The origins of Ukrainian family or traditional roots of Ukrainian family, as we may rephrase, have been traced in its territory since the early Paleolithic period (about 200 thousand years BC), and according to M. Hrushevsky, clear forms of family union in Ukraine clearly stand in the Indo-European era.
The farming life of the ancient Ukrainians influenced the family system. Stable income from work on a field, which was mostly done by a woman, made the mother the main person of the family and for a long time fixed the elements of matriarchy.
For a long time Ukrainian woman was distinguished by a sense of dignity and has always been a guardian of family morality. The Byzantine writer Mauritius (682-601) testifies that “their (Ukrainian ancestors) women are honest beyond measure, and many consider the death of a man their own… “(V. Sichinsky, 1946, p.16). Relations in the Ukrainian family were based on the recognition of equality between men and women. Their relationship was characterized by a kind of democracy.
The dialogue between Odarka and Karas from the opera “Zaporozhets beyond the Danube” illustrates this moment very well: their “quarrel” is permeated by a sense of equality, good humor and mutual love.
In the tradition of family creation in Ukraine, there was a custom when a woman herself wandered to a man: she brought bread to the house of the guy she wanted to be future wife of, set bread on the table and silently waited for answers from the parents of her chosen one.
Equality of relations has also proved itself in the rights of women to property, in particular, to the so-called marital property, which is not characteristic of some other peoples, where only a man is the full owner. There were not many occasions when a woman even became a nominal breadwinner (“A man props up one corner of the house and a woman supports three”). They believe, after all, that the emancipation of the Ukrainian woman is connected not only with the remnants of the Ukrainian matriarchy, but also with the forced absence of a man at home (liberation wars, Cossacks, plague, etc.). A woman often had to take on the responsibility of the head of the family and perform men’s work.
Marriage – the creation of a family – among ancient Ukrainians was not only personal but also public in nature: couples and girlish circles (communities), public opinion, customary norms, etc., influenced the selection of couples. Men, according to these rules, were considered independent only after marriage. Those men who did not marry were treated with disdain. Community involvement in the formation of a newly created family was also reflected in the assessment of the moral status of the groom’s and bride’s family. The family’s reputation was valued at times higher than its wealth. Marriage was almost universally consecrated by the church, culminating in a mutual oath of allegiance to the couple. Marriages were exceptional when a man and a woman “lived by faith.” In all these cases, family morality rose to the rank of public.
According to M. Stelmakhovich, Ukrainians have long been characterized by a cult of home hearth, a cult of the genus. They even had in their pantheon deities, who took care of the family – Reed and Rozhanytsia. The one could not realize his own happiness without a family, without a home. One old Ukrainian proverb says “No family – no happiness on Earth”. The cult of “Reed”(family) was an echo of what we today call the genetic code, the blood call.
Certain families stood out as “noble”; they were subject to special requirements, including moral and patriotic ones. The “noble families” in the history of the peoples were their best representatives, the bearers of best features of the nation. Honor of the family obliged a person to behave in a highly moral way, to be an example for others. The memory of the ancestors and their deeds was greatly appreciated; the material objects were given (transferred) from one generation to the next one; these include: embroidered traditional Ukrainian towels, personal goods, images, etc.; the ancestral graves were carefully looked after.
An expression of respect for the family and its unity were traditional holidays when members of the family, even distant relatives who lived in other villages, met at least once a year – at a “temple” – at a common table, exchanged information about their lives and thus restored spiritual unity. From immemorial times, Ukrainian people have cared for the physiological health of the species, in particular, long ago intrauterine marriages were strictly forbidden.
The Ukrainian family was distinguished by the peculiarities of its life. Foreigners who visited Ukraine repeatedly noted the neatness of the Ukrainian family. For example, doctor Gottlieb Gmelin wrote in his “A Journey Through Russia” (1770-1780) that Ukrainians “love and care for cleanliness, and their simplest houses look much better off than the richest nobles homes of the Russians.” Compiled by Edward Daniel Clark in 1812, comparing the Ukrainians to the inhabitants of Muscovy, he notes that the former are “cleaner, more welcoming, hospitable, more devout, and less superstitious”.
Another feature of the Ukrainian family was, and finally is, the natural urge to aesthetize life, decorate one’s home, tools, material items related to rituals and customs (towels, Easter eggs, etc.). The aestheticism of the Ukrainian woman was manifested especially in the original cut and ornamentation of her clothes, a detailed description of which in the XVII century with a strong sympathy was described by W. Verdum, Peter, already mentioned G. Gmelin and others.
Due to a certain healthy “conservatism” in everyday life, the Ukrainian family respected the customs of the people and obeyed the laws of hospitality. Although whole ancient Ukrainian family life was not perfect, because the truth is that some ancestors of Ukrainians sometimes had a tendency to careless drinking, sometimes to quarrels or other flaws, in general, the organization of life contributed to the spiritual strengthening of the family, oriented people not only to the Earth, but also to the High and the Eternal.
The Ukrainian family was built on the principles of spirituality and faith. This is true of pagan times – man lived in close union with the kindness to his nature and tried to keep her secret. According to M. Stelmakhovich, the Ukrainian family early acquired its “space inspiration” (father – “moon”, mother – “bright star”, children – “asterisk”). The folk tradition ennobled the union between the parents, which was embodied in the image of the goddess Lada. And even the names “nanny”, “nenka”, “nenya”, “nianko”, as well as “mom” are associated with the names of the gods (Stelmakhovich M., 1997).
It also united parents, the whole race – on the basis of unity of public aspirations. The family is also united by a community of national-cultural interests, often jointly participating in the national liberation struggle. Surviving in the face of constant ethnocide, being isolated from the elitist culture that was concentrated in the capitals of metropolitan areas (Warsaw, St. Petersburg), the Ukrainian family created its own folk culture – fairy tale, song, dance, and too much nurturing its mother tongue. On this basis, a sense of ethnic identity was asserted, which helped to preserve its authenticity and at the same time promoted family reunification.
It was noted above that the Ukrainian family has always been characterized by the democratism of relations – as a manifestation of a kind of natural kindness that characterized the nature of its members. This feature of Ukrainian family can be traced back to the end of IV century in the life of the ancient ancestors of the Slavs – Antes (Rosses). Like spirituality, their democracy developed under the influence of certain natural factors – temperate climate, calm landscape, rich and fertile land and so on. Ancestors of Ukrainians have long been characterized by a lack of innate aggression that has been inherent in some of their neighbors. They showed a tendency to understand other people, perceived the world by heart, were able to put themselves in the place of others, showed hospitality to foreigners. These traits predetermined the early emergence of egalitarian (equal) marriage in Ukraine.
In the Ukrainian family, the guardianship law took place for a long time. It also derived from the natural kindness of Ukrainian people and was focused to the elderly in the family, the helpless, the disabled, orphans etc. According to historians, Cossacks have always at first built a hospital and a school when they were starting a Sich construction.
In the family, the caregiving cult showed great respect for the elders, as well as the willingness of family members to help the sick and infirm.
Being naturally settled nation, mostly agricultural, Ukrainian ancestors placed high in the family virtue of work. They heartily felt the truth that idleness gives rise to the worst flaws in a person’s character, and that a person can only be happy in labor, and therefore, from birth, must prepare himself for that happiness. The family has never had a situation where the child is bored and does not know what to do. In the ancient Ukrainian family, those inclined to laziness were not liked, ridiculed, and forced to work: firstly they took care for pets, help their father or mother in domestic work. Physical work was also an important factor in the development of the child’s strength and health. The future defenders were preparing early for the defense of their native land: they used to ride horses, learn to protect their land. All this gave work, which thus also fulfilled an important function of health care.
The life of the Ukrainian family was based on the principles of nature conformity, which were embodied in customary law and public morality. The person naturally wanted family happiness, and that is why couple always tried to create a healthy and friendly family. “Where is the agreement in the family, where peace and silence, happy people are there, blessed party …”, – expressed this desire I. Kotlyarevsky. Hence the cult of marital loyalty that is the leitmotif throughout the history of Ukrainian culture. Ukrainians have always been distinguished in the world by moral purity and restraint (G. Vaschenko – 1,1997, p. 109). The community and the family themselves followed unwritten laws regarding the wisdom and psychological health of new generation, their mutual consent and more. The practice of family life embodied the natural tendency to many children, healthy lifestyles and more.
Naturally, family-based child-rearing was also built. For hard day-to-day work, parents were never specifically engaged in “upbringing”: their children were raised by life. Later V. Sukhomlinsky calls it a wise system of pedagogical views of hardworking people: “We work together with them, with children – this is probably all education” (Sukhomlinsky V., 1977, vol. B, p. 444). Its duty – in the process of working together – was fulfilled by Nature. Combined with spirituality and religiosity, the work used to teach people to learn the world not only by reason but also by heart.
The natural was also nurturing the love of native culture. Native is natural. This was interpreted as mastering the native song, fairy tales, etc., and especially the native language. Ukrainian ancestors subconsciously perceived the truth, later expressed by K. Ushinsky, that “… it is not indifferent to the spiritual development of the child in what language she/he speaks in childhood (Ushinsky K., 1954, vol. 1, p. 272). Native culture and language the child “took” in the family, as, after all, and all other values, in the process of practical life, “like a sponge” absorbed everything she/he saw and heard at home. The child, brought up in descent family conditions, did not imagine a future life outside the family, it formed a spiritual need for this, by practicing such virtues as love for parents, family harmony, a sense of deep links, unity of all family members, spiritual attraction to home, to native culture and language, it produces desire and natural need to create their own future family modeled on the one from which former child used to come from.
It is worth to notice, after all, that Ukrainian family has owned such traits in the past. Since the beginning of the Catherine II era, elements of despotism have also penetrated the Ukrainian family under the influence of feudal-despotic relations in the Russian Empire and the Russian mentality. At one time, analyzing the content of “The Word of the Regiment of Igor”, not very supportive of all Ukrainian V. Belinsky points to these circumstances quite clearly. He writes: “The word about Igor’s regiment” bears the imprint of the poetic and human spirit of Southern Rus, which has not yet undergone the barbaric yoke of Tatars, foreign rudeness, and savagery of Northern Rus. All this, again, is echoed in Southern Russia, where there are still so many human and noble in the family life, where the relations between man and woman are based on love and the woman enjoys the rights of being woman. All this is not peculiar (“opposite”) to Northern Russia, where family relationships are rough and love in marriage is a superfluous thing … (Belinsky V., 1900, vol. 2, p. 369).
Discrimination against a woman by “equalizing” her rights to hard male labor, instilling a feudal cult of the “eldest,” and subsequently hyperopic over children – was all experienced by Ukrainian family in the age of Bolshevism.
Translated from Ukrainian
Author: Vyshnevsky O. – Cultural and Historical Portal “Ancestral Heritage”