When I first saw this list, I was surprised. I found this set of core values as articulated by a German Bohemian community in Minnesota very similar to what I've considered Bukovinan values in the Ellis, Kansas, community. Even though the German Bohemian Bukovina community in Kansas is several hundred years removed from its Bohemian roots, I believe that many of us still carry aspects of the German Bohemian culture even after having undergone several major migratory movements over a two hundred year period. I find this amazing, simply amazing! Cultural values are much more deeply imbedded in our psyche and social being than we may think. Some might say these values are genetic but I believe that we are simply seeing the deeply imbedded cultural values of a community.
In re-configuring this list I find six inter-related value areas: personal, community, family, religious, agrarian, and economic. Personal values include hard work, cleanliness, moral convictions, not being rigid, personal accountability, privateness, self-determination, and strict honesty. Other personal values such as fun-loving and music spill over into community and family values which also include women building the community fabric, the father as the head of the household, and the children serving the parents and family. The family and community were supported by religious values such as the celebration of church festivals, which also revolved around the agrarian seasons and practices such as planting and harvesting. The agrarian lifestyle was supported by economic values such as conserving and reusing, saving for later generations and the family as an economic unit. These economic values supported the individual and family in future endeavors. As we add these values together we get a multifaceted, yet inter-related picture of the German Bohemian way of life. And there seems to be a mix of individual virtues midst the strong communal values.
If these are some of the core, cultural values that we've inherited two hundred years ago from the German Bohemians of Bohemia, what about the impact of our 100 years in Bukovina? Did anything change? It appears not. To take a closer look at the core values of the German Bohemians of Bukovina both in Bukovina and America, I reviewed numerous articles by Dr. Welisch and Oren Windholz's recent publication. From these articles I've identified four areas to address: 1) the agrarian lifestyle, 2) community, 3) religious practices, and 4) personal values. From the perspective of the late 19th Century Bukovina citizen and early American, Bukovina immigrant, we will see the same set of values that Meter and Paulson identified in the Bohemian Forest and Egerland in the early 19th Century. And I also believe that these same values are for the most part, in their own contemporary expressions, still with us today. Let's look closer.
The German Bohemians of Bukovina were an agrarian people with corresponding cultural practices and values. Even though they had their well-developed trades and crafts such as glass making, they lived on and from the land. After visiting both the Bohemian Forest and Carpathian Mountain areas in 1991 and watching the people continue to work the land, I got a clear sense of a pre-industrial, agrarian identity that still remains in the remote mountain areas of Romania. For instance the hay was cut by hand and hauled on horse drawn carts. This long-standing rootedness to the land gives these people a practical, day-to-day, mode of survival involving all the senses in a manner that I simply call "earthy" or down-to-earth. This agrarian lifestyle was enriched by other customs around food and music, nicknames and stories, cooking and farming, midwives and priests, liquor and smokes, several sorts of sewing/sowing, various crafts and trades, religious processions and items galore, family gatherings and dances, and weddings and wakes. All of this could have been experienced in a few day's or a week's time. This agrarian lifestyle helped tie together their personal, community, economic, and religious life. Overall, I sense a common, externalized yet deeply felt, hands on, way of life in the agrarian aspect of their culture.
This aspect of the German Bohemian culture moved from the Bohemian Forest to Bukovina to the rural High Plains of America. It would remain as long as the people stayed close to farm, family and community, and religious traditions related to the land.
Modernity and the industrial and technological revolutions took their toll on our agrarian culture. Lifestyle orientations detracting from the Old World way of life included the increasing use of modern technology, consumer habits that seek convenience and speed, urbanization that pulls people from the land, and the social mobility that pulls family and community apart. As Americans we've made many economic and lifestyle gains but has there been a cultural cost?
Religion and specifically the Roman Catholic religion was a significant part of the lives of these people for centuries. Catholicism also happened to be the Austrian Empire's "religion of choice" since the late 1500's. The German Bohemian's religion was expressed individually and communally in many ritualistic ways. To discuss these in detail would occupy this whole presentation. Certainly these practices helped them deal with many of life's basic questions, needs and problems. It also bound them together with a common system of meaning and value. But unfortunately the externalized nature of their religiosity did not always hold up well after emigration. Dr. Welisch points out, "the Bukoviner's faith, deeply rooted in family activities, congregational prayers, and church processions, i.e., on outward mechanical rather than on inward spiritual affirmation, often suffered a serious blow when transported outside the province. As a refugee in Germany or Austria or as an immigrant in the United States, he truly became a displaced person, having lost the security of his extended family, the familiarity of his village community, and the comfort of his church as he knew it" (Welisch, 1988, p. 28). We could say that this religiosity was very culturally and historically bound. Without all the aspects of particular cultural setting for support such as the rural lifestyle, language, community and geographical isolation, it struggled to endure.
I've had some difficulty dealing with my inherited Catholicism. My family was deeply tied to the German Bohemian Catholic tradition as my grandfather Nemechek helped build the first Catholic Church building in WaKeeney and my mother spent some time in the convent. Obviously she left the convent and had a family. As a youth and then as an adult, I struggled because I could not integrate the outward aspects of a religion that I learned through family and culture with what I had learned about myself inwardly through contemporary psychology and spirituality studies. This conflict resulted in my moving in and out of the seminary several times before getting ordained as a Catholic priest in 1982. In 1984 the conflict was still not resolved so I took a leave of absence from the active priesthood and in 1987 I resolved my conflicts by seeking and receiving ministerial standing with the Protestant, United Church of Christ. With this transition I found peace because I could be authentic and religious without having to deal with what I've found to be irreconcilable conflicts between my family's Old World religious expression and life today. Yet, in a deeper sense I still believe that I've been able to remain true to my cultural roots by being spiritual and religious, albeit with new outward expressions.
Some of you may have had a similar struggle played out in different stories. Others may find my story and conclusions offensive. My guess is that as long as you have stayed in the more self-contained communities and stayed close to immigrant family origins, you are able to remain comfortable and strong in the style of Catholic religiosity you inherited from your German Bohemian ancestors. But for those who have had to move further into the modern American world of the city, higher education, mobility, religious pluralism and individuality, our inherited agrarian, German Bohemian expression of Catholicism is a thing of the past. But as Americans, we can surely say “To each his own” on this topic.
Much has been said about the communal nature of these people as expressed in their families, extended families and villages. One does not have to spend much time on genealogy to find the same names and individuals appearing year after year in a related manner in the church baptism, marriage and sponsorship records. The daily life of survival included working, eating, playing, praying, worshipping, and craftsmanship, all of which was done with others in the family and village. And these families and villages stayed intact for generations if not hundreds of years. That's a community!
As we came to America, the distances, the frontier and over-riding value of individualism pulled at our communal nature but it has survived. Economic opportunity and geographical necessity did break down the day-to-day expressions of community once practiced in our culture of origin. As immigrants we worked at building our own portions of the American dream but aspects of our communal nature lingered on. As a child I remember the practices of having Sunday dinner with the grandparents at least monthly, visiting neighboring farmsteads in the evenings, and the huge holiday gatherings for relatives on the religious feasts of Christmas and Easter. The holiday gatherings for the relatives got smaller and smaller because too many people had too far to drive so we started an annual summer camping outing in Central Kansas at the end of July that has gone on for 15 years (and in 2004 it’s now a 25 year tradition). I attended this gathering every few years until my larger Bukovina family started gathering here in mid-July, leaving me with a tough scheduling choice every summer.
Today we gather as an extended family that has not let the last one hundred years pull us apart. Two examples of this are the annual convention over the last six years and the numerous family reunions being held each year. Just this last September my own Nemechek family gathered in Hays for a reunion with representatives of the remaining nine of twelve family lines present. This was the first such gathering for us since early this century. It is fair to say that most of us as either individual families or a larger cultural group are having a resurgence of our ethnic communal ties.
And finally, as I researched the German Bohemian, Bukovina immigrant's personal values, I found much of what Meter and Paulson already outlined for an earlier period in their history. For instance the German-Bohemian Bukoviner valued work, frugality, thrift, self-denial, and using and re-using personal items as well as not turning to criminal activity even midst poverty as immigrants (Welisch, "Bukovina-German Pioneers in Urban America", 1989, pgs. 20-23). There were many expressions of personal piety such as the belief in the intervention of God in the affairs of man, the sign of the cross, religious greetings, lighting candles and having crucifixes (Welisch, "Faith of Our Fathers", 1988, pg. 22). The people had sayings that carried the values of personal responsibility, relational humility, accepting life's inevitability's, and maintaining good relational associations (Welisch, "Faith of Our Fathers", 1988, pg. 27-28). The Bukoviners were also a people who practiced the value of tolerance, as they had to live in country that contained many different ethnic groups living side by side (Welisch, "Bukovina's Nationalities", 1989, pg. 31). But we also see a people that lived most of their lives close to home, family, and the community. There was an inter-relatedness and mutual support in the family and between the family and community (Welisch, "Bukovina: An Historical Overview", 1989, pg. 13). Both the family and community were important sustainers of the culture. And finally we see the valuing of dancing and singing (Windholz, 1993, pg. 37-39). These musical practices were carried on at home, at dances and most importantly, the wedding celebrations.
I see these personal values in us today. Even though our once geographically close communities and families have spread out across the county, we still carry these values as individuals. For instance we value work, frugality, conserving, religious and spiritual practices, personal responsibility, relational respect, group gatherings, and music and dancing. I see these values in the lifestyles of my own relatives as well as in the lifestyles of members of the Society. This ethic has continued in us even though we are more urban and mobile. Midst all the talk about values today, I think we have something to offer the larger society of America. I hope that we continue to nurture and cherish the heritage and treasure of our cultural values.
V. Additional Perspectives
In this presentation I originally intended to include much sociological research and theory to further analyze our culture. After consultation with Dr. Welisch and Mrs. Ellingson, who both provided invaluable critiques during my work, I decided to just briefly refer to some of this material as well as several other topics, namely, the German Bohemians as a "border people" and the relationship between spirituality and culture. Please bear with me through this additional material as I find it helpful.
In 1968 and 1972 Dr. Geert Hofstede conducted a study of the employees of Hermes, an international corporation with workers in 40 free world countries. The purpose of his study was to identify statistically significant manifestations of culture that he referred to as "mental programs . . . most clearly expressed in the values of a people" (Hofstede, 1984, pg. 11). A people's culture would then be the sum and configuration of these values or mental programs.
Through his research and as outlined in his book Culture's Consequences, Hofstede found four key indicators of culture: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, and masculinity. Power distance refers to the degree to which power, prestige and wealth are equally distributed. He found that modern Germanic countries like West Germany and Austria tended to spread these elements around in the hands of many whereas Americans let fewer people have more.
The uncertainty avoidance index referred to a people's ability to tolerate risk, uncertainty and ambiguity. Hofstede found that North Americans could live with a lot of risk, uncertainty and ambiguity.
The individualism index refers the way a people live together, value, and communicate. Do they act individually or collectively? The research pointed to the United States as the most individualistic country while modern day West Germany and Austria were near the mean.
And finally, the masculinity index or gender index refers to the balance between masculinity and femininity in a culture. Masculinity refers to attitudes about strength, assertiveness, competitiveness, and ambition. Femininity refers to affection, compassion, nurturance and emotionality. Hofstede found modern day Austria to be one of the most masculine countries and West Germany and the United States were not far behind.
How would our inherited culture rate in regards to these factors? I can speculate but we really need data from sociological research. I've not done that research and I'm not aware of anyone doing any such research but it would certainly be interesting to conduct such a study on our membership and the residents of Bukovinan communities such as Ellis.
From the perspective of cultural studies I found another very helpful concept. In their article on the German Bohemians Meter and Paulson referred to them as a "border people" (Meter and Paulson, pg. 6, 1992). Originally Germanic, they lived between German Bavaria and Czech Bohemia and spent centuries in this in-between land. They spoke several languages, had shifting religious and political loyalties amidst the changing relationships among the Czechs, Germans and Austrians and ethnically intermarried. To survive in this situation, they had to be flexible in their identity. They were an adapting people. In time they took on both Germanic and Czech cultural characteristics. Certainly the flexibility of these so-called border people later helped them adjust to Bukovina where they lived with Romanians, Gypsies, Jews, Hungarians, Poles and Ukrainians. This flexibility helped them get along with neighboring villages, and learn various languages. My guess is that this flexibility also helped our Bukovinan ancestors adapt to being Americans. Unfortunately this same adaptability may have also added to their confusion or forgetfulness as to their cultural identity once in America. Maybe that is why we, a hundred years later, are now involved in the difficult process of sorting out our cultural identity.
I find this concept of the German Bohemians as a "border people" helpful in understanding a controversial aspect of the Ellis, German Bohemian cultural identity. In the publication, Bohemian Germans in Kansas: A Catholic Community from Bukovina (Windholz, 1993), Oren Windholz says, "the Bohemian German immigrants thought of themselves as being Austrians". Oren supports this with local, Ellis testimony and I, too, can support it with what I heard about my maternal Schuster and Nemechek relatives. Many of you also have immigration records or other legal documents that indicate Austria as the country of origin, which would be historically correct at their time of departure from Europe.
Yet Dr. Welisch from the perspective of her work in New York City points out in recent correspondence to me that in her experience "Bukovina Germans always considered themselves Austro-Germans or Bukovina-Germans or Germans from Austria, not Austrians". Additionally, she points out that "the Germans of Bukovina identified more with family and village than with province or country. Their loyalty was to that small web of kinship and to immediate locality rather than to sovereign state".
Why did our Ellis ancestors initially and continually referred to themselves as Austrians? Possibly this is a local issue as the German Bohemians tried to maintain a separate cultural identity over against the "Russians", or I should say the Volga Germans of Ellis County. In later years it certainly had something to do with maintaining some distance from the Germany of World War I and II. We wanted to make sure that our neighbors knew us as Americans in the most patriotic sense possible. Yet these people called themselves Austrians as they arrived and as I visit with local people this weekend, I still find people calling themselves "Austrians."
Possibly this has something to do with the German Bohemians being a "border people". Their adaptability and flexibility as "border people" allowed them to be who and what they needed to be to survive. Thus to have some "Austrian" identity in Eastern Europe in the late 1800's would align them with the tenuous but still dominate powers of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. To have some "Austrian" identity as a German Bohemian Catholic would validate one's faith since Roman Catholicism was the preferred State religion. It also makes sense for the immigrant Bukoviner in America, the so-called ethnic melting pot, to be an "Austrian" who values the Austrian idea of peoples of all nationalities and lands getting along as one political entity.
(In 2004 I’ve decided that it’s probably much simpler than this. We were “Austrian” in Western Kansas because that’s what they wrote on the immigration documents at Ellis Island and other American ports.)
Admittedly, by calling themselves "Austrians", our Ellis ancestors have created some confusion and a false sense of geographic and cultural origins for us today but on the other hand they did survive through immigration, the dust bowl, the depression and the momentous cultural and technological changes in America since the 1950's. We must give them credit for having a sense of identity and adaptability that allowed them such accomplishments in just several generations.
And then finally the perspective of spirituality gives us another insight. Spirituality and culture are very inter-dependent. Earlier we saw Hall referring to culture as "the way of life of a people". Similarly, spirituality could be called "one's way of life". Thus Christians refer to "the way", Native American's speak of "the red road" and many other traditions refer to "the path" or “journey”. Spirituality and culture connect when matters of ultimate meaning and value are expressed in practical, down-to-earth ways in everyday life. Or to use the concepts that I used earlier, the relationship has to do with how the subjective or value aspects of a culture get expressed in the objective artifacts of a people's way of life.
Thus as we look at the culture of our ancestors, we are also discerning their spirituality. Our cultural quest is a spiritual quest. As a minister and a counselor, I've spent a lot of time pursuing both theological and psychological concerns but it wasn't until I earnestly began the study of culture through the Society that I developed a much stronger sense of peace, identity, and direction in my own life. For me the cultural quest has ultimately been a spiritual quest as one has lead into the other. In light of this it is very appropriate that we have a worship service as part of our annual gathering. Let that service be more than a historical relic or museum piece of a people once known to be religious. Let it be a means to express our core values in new and meaningful ways in today's world.
In conclusion I've surveyed culture as both an abstract and very personal part of our identity. Specifically I've looked at the Bukovinan, German Bohemian culture as it moved from the Bohemian Forest to Bukovina's Carpathian Mountains to the High Plains of Kansas. We've seen an agrarian, down-to-earth people with a strong sense of community and religiosity and a personal sense of values, but also the flexibility and adaptability to survive several major migratory moves and centuries of life midst various cultural and political settings. Although not necessarily at the level of articulation or awareness, I believe that this culture still survives in our values, our gatherings and our very blood. In light of all of this, my basic response has been to sit back, take a deep breath, bask in the awesomeness of having such a tradition, and be proud and grateful. It is good to have ancestors and know that they remain with us today.
Hall, Edward T.
The Silent Language. 1959. New York: Doubleday.
Hecht, Michael, Andersen, Peter, and Bibeau, Sidney. "The Cultural Dimensions of Non-Verbal Communication" in Molefe Asante and William Budykunst (eds.), Handbook of International and Intercultural Communication, 1989. Newbury Park, CA.: Sage Publications. 163-185.
1984. Culture's Consequences. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.
Meter, Ken and Paulson, Robert.
"Border People: The Bohmisch (German-Bohemians) in America" in Rocenka: Yearbook of the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society
International. Volume 1, Number 1, Winter 1992. Pgs. 6-22.
Welisch, Sophie A.
"Bukowina's Nationalities in the Habsburg Period: An experiment in
Multiethnic Symbiosis." Journal of the American Romanian Academy
of Arts and Sciences. Volume 12. 197-208; reprinted in The First Meeting of the Bukovina Society of the America's. Ellis, KS: The Bukovina Society of the Americas, 1989. Pg. 24-31.
Welisch, Sophie A.
"Faith of Our Fathers: Ethos and Popular Religious Practices among the German Catholics of Bukovina in the Early Twentieth Century.” Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Volume 11, Summer 1988: Pgs. 21-28.
Welisch, Sophie A.
"Bukovina: An Historical Overview". The First Meeting of the Bukovina Society of the Americas. Ellis, KS: The Bukovina Society of the Americas, 1989. Pg. 9-15.
Welisch, Sophie A.
"Bukovina-German Pioneers in Urban America." Ibid. Volume 12, Spring 1989: Pgs. 19-26. Originally published as "Deutschbohmische Pioniere in den Stadten Amerikas," in Bori, Karlsberg and undere deutschbohmische Siedlungen in der Bukowina,ed. Rudolf Wagner, Munich: Landsmannschaft der Buchenlanddeutschen, 1982. Pg. 40-49.
Bohemian Germans in Kansas: A Catholic Community From Bukovina. Printed July 1993, Hays, KS for the Bukovina Society of the Americas, Ellis, KS.
Visitors since April 10, 2004 Last Revised: 12/22/06 11:00:50 PM