October 27, 2006

Maramureş 2. Vernacular variations.

The vernacular diversity of the Maramureş hayscape.

What makes the Maramureş hayscape so remarkable is the survival not just of one vernacular style but the juxtaposition of several. Paradoxically, for millennia, this area has been both crossroads and frontier, accessible enough to armies from the west and south and hordes from the east to push its boundaries and beleaguered occupants back and forth, to leave alien words on its maps and in its dialects, and diverse customs and beliefs in its folklore and its churches. Somehow, the Maramureş cultural core has persisted at the remote fringes of many empires: Roman, Ottoman, Hapsburg, Magyar, Russian, Soviet, and Ceausescuan. Before the end of the first world war, it was part of Hungary; soon after joining Romania, it lost its lands north of the Tisza to that part of Ruthenian Czechoslovakia which now belongs to Ukraine. Clearly visible across the river, more heavily forested Ukrainian Maramureş appears to lack the delightful patchwork quality of what remains south of the border and what we celebrate here.

From a single vantage point, overlooking the rolling hills between the Cosau and Mara valleys, we can still witness the polyglot vernacular of medieval haymaking in its charming diversity. If the artifacts are, as Caroline Juler eloquently describes them, “humanoid,” they range from ectomorphs to endomorphs, grown on wooden skeletons that range from skinny ragged stakes to tall, robust poles. Heavier grass draped on racks and hurdles has a more zoomorphic quality; and when the hurdles lean together the result resembles a primitive thatched hut, the drying hay pressing its claim irresistibly as a species of vernacular architecture.
Stacks and haycocks, Cosau Valley, 2006. Stacks and haycocks, Cosau Valley, 2006.

Stacks and haycocks, Şurdeşti, 2006.Stacks near Breb, 2006.

Stacks and haycocks, Cosau Valley, 2006. Stacks and haycocks, Cosau Valley, 2006.

Most of these shapes have historical and geographical cousins: the beehive-shapes along the Danube on the two-thousand year old column commemorating Trajan’s Dacian conquests ; stacks and haymakers in medieval Books of Hours , and in paintings by Bruegel , Rubens, Fattori , Pissarro , Gauguin, Nolde, Morandi, and Heade; photographs of Ireland, Scandinavia and the Balkans , Tuscany and the Tyrol. The Austrian art historian Kristian Sotriffer, roaming widely from his Viennese base, developed a morphological taxonomy of these hay structures (Heu und Stroh, 1990). Had he visited Maramureş, he would have been able both to complicate his categories and to find a continent’s worth of shapes in a single geomorphic basin.

Wooden structures: poles and racks.
Stakes and soprons in the Iza Valley, 2006.Hayracks near Barsana, 2006. Hayracks near Ieud, 2006.

Wooden tools: rakes and forks.
As deeply satisfying as the landscape of hay structures are the hand-made wooden tools which shape it. The rakes and forks of Maramureş are wonderfully similar to those in medieval illuminations; the simple poles used to carry mounds of hay towards the larger stacks can be seen in Pissarro’s paintings of Eragny , a nineteenth century sheet music illustration, and Emerson’s photographs of East Anglia; the make-shift log platforms that raise the stacks from the damp ground recall the nineteenth century staddles of Quebec and New England; the metal blades, an Iron Age invention, although reflecting alien manufacture and material, sustain the scythe’s centuries-old utility, reflected in its ancient iconic significance as a symbol of death. Of all the wooden tools the one which epitomizes for me the simplicity and strength of local haymaking traditions is the “furcoi” – the long fork which can reach to the top of the highest stack, far above the range of the shorter “furca.” It is selected from a straight sapling divided at its end into two or three sturdy branches, which, when stripped, cured and polished, become primitive but effective tines, capable of holding as large a bundle of hay as a strong man can lift.
Woman carrying wooden tools, Şurdeşti, 2006.Rake and fork, Şurdeşti, 2006. Georghe Fat using a long fork (furcoi), Şurdeşti, 2006.

Scythes and stones.
Berci family scythes, Sârbi, 2006.Scythe blades, Ocna Sugatag market, 2006. Scythe honing stones, Ocna Sugatag market, 2006.

Posted by Alan Ritch at October 27, 2006 02:30 PM