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The ethnography of the Opole region: tradition and change


The ethnography of the Opole region: tradition and change.

Massive population displacements, resulting from military operations and international agreements, affected the area of today's Opolskie Province (voivodeship). Due to the intensive expatriation movement (mainly within the time span of 1945‒1947), in the area of today’s Opole province there appeared an influx of new populations, mostly coming from the lost eastern lands of the pre-war Poland (often described as ‘Kresy Wschodnie’ ‒ the Eastern Borderlands [‘Kresy’ henceforth]), but also from various locations of the within the present Polish state. The movements of population that occurred in the region led to the phenomenon often referred to as a "culture clash". The ethnographic exhibition "The Ethnography of the Opole Region - Tradition and Change" aims to present this phenomenon ‒ namely, the encounter of "native" and "new" inhabitants of the region. The exhibition presents the culture and traditions of the indigenous rural population, as well as the image of the immigrant population, with particular emphasis on the borderland (Kresy) culture.

 The exhibition was created thanks to the financial support from the programs of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage. The application for the exhibition was submitted within the program "Cultural Heritage ‒ Supporting Museum Activities" ([Pol.] ‘Dziedzictwo kulturowe – wpieranie działań muzealnych’). The exhibition consists of three parts: a) the image of Opole, Silesia until 1945, b) the culture of the Borderlands until 1945 and c) the encounter of groups in the Opole region after 1945. Particular parts are shown in parallel, side by side. The entire exhibition is presented in 15 thematic blocks and illustrated with exhibits and materials in multimedia stands. The first part presents Opole, Silesia and its inhabitants in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries until 1945 from the historical perspective, including their social relations and cultural changes. The focus includes the Silesian village, the occupations of the inhabitants, the interior of the dwellings, regional costumes, family life and yearly rites. Moreover, in this part, the issue of the emigration from Silesia, especially to the New World, is portrayed. This part ends with the topic of the expulsion of the Germans. In the second part, a visitor will become acquainted with the history and culture of the Kresovians until 1945, who later settled in the Opole region. Many views of borderland villages, a mock-up figures of the Bug River people ([Pol.] zabużanie), are presented there, including a unique outfit from the vicinity of the town of Sambor. One can learn about the major events in the life of borderland villages, the occupations of the villagers and their work tools, and also see the documentation regarding the professions they performed. This part ends with the Kresowians’ journey to Silesia, including the history and political context of the events at the end of World War II, starting from their deportation into the interior of the USSR, through participation in the Armed Forces in the West, the murders perpetrated by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, and ending with the consequences of the Potsdam decisions ‒ their resettlement in Silesia. Part III portrays the aspects of encounters of different culture groups in the region of Opole, Silesia, covering the first years after the settlement, for example, a "Borderland" room arranged in Silesian realities, and a photo album with photos of Silesian and Borderland families. The fate of the indigenous population after 1945 is also showcased. The people who came from other regions of Poland are represented at the exhibition by artefacts belonging to Silesian highlanders, by Cieszyn attire, colorful Piotrków aprons and Koniaków laces. The exhibition features almost 600 items ‒ ethnographic, historical and artistic exhibits from the area of Silesia and the areas from which the population came to the Opole region after 1945. All of the objects are the property of the Museum of Opole Silesia. The most interesting Silesian miscellanea include: a bell from 1782 with a Polish inscription from Zagwiździe village, a sculpture of St. John of Nepomuk from 1832, a silk costume from Nysa, pictures on glass and over 100 "kroszonkas” [decorated Easter eggs], the latter being examples of the regional variety of yearly rites. The culture of the borderland population is shown through the attire exhibits (wedding clothes from Sambor), work tools (a collection of carpentry tools), furniture, etc. Apart from the former eastern territories, displacement areas included southern and central Poland. We show the attire of newcomers from those regions, their musical instruments (a great trembita of the highlanders from the Silesian Beskids, a trembita is a type of an alpine horn), ceremonial props and art (for example, crochet and bobbin laces). A separate set of holdings are documents and prints, especially those relating to the years 1939–1945 and the period immediately after World War II. These records which were issued by the organs of the Second Polish Republic, or prepared by the occupation authorities, or later, issued by the State Repatriation Office, include various types of personal documents belonging to people who had fled or had been displaced from Kresy. We present both the then propaganda posters calling for settlement in the Western Territories, as well as those with regulations and notices concerning, for example, the announcement of an act of grace for soldiers of the Home Army (AK) who would disclose themselves. A very interesting group of documents concerns the nationality verification that the autochthonous Silesian population obligatorily underwent after the war.

Apart from historical artifacts, another form of presentation are large-format prints of archival photographs. They are not only part of the exhibition’s artistic arrangement, but most of all, they provide a historical view of places, objects, events and people, recorded on photographic film. The use of new presentation forms in the exhibition has made it possible to expand its content to an unprecedented scope. There are 4 multimedia kiosks in the exhibition. The material installed in those points feratures elaborated textual descriptions as well as photographic and phonographic material. The latter includes archival recordings of interviews conducted by museum researchers with Kresovians and with other autochthonous inhabitants, relating to the exhibition’s thematic thrust (life in Silesia, life in the Borderlands, deportations, etc.). These recordings also provide an example of the variations of local dialects. The material possessions of the Museum's collection have been supplemented with fragments of archival films from the resources of the National Film Archive and Polish Television. In total, over 30 texts, 200 pieces of archival photographs and scans of documents, 18 archival recordings and 5 film fragments were installed in a very attractive animation setting. In addition, in the multimedia frame, photos of two families were prepared and installed in the form of an application ‒ a family album: respectively, of a Silesian family (the Pionteks) and a Borderland one ‒ the Botuliński-Osic family. The graphic design of the animation resembles the pages of an old album, and the frame is placed on a base imitating a book’s pages. One of the computers, with its control panel is an integral part of the so-called resettlement maps. This is a conventional application consisting of three parts: 1) a presentation with a speaker regarding the end of the war and the situation in the Opole region, 2) a presentation of group settlements in the Opole region, 3) a presentation of the territorial origin of the incoming population and the geography of post-war settlements in the individual counties of the Opole region. All three parts are projected on the wall thanks to the installed overhead projector, and also on the screen of a nearby located kiosk. There are also animated puzzles in the kiosks, the content of which is related to what is presented at the exhibition – for example, a visitor can interactively complete the costumes, assign a missing attribute to a saint depicted in the painting or "scratch" an easter egg themselves. The latter is a form especially liked by the youngest visitors. The exhibition was opened on September 17, 2014. The date was purposefully chosen: it is the day of annual remembrance of the commencement of the USSR invasion into the lands of the Second Polish Republic. The newly opened exhibition found its place in the new Guide to Permanent Exhibitions of the Museum of Opole, Silesia (Przewodnik po wystawach stałych Muzeum Śląska Opolskiego), published in December 2014. The texts were authored by the Museum researchers, and Marek Krajewski was responsible for the artistic layout and graphic design. The publication accompanying the exhibition is the album Tiszbierkowe losy [‘the vicissitudes of Mr Tiszbierk’], showing the Opole village in an old photograph. The author of the scientific commentary is Małgorzata Goc and the author of the appendix is Urszula Zajączkowska. The artistic design was prepared by Romuald Jeziorowski. The publication came into being to present archival photographs from the Museum's collections, thematically related to Opole. The content of the book is an extension of the themes of the exhibition. The realization of a modern permanent ethnographic exhibition is particularly valuable in the era of continuing questions about the identity and cultural identification of the inhabitants of a united Europe. This exhibition, together with the permanent archaeological and historical exhibitions, will constitute an everlasting important compendium of knowledge about the region. It will become a platform for dialogue about good relations between neighbors and the interpenetration of the different traditions of the various groups who came to the Opole region and still live there today.

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