The Curious Case of Cacica

August 26, 2013
Land that Time Forgot

Land that Time Forgot

Cacica is one of those magical places that we find in Europe. It lies in an area forgotten by many and is not the easiest place in the world to get to. Cacica lies in Suceava county where the inhabitants speak a cocktail of languages: Romanian, Ukrainian, German, Polish, Slovak and there are also a handful of… Lipovans. Religion-wise, again, it’s a cocktail. Orthodox, Catholics and… Old Believers. Who are the Lipovans? Who are the Old Believers? And there lies the beauty and mystery of this part of the world. It’s one of Europe’s borderlands that have seen a variety of powers come and go. Yet, it remains as magical as before.

Moldoviţa Monastery

Magical Monastery

To the north of Suceava county lies Ukraine, to the west lie the Carpathians and fabled county of Maramureş. Most of the county lies in southern Bukovina, in Moldavia (not to be confused with Moldova). Suceava county lies in Romania. Cacica, and the county in which is lies, is remarkable. 74% of the inhabitants of Cacica are Romanian but over 20% are Polish (with another 4% Ukrainian). The beginnings of Cacica (also known by many of its residents as Kaczyka) date back to the 1780s when the village became famous for salt-mining with many (German) miners coming from the (Polish) town of Bochnia. And thus began Kaczyka’s ties with Poland.

Bochnian Legacy

Bochnian Salt Mine Legacy

With its army of Bochnians, Cacica inherited the Polish tradition of salt mining. Tourists familiar with the mines of southern Poland will notice similarities between Cacica salt mine and the famed mines of Bochnia and Wieliczka. The salt frescoes and sculptures bear a striking resemblance to the ones in Wieliczka. The Polish salt connection does not end there. Not far from Cacica lie the villages of Soloneţu Nou (Nowy Soloniec), Solca (Solka) [Polish sól = salt], Pleşa (Plesza) and Poiana Micului (Pojana Mikuli) with either a large Polish minority or Polish majority.

Old Believer Persecution

Old Believer Persecution

Yet another curiosity is the handful of Lipovans to be found in Bukovina. The Lipovans is the name given to the ethnic Russian Old Believers in Romania, a schismatic sect of the Russian Orthodox church which split from orthodoxy in 1666 (as they wanted to be more orthodox and did not agree with the reforms of Patriarch Nikon). They were persecuted in Russia and many fled. The men do not shave, they cross themselves with two fingers (not three) and do not use polyphonic singing in church but rather chant. Indeed, with its small troop of Lipovans, native Ukrainians and Bochnian Poles, Cacica, Suceava and Bukovina is an odd little corner of the world.

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Lost Polish Tribe on Haiti…

June 2, 2013
Polish Legions in Haiti

Polish Legions in Haiti

It’s not something I normally do but the following post has proved to be so popular that I have decided to re-post it. Enjoy.

Perhaps the most intriguing group of people among Poland’s huge diaspora (the so-called Polonia) are the ‘Poles of Haiti’. I heard about this lost little enclave of ‘Polishness’ on radio and began to follow, Theseus-like, the strands of stories that might lead me to some sort of end-point in my search for the truth in the labyrinthine information maze that is the internet. Much to my surprise, I was able to bring together these strands and get some kind of picture of how on earth Poland has managed to touch the culture of Haiti.

Following HIS orders

Bonaparte – Giving The Orders

In 1804, Haiti declared independence from Napoleonic France. Napoleon was having none of it and swiftly sent a force of over 5,200 Polish Legions to stamp his authority on the natives and their lust for independence. The Third Half-Brigade of the Polish Legions were not extremely happy with this state of affairs as the Legions were primarily focused on fighting for Polish freedom in Europe. The idea of (1) fighting against freedom and (2) fighting over eight thousand kilometres away from one’s homeland on the other side of the world seemed both ridiculous and annoying to these soldiers. But soldiers they were, and more importantly, soldiers of Napoleon and they had to follow orders.

Dessalines - Father of Haitian Freedom

Dessalines – Father of Haitian Freedom

The Polish Legions became embroiled in the Haitian Revolution, and most died, although it was not the fighting that killed them but yellow fever. Unaccustomed to the climate and the dangers of life in the Caribbean 4,000 soldiers died of the disease. Those that remained became the stuff of legend, Haitian legend. Miffed off with fighting those who were fighting for freedom (like themselves), the remaining Polish soldiers decided to throw off the yoke of their French masters and joined Jean-Jacques Dessalines in the Haitian struggle for independence living to see a free Haiti. The indigenous peoples were so enamoured by their Polish brothers-in-arms that they included them in the Haitian Constitution of 1805 in which it was stated in Articles 12 and 13 that no white man may hold land on Haiti apart from the Germans (who had a small community there) and the Polanders (Poles).

Erzulie Dantor - Not Matka Boska

Erzulie Dantor – Not Matka Boska

These naturalised Polish Haitians had a great impact on the fledgling Empire of Haiti, later the Republic of Haiti. The Haitians were impressed by the Poles’ great love of their Matka Boska Częstochowska (Our Lady of Częstochowa). They noticed how greatly the legionnaires venerated their icon. Through a process of assimilation and transformation, the Polish Catholic Matka Boska Częstochowska became the Haitian Vodou Erzulie Dantor, a warrior spirit, the protector of women and children, associated also with lesbians, homosexual men and abused women. Interestingly, like Matka Boska Częstochowska, Erzulie Dantor also has scars on the right-side of her face which she got from a fight with her sister when she stole her husband from her. A rather different persona from Matka Boska Częstochowska.

A 'Polish' Haitian (c) Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak

A ‘Polish’ Haitian (c) Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak

The ties between the two countries do not stop there. In Cazale, 70 kilometres north of Port-au-Prince there lives a community often referred to as blanc, polone. They are, to all intents and purposes, Haitians but due to the fact that the bulk of the Polish legionnaires settled there, the community has forever been referred to as ‘Polish’. If you are from Cazale, you are Polish, it’s as simple as that. Interestingly, there is a high proportion of blue-eyed Haitians here. Another link is Jerzy Grotowski who came to Haiti in search of inspiration in the 1970s. It’s fair to say that his experimental theatre owes a great deal to the spirituality of Haitian Vodou.

Haiti - Not Just Earthquakes

Haiti – Not Just Earthquakes

It is wonderful how two seemingly disparate and distant cultures have common threads weaving them together. On the one hand, we have Napoleon, the Haitian battle for freedom, the Polish legionnaires who joined with the Haitians in their Revolution and all the ramifications of their presence on the island. This includes a strong genetic marker in Cazale and the surrounding area and the warrior spirit of Erzulie Dantor. On the other hand we have Grotowski and his deep love of Haiti and its spirituality. Poland and Haiti – who would have thought…?


Lost Polish Tribe in Turkey

October 5, 2010

November Uprising Failure

November Uprising Failure

Few people know that the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) was the only major power to not recognise the Polish partitions and final dissolution of the state of Poland in 1795. What is more, Constantinople (now Istanbul) was the only capital city in the world to retain a Polish ambassador throughout the 123-year period during which Poland literally disappeared off the face of the map.

Czartoryski (and sons) - Founder of Adampol

Czartoryski (with sons) - Founder of Adampol

With these conditions in place, it made it easy for a Polish community to be set up in the Ottoman Empire. After the failure of Poland’s November Uprising in 1831 against the Russian Empire, a group of Poles decided to escape to the generally pro-Polish and anti-Russian lands of the Ottoman Empire. It is at this point the wonderful story of the establishment of a Polish settlement in the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) begins. The village of Adampol (then known as Adamköy in Turkish, ‘the village of Adam’) was founded in 1842 by, and named after, Prince Adam Czartoryski, the head of the Polish National Uprising Government. The initial plan was to make Adamköy Poland’s most important emigration and expatriate hub after Paris. The plan was an ambitious one and was soon implemented by Czartoryski.

Adampol - Polish Colony in Turkey

Adampol - Polish Colony in Turkey

Prince Czartoryski dispatched his aide Michał Czajkowski (who later converted to Islam and became Mehmet Sadık Paşa) to Turkey. He purchased a large forested area on which Adamköy was founded. It was initially settled by only a handful of people but quickly swelled after the end of the Crimean War and with emigrants from Siberia. Adamköy-Adampol’s population seemed relatively stable for a period of years. Following the end of the first World War and the re-establishment of Poland, however, many of its inhabitants decided to ‘return’ to Poland.

Polonezköy - Polish-Turkish Village

Polonezköy - Polish-Turkish Village

One might even claim that Adampol, now known as Polonezköy (Turkish ‘Polish village’) is a ‘Polish-themed’ village. Even though only one third of Polonezköy’s inhabitants are of Polish descent and of its 1,000 inhabitants only 40 people speak Polish, the head of the village is traditionally chosen from amongst the Polish community of Polonezköy. Unlike the ‘lost Polish tribe of Haiti’ (mentioned in a previous post), Polonezköy still retains a Polish flavour and due to its unique character has had the honour of hosting a variety of distinguished guests including Turkey’s national hero and President Atatürk (in 1937), the future Pope John XXIII (in 1941), Turkish President Kenan Evren as well as Polish Presidents Lech Wałęsa and Aleksander Kwaśniewski.


Katyń Returns to Haunt Poland

April 10, 2010

Lech & Maria Kaczyńska R.I.P.

Lech & Maria Kaczyńska R.I.P.

Poland’s list of tragedies keeps on growing. The 10th April will live long in the memory of Poles around the world. On this day, 70 years ago, the cream of Poland’s political, cultural and intellectual elite were massacred in the forests of Katyń by Soviet officers on orders from Joseph Stalin. On the 10th April 2010, in one fatal, tragic swoop, Poland lost its President, Lech Kaczyński; Ryszard Kaczorowski, Poland’s last President-in-exile, Jerzy Szmajdziński, deputy Speaker of the House and presidential candidate, as well as a host of other political, church and military dignitaries. In fact, Poland lost its entire military command who were also on the tragic flight to Katyń. As former President Aleksander Kwaśniewski said, “Katyń is an accursed place for the Polish nation”.

Tupolev Tu-154 Crashes

Tupolev Tu-154 Crashes

Conditions were poor over Smolensk airport. Thick fog ominously swirled about the airport and forests around Smolensk. The Polish Presidential Tupolev Tu-154 circled the airport. It was obvious that there were problems. The tower recommended that the plane land elsewhere. However, the pilot attempted to land the plane four times. Each time without success. On its final attempt, not more than 1 km from the runway, the Tupolev Tu-154 caught the treetops with its left wing, crashed and exploded in a ball of flames engulfing all 96 passengers and members of the crew. Even though they arrived within minutes, the emergency services realised that all they could do was put out the flames. There were no survivors.

Among the tragic dead were:

Kaczorowski, last President-in-exile

Kaczorowski, President-in-exile

President and Personnel
Lech Kaczyński, President of the Republic of Poland
Maria Kaczyńska, First Lady of the Republic of Poland
Mariusz Handzlik, Deputy Secretary of State in the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland
Ryszard Kaczorowski, last President of the Polish government-in-exile
Andrzej Kremer, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
Sławomir Skrzypek, President of the National Bank of Poland
Władysław Stasiak, Chief of the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland
Aleksander Szczygło, Head of the National Security Bureau
Paweł Wypych, Secretary of State in the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland

Szmajdzinski, Presidential candidate

Szmajdziński, Left Wing Leader

Members of Parliament
Krystyna Bochenek, Deputy Speaker of the Senate
Leszek Deptuła, member of the Sejm
Grzegorz Dolniak, member of the Sejm
Janina Fetlińska, member of the Senate
Grażyna Gęsicka, member of the Sejm
Przemysław Gosiewski, member of the Sejm
Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, member of the Sejm
Sebastian Karpiniuk, member of the Sejm
Aleksandra Natalli-Świat, member of the Sejm
Krzysztof Putra, Deputy Speaker of the Sejm
Arkadiusz Rybicki, member of the Sejm
Jerzy Szmajdziński, Deputy Speaker of the Sejm
Jolanta Szymanek-Deresz, member of the Sejm
Zbigniew Wassermann, member of the Sejm
Wiesław Woda, member of the Sejm
Edward Wojtas, member of the Sejm
Stanisław Zając, member of the Senate

General Franciszek Gągor

General Franciszek Gągor

Military figures
Lieutenant General Andrzej Błasik, Chief of the Polish Air Force
Major General Tadeusz Buk, Commander of the Polish Land Forces
General Franciszek Gągor, Chief of the Polish Army General Staff
Vice Admiral Andrzej Karweta, Commander-in-chief of the Polish Navy
General Włodzimierz Potasiński, Commander-in-chief of the Polish Special Forces

Religious figures
Archbishop Miron Chodakowski, Orthodox Ordinary of the Polish Army
Tadeusz Płoski, bishop of the Military Ordinariate of the Polish Army
Ryszard Rumianek, Rector of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University

Katyń, Accursed Forest

Katyń, Accursed Forest

Others
Janusz Kochanowski, Polish Ombudsman for Citizen Rights
Janusz Kurtyka, President of the Institute of National Remembrance and historian
Piotr Nurowski, President of the Polish Olympic Committee
Maciej Płażyński, President of the Polish Community Association and co-founder of Civic Platform (PO)
Andrzej Przewoźnik, Secretary-General of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites
Anna Walentynowicz, free trade union activist, member of Solidarity
Janusz Zakrzeński, actor

May they all rest in peace. Those here and those left unmentioned.
Let us end with the words of Zbigniew Herbert (from “Guziki”):

…a bird flew by, a cloud floats along
a leaf falls, a plant sprouts
and silence on high
and the mist steams over Katyń forest…


Lost Polish Tribe on Haiti

January 24, 2010

Polish Legions in Haiti

Polish Legions in Haiti

Perhaps the most intriguing group of people among Poland’s huge diaspora (the so-called Polonia) are the ‘Poles of Haiti’. I heard about this lost little enclave of ‘Polishness’ on radio and began to follow, Theseus-like, the strands of stories that might lead me to some sort of end-point in my search for the truth in the labyrinthine information maze that is the internet. Much to my surprise, I was able to bring together these strands and get some kind of picture of how on earth Poland has managed to touch the culture of Haiti.

Following HIS orders

Bonaparte - Giving The Orders

In 1804, Haiti declared independence from Napoleonic France. Napoleon was having none of it and swiftly sent a force of over 5,200 Polish Legions to stamp his authority on the natives and their lust for independence. The Third Half-Brigade of the Polish Legions were not extremely happy with this state of affairs as the Legions were primarily focused on fighting for Polish freedom in Europe. The idea of (1) fighting against freedom and (2) fighting over eight thousand kilometres away from one’s homeland on the other side of the world seemed both ridiculous and annoying to these soldiers. But soldiers they were, and more importantly, soldiers of Napoleon and they had to follow orders.

Dessalines - Father of Haitian Freedom

Dessalines - Father of Haitian Freedom

The Polish Legions became embroiled in the Haitian Revolution, and most died, although it was not the fighting that killed them but yellow fever. Unaccustomed to the climate and the dangers of life in the Caribbean 4,000 soldiers died of the disease. Those that remained became the stuff of legend, Haitian legend. Miffed off with fighting those who were fighting for freedom (like themselves), the remaining Polish soldiers decided to throw off the yoke of their French masters and joined Jean-Jacques Dessalines in the Haitian struggle for independence living to see a free Haiti. The indigenous peoples were so enamoured by their Polish brothers-in-arms that they included them in the Haitian Constitution of 1805 in which it was stated in Articles 12 and 13 that no white man may hold land on Haiti apart from the Germans (who had a small community there) and the Polanders (Poles).

Erzulie Dantor - Not Matka Boska

Erzulie Dantor - Not Matka Boska

These naturalised Polish Haitians had a great impact on the fledgling Empire of Haiti, later the Republic of Haiti. The Haitians were impressed by the Poles’ great love of their Matka Boska Częstochowska (Our Lady of Częstochowa). They noticed how greatly the legionnaires venerated their icon. Through a process of assimilation and transformation, the Polish Catholic Matka Boska Częstochowska became the Haitian Vodou Erzulie Dantor, a warrior spirit, the protector of women and children, associated also with lesbians, homosexual men and abused women. Interestingly, like Matka Boska Częstochowska, Erzulie Dantor also has scars on the right-side of her face which she got from a fight with her sister when she stole her husband from her. A rather different persona from Matka Boska Częstochowska.

A 'Polish' Haitian (c) Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak

A 'Polish' Haitian (c) Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak

The ties between the two countries do not stop there. In Cazale, 70 kilometres north of Port-au-Prince there lives a community often referred to as blanc, polone. They are, to all intents and purposes, Haitians but due to the fact that the bulk of the Polish legionnaires settled there, the community has forever been referred to as ‘Polish’. If you are from Cazale, you are Polish, it’s as simple as that. Interestingly, there is a high proportion of blue-eyed Haitians here. Another link is Jerzy Grotowski who came to Haiti in search of inspiration in the 1970s. It’s fair to say that his experimental theatre owes a great deal to the spirituality of Haitian Vodou.

Haiti - Not Just Earthquakes

Haiti - Not Just Earthquakes

It is wonderful how two seemingly disparate and distant cultures have common threads weaving them together. On the one hand, we have Napoleon, the Haitian battle for freedom, the Polish legionnaires who joined with the Haitians in their Revolution and all the ramifications of their presence on the island. This includes a strong genetic marker in Cazale and the surrounding area and the warrior spirit of Erzulie Dantor. On the other hand we have Grotowski and his deep love of Haiti and its spirituality. Poland and Haiti – who would have thought…?


Poles Apart

December 21, 2009

Plight of the Eagle

Plight of the Eagle

After the previous post (click here) I was surprised by the serendipity in my choice of topic after I discovered an article in Dziennik about the state of the Polish language around the world. Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently published a report entitled: “The Situation of Polish People Abroad”. This is the most detailed report of its kind ever published and it paints a worrying picture for the future of Polish people and the Polish language abroad.

Radek On a Mission

Radek On a Mission

The report looked at thirty countries around the world, most of them European states. According to Radosław Sikorski, Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the purpose of the report is ascertain what particular problems affect the Polonia (the Polish community outside Poland) around the globe so that the Ministry can then implement a plan to help them tackle these difficulties.

South America Tops

South America Tops

In the report we find several important pieces of information. Firstly, the number of Poles living in each country, the number of Polish schools and the local state’s attitude and policy with regards to Polish people. The report shows that Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Sweden stand out as the ‘best’ countries for Poles to live in, that is their rights are respected most in those states.

Curie-ing Favour with the French?

Curie-ing Favour with the French?

However, in the other countries found in the report, Polish ex-pats and the Polish language have little chance for support. In France, Polish children may be surprised to learn that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising were one in the same and there was much anti-Semitic feeling during WWII; in Germany they are taught that Chopin and Marie Curie-Skłodowska were French.

United in Intolerance?

United in Intolerance?

This report, once again, shows us that any talk of European solidarity and tolerance is just that – talk. Actions speak louder than words, of course, and if we truly are committed to building a united Europe then it is probably about time to do away with nationalism and intolerance. This goes for ALL the countries of the European Union, Poland included. Pie in the sky? I hope not…


Black Madonna

July 16, 2009
Faith & Family
Faith & Family

Many thanks to my good pal Jim for giving me the heads up about this text. It’s a great piece about the life of the post-war Polonia, that is the Polish people who came to the United Kingdom after World War II (as part of the UK Polish Repatriation Act) as opposed to those Polish people who have come to the UK post-EU accession. I’m ‘posting’ the text in full (copyright The Guardian 2009):

As a child growing up in Derby in the 60s I spoke Polish beautifully, thanks to my grandmother. While my mother went out to work, my grandmother, who spoke no English, looked after me, teaching me to speak her native tongue. Babcia, as we called her, dressed in black with stout brown shoes, wore her grey hair in a bun, and carried a walking stick. She was the hub of our household – she could cook Polish delicacies, play Chopin on the piano and make paper storks. I adored her.

My father, Jerzy, had escaped from Poland after the Germans invaded, travelling on foot across Europe to England, where he became a pilot in the RAF. At the end of the war, he met my English mother at a dance organised by my maternal grandfather to help lonely young Polish pilots. In 1957, he arranged for my grandmother, Maria, who was living in a tiny flat in Warsaw in increasing distress under the privations of communism, to come to the UK.

Like other Polish families in the area, we spent our weekends in the vast Polish club that kept our community’s culture alive. My father helped to establish Dom Polski (Polish House) in the 1950s and it was known as the air force club because the founders were pilots. It provided a focus for all those old comrades and their history. I remember one woman at the club who had a concentration camp number tattooed on her arm, and another whose husband and daughter got off the train transporting them to Siberia to buy bread, only for the train to leave without them. She never saw them again. There were people who had been taken east through Russia as slave labour, others who were taken west to provide a workforce for German farms and factories.

The walls of the club were covered with black-and-white photos of Polish pilots, and a huge propeller from a Spitfire was fixed to one wall. On Saturday mornings my sisters and I would study Polish at the school it ran, and on Saturday nights, my parents would go dancing. On Sundays, we played tombola there over lunch.

But my love affair with Polish culture began to fade when I was five – the year Babcia died. We had been so close that when she was dying, her last words were to ask that I should be looked after. I couldn’t believe she was dead, and went from being confident and cocky to a very quiet child.

Without Babcia’s childcare, my mother had to give up her full-time job and take part-time work in a school across the road. I was placed in the reception class and, accustomed to being at home alone with Babcia, I hated it. I don’t remember making a conscious decision, but in shock I refused to speak Polish until I saw Babcia again.

My sisters and I continued to go to Polish school, but the language would not return. Despite the efforts of my father, even a family trip to Poland in 1965 could not bring it back. When six years later my father died too, at just 53, our Polish connection almost ceased to exist. I left Derby and went to university in London. I never spoke Polish, never ate Polish food nor visited Poland. My childhood was gone and almost forgotten.

Then in 2004, more than 30 years later, things changed again. A new wave of Polish immigrants had arrived and I began to hear the language of my childhood all around me – every time I got on a bus. I saw Polish news-papers in the capital and Polish food for sale in the shops. The language sounded so familiar yet somehow distant – as if it were something I tried to grab but was always out of reach.

In Derby, Dom Polski had closed down. The building was decaying and up for rent; the old soldiers and air force men were almost all dead, and the second and third generations too busy to worry about it. But my memory had been jogged. I began to write a novel about a fictional Polish family and, at the same time, decided to enrol at a Polish language school.

Each week I went through half-remembered phrases, getting bogged down in the intricate grammar and impossible inflections. When my book was published, it put me back in touch with schoolfriends who like me were second-generation Polish. And strangely, in my language classes, I still had my accent and I found words and phrases would sometimes come unbidden, long lost speech patterns making a sudden reappearance. I had found my childhood again.

Joanna Czechowska

Her book, The Black Madonna of Derby (or Goodbye Polsko) is published by Silkmill Press.