Kashubians – Kaszëbi – are a West Slavic ethnic group and one of the biggest ethnic groups in Poland. Kashubians typically live in Gdańsk Pomerania in north-central Poland.
Kashubians descend from the Slavic Pomeranian tribes and were first mentioned when Pope Gregor IX wrote about Bogislaw I dux Cassubie – the Duke of Kashubia in 1238. Kashubians never had their own country – through the centuries they have been ruled by Germans, Poles, and even Swedes. Despite attempts by the Germans and the Poles to assimilate the Kashubians, their culture survived and is still alive today.
An important part of Kashubian culture is their language. Kashubian is one of the Slavic languages, with major similarities to Polish and influences from Low German, Polabian and Old Prussian. One of characteristic folklore elements is Kaszëbsczé nótë – a traditional wedding song, which consists of basic words, requires an illustrated board and can help people to learn Kashubian pronunciation and names of everyday items.
Kashubians have characteristic architecture, dances, regional costumes and folk crafts such as pottery, glass painting and amber-working, but the most recognisable are Kashubian embroidery. It was started by the Norbertine sisters, around 1209. Motifs for Kashubian embroidery comes from nature – mostly from regional flowers. In traditional embroidery, all shapes are precisely matched and use seven colours which have symbolic meaning. Products with a delicate pattern of blue flowers are one of the favourite Polish souvenirs.
Languge – one and only
Belonging to the group of West Slavic languages, the only language in Poland registered as an official regional language, consisting of 76 dialects, some of which are mutually incomprehensible. This is the Kashubian language.
The Kashubian language has retained archaic Polish words, long forgotten in the Polish language, as well as borrowing some words from German. This deceptive accent can mislead even a native Polish speaker. Commonly-known Polish words have a totally different meaning in Kashubian. It should be borne in mind that when a Kashubian sends you to a shop for jam, you should look for it in the cellar, because in Kashubian “shop” means “cellar”. There are many such misleading words and it will frequently be difficult to understand someone’s intentions, but this is what the beauty of this regional language is about. The change in letters, the palatalisation of Polish hard sounds and the lack of soft consonants make the language incomprehensible to listeners when spoken quickly.
The number of people using this mysterious language is ever-decreasing. Young people are unwilling to learn it and even if they can speak it, they are ashamed of using it while the number of elderly people speaking more than one Kashubian dialect is sadly, constantly decreasing. To maintain the language tradition, Kashubian language lessons are organised in some schools while in the Parchowo and Sierakowice Commune Kashubian is used as an official language, equal to Polish. Despite the fact that the Kashubian language has already been entered into the UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages, it is worthwhile going to Kaszëbë to listen to regional legends and stories about this magical and mysterious language.