The traditional scholarship of Ukrainian folklore has paid special attention to folk oral literature, at times effectively equating folklore with the rich complex of folk tales, folk songs (ritual and non-ritual songs), and items of minor verbal genres (such as proverbs and riddles). Folk oral literature is the sum of oral works, both poetry and prose, which are produced usually by anonymous authors and are preserved in the people's memory for a long time by being passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth and in the process changed to some degree by each performer (storyteller, singer, etc). Ukrainian folk oral literature has its distinctive artistic qualities, its unique poetic devices--metaphors, similes, epithets, and symbolism. The poetic folk literature consists mostly of folk songs, which are subdivided into various genres: ritual songs (songs associated with spring rituals, including vesnianky-hahilky, carols, shchedrivky, Easter songs, Kupalo festival songs, harvest songs, wedding songs, and funeral songs), historical songs and dumas (which are often quite complex and sophisticated), lyrical songs, and dance songs. Folk prose can be divided into fables, fairy tales, tales of magic, animal tales, stories, legends, anecdotes, and others. Poetic-prose folk literature consists of spells, proverbs, sayings, and riddles. The first systematic recording and publication of Ukrainian oral folklore took place at the beginning of the 19th century. Inspired by the Romantic interest in folklore and history, the process of rediscovering folk oral literature profoundly influenced the development and growth of Ukrainian literature written in the vernacular Ukrainian language and greatly contributed to the formation of modern Ukrainian national identity and consciousness... Learn more about the Ukrainian folk oral literature by visiting the following entries:

FOLK ORAL LITERATURE. In the 19th century the works of folk oral literature were held to be the products of a collective popular mind. Today folklorists favor the theory that individuals are the creators of the oral tradition. In the basic examples of ancient folk oral literature, however, the words are associated with ritual actions. The basic changes that occur in the works of the oral tradition are caused by their dissociation from the original ritual contexts. The verbally conveyed image that is divorced from the ritual loses its original practical motivation and either becomes forgotten or else acquires a new motivation and begins a new life. Thus, with the coming of Christianity and the church's rejection of folk literature and folk customs as pagan relics, folk oral literature nevertheless managed to retain its vitality and to absorb the Christian influences of medieval written literature. Beginning with the Renaissance and baroque periods there was a constant interchange between oral and written literature. Mixed folklore-literary genres of the baroque appeared, such as interludes, through which Christmas, Easter, and satirical verse passed into folklore. The Ukrainian populist movement of the 19th century declared folk oral tradition as the norm for all literature, while literature of the beginning of the 20th century systematically grew closer to the folk roots by absorbing certain elements of the language, genres, and content of the folk tradition...

Folk oral literature

DUMAS. Lyrico-epic works of folk origin about events in the Cossack period of the 16th-17th century. The dumas differ from other lyrico-epic and historical poetry by their form and by the way in which they were performed. They did not have a set strophic structure, but consisted of uneven periods that were governed by the unfolding of the story. Each period constituted a finished, syntactical whole and conveyed a complete thought. Rhyme played an important role. The dumas were not sung, but were performed in recitative to the accompaniment of a bandura, kobza, or lira. The chanting had much in common with funeral lamentation. Scholars connect the dumas with the poetic forms that appeared in Ukraine in the 12th century, such as Slovo o polku Ihorevi (The Tale of Ihor's Campaign). One widely accepted theory of the origin of the dumas is that proposed by Pavlo Zhytetsky, according to which they were a unique synthesis of popular and 'bookish-intellectual' creativity. The dumas were based on folk songs, modified by the influence of the syllabic poetry produced in the schools of the 16th-17th century. The vernacular Ukrainian language of the dumas retains many archaisms and Church Slavonic expressions. The dumas can be divided into two thematic cycles. The first and older cycle consists of dumas about the struggle with the Tatars and Turks. The second cycle consists of dumas about the Cossack-Polish struggle...


HISTORICAL SONGS. A genre of folk songs that presents historical events and individuals in a generalized, artistic manner with details, names, and facts that may be inaccurate. Ukrainian historical songs appeared at the same time as the dumas, and perhaps even preceded them. They differ from the dumas in that they describe concrete historical events and figures; their story line is less developed, their emotive range is greater, and in them the lyrical element prevails over the epic element. The oldest cycle of historical songs dates back to the 16th century and depicts the Cossacks' struggle against the Tatars and Turks; the best known are the songs about Baida (Dmytro Vyshnevetsky) of 1564, the capture of Varna of 1605, and the siege of the Pochaiv Monastery of 1675. A second cycle consists of songs about the Cossacks' struggle against Poland; the best known are the songs about Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the Battle of Zhovti Vody, the Battle of Berestechko, the curse on Khmelnytsky for the Tatar captivity of 1653, and about Danylo Nechai, Maksym Kryvonis, and Stanyslav Morozenko. A third cycle deals with Russian oppression and includes songs about construction work on the Saint Petersburg canals, the destruction of the Zaporozhian Sich, and the death of a Cossack in Russian captivity. A fourth cycle consists of songs about the Haidamaka uprisings. There is also a large corpus of songs describing Cossack daily life...

Historical songs

LEGENDS. In the Western tradition a legend was originally a text about the life of a saint that was prescribed reading in churches on that saint's day and during meals in monasteries. Because medieval legends were similar to fairy tales, the term was extended to refer to various kinds of tales (historical, folk, and religious). Now the term is used for tales in which the characters are actual historical personages, including saints. In Ukraine, in addition to religious legends and apocrypha, there were also legends about Rus' princes, Cossacks, hetmans, haidamakas, opryshoks, and other famous people (eg, Marusia Churai, Hryhorii Skovoroda, Taras Shevchenko). They were published by Panteleimon Kulish in his Zapiski o Iuzhnoi Rusi (Notes on Southern Rus'), by Oleksander Afanasiev-Chuzhbynsky in his Narodnye legendy (Folk Legends 1859 and 1921), and, chiefly, by researchers of Ukrainian fairy tales, such as Pavlo Chubynsky, Mykhailo Drahomanov, and Volodymyr Hnatiuk. Manuscripts of folk legends were collected and edited by Ivan Franko and published in 1899. The historical legends that appeared in the oldest Ukrainian chronicles were collected by F. Giliarov and published in 1878. Many legends became part of the Cossack chronicles. Istoriia Rusov could be considered a historical legend. Legends have reappeared in the historical novel and drama, and folk legends are frequently drawn upon in Ukrainian poetry...


PROVERBS (prykazky, prypovidky, pryslivia). Brief, pithy popular maxims which are often rhymed and easily remembered. Dating back to prehistoric times, they typically express a universal concept through a concrete image, often with a dash of humor. Proverbs are part of the oral rather than the literary tradition. Proverbs deal with various aspects of life and are said to constitute an encyclopedia of popular wisdom. Their principal themes are nature, farming, flora and fauna, domestic life, human nature, family and social relations, customs, folk wisdom, religion, and morality. In content and form they are similar to adages, folk metaphors, puns, and fables. Because of their simple structure they can be memorized easily. Usually they consist of two symmetrical sections that rhyme. Proverbs can be found in the literary monuments of Kyivan Rus', such as the Primary Chronicle and Slovo o polku Ihorevi (The Tale of Ihor's Campaign). The first written collections of Ukrainian proverbs did not appear until the late 17th century. In the 19th century, Ivan Yuhasevych-Skliarsky's collection of 370 Ukrainian proverbs from Transcarpathia, published in 1809, was unique in its time. The first printed collection, of 618 Ukrainian proverbs, was published in Kharkiv in 1834. The second collection, of 2,715 Galician proverbs, was published in Lviv in 1841. To this day Ivan Franko's collection of over 30,000 proverbs published in 6 volumes in 1901-10 has not been surpassed...


RIDDLES (zahadky). Mystifying or puzzling questions that are posed as a game and answered by guessing. Most folk riddles are aphoristic expressions in which the subject to be identified is depicted by a mere metaphor. Some are nonmetaphorical; they consist of a partial description of the subject that is to be identified. Riddles are the simplest form of folk oral literature. In the past, when most of the Ukrainian population was illiterate, riddles played an important role in the life of the peasants. A person's knowledge of riddles and ability to solve them was accepted as an indication of his or her intelligence. A candidate to a bachelors' group was often required to answer publicly a series of riddles before he was accepted. At a wedding the best man or the master of ceremonies answered riddles for the groom. Riddles were among the games played by young people at evening gatherings and at collectively undertaken tasks. In the Middle Ages a correct answer to a riddle sometimes saved a condemned man from death. In ancient times riddles were believed to have magical powers. During courtship a suitor would address the family of the courted girl in riddles to deceive the evil spirits. Riddles are an important component of spells, carols, rusalka songs, wedding songs, funeral rituals, legends, and anecdotes. Riddles appear throughout Ukrainian literature, in the works of Hryhorii Skovoroda, Ivan Kotliarevsky, Taras Shevchenko, etc...


The preparation, editing, and display of the IEU entries featuring the Ukrainian folk oral literature were made possible by the financial support of the SENIOR CITIZENS HOME OF TARAS H. SHEVCHENKO (WINDSOR) INC. FUND at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies.

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