The Golendras (Olendry, Holendry) of Siberia are a unique people. They originate from Germany or even Holland, to which their name alludes. In former times they lived in Poland, eventually ending up in the western part of the Russian Empire — approximately where the borders of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine now meet, near the Western Bug River.
The Golendras are Lutherans by religion, their prayer book is in Polish and they have German surnames. They adopted a mixture of Polish, Ukrainian and Belarusian as their language. Their songs are sung in this dialect. During the Stolypin agrarian reforms, a part of the Golendras moved to the Irkutsk Region in Siberia, where they founded settlements — Zamusteche (Zamóstecze, whose modern name is Pikhtinsky), Novyny (Nowyny, whose modern name is Srednepikhtinsky) and Dagnik (its name has not changed).
Kvitochka (Kwitoczka, “Little Flower”) Ensemble emerged in 2005 at the Srednepikhtinsky House of Culture. It has the status of a family band, since all the participants are relatives to various degrees.
The ensemble members (on the album cover photo from left to right):
1. Nina Kunz
2. Valentina Zelent
3. Irina Prokopyeva
4. Larisa Bendik
5. Svetlana Ludwig
6. Olga Kunz
7. Elena Vas. Ludwig
8. Vera Kunz
9. Elena Vlad. Ludwig (leader)
10. Natalya Ludwig
The original song titles are given in their Polish spelling.
The names of the older generation people, thanks to whom these songs have been preserved: Emma Pastrik, Anelia Gildebrant, Alvina Zelent, Natalya Kunz, Zuzanna Ludwig, Elizaveta Gildebrant, Adolf Kunz, Alvina Kunz, Bronislava Ludwig, Ivan Zelent.
Recorded at the Srednepikhtinsky House of Culture on July 7, 2022, except for tracks 1 and 26, which were recorded in Dagnik on July 8, 2022, and performed by Anatoly Ludwig.
Thanks to Elena Ludwig, the whole ensemble, Lyudmila Gerda, Natalya Dmitrieva, Lyubov Vasilchenko, and Iwan Strutynski.
Source: Antonovka Records (Facebook), 17 February 2023. I have lightly edited the original liner notes for clarity and readability. ||| TRR
THE BAIKAL DUTCH: WHO ARE THEY?
A people called the Golendry (translated presumably as “Hollanders,” “Dutch”) has been living in the remote Siberian taiga for more than a century. The people speaks a mix of Belarusian and Ukrainian, prays in Polish, and has German surnames. They live in the Zalari District of Irkutsk Region and are a true cultural phenomenon. Key to Baikal will tell you what kind of people they are and how they got here.
The History of the Golendry
Several dozen families of Golendry moved to Siberia from the Bug River basin at the beginning of the 20th century, during Stolypin’s agrarian reforms. Back then, the place of the people’s residence was a part of the Russian Empire, but now the territory encompasses the borderlands of Belarus, Ukraine and Poland. There are two explanations of the origins of the word golendry. This term emerged in the early seventeenth century: the Dutch identified themselves in similar fashion (hollandi in Latin). The other explanation is based on the word gautland, meaning a developed land (paseka in Polish), a settlement on deforested land, established by colonists who were called golendry (that is, “stumpers” or “woodcutters,” not “Dutch”). The researcher Eduard Byutov came up with a serious argument against the second explanation, saying that these people were the members of a Dutch community living under “Dutch law” and observing Dutch culture. Byutov emphasized the fact that, in medieval Poland, the social stratum of peasants were called golendry (olendry), and the settlers possessed a special social and legal status. Thus, the term olendry is derived from a lexeme with the same meaning as the ethnonym for “Dutch” in Polish. It was used to designate a special social group of mixed ethnic composition.
Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle, because the term golendry never served to designate any particular ethnic group. From the very beginning it meant a special social group of mixed ethnic composition. Nevertheless, the ethnic composition of this social group evidently included the Dutch, because many of their cultural elements point tto this.
By the beginning of the twentieth century the Golendry had retained their distinctive identity, which differed from neighboring peoples: despite the fact that they spoke local dialects, their religion was different from the surrounding population. They were Lutherans, unlike the Catholic Poles and the Orthodox Belarusians and Ukrainians.
A part of the Golendry migrated to Siberia, primarily due to the lack of land. The settlers gave old names to their new places of residence: Zamusteche, Novyna and Dakhny, in memory of those times when they lived on the Bug. The villages were renamed in Soviet times (now they are known as Pikhtinsk, Srednepikhtinsk and Dagnik).
It is curious that no one was particularly interested in the Pikhtinsk Golendry before the early 1990s. Only in the 1930s and during the Great Patriotic War did their obviously German names and surnames attract the attention of state authorities, which led to certain consequences. Luckily, however, the Golendry were not deported (because they already lived in the taiga) and were not shot. During peacetime, the Golendry were little different from other Soviet people, except that the two Pikhtinsk collective farms consistently produced high yields, year after year. In the 1970s they were doing so well that former residents of Pikhtinsk returned to their native villages from the cities: they built a branch of a clothing factory, a bakery, and a post office there. There were three large elementary schools for the three villages, a rural medical station, shops, and a kindergarten. After perestroika, their prosperity came to an end, however, and the residents of Pikhtinsk once again moved back to the cities. Nowadays, the number of people registered in the villages is larger than that of people actually living there, and the number of inhabitants of these settlements decreases every year.
Emptying villages are a widespread phenomenon in Russia, with only one difference: the Golendry are famous now; they will not disappear into obscurity. By the way, the Golendry were “discovered” by scholars by pure accident, thanks to their houses. In 1993-1994, the Irkutsk Central Commission for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Heritage visited these remote taiga villages and paid due attention to the unconventional architecture of the buildings in Pikhtinsk, Srednepikhtinsk and Dagnik. The architecture entailed an exploration of the rest of their culture, and the Golendry were declared a “sensation.”
Customs and traditions
Two museums were established in Srednepikhtinsk: these let people have a look inside a real Golendry house without disturbing their personal space. According to the Lutheran faith of the Golendry, they worship in Polish using the Bible and prayer books. The old people are more religious, while the young people are less so: the situation is common today. So, the holy books in Polish, exhibited in the museums, are now read only by old people, and even not all of those old people can read them. It is curious that the Golendry use the Julian calendar, just like Orthodox people.
The Lutheran Golendry do not have a tradition of regularly visiting cemeteries and taking care of graves. However, the Russian traditions have gradually come to predominate: elaborate headstones have been erected on some graves of the Pikhtinsk Golendry, and the relatives of the deceased can sometimes be seen at the cemetery. Nevertheless, you should not go to the cemetery of the Golendry out of idle curiosity: the residents of Pikhtinsk hate it when someone disturbs the peace of the dead.
The Lutheran Golendry never had any churches of their own in Siberia. They prayed at home in the old days, and still do so now. There is a Lutheran prayer hall in Irkutsk, and the local pastor periodically visits the residents of Pikhtinsk. However, the main rite — baptism — is conducted not by a pastor, but by a local resident. The residents of Pikhtinsk themselves find it difficult to answer why they chose that person exactly. Most likely, because he is a pious man and is respected by everyone. In addition, waiting for the pastor to come or taking the babies to Irkutsk is simply inconvenient.
The museums illustrate the wedding ceremony in great detail: The Golendry still celebrate their weddings in keeping with the old traditions. A cap, the most memorable detail of the local women’s attire, is also associated with the wedding. Women wear a cap instead of a veil on the second day of marriage. There is also a tradition of burying women with their cap on. During the rest of the time the capes are no longer worn, except that they can be worn for tourists.
If you want to get acquainted with the life and traditions of the Golendry, you will have to drive almost 300 kilometers from Irkutsk, or take a train to Zalari Station and then travel the remaining 93 kilometers to Srednepikhtinsk. After this people was “discovered,” it became much easier to get to the places where it resides, but one should book a tour and overnight stay in advance.
Source: Key to Baikal. I have edited the original article for clarity and readability. ||| TRR