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Górale Orawscy

The Moys of Lipnica

Lipnicki moj - stawianie i ścinanie orawskiego moja (fot. Katarzyna Ponicka)

The Moys of Lipnica

The tradition of raising the Moy is originally foreign, having trickled over from Austria and Slovakia. The custom is also known elsewhere, i.a. in Spisz and Silesia[1].

What does “raising the Moy” actually mean? First and foremost, it is a centuries-old Orava tradition. On the night of April 30th to May 1st, boys would raise Moys next to the homes of girls they had fallen in love with as a sign for others that these girls are “taken” as in “already have a beau”. Once the Moys were up, an all-night wake was held, to prevent others from creeping in and trying to cut the Moy down. Every Moy obviously had a plaque nailed to it, addressing a specific girl. The tradition let even the shyest of boys tell their future other halves how they feel about them.

The Moy is a perch (pole) with an evergreen attached to the top, usually a pine or fir, as they never lose their colour. The evergreen would be decorated with coloured tissue paper or handmade ornaments.

The Moy was a declaration of love. The evergreen is a symbol of concealed life-giving energy: once the Moy has been raised, the non-existent and the immature evolved into a true relationship between two people, or became a beginning thereof.

The Moy would be cut down on Whit Monday, the girl gifted the Moy obliged to organise refreshments, and receive the donor and his mates. Once cut down, the Moy would be chopped into pieces and burned in a bonfire, to make every word behind it come true. The event would be accompanied by live music played by a band traditionally brought in by the boys. The bonfire feast with fun and music would go on until dawn.

The “raising the Moy” tradition, while continued until this day, is significantly less popular than it used to be, individual Moys rarely raised for specific girls. Yet young men continue raising it on the night of April 30th to May 1st, to then burn it during an all-night Whitsun party.

In Lipnica Wielka, the tradition is kept alive by i.a. the Heródek of Przywarówka “Orawianie” ensemble. Each year, boys from the ensemble prepare a Moy, and raise it for the girls. The ensemble’s Moy has for many years been entered for the “Most Beautiful Municipal Moy” competition held by the Municipal Centre of Culture in Lipnica Wielka, with intent to preserve and promote the tradition. Boys bring in a tree, stripped of bark, top intact and prepared for decoration. Where there’s a Moy, there’s a plaque:
boys use it to write a poem for the girls, in Orava dialect. On April 30th, the whole ensemble meet at an agreed time to decorate the Moy. According to tradition, girls tie colourful thin tissue paper strips and pretty handmade tissue paper flowers to the treetop. Once everything is in place, boys raise the Moy.

On Whit Monday, the ensemble arrives at an agreed time to cut down the Moy. Once the perch is felled, boys begin chopping it into pieces and making the fire, girls preparing sausages to be roasted over the flames. Children always flock in to watch, all eyes – once they grow up, they will be expected to keep the tradition alive. Once the chopped-up Moy fire has been stacked, the youngest girl in the ensemble lights the fire. Everyone spikes a sausage for roasting over fire. The ensemble gathers around the bonfire, the evening filled with music, song, dance and great ambience.

Raising the Moy is unquestionably one of the most cheerful and joyful local traditions, kept alive by regional ensembles and Orava residents. Regardless, Moys are raised in greatest numbers in Lipnica Wielka and in Slovak Orava region: in Bobrovo[AS1]  and Zubrohlava. Furthermore, a growing number of Orava locations have been joining the effort to preserve and revive the magnificent ritual, now also Polish, not only foreign. We Lipnica Wielka locals are fortunate enough to live in a place where the Moy raising tradition has been popular for years.

It is worth our while to hand the tradition down to younger generations, allowing them a voice to comment on it in a few years as well. We are obliged to remember to raise the Moy each year in May – regardless of whether to honour the love of our life, make someone happy, or keep the tradition alive. The Moy has to go up, as tradition teaches us!

Sources: interviews with Eugeniusz Karkoszka, manager of the Heródek of Przywarówka “Orawianie” ensemble, and Janina Karkoszka, headmistress of Doctor Emil Kowalczyk Primary School No. 4 in Lipnica Wielka.

- Ewelina Węgrzyn

[1] “Kurier Orawski”: “The Moys of Europe were first mentioned in written sources in 1255. They were raised as a token of homage and goodwill in front of churches, townhalls, abodes of the wealthy and revered, and homes where daughters of the house were particularly attractive and sought-after. Moys were erected i.a. in Italy, Germany and Sweden. It has not been confirmed how the custom made its way into Silesia and the Carpathian Mountains, to then trickle over to the Polish and Slovak side of Orava. In 1839, the lords of the Orava Castle issued a strict ban on raising the Moys, with intent to protect forest against devastation. The tradition began petering out in the late 20th century, to come back with a vengeance in early 21st century, not least owing to annual competitions organised by local governments. It is further noteworthy that in Slovakia, thanks to the country’s administrative division specificity – every village is a separate municipal unit aspiring to showcase tradition preserving efforts, in this case: raising the Moy – local customs are revisiting their mediaeval West European roots in the 21st century. At bespoke, specially organised ceremonies, tall evergreen-topped perches are erected in front of local government premises and churches, and in centrally located squares.”

“In Niedzica, spruces collected during larger-scale felling were used as Moys, just like in Kacwin, where even the youngest girl received her own tree. In Krempachy, alder Moys would only be raised for older schoolgirls or young women of marrying age”, to quote an account posted to www.dursztyn-spisz.pl. ”In Łapsze and Falsztyn, firefighters walk around the village with a single coniferous tree. Their progress begins at the church, with a song praising the Madonna. In Dursztyn, the Moy song-and-play custom continues until today. Moys are not raised there as they would be in Krempachy, for example – just like in Łapsze or Falsztyn, a delegation of firefighters gathers at the church during Pentecost (Whit Sunday), to then walk a coniferous Moy door to door. Their parade is accompanied by musicians and young men dressed as Gypsies, collecting money to support their ‘baby’ amidst laughter and tomfoolery.”

Orava and Spisz regions apart, the custom of raising the Moy is known to Poles in Silesia, and Cieszyn Silesia beyond the River Olza; Moys are also popular in Moravia and Czechia, where the original ritual associated with the advent of spring and amorous aspects (just like in Slovakia) has evolved into a convention opportunity for all village residents. The ceremony organised at the Polish-Slovak-Czech Tripoint has now become something of a symbol.