Laments (голосіння; holosinnia). Folk poetry connected with the traditional burial rites. Their original function was to propitiate the deity for the soul of the departed and to secure its support for the living kin. With time their magical purpose was forgotten, but their ritual use was preserved. The laments are usually performed by the deceased’s closest female relative—the wife, mother, or sister. But there are also fine examples of children’s laments for their parents and husbands’ for wives or children. In some regions of Ukraine, if the relatives would not recite them, semiprofessional wailers were hired.

Laments have a traditional form—a recitative style punctuated frequently by exclamations. They have distinctive imagery, emotive epithets, metaphors, similes, and lyrical appeals to the departed. The wailer is free to improvise within certain limits. She expresses grief at the loss of a family member and at the same time recounts in vivid detail the life she shared with the departed. Laments were recited also over natural disasters, such as crop failure, fire, or famine; these songs are related to the wailings over recruits. Formally, laments are related to the dumas and are one of the oldest recorded folk song genres. A fine example of the genre from the end of the 12th century is the lament of Yefrosyniia Yaroslavna in Slovo o polku Ihorevi. Folklorists began studying and collecting laments in the 19th century. One of the largest collections (299 items) was gathered by Ilarion Svientsitsky. Laments in use by Ukrainians in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania were recorded only after the Second World War.

Svientsits'kyi, I. ‘Pokhoronni holosinnia,’ Etnohrafichnyi zbirnyk, 31–2 (1912)

Mykola Mushynka

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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