Kaszuby, in German Kassuben, Kaschuben, Kaschubei, in documents Cassubia, Cassubitae, the name of a region and people in West Prussia; it is not certain what the name comes from, whether from kasanie hub [fold, pleat] (a term still used for fald [fold, pleat]), or from kaszuby, which in Pomerania means “fairly shallow water overgrown with high grass.” At one time the clans of the Pomeranian princes came from the Kaszuby region. It was originally quite extensive, covering all of Pomerania that is now Germanized. In the mid 13th-century the princes of eastern Mecklenburg signed their names as “duces Cassubitarum” [“leaders” or “dukes” of Cassubitae]. Currently belonging to the Kaszuby region, however, is the northwestern portion of Chojnice powiat, almost all of Koscierzyna powiat (not counting an eastern band near Skarszewy, Zblewo, and Lubichowo), all of Kartuzy and Wejherowo powiats, and the northwestern part of Gdansk powiat, and finally a few remnants in the Germanized districts of BytÑw and Lebork. To the north Kaszuby extends to the Baltic Sea, the Bays of Puck and Gdansk; to the east it borders on the territories of the Zulawiaks and Kociewiaks; to the south live the Borowiaks; and to the west lies Germanized Pomerania. There are no really large rivers or streams in Kaszuby; still the rivers and streams there are numerous and swift-running, issuing mostly from lakes. The more important are: the Brda, Czarna Woda (in its origins), Wierzyca, Wietcisa, Radunia, Slupa, Slupianka, Strzelniczka, Leba, Czarna, Reda, Chylonia, Strzysza, and many others. Lakes are very numerous, including: Wdzydze, Suminskie, Peplinskie, Wielskie, Koscierskie, Radunskie, Gowidlinskie, Zarnowskie, and others almost beyond counting. Stretching through the center of Kaszuby from east to west is the Ural-Baltic Ridge (German name Ural-baltischer LandrÙcken) with the highest elevations in the hills of the Szymbark area (1,020 m. above sea level). These hills divide Kaszuby into two parts, northern and southern.
The soil of southern Kaszuby is for the most part sandy, watery, and stony; only rare breaks entertain the eye with golden wheat and green meadows. Before there was a highway there, a well-off father bringing his son back from vacation in Chojnice would harness three spry steeds, and take along several spare ropes just in case, for in the sand one could not cover more than 21 km. in 5 hours, and the wheels often sank up to the axle in the loose element. The ordinary farm-owner considered such a trip too hard on his harness. So the poorer peasants would usually set out on foot. If it weren’t for the lakes and their fish, the inhabitants would have to forsake their patches of sand, for the soil would not support them. Besides withered rye and small potatoes, the fields are covered at best only with white buckwheat, from which the Kaszub has his beloved porridge, which for him stands in for all other dishes. He may have some bread he’s bought, and he entertains guests under his thatched roof only on holidays. Small villages are rare here, too, with meager buildings, and they are usually located on water, on which the inhabitants go without care in their small canoes hollowed out of logs.
It is more cheerful in northern Kaszuby. The soil there, though cold, is more fertile, sometimes black, and is densely populated. Hills and valleys of all kinds make for variation. If we stand on some high point east or west, we have before us a landscape which other regions famed for their beauty might envy us. Dark forests usually enclose the field of view, in which green fields, lakes shining gold in the sun, narrow bands of small, swift-flowing rivers and brooks contrast with small villages, usually hidden on the water in valleys. This part is rightly called Szwajcarja Kaszubska [Swiss Kaszuby], namely, the beautifully situated vicinities of Wejherowo, Kartuzy, Zukowo, Chmielno, the Szymbark hills, Zarnowiec, Oliwa on the sea, etc. Alongside the large and medium-sized estates there are small farms here, the largest a hundred mÑrgs. But the peasant is comfortable, even affluent. In the forest it is no rarity to find wild boars rooting; when one emerges to feed on peas and oats, it is felled more often by the peasant’s bullet than the forester’s. Farther on, where the hills do not approach the sea, unfathomable peat bogs stretch from Oliwa almost to Puck, the source of a fair-sized profit. In the Bay of Puck and the sea, and in the larger lakes, people work as fishermen. From there salmon, flounder, and eels are sent for fast-day meals to Torun, Gdansk, and Warsaw, and unsalted herring goes to nourish the natives. In the forest they gather mushrooms and berries, which they bring to town. They also burn coal, and rework wood for farm use. But most often they work in the fields.
In form the Kaszub is not tall; he is bony, nimble, of rather fair complexion, usually with light-colored hair. The men’s clothing consists of a long, pleated frock (of homespun), with firm calf s leather shoes, often tar-soaked, and pants, also of homespun, reaching down to their tops. Currently the most typical feature of every Kaszub’s attire is a large cap (like the ones firemen wear), covering the back of the skull, and the ears with flaps; gray sheepskin is sewn on the front, and the inside is also lined with sheepskin. They used to wear a tall sheepskin cap with short silk ribbons, usually yellow, on the back. Young Kaszub women also delight in warm homespun dresses with similar ribbons. In summer they wear on their heads a thin white scarf knotted under the chin-thus they are called bialki [“white ones”].
The Kaszub is jolly and free, and if he’s been drinking, he would give his neighbor all he has. But when you get on his bad side, he is obstinate and uncompromising, which is the source of a proverb, “Uparty jak Kaszuba” [“stubborn as a Kaszub”J. It is hard to find any real anger in him. Only one thing has ever really gotten to him, and that was the Order of the Teutonic Knights; when a Kaszub wants to revile someone in the coarsest of terms, he will shout at him “Te komtorze!” [“You Knights commander!”] (he also calls the toad komtur). He receives guests cordially and treats them to whatever he can. Formerly at weddings and baptisms drinking-bouts were common; but now after the Jesuit fathers’ missions, an exemplary sobriety and industry is the rule. This is a most pious people, they besiege the famous Wejherowo kalwarye by the thousands; they also make pilgrimages in hordes to more distant holy places such as in Laki, Gietrzwald, etc. Their churches are always overcrowded, although their parishes, like rural dioceses, are widely dispersed. The Kaszub is an avid learner, and many Kaszub sons are educated in gimnazjums in Wejherowo, Peplino, Chelmno, and Chojnice. In general the boys distinguish themselves in school with their persistent work, and quite often with their quick talent.
One can distinguish here three types of szlachta. The most ancient pure-blooded Pomeranian or Kaszub nobles, who can usually be recognized beforehand by their short surnames ending in -a, survive in fairly large numbers in the powiat of Kartuzy and in Pomerania, as far as to Slupsk. Among them were the families of Jarka, Pyrcha, Wnuk, Janta, and many others. Their inheritances are not large. Another kind of nobles, the zagonowa [roughly equivalent to “yeoman” in English] are densely settled in Kartuzy and (northern) Chojnice powiaty, and come from the cavalry officer’s aides who supposedly received arms under Jan III Sobieski at Vienna. The third kind consist of Polish families who moved to Prussia in large numbers in the 16th and 17th centuries, endowed with extraordinary privileges, especially exemption from the levy en masse beyond the borders of the country. The first and the third have become greatly Germanized. Among the towns, Koscierzyna has most preserved a Kaszub character; that is why it is called the capital of Kaszuby. Next comes Wejherowo, more recently founded, which has recently become more Germanized. Other towns formerly Kaszub, such as Puck, Lebork, Bytowo, Slupsk, Leba, and to some extent Gdansk, are now almost entirely Germanized.
To this point only one railway line crosses Kaszuby, the Gdansk-Slupsk line at Oliwa, Wejherowo, and Lebork. Currently they are building another, secondary one from PszczÑlki to Skarszewy to Koscierzyna and Bytow. Efforts are also being made for a similar line from Zukowo to Kartuzy, but so far the prospects are not good. Highways are somewhat more densely located. In order to get at least an approximate idea of the number of the Kaszub population, the best way is to look at the parishes in which Kaszubs live, for to be a Kaszub is to be a Catholic; in general there are few German Catholics among the Kaszubs. Kaszub is first and foremost the entire deanery of Puck, with the parishes of Jastarnia, Mechowo, Starzyn, Wejherowo, Gora, Oksywie (Chylonia), Puck, Rumia (Reda), Swarzewo, Strzelin, Tulowo, and Zarnowiec; the total of souls here is over 27,000. The second deanery, Koscierzyna or Mirachowo, includes the following parishes: Koscierzyna, Kartuzy, Chmielno, Gorecin (Kielpin), Gowidlino, Stare Grabowo (Reknica), Lipusz, Luzino, Parchowo, Sianowo, Sierakowice, Stezyca, Strzepcz, Sulecin; that is over 43,000 souls. Lebork deanery, with the parishes of Ugosc, Bytowo, Niezabyszewo, Lebork, and Rozlazin, has over 6,000 souls. Scattered in other deaneries are the Kaszub parishes of Zukowo, Przodkowo, Maternia, Oliwa (partially), Kielno, Chwaszczyno, Kiszewa, Wiele, Legno, Brusy, Borzyszkowy, for a total of over 43,000. So the whole Kaszub population totals about 120,000 souls, a number that would be rather too low than too high, inasmuch as the above reckoning is done according to diocesan summaries from 1867 (obviously after having discounted non-Kaszubs), and recently the numbers of the population have increased everywhere.
The Kaszub language differs significantly from contemporary Polish, although experts say that it is one of its most primeval forms. This language, like the whole people, is rapid and lively in nature. The accent usually falls on the syllable farthest from the end. The Kaszubs themselves divide themselves in terms of pronunciation into Lasaks and Beloks. The former, in the south near Koscierzyna, speak more firmly; the Beloks, near Wejherowo and Puck, cannot pronounce l~. Considerable variety in pronunciation predominates in various towns. Medial y and other vowels are most often pronounced as e: Peck (Puck), reba (ryba, “fish”), grepa (grupa, “group”), Slepsk (Slupsk). Palatalization is almost totally unknown, so they say czetac (instead of czytac, “to read”), cetka (instead of ciotka, “aunt”), pisac (instead of pisac, “to write”). In endings they drop the e in -ek: pask (instead of pasek), matk (instead of matek, from the word for “mother”), ojc (instead of ojciec, “father”). They have preserved the old dual in the forms pojdma, pojwa (instead of pojdzmy, pojdzcie, “let’s [both] go, you [both] go”). They have also preserved many almost unknown terms, e. g., czechlo, czechel (grave clothes), gunia (a garment of coarse material), lez (lie), plesz (tonsure), pleszok (priest), plesze (dots or eyes on potatoes), nekac (to drive cattle into the fields), molnia chlaszcze or chlasta (a dry, glossy shine), etc. Despite all that, a Kaszub understands a Pole very well, and reads Polish books (almost every one, because they study alone at home; at school they have long since been Germanized); they even take it ill if a Pole speaks to them po “kaszebsku” (in Kaszubian). They like to read Polish periodicals, especially when exhorted to do so by their pastors, most of whom, unfortunately, have been Germans, and not the best. In the single parish of Mechowo, with a not over-large population, they keep 78 copies of the rather heavily written Pielgrzym.
In recent times Kaszuby has become rather famous. First and foremost, Dr. Cejnowa began to collect anecdotes, proverbs (not always Kaszubian), songs (many flirtatious and almost unknown); they were printed in small brochures under the title Skorb kaszebskje move [Treasury of Kaszubian]. In Poznan Rev. Gustaw Poblocki published Slowniczek mowy kaszubskiej [A Small Dictionary of Kaszubian]. A kind of Kaszubian epic was written by the well known Hieronim Derdowski, entitled O panu Czorlinscim co do Puck po sece jachol, Torun 1880. See also the dissertation of Rev. Kujot in Warta, a collective work, Poznan 1874. A. Helferding has also written a lot about Kaszuby. See his Collected Works (in Russian), Petersburg 1868-73, volume 3. Also Seidel, “Das Land und Volk der Kassuben” [The Land and People of Kaszuby], Neue Preuss. Provinzialbl¹tter, 1852, vol. 48. [Rev. Fankidejski].
Source: Slownik Geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego – Warsaw [1882, vol. 3, pp. 904-907].
Translated by William F. Hoffman, PGSA Spring 1999 Bulletin.