Pysanka - The Traditional Ukrainian Egg
L'Oeuf traditionnel ukrainien

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Some traditions that are taken for granted by the Ukrainian diaspora in North America have stagnated or suffered a decline in Ukraine during the period of the Soviet regime.

Pysanka writing, one of these traditions, was reintroduced this summer to the small rural village of Lokitka in the Ivano-Frankivska oblast of Ukraine during my one-month visit with relatives.

Through reading articles and books, listening to radio programs and from stories from my relatives, it appeared to me that pysankas in Ukraine are not as wide spread amongst the population as our collective folk image of Ukraine would lead us to believe. Many of Ukraine’s pysankas are relegated to museums; those that are in homes are often carved out of wood or painted.

Since Ukraine’s independence, the tradition of pysanka writing, using the traditional batik method utilising molten bees wax and dyes is being revived in Ukraine by artists of an older generation.

In the diaspora, Ukrainians have maintained an interest in pysanka writing as a tangible link to their culture - as a way to maintain the traditions of a homeland long denied them by political factors.

But, there is some debate surfacing that diaspora pysankas are wavering away from the simple traditional symbolic creations that were written by our forefathers and by the common folk. The diaspora pysanaks are becoming more and more complex in design - indeed, elevated to an art form. This has been made possible by the availability of commercial dyes and extra-fine pointed electric kistkas, the pysanka’s heated ‘writing’ instrument. There is the natural desire, as one gains experience, to make designs more intricate.

Although pysankas of high artistic quality are much in evidence in the diaspora, one wonders whether diaspora Ukrainians can also recall or interpret the meanings of the pysanka’s colours and symbols ‘written on the eggs’ - which, after all, was their original purpose.

During my visit to my relatives this summer, I was amazed but disturbed by the absence of pysankas in the homes that I visited. More disturbing was the discovery that the day-to-day people that I met had no idea how pysankas are created, much less as to how to interpret the symbolic meanings of the colours and symbols written on the eggs.

With this in mind, I undertook to teach y Aunt Darusya and Cousin Zoryana this ancient and revered technique during my stay with them.

Armed with kistkas, both traditional and electric, bees wax, dyes, candles, patterns, documentation and fresh chicken eggs from Darusya’s chicken coop, our mini pysanka workshop quickly took shape.

Darusya and Zoryana quickly absorbed the basics and effortlessly created their first pysankas.

Now, it is only a question of them putting into practice an old army training technique - ‘See One, Do One, Teach One’!

Darusya, a life-long master embroiderer, will have no problem creating her own pysankas and passing on the technique to the neighbours in her village.

The winter months, which permit her and Zoryana a rest from the backbreaking work in the fields, are ideal for the writing of pysankas as a hobby.

They have all the materials they require, including documentation to help interpret the meaning of colours and symbols.

It is my hope, that on my next visit to my relatives, more than one home in their village will have a traditional pysanka proudly displayed by newly ‘resurrected’ creators.



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Last modified: January 28, 2000
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