|Abstract: ||Because this volume is not a monograph of selected Upper Silesian rural communities, it does
not present the whole spectrum of cultural phenomena known in this area. Rather, it brings
a comparative analysis demonstrating what can be deduced about the factors influencing
cultural diversity on the basis of two national atlases: Polski atlas etnograficzny (PAE) and
Atlas der deutschen Volkskunde (ADV). Both show geographically close cultural phenomena,
which makes a comparative analysis possible. Because of the vast area they cover (from the
Rhine in the west to the Bug River in the east and from the Alps and the Northern Carpathians
in the south to the Baltic Sea and the North Sea in the north), they demonstrate
the ranges of the analysed cultural phenomena in a broad context, thus allowing for various
conclusions based on the ethnogeographic method. Still, as the comparative potential of both
atlases is limited, it is here presented on the basis of selected examples drawn from birth
rituals. They all concern enforced seclusion of the woman in labour observed in rural communities,
an issue that has so far remained understudied in ethnological research.
The volume is concerned not only with Upper Silesia but also with other areas. The analysis
embraces the territory of Poland in its present borders and, additionally, regions explored
for the purpose of ADV (at present Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria). Special attention
is given to Silesia, with cultural artifacts and phenomena it shared with the neighbouring
areas and those most characteristic of this particular region.
Chapter 1 outlines the ethnogeographic method, especially in the context of its two important
interpretive perspectives: geographic and abstract—spatial. It also demonstrates the
usefulness of some ethnographic and dialectological atlases as sources for the study of the
origins and evolution of traditional culture. Referring to the experience of scholars who
applied the ethnogeographic method in their interpretations, Chapter 2 highlights the specific
character of Silesia as an ethnic and cultural borderland. Chapter 3 presents most important
literature on birth rituals and seclusion of the woman in labour in rural communities
(beginning with the second half on the 19th century till the beginning of the 21st century). The
next chapter discusses specific problems involved in the study of birth rituals conducted for
the purpose of PAE and ADV. The final chapter focuses on the interpretation possibilities
that emerge when PAE and ADV are compared in terms of selected aspects of birth rituals.
The analysis is limited to proscriptions enforcing isolation of the woman in labour which appear
in source materials of both atlases. The following proscriptions are discussed: crossing
the threshold of the room or house, leaving the homestead, going to the cellar or to the attic,
drawing water from the well, visiting neighbours and taking part in rural festivities. These
issues are presented on fifteen innovative synthetic maps, fourteen of which demonstrate
three different chronological cross-sections: one covering the beginning of the 1930s (the
ADV research), the next one ranging from 1969 to 1976 (the PAE research into birth rituals),
and the last one concerning the years 2008–2011 (the PAE research conducted in several villages in Upper Silesia). The book contains a large number of detailed registers, including
two extensive annexes, a bibliography and a list of maps, figures, tables and charts. One of
the annexes comprises a catalogued, numbered list of towns and villages referred to in PAE,
where birth rituals were studied (1969–1976); the other presents the description of informants
from incoming groups which then inhabited Silesian villages.
The type of analysis proposed in this volume concerns only selected aspects of birth rituals.
Still, it clearly demonstrates that comparative studies based on Polski atlas etnograficzny
and Atlas der deutschen Volkskunde are possible provided that two important conditions are
met: thematic unity and typological similarity of the sources. Each of the atlases requires
a special approach—a thorough study of its content in terms of the quantity and the themes,
with a particular focus on the similarity of material classifications.
The ranges of the majority of phenomena drawn from ADV, demonstrating the condition
of rural culture in the first half on the 1930s and presented on contemporary maps, are usually
vast and fall not only on the core of the former Reich but also on its peripheries, including
a considerable portion of the western and northern territory of today’s Poland. These
phenomena can therefore be considered as older, demonstrating a unique cultural communion
of the area of Central Europe. They are typical not only of Silesia, as they have also
been recorded in neighbouring regions. Differences appear with regard to the participation
of women in labour in rural festivities—this specific prohibition seems to have been characteristic
primarily of Upper Silesia; moreover, it tends to appear in reports of the inhabitants
of this region even in present times, which is a signal of a certain cultural continuity.
The ethnographic maps published in PAE and ADV allow for the conclusion that Silesia
has always been a permanent borderland, an intermediate area, where the analysed phenomena
could permeate from Western Europe directly or through Czechia and Moravia.
It would be difficult to identify clear borders here or even peripheries. Numerous settlement
processes tended to introduce not new forms but variations of older rituals, customs and