Wacław Tuwalski

Collecting folklore and, keeping up with advances in technology, recording it in sound and vision, has either been associated with the ‘big names’, e.g. Oskar Kolberg, Gustaw Gizewiusz and the Reverend Skierkowski, or with collective initiatives, such as the Ogólnopolska Akcja Zbierania Folkloru Muzycznego (National Campaign for Collecting Folk Music). However, there are numerous individuals, passionate about folklore in all its manifestations, who can be found all around the country or even scattered amongst single localities. These people are often highly-esteemed in their own communities yet completely unknown in a wider musical world.

Sound carriers and transcriptions from Wacław Tuwalski’s collection. Photo by E Grygier. Photo from the Phonographic Collection of the Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences.

Local enthusiasts, researchers and collectors of folklore

The group of local enthusiasts and collectors is quite substantial and varied. There are both people involved in local cultural institutions (schools, community centres or museums) and individuals who document folklore because they are emotionally attached to it and do it on their own initiative. The Reverend Władysław Skierkowski was one of the most celebrated individuals who loved to document folklore, in his case the region of Kurpiowszczyzna (Kurpie). The works he collected, and published in Puszcza kurpiowska w pieśni (The Kurpie Primeval Forest in Song), were later used by such eminent artists as Karol Szymanowski, Witold Lutosławski and Tadeusz Sygietyński.


Władysław Skierkowski (1886-1941), Puszcza Kurpiowska w pieśni (The Kurpie Primeval Forest in Song). Volume 2 (out of 3). Source: Polona.

The evangelical pastor Gustaw Herman Marcin Gizewiusz was another cleric interested in local folklore, that of the region of Mazury (Masuria). His collections were published as Pieśni ludu znad górnej Drwęcy w parafiach ostródzkiej i kraplewskiej zbierane w 1836 do 1840 roku (The Songs of the People from the Upper Drwęca in the Parishes of Ostróda and Kraplewo Collected between 1836 and 1840).

Such collections are sometimes destined to lie in obscurity waiting to be discovered, as in the case of the wax cylinder recordings made by Juliusz Zborowski – director of the Tatra Museum (Muzeum Tatrzańskie) in Zakopane. Zborowski documented the music of the Tatra Highlanders in 1913 and 1914. The recordings lay in the cupboards of the museum up until the twenty-first century, when they were finally digitalised and released on compact disc.

Rozpoczął tedy fonograf zbieranie melodii podhalańskich… (And then the phonograph began to collect the Tatra tunes…From the Phonographic Collection of the Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences.

Wacław Tuwalski

Wacław Tuwalski is one of the lesser-known collectors of local traditions. All his life and work were squarely focused on the small village of Wola Osowińska in Ziemia Łukowska (Łuków Land), Borki Commune, Radczyński Poviat, Lubelskie Voivodeship. The village is currently occupied by under a thousand inhabitants. However, Wacław Tuwalski did not originally come from Wola Osowińska. He was born on 18 September 1909 in Pogorzel, eight kilometres from the town of Mińsk Mazowiecki (he did die in Wola Osowińska though, on 19 March 1995). He was born into a poor peasant family. His main preoccupation when he was a child was grazing cows. After completing primary school, he decided to continue his education at the Państwowe Męskie Seminarium Nauczycielskie (State Teacher Training College for Men) in Siennica, where he studied between 1923 and 1928. After the Second World War, he enrolled on the Institute of Social and Economic Studies of the Rural Areas at the Catholic University of Lublin, where he graduated after two years. His comprehensive education in Siennica had taught him to read and write music and to play the violin (all of which he used extensively during his further teaching career).

Wacław Tuwalski, a photo from the collection of the Regional Museum in Wola Osowińska.

From 1928, Tuwalski worked as a teacher (since 1932 in Wola Osowińska). He taught a whole range of subjects, including natural sciences, drawing and, even, physical education.

He was the originator of the first Health Cooperative (Spółdzielnia Zdrowia) in Lubelskie Voivodeship, which he established in Wola Osowińska in 1956, and a new school building. The old school thus became the regional chamber and branch of the Regional Society (Towarzystwo Regionalne), funded by Tuwalski in 1977, which today is named after him as the Muzeum Regionalne w Woli Osowińskiej im. Wacława Tuwalskiego (Wacław Tuwalski Regional Museum in Wola Osowińska).

Here are some of the objectives that Tuwalski stated whilst serving as president of the Regional Society:

„continue collecting all the elements of art. These are the last years when we can still save some things that have not been yet lost. 2. Organise folk ensembles in all the domains of art. 3. Promote active participation in artistic creativity. 4. Expand collecting exhibits into outlying villages. 5. Keep on providing assistance and support for folk artists. 6. Introduce elements of folk art into our homes, schools, streets and village fairs and festivities” (W Tuwalski, Kultura Ludowa. Program rozwoju Towarzystwa Regionalnego i Wsi Wola Osowińska [Folk Culture. A programme of further development of the Regional Society and the Village of Wola Osowińska], ed. President of the Regional Society in Wola Osowińska Wacław Tuwalski, brochure, date unknown, judging from the contents it was published in 1990, p. 19.)

Documenting the folklore of Wola Osowińska

Although Tuwalski was not a native inhabitant of Wola Osowińska, he devoted all his professional life and much of his free time to that village. After his school work, Tuwalski wandered around the area (occasionally on a bicycle) and documented its material and non-material legacy: he collected traditional elements of house furnishings, tools and folk costumes. But what is particularly important from our point of view is that he also documented the local folk music. Initially, he used the so-called pencil method for his documentation purposes. He took down his wedding notes back in 1935-1938 usually recruiting his informants from amongst elderly women. Unfortunately, those notes were lost during the ravages of the Second World War. He did not introduce voice recordings after the war, most probably in the 1960s. He attached a tape recorder to the carrier of his bicycle and thus reached the farthest corners of Wola Osowińska, Osowno and the other neighbouring villages.

Wacław Tuwalski’s home in Wola Osowińska, photo by J Jackowski. Photo from the Phonographic Collection of the Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences.

He made huge efforts to promote the local artists. One of his initiatives was to gather and publish a collection of poems titled Wiersze spod strzechy (Poems from under the Thatched Roof) written by the local folk poet Teodozja Wierzchowska from the village of Sętki. Today, Wola Osowińska hosts the Międzywojewódzki Konkurs Recytatorski Poezji i Prozy Ludowej im. Wacława Tuwalskiego (Wacław Tuwalski Inter-Voivodeship Folk Poetry and Prose Recitation Competition).


Tuwalski left behind numerous recordings made on reel tapes and cassettes. The recordings are now owned by the Regional Museum and their digitalised copies are also kept in the Phonographic Collection of the Institute of Art at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

The collection includes ethnographic recordings, e.g. interviews about the local history, stories, information about herbal medicines and traditional healing methods, as well as ethnomusical recordings, such as wedding songs, funeral songs and other types of ceremonial and everyday rural repertoire.

A tape from Wacław Tuwalski’s collection, photo by E Grygier. Photo from the Phonographic Collection of the Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences:

Ethnomusical recordings:

  • Wedding songs
  • Funeral songs
  • Sacred songs sung at weddings
  • Works related to Wola Osowińska, e.g. A w tej naszej Woli (Here in Our Wola), Te woleńskie panienki (The Maidens of Wola)
  • Popular works
  • Easter shows Recordings of the members of the mandolin ensemble directed by Wacław Tuwalski in the 1980s

Ethnographic recordings – ethnographic interviews

  • about herbal medicines,
  • about treating injuries and diseases (e.g. herbs for lung illnesses, a cough etc.)
  • about treating animals (cows, horses, pigs etc.)
  • about breaking spells (an interview with a female witch doctor)
  • stories (about a land surveyor, a crow, working in a manor, about Jews, about a singing ghost of a dead maiden, about forced labour, about grazing cows, about poverty, about nourishment etc.)

What is sorely lacking in Tuwalski’s recordings, however, is instrumental music. Tuwalski mostly documented elderly female singers and vocal ensembles. There are performances of the mandolin ensemble that he himself directed (recordings of its individual members), but they do not contain folk music. The local area could actually boast an instrumental ensemble established by the Mateusiak family but for some reason Tuwalski omitted it.

A wedding in Wola Osowińska as noted down by Wacław Tuwalski

The notes concerning the rituals and repertoire performed at weddings that Tuwalski took down in the 1930s were sadly, and typically, lost during the ravages of the Second World War. It is worth noting here that Tuwalski was a member of the Bataliony Chłopskie (Farmers’ Battalions), a rural underground movement fighting against the German occupiers, and held false identification papers issued in the name of Józef Kurecki. He succeeded in restoring the notes from memory after the war, however.

A description of a wedding as portrayed by Tuwalski falls into ten stages:

  1. Dressing up the birch rod. During this ceremony, people sing the following songs: W niedzielę rano jesce nie był dzień (It wasn’t yet the day on Sunday morning), Z tamtyj struny młyna rosła jarzambina (The rowan tree grew on the other side of the mill) and Zasiałem se zagun prosa nie mogłem go ząć (I sowed a bed of millet but I couldn’t reap it). After this section of the ceremony is done, the bridesmaids sing the following songs for the bridegroom: Poznas Jasieńka, poznas młodego (You’re going to meet your Johnny, you’re going to meet your boy) and on behalf of the bridegroom: Moja mamuniu, moja rodzuna pozwól do zuny jechać (My mummy, my dear, let me go to my wife) and finally on behalf of the mother: Z Bogam synecku, z Bogam i pozwoleniem mojam (May God lead you, my son, you have my blessing)
  2. Evening and morning hours – „the wedding guests arrived on Saturday evening and on Sunday morning. The evening and morning hours were dedicated to them. The hosts greeted them with food and beer” wrote Tuwalski (ibid, p. 4). During those hours, people sang the following songs: Kiedy nam będą wieczorowe/porankowe godziny żeby się tutaj weselni goście schodzili (We’re waiting for the evening/morning hours so that the guests come at last); Tam u jeziora u bystryj wody mała gąsecka pływa (A gosling is swimming there in that swift water of the lake); Tam koło młyna rosła kalina, tam siedziała młoda Mania wiunecki wiła (The cranberry tree grew beside the mill, where young Maggie sat and wove the garlands),
  3. Weaving the Garland. Songs: Poznas Marysię, poznas młodziuchną, co się za mąz sykuje (You’re going to meet your Molly, you’re going to meet your girl who’s ready to get married) and the same melody was used for Moja mamuniu, moja rodzuna, pozwól za Jasiańka iść (My mummy, my dear, let me marry my Johnny); next: Chodziła Marysia po sadzie, zieluno wino sadzę (Molly walked around the orchard sowing the green vine); Mamuniu moja, wydaj mie już do ludzi mie się w dumu bardzo nudzi, mamuniu moja (My mummy, marry me off, I want to go amongst the people, I’m bored here, mummy please); Hen po podlas, hen po podlas zieluteńki (Let us run to the forest, the forest so green); Piele ach piele to drobne ziele (I weed, oh I must keep on weeding)
  4. Greeting the bridegroom’s retinue. Songs: [sung by the bridegroom’s wedding hostess:] Oj z chmaramy bujny wiaterku z chmaramy, jedzie Jasiańko do swej Marysi z daramy (Blow oh wind, blow my wind, while Johnny’s coming to his Molly); Wyjdź ze Marysiu bez siań bez progi (Come out Molly, come to greet us); Oj zawitajze Panie Jezusie tu do nas (Come Jesus, visit us here)
  5. Offering the garland. Wiła Marysia wiunecek (Molly was weaving a garland) [instrumental introduction followed by a vocal version); Jasio wiunek przyjmuje, za wiunek dziankuje (Johnny gets the garland and thanks for the garland); [the older bridesmaid sings to the parents] Dziankuje ci mamo za wychowanie i tobie tatusiu za wyćwicanie (Thank you, mummy, for the upbringing and thank you, daddy, for the training);
  6. The ceremony of unplaiting. [sung by all:] Jasiańku młody piaknyś młodzianiec wykup se wykup od Marysi wianiec (Young Johnny, beautiful youth, buy out the garland from your Molly); [bridesmaids:] Marysiu młoda piaknaś jagoda, nie oddaj wiunka bo zginie uroda (Young Molly, beautiful as a berry, don’t sell off the garland or you lose all your beauty); Bracisku który choć nie rodzuny, rozpleć siostrzyckę bandziesz zbawiumy (Oh brother, even if not in blood, unplait the sister and redeem yourself); Oj rozplatajze a nie targaj, wyplecies sobie złoty talar (Go on, unplait but don’t pull too much, you’ll unplait a gold dollar); Oj w polu w polu lescyna, a pod lescyną dziewcyna (There’s a hazelbush in the field, there’s a girl underneath); Trzy punki, trzy punki, samej białej rózy (Three buds, there are three buds of the whitest rose);
  7. Apologies. Songs: Oj zakukała kukawecka w pół bora (Oh the cuckoo sang out loud amidst the trees); Oj do stoła moja rodzino do stoła (Come my family, oh come to the table); Upadaj, upadaj tatusiowi do nóg (Fall, oh fall to your daddy’s knees); Kołam kołam słunecko idzie nasa Marysia do ślubu idzie (Oh glorious sun, can you see our daughter coming to her wedding?);
  8. Return from the church, dinner. Songs: W mojam ogródecku wyrosły goździki, zaprzęgaj Jasiańku te wrune kuniki (Carnations have blossomed in my garden, hitch up those fleet horses, Johnny); Na rogu stoła siedziała sowa rozpuściłą swe kosy, oj nie uzyjes młoda Marysiu za Jasiańkam rozkosy (An owl sat beside the table and spread its talons, oh young Molly, no pleasures you will have with your Johnny); W zielunam gaiku tam ptasecek nuci, już ci się Marysiu wiunecek nie wróci (In the green grove the bird is chirping, oh Molly, you’re never going to get your garland back now); Idzie słuńce od zapiecka, bierz się Maryś do cypecka (The sun’s coming down, Molly, you’d better hurry up!).
  9. Short chants: Dzisiaj w tam dumu bardzo wesoło, bo wszyscy goście siedzą wokoło (Today’s a happy day, all the guests are gathered there around the table); A idźciez prec fryzy moje, idźciez prec, sprzedoł Jasio parę wołów na cepiec (Go away, my locks, Johnny has sold a few oxen to buy the bonnet); Oj chmielu chmielu, ty bujne ziele, nie bandzie bez cię żadne wesele (Hop, oh hop, the lush herb, there’s no wedding without you); Nasa Marysia, nasa, za nią gorzałki flasa (Our Molly, our Molly dear, bring us some drinks here); Dajcie, dajcie nie załujcie, na cypej podarujcie (Bring it here, don’t be mean, bring your presents here); Zbieraj Marysiu swe drobne smatki, bo już odchodzis do drugij matki (Gather, oh Molly, gather your stuff, you’ll live with a different mother now); Pocóześ mie matuleńko za mąz wydała, kiedym ja się w gospodarstwie nie rozumiała (Why have you married me off, mummy, I never knew about farming).
  10. Saying goodbye. Songs: A wychodźce a siadajze Maryś kochanie, już nie nada nie pomoze twoje kochanie (Come out, Molly, do sit down here, you don’t belong there now); Nic nie nada nie pomoze para kuni stoi w wozie pozakładana (There’s no help now, nothing can be done, the horses are waiting);

A wedding ceremony was recreated and filmed in accordance with these instructions. Unfortunately, the video version is not easily available, but I strongly recommend that anyone interested in watching it visit the Regional Museum in Wola Osowińska.


It is not often the case that a small community has been graced with its ‘own’ regionalist. Located at the crossroads of three regions: Mazowsze (Mazovia), Podlasie (Podlachia) and Lubelszczyzna (Lublin Land), Wola Osowińska has been a lucky exception, though. Today, thanks to the hard work of the local teacher, Wacław Tuwalski, the recordings of traditional folklore bring us closer to the type of repertoire that was performed in the area in the past eras.

The attitude of Tuwalski, who spared no expense of time and money to document the folklore, is worth the utmost admiration. He did not only collect the ‘folk miscellany’ (including songs), but also strived to recreate the local folk costumes and directed performances (e.g. weddings). His contribution to the preservation of the material and spiritual culture of Wola Osowińska cannot be overstated.

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