leather loop on the back. This very sensible and practical clothing in the taiga spread to neighboring territories and still exists among Russians of the Arkhangelsk Region, Siberia, and woodcutters of Karelia. 

Folk costume (paskom) and shoes (komkot) were made from canvas (dora), broadcloth (noy), wool (vurun), fur (ku) and leather (kuchik). Ornament: “encryption” from the depths of centuries The pattern of rhythmically repeating graphic motifs is the most common and characteristic form of decor of a variety of peoples, including Komi. Buildings, tools, furniture, utensils, crockery and clothes were decorated using weaving, knitting, wood painting, hand painting, embossing on birch bark, leather, wood carving, bones.

The most common feature of Komi folk art is a geometric ornament, which consists of various combinations of dots, squares, rectangles, rhombuses, crosses, triangles, diagonal lines. 

The ornaments of the Komi and neighboring peoples are similar in style. Scientists explain this by a common ancient basis. Similar ornaments adorned ceramics of the so-called Andronovo culture, which date back to the 2nd ― the early 1st millennium BC. Over time, each nation has developed its own type of ornament, unique to its culture. But even within the peoples groups there are differences in ornamental motifs, so that you can see at a glance where stockings or mittens were knitted depending on the pattern. In addition, it turns out that the ornament patterns on the stockings can be male ― “muzhik ser” ― and female ― “baba ser”. 

The names of the patterns also have their own specifics. Some of them can be associated with the names of different objects and tools: perna ― “cross”, pila pin ― “saw teeth”, matka ser ― “compass pattern”, purt yyv ― “knife edge”, kuran pin ― “rake teeth”, etc. Other names refer to animals and birds: osh paw ― “bear paw”, mezh sur ― “ram horns”, kor sur ― “deer horns”, gut ser ― “fly pattern”, mos sin ― “cow eye", cheran ― “spider”. Finally, there are names associated with plants: koz ser ― “Christmas tree pattern”, dzoridz ― “flower”, pysh tus ― “hemp seed”, etc. 

Ornament: “encryption” from the depths of centuries

The pattern of rhythmically repeating graphic motifs is the most common and characteristic form of decor of a variety of peoples, including Komi. Buildings, tools, furniture, utensils, crockery and clothes were decorated using weaving, knitting, wood painting, hand painting, embossing on birch bark, leather, wood carving, bones.

The most common feature of Komi folk art is a geometric ornament, which consists of various combinations of dots, squares, rectangles, rhombuses, crosses, triangles, diagonal lines.

The ornaments of the Komi and neighboring peoples are similar in style. Scientists explain this by a common ancient basis. Similar ornaments adorned ceramics of the so-called Andronovo culture, which date back to the 2nd ― the early 1st millennium BC. Over time, each nation has developed its own type of ornament, unique to its culture. But even within the peoples groups there are differences in ornamental motifs, so that you can see at a glance where stockings or mittens were knitted depending on the pattern. In addition, it turns out that the ornament patterns on the stockings can be male ― “muzhik ser” ― and female ― “baba ser”.

The names of the patterns also have their own specifics. Some of them can be associated with the names of different objects and tools: perna ― “cross”, pila pin ― “saw teeth”, matka ser ― “compass pattern”, purt yyv ― “knife edge”, kuran pin ― “rake teeth”, etc. Other names refer to animals and birds: osh paw ― “bear paw”, mezh sur ― “ram horns”, kor sur ― “deer horns”, gut ser ― “fly pattern”, mos sin ― “cow eye", cheran ― “spider”. Finally, there are names associated with plants: koz ser ― “Christmas tree pattern”, dzoridz ― “flower”, pysh tus ― “hemp seed”, etc.

 

Folk Musical Instruments: Forest Flutes and Heaven Violins

Komi folk music originated in those ancient times (1th century BC ― 8th century A.D), when the ancestors of the Komi and Udmurts formed one ancient Perm community. This is reflected in the fact that some melodic idioms of folk songs, lamentations, as well as the names of woodwind instruments of the flute class are similar. Probably, these are the simplest types of musical instruments. In order to create such a flute pipe, you need to cut the stalk of the angelica (Komi for “gum”) so that the tube turned out to be closed and cut a small longitudinal slot. From the kalya polyan pipe (literally the pipe-gull), which is still made by village children, the path leads to the birch bark horn. 

Nowadays, women from the village of Chernysh of the Priluzsky District play the so-called triple flutes “kuima chipsan” (triple whistle), which are more complex. The polyanyas pipes, varieties of pan flutes, are even more complex. The instrument had 4-12 pipes, which were called kvaita or okmysa polyan, a flute with 6-9 tubes. During resting, haying, picking mushrooms and berries in the meadows or forests, or winter village gatherings, women and girls played the chipsans and polyans. 

There are many varieties of wind instruments: the sola chipsan, a hazel grouse whistle, which a hunter made from a fir bough or a bird feather to lure a grouse, the bad pu chipsan, a willow whistle ― a flute that was made of willow branches in spring, and various gum polyan ― flutes made of the angelica. The bad pu polyan willow pipe, a pipe made of a willow trunk with two or four holes, as well as various syumod buksany and syumod polyany, birch bark horns and pipes, were more complex. 

The invention of the sigudka, a three-stringed instrument such as the violin, was ascribed to the heavenly god En. According to legend, in ancient times, En invented a sigudek but it didn’t produce sounds. Then En turned to Leshy (a tutelary deity of the forests in Slavic mythology), and he taught his heavenly brother to cover the bow with spruce resin. That's exactly how an inimitable sound of the sigudka was born. Broadly speaking, the sigudek is really an ancient instrument. During excavations in Novgorod, archaeologists have found a fragment similar to the instrument dating to the 10th century BC. It is not included in the set of modern Russian folk instruments, but the Komi preserved it. The sigudek was the most popular instrument in the Komi music culture. Locals played the sigudek at home and in the forest hut of the hunter, with songs and dance tunes performed. 

The Komi also had other stringed instruments, such as the famous balalaika. Homemade balalaikas were similar to those of ancient Russians ― with a hollow triangular body. The famous balalaika master Semyon Nalimov, a native of Vylgort, Syktyvdinsky District, made these instruments for Vasily Andreev, the organizer of the Great Russian Orchestra of Folk Instruments. 

The brungan string instrument had a powerful sound similar to the sound of large church bells. It was simply made: thick wire or tendon strings were nailed to the side wall of the stove bench ― a wooden extension to the Russian stove ― and locals played it by hitting the strings with a hammer. 

There was a whole set of drums in the Komi music culture. The most famous herder’s pu drum is a wooden drum, a wooden suspension plate, which was hit with two sticks. The sound of the totshkodchan mallet signaled an artel people assembly. The syargan clapper was used for example to drive horses out of other people's crops. The torgan bells-rattles performed a magical function ― they scared evil spirits and predators from grazing animals.