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A view of a Highlander band walking along a street. Men and women of various age dressed in regional costumes walk a tarmac road with a strip of pavement on the right. The blurred Highlander in the forgraound is holding a camera in the right and a walking stick in the right hand. Most members of the orchestra are playing the violins, and the woman in the centre wrapped in a red scarf is playing a large cello. The sky over the roofs of the houses in the background is blue.
Górale – the Polish Highlanders

Polish Highlanders: a fine and genuine culture to admire

 

Some say that the key difference between Górale – the Polish Highlanders – and those living in Scotland is that Górale live in the south and the Scottish Highlanders – in the north. This may be an exaggeration, yet similarities are plenty, with costume, playing the bagpipe, vernacular language, and a particular sense of humour certainly being among them. And the culture they developed over the centuries is certainly worth interest.

 

A view of a large flock of sheep following a man dressed in red along a large expanse of grass on a gentle hill. They are heading for a single coniferous tree on the edge of the hill. The mists rising behind it are thick and form a cloud that obscures dark blue mountains in the background.
Sheep

Living in harsher natural conditions and farming less fertile soils, highlander communities around the world have evolved a particular attitude to life that melds hard work with independence, a particular ironic attitude, and a strong sense of pride. The cheerful and self-assured Górale, the Polish Highlanders, are no exception.

The uniqueness of their culture was perhaps first appreciated in Poland late in the 18th century, when (a half of) the first Polish opera was devoted to them. A century later, when discovering exotic cultures was very much en vogue throughout Europe, Poles realised they had an unspoilt community at their doorstep. Attracted by it, they began thronging to Zakopane. Soon Górale not only began to sell them their food (You can learn more about their famous cheeses, notably the Oscypek.) and rent their cottages but also shared the knowledge of the secret mountain passes and their intangible culture so greatly coveted by the arriving artists and intellectuals. In return, the architects built and decorated their homes, and painters, composers, and poets praised their culture with its unique costume, songs, and customs.

The fascination continues and there are plentiful festivals and events that celebrate the highlander arts in Małopolska and elsewhere in Poland. One certainly not to be missed is the 53rd International Festival of Highlander Folklore held in Zakopane on 19–26 August 2022. The idea behind it is to promote the genuine customs and rites rather than to compile sophisticated but artificial song and dance medleys. The festival is very important for the Highlanders as it brings out the most valuable elements of their culture, and an opportunity for the visitors to take a sneak peek into it while contestants vie for prizes for presenting authentic, artistically arranged, and reconstructed folk customs. It is also an opportunity to meet in the special atmosphere of the festival village, over a bonfire cracking to the sound of Górale music. The accompanying events are plenty and include a folk art fair for the enthusiasts of handicrafts.

The Highlander Festival in Zakopane is a great option; to see some of the others, just click here.

Górale still heed the clan structures, and you will find many family names and monikers recurring among the Polish Highland folk.
Following their musical tradition, one of eminent Górale families go on performing the songs their fathers and grandfathers played as Trebunie Tutki family band. A star of first order among Highlander bands, they have also run a reggae project with The Twinkle Brothers and another one with Urmuli, a traditional Georgian male choir.
Quite understandably, the Górale regional cuisine is based on the produce of the hardly fertile mountain fields, and include moskole boiled potato pancakes, assorted sheep cheeses, stews, and trout from the local rivers.
Sheep are an important part of the Highlander culture. On 23 April (the feast of St Adalbert, patron saint of shepherds) they go out to the mountain pastures, where they graze until Michaelmas (29 September), with the attending shepherds regularly coming down to sell the milk and fresh cheeses and buy some provender.

Małopolska has more to offer. Look and see: