Cossack Ways, Customs and Traditions

Here are just some Cossack customs and traditions. It is not by any means an attempt of an encyclopedia for cultural anthropologists. It's just a collection of some facts. Maybe later, when there is more on this sub-page, it will be better organized.

There was a saying: "Cossacks are like children: give them a lot of food - they'll eat it all, give them a little - they'll be happy with what they have".

In household matters Cossacks practiced simplicity, and were very inventive. It seemed they could survive anywhere. When in the field, if they had no metal cooking utensils they managed to cook their food in a wooden (!!!) kettle, adding to it one by one burning hot (from the fire) stones, until the water boiled.

Training in warrior skills began literally from birth for the Cossack. As soon as he was born, an arrow (later a bullet) was put "on his tooth", and they let his hand touch a bow (later a gun). On the seventh day a baby was baptized, and on the 40th day he was clothed into a little mail (armor, stupid, not the envelope) and a little saber was hitched to his side, after which his father returned him back to his mother with the words "here is a Cossack to you". When a baby had his teeth cut through, he was brought to the church on horseback and a service to St. John the Warrior was served, so the boy would grow up brave and dedicated to God and Orthodoxy.

Three-year-olds already rode horseback on their own in the yard, and five-year-olds to their utmost raced on horseback in the streets, shot from the bow and "played war". At times all the kids of Cherkassk marched outside the town, separated there into two equal groups and conducted general battle. They desperately swung with wooden sabers, stabbed with reed spears, took banners away from each other and took prisoners. When they were coming back in, the ataman himself usually came out to praise the brave ones.

Gradually from father to son were transferred the art of horse riding and sharp shooting, adroitness and coordination of actions.

Don Cossacks, as well as Zaporozhians, when leaving for a military campaign, looked ragged - they dressed in everything old. Their rifles looked rusty and unfit, so that the glare from their rifles would not give them away.

During the campaign Cossacks were divided into groups called suma (literally, bag): ten comrades held one suma (bag), in which they kept both reserve supplies and the spoils of war. That's where the Russian expression odnosum (one-bag sharer) came from, which means brother-in-arms, with whom all dangers and joys were divided equally.

In the spring Don Cossacks usually gathered in their main town to elect the Army Ataman and his deputies. Krug (literally, circle) was the gathering of all the Cossacks. The sentence of the Krug was considered final and was not to be appealed. If there was no like-mindedness among the Cossacks on a certain important issue, they fell back on the advice of the White (i.e. Moscow) tsar and did as he said.


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