What does it mean to be a Polish Highlander? This page is dedicated to all things Goral to help you navigate and fall in love with all of our beautiful traditions.
The Gorals (Polish: Górale; Slovak: Gorali; Cieszyn Silesian: Gorole; literally “highlanders”) are an ethnographic (or ethnic) group primarily found in their traditional area of southern Poland, northern Slovakia, and in the region of Cieszyn Silesia in the Czech Republic (Silesian Gorals). Górale is a general name for people living in the mountains, whether in Poland or in other countries.
Górale to mieszkańcy terenów podgórskich i obszarów górskich. Zasiedlili obszary górskie (Karpaty) już w okresie od XIV do XVIII wieku. Przed wojną górale stanowili stosunkowo niejednolitą grupę etniczną, w skład której wchodziła zarówno ludność pochodzenia polskiego jak i ruskiego. Generalnie rzecz ujmując grupa etniczna górali powstała poprzez zmieszanie się ludności polskiej i ruskiej z przybyłymi w XV wieku pasterzami wołoskimi, którzy przywędrowali na ziemie polskie poruszając się wzdłuż łuku Karpat.
The borders of the area inhabited by the highlanders of Poland; On the south the border of highlander settlements is the ridge of the Carpathians, which divides waters flowing north and east onto the Sarmatian lowland from waters flowing south to the Hungarian lowland. To the north highlander settlements do not go beyond the last towering range of mountains connected with the foothills or with the adjacent northern plains. On the west and east every area inhabited by a highlander clan is set off by mountainous divides from the neighboring area inhabited by another clan. It is estimated that highlanders have settled in 24 towns and 895 villages within this region.
Górale ruscy zwani też ukraińskimi zamieszkiwali obszary Bieszczad, a także pewne fragmenty Beskidów. Byli to: Łemkowie (Beskid Niski, Bieszczady wschodnia część Beskidu Sądeckiego), Bojkowie (Bieszczady), Pogórzanie Wschodni (pogórze przemyskie), Pogórzanie Zachodni (pogórze dynowskie), Dolinianie (okolice Sanoka), Rusini Szlachtowscy (4 wsie w okolicy Szczawnicy).
Górale polscy natomiast zajmowali pozostałe obszary Beskidów oraz całe Podhale wraz z Tatrami. Etnografowie podzielili polskich górali na 3 grupy:
1. Górali śląskich (górale wiślańscy, górale jabłonkowscy, Breniacy, Istebniańscy, Morawianie (nie mylić z grupą etniczną Morawian)
2. Górali czadeckich
3. Górali małopolskich
There are dozens of highlander clans within the highlander region, for instance the northern slope of the Tatra mountains as far as the Nowy Targ valley is occupied by the so called Podhalanie, because when asked by an outsider;
“Where are you from, Highlander?” he proudly answers “Z hal” (“from the hali,” mountain pastures). Thus the name.
Whereas within the Nowy Targ valley, that is, the area between the Podhalanie and the Zagórzanie and Babiogórcy, is occuped by the settlements of the Nowotarżanie. They are also called Highlanders from Nowy Targ (Nowotarżanie = “ones from Nowy Targ”).
Górale posiadają własną, bogatą w tradycje kulturę oraz posługują się charakterystyczną mową – gwarą. Cechują się dodatkowo specyficznym strojem. Górale zajmowali i wciąż zajmują się głównie wypasem owiec i bydła mlecznego na halach oraz wyrobem serów z mleka owczego i krowiego. Głównymi przysmakami z sera, które związany są z góralami to: żętyca, oscypki (surowe oraz wędzone), bundz.
Ponieważ góry nie należą do środowisk, w których łatwo się żyje, dlatego też górale często różnią się od mieszkańców terenów nizinnych większą wytrzymałością fizyczną oraz bardziej rosłą budową ciała. Ponadto posiadają własną mentalność, która objawia się w niezwykłej pracowitości, niespotykanym nigdzie indziej poczuciu humoru, zamiłowania do zabaw i pieśni, wyjątkowej gościnności oraz dużej zawziętości. Dlatego też powstała cała gama dowcipów i anegdotek na temat górali. Większość znanych jest jako dowcipy o bacy. Górale potrafią również bardzo szybko się zorganizować i walczyć w obronie swojego. Są również bardzo religijni.
The Tatry are a favorite destination for tourists in Poland and from all parts of Europe. In winter there is the skiing and in the spring and summer there is hiking and climbing among the spectacular beauty of the mountains. Zakopane, in the heart of the Tatry, is the most popular destination, winter or summer, but there are any number of surrounding communities with accommodations even cheaper than the already pretty reasonable rooms in the city if you don’t mind being a bit distant from the restaurants and clubs of the city center. Now the winter capitol of Poland, Zakopane was, not too many years ago, a small town known to outsiders as an artist’s colony.
The mountains are abound with legends: the sleeping knight Giewont who awakes when Poland is in danger and the tales of Janosik, a kind of Polish/Slovakian Robin Hood who fought the powerful landowners.
The distinct cultural elements developed by the Górale are still apparent in their craft (architecture, milk, wool and leather processing, woodcarving, metalwork, embroidery, glass painting, sculpture), customs (strong kin relations, common law) and spiritual culture (dancing, music, dialect).
The architecture of the mountain people is mesmerizing. Houses are constructed of whole tree trunks, squared and notched at the ends. The corners are beveled off so that when the beams are fitted together the joins form a “v” shape and are sealed with straw rope hammered into the crack between beams. The whole is surmounted with a high peaked roof, traditional wood shingles, terracotta or sheet metal and often decorated with elaborate woodcarvings. This Zakopane Style was introduced to architecture by Stanisław Witkiewicz in the nineteenth century, and we can now find fragments of this style in present buildings. The architectural style draws on local architecture and Vernacular architecture of the Carpathians, and is widespread in the Podhale region.
The traditional highlander’s dress: The women’s costumes are more colorful than the men’s. Their wool skirts have flowery patterns of roses on green, red, or white background (white is used only for weddings). They wear white shirts finished with lace, tight ornamental vests reaching just below their waistlines, and strings of coral beads on their necks. The vests are tied with ribbons and they have long colorfully embroidered skirts. The men wear a brimmed hat, a wide belt, and the kierpce (moccasins), and hold the ciupaga. The ciupaga, a mountain hatcher, has a long handle made from the ash tree, with a pointed metal spike at the bottom and a steel sharp ax at the top. Both the handle and the ax are ornamented with metal; small metal ringlets that jingle when the ciupaga is shaken are attached on the upper side of the handle. The ciupaga served as a help in mountain climbing, as a defense tool against wild animals, such as bears, and as a weapon in a fight. Nowadays it may be used as a walking stick, as an ornament requisite in dancing, and a house-decoration or souvenir. The costume’s pants and jackets are made of rough white wool (appropriate for the severe climate of the mountains), with embroidery incorporating motives of the parzenica which is a characteristic of the folk art in this region.
The music of the Górale folk tradition is usually performed by a small string ensemble, resembling the make-up of a string quartet: a lead violin performing ornamental melodies, two accompanying violins, and a three-stringed basy, providing the harmonic basis for the chords. The basy is smaller than the double-bass, roughly the size of a cello. The second violin and the basy play rhythmic quarter-notes in duple meter with strong accents, providing the rhythmic framework for upbeat and lifting music.
The Polish folk dance zbójnicki is an energetic men’s dance from the Skalne Podhale area(the rocky foothills of the Tatra Mountains and the Tatras themselves, located in southern Poland, bordering on Slovakia and Moravia). The name is an adjective created from the noun zbójnik – a brigand or a robber; plural – zbójnicy. In the 17th-18th centuries, bands of such robbers thrived in the Tatra Mountains; they came from Górale villages of the area. The practice started in the 12-13th centuries, and after peaking in the 18th century, was suppressed by the Austrian government. The robbers evoked terror but also admiration and envy for their courage, freedom and wealth. Their most famous leader was the son of a Slovak peasant, Juraj Janosik. The historical Janosik became a legendary hero both on the Slovak and the Polish sides of the Tatra Mountains, and facts from his life were intertwined with folk legends and stories about the “idealized bandit,” or “good robber.” (Illustrations from Polish folk art; Zofia Stryjeńska’s 1927 “Zbójnicki”).
The góralski is one of the two basic dances of the Skalne Podhale region. The dance is performed by a solo couple; the man is the dominant partner and selects the tunes. He sings to the musicians the tune he wants to dance and they respond by repeating it. According to the description of the góralski by Włodzimierz Kotoński, the dance begins when another male dancers introduces the girl onto the dance floor and turns her around (Wyzwyrtanie). During the following sequence of dances, the male partner dances solo, circling around the woman and presenting a variety of figures. The woman responds by turning, performing heel clicks, and stamping. The dance sequence usually begins with the slower nuta ozwodna and the steps of drobiony (minced), running, and regular. It is only at the end that the dancers touch and turn together ((zwyrtanie). After one couple finished their dance another couple may begin; the others watch their performance.
The various dialects spoken by the Gorals descend from Proto-Slavic from the Eastern Lechitic, Old Polish area, superimposed by Slovak. In other words, the language, called the Podhale dialect (gwara podhalańska), is of Polish origin, but has been influenced by Slovak in recent centuries. Click on the video below to brush up on your Goral dialect!
To explore our culture further, check out the following;