- Tatra Highlander Folk Culture in Poland and America: Collected Essays from “The Tatra Eagle.” by Thaddeus V. Gromada
Mountain regions tend to produce particular local cultures. Appalachian music, Scottish Highland legends, or the distinctive Swiss-German dialect are just three examples of the original local cultures generated by mountainous topography. The same phenomenon occurred in Poland: the Highlanders (górale), who inhabit Poland’s Tatras bordering Slovakia have a unique local dialect, culture, and traditions.
Like people from the other partitioned Polish lands, górale emigrated in large numbers to the United States in the period 1880–1920, in search of the economic opportunities they lacked in Austrian-partitioned Poland. Within the diaspora, they also sought to preserve and perpetuate their culture, particularly through maintaining their distinct dialect and their folk traditions. Polish Highlander culture possesses its own style of music, legends, and regional dance traditions.
Poland’s górale were seen as isolated and marginalized for centuries until they were “discovered” in the late 1800s. Zakopane, the regional capital, then became something of a cultural mecca for Polish intelligentsia from the three regions of partitioned Poland, who began to idealize the górale and see in them a prototypical Polish identity, free from alien cultural accretions. From that time onward, there were efforts to adapt various aspects of the unique Highlander culture. For example, their architectural style is well-fitted for mountainous living, and it served as an inspiration for an independent Polish culture that would not come to full expression until the country’s recovery of independence in 1918.
This book is a collection of 54 essays about Polish Highlander culture and its American expression, penned by Thaddeus Gromada, Professor Emeritus of History at New Jersey City University. His original essays appeared over more than five decades in the “The Tatra Eagle,” a Highlander-oriented newspaper his family founded in 1947. Although originally written for a popular audience, these two- or three-page essays provide a solid introduction and orientation to Polish górale culture. The book is divided into four sections: a general introduction to the Highland region (Podhale), the Highlanders and American Polonia, short biographies of major Polish figures associated with Podhale, and a personal set of reflections on the Gromada family and its role in promoting Highlander culture in America.
The book’s brevity belies its value. English-language books on Polish culture and folklore generally are generically Polish. This book focuses specifically on a unique local variant of that culture, and it’s one of the few studies of Polish regional culture written in English. As an orientation to Polish Highlander folk culture, this book provides a valuable overview to students interested in that culture, as well as a solid base of information for comparative studies with other mountain-region cultures. It also provides good insight into how that cultural group maintained its folklore and customs in America. Students interested in Polish and Slavic studies in general will also find this book useful for identifying ways that the mainstream [End Page 113] culture adapted elements of góral culture as its own. Its influence shows up, for example, in Witkiewicz’s and Tetmajer’s use of dialect in literature as well as in Górecki’s and Szymanowski’s use of Highland motifs in classical music.
Two of Gromada’s essays, “‘We Kneel Only Before God’” and “Brigandism in the Polish Tatras,” touch upon the folklore theme of Janosik, the Polish “Robin Hood.” Janosik is a hero that Polish Highlanders share with their Slovak counterparts. The Slovak Jánošík is based on an early eighteenth-century figure. As the legends persisted over time, major differences were developed between the Slovak and Polish figures. Today, Janosik has become the figure of many popular animated and real action films in both Poland and Slovakia, yet he remains virtually unknown in the English-speaking world. Readers may wish that Gromada had devoted more attention to this popular figure, whose commitment to social justice, personal...