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"The world in bast shoes"
"Kurpie as an example of changes in observing traditions"

1Jakub Ochnio1, 2, Ireneusz Kowal3
1 University of Wroclaw, College Inter-Faculty
Individuals Studies in the Humanities,
pl. Biskupa Nankiera 15, 50-140 Wrocław

2 University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow,
Faculty of Administration and Social Sciences,
Department of Media, Journalism and Social Communication
ul. Sucharskiego 2, 35-225 Rzeszów

3 Collecive of Photographers AFTERIMAGE

Kurpie 1

Kurpie 5

Kurpie 2

Kurpie 7

Description popularizing the research project

Among ethnographic groups of Poland there are two known for their characteristic footwear. The first one are highlanders, especially the ones from Podhale, who still wear kierpce (a kind of carbatina shoes made of a single piece of leather) with their regional clothes. The other group living in White Forest and Green Forest in central Poland is also known for unusual shoes although people who live in Ostrołęka or Pułtusk, unlike highlanders, do not wear them anymore. Today the shoes would be very impractical. They used to be woven from thin strips of linden bast in a similar way as strawberry baskets are made today. The only trace of the shoes remained in the name of the ethnic group - Kurpie.
The Kurpie have just one more thing in common with the highlanders - their distinct culture. The people who originates from a group of Masovians in the past lived deep in the forest. Away from other settlements they fished, hunted, kept wild bees and dealt with other crafts indispensible in the thick wet forests. In their free time they decorated their clothes and the surrounding with embroideries, woven fabrics, sculptures and amber.
As the time went the expansion of agriculture and cities shrank the forests which protected the calm world of Kurpie. Yet their distinct culture did not dissolve in the globalised world. The Kurpie aware of the value of their handcraft, literature and language take care they are not forgotten and sidetracked by the mass culture. Many of examples of Kurpie craft does not seem to be endangered. Paper cut-outs, embroidery, clothing are still recognizable among styles of other regions. Kurpie clothing is still worn, Kurpie music is still played. Only the art of making bast shoes does not have too many followers. But they will be preserved in the name of the people who for centuries wandered the forests and now learn from the older generations how to cut out traditional Kurpie roosters and make several-metre-high palms for Palm Sunday.


Kurpie are an ethnographic group deriving from a tribe of Masovians who lived in the area of Green and White Forests. Hence comes the division of Kurpie into White ones and Green ones. The name Kurpie came from the type of bast shoes they used to wear, called 'Kurpie'. They preferred being called Puszczaki i.e. men of the forest. Kurpie from the very beginning of their settlement had specific laws. Being neither nobles nor peasants, they lived by their own laws and were subject only to the King of Poland. Muddy lands and forests were not favourable for agricultural settlements, so initially the main source of livelihood for Kurpie was the forest. The first settlers in the area (14th century) were fishers, hunters, bee-keepers (holders of royal warrants). They dug for amber and processed it, dealt with wood crafts and weaving. They made tar and charcoal. The natural barrier in the form of forests and swamps forced them to be self-sufficient. Hence the cultural distinctiveness with such characteristic elements as costumes, cottages, decorated and carved wooden objects, paper cutouts and decorative palms on Palm Sunday. Elements of folklore, including the dialect are still present in the 21st century. Currently in the region, numerous associations and societies promote cultural heritage of Kurpie. From a methodological point of view, we decided that it would be the best to reach for the classic sociological dimension of the photograph. Using the 6×7 aspect ratio of the photos, setting the models opposite the camera and introducing artificial lighting implement Zofia Rydet's methodology she used in her sociological records. Photograms are scheduled to be taken with the same technique every five years for 25 years. Documentation prepared together with the photograms will enable conducting comparative research into Kurpie's changing culture, commitment of the generations to come in observing their traditions, and interference in the same communications dealing with Kurpie. We believe that a comparison made after completing the project will give us a full picture of changes in the culture over the years, and it will be possible to extrapolate the accompanying case study to other ethnic minorities. The project is implemented by two photographers of Afterimage Collective. One of them is a student and a scientist.


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