Kurpie (ˈkurpjɛ) is one of a number of ethnic regions in Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, noted for its unique traditional customs, such as its own types of traditional costume, traditional dance, and distinctive type of architecture and livelihoods. Kurpie is also the name of the people of this culture.

The Kurpie region is located in Poland on a lowland plain called the Mazovian Region
Mazovia or Masovia is a geographical, historical and cultural region in east-central Poland. It is also a voivodeship in Poland.Its historic capital is Płock, which was the medieval residence of first Dukes of Masovia...

 (Mazowsze), which was once covered over by two forests known as the Puszcza Zielona
Puszcza Zielona
Puszcza Zielona is a forest in Poland which extends from the Narew River and the border of what was once East Prussia. It is bounded on the east by the Pisa River and on the west by the Orzyc River...

 (the Green Wilderness) and the Puszcza Biała (the White Wilderness).

The Green Wilderness (Puszcza Zielona) is usually associated with the White Wilderness (Puszcza Biała), and together the two forests are often referred to as the Kurpie Forest (Puszcza Kurpiowska
Puszcza Kurpiowska
Puszcza Kurpiowska or Kurpiowska Forest, is the collective name of Poland's two wilderness areas: Puszcza Biała and Puszcza Zielona , located in the central basin of Narew and Kurpiowska Plain. It is bound by the rivers: Pisa , Narew and Orzyc . The north-end reaches the former border with East...

) because the two forests were populated by inhabitants who, over the centuries of isolation, developed a unique culture of their own, called Kurpie.

On today’s map, the Kurpie region comprises Mazovia, Podlasie and, to a small extent, the Warmia
Warmia or Ermland is a region between Pomerelia and Masuria in northeastern Poland. Together with Masuria, it forms the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship....

 and Mazury region. Populated areas in Kurpie today are generally in the towns of Myszyniec
Myszyniec is a town in Ostrołęka County, Masovian Voivodeship, Poland, with 3,032 inhabitants ....

 and Ostrołęka and the villages of Czarnia
Czarnia is a fictional planet, the homeworld of DC Comics character Lobo before he wiped out the entire planet's race. The last Czarnian can be seen in series Lobo The Last Czarnian by Simon Bisley and Keith Giffen. Czarnia no longer exists in the DC universe.-Civilization:Contrary to the...

, Dylewo, Jednorożec
Jednorożec is a large village in central Poland, in Przasnysz County. Located in the Mazovian Voivodeship, the town is one of the centres of the historical region of Kurpie...

, Kadzidło, Lipniki, Łyse and Zbójna
Zbójna is a village in Łomża County, Podlaskie Voivodeship, in north-eastern Poland. It is the seat of the gmina called Gmina Zbójna. It lies approximately north-west of Łomża and west of the regional capital Białystok....


The name Kurpie

The people from this region were originally called people of the wilderness (puszczaki). However, these puszczaki made their shoes from fiber from the linden tree, and these shoes, called kurpś, became a name for outsiders to use to describe the inhabitants of the region.

The forests

The first people who settled there found the heavily forested area to be sandy and muddy. Bee-keeping, producing pitch
Pitch (resin)
Pitch is the name for any of a number of viscoelastic, solid polymers. Pitch can be made from petroleum products or plants. Petroleum-derived pitch is also called bitumen. Pitch produced from plants is also known as resin. Products made from plant resin are also known as rosin.Pitch was...

, and iron smelting
Smelting is a form of extractive metallurgy; its main use is to produce a metal from its ore. This includes iron extraction from iron ore, and copper extraction and other base metals from their ores...

 were the principal commercial occupations with bee-keeping highly regulated; however, families also hunted and fished, gathered mushrooms, collected fruits and nuts, and generally used the forests to provide them with their daily needs.

At home, amber
Amber is fossilized tree resin , which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Amber is used as an ingredient in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, and as jewelry. There are five classes of amber, defined on the basis of their chemical constituents...

 was polished, and men used forest material to create wood products. The women became very accomplished in weaving linens and cloths.

Until the middle of the 19th century the Kurpie forests remained generally pristine. Soon afterwards, however, forested areas were cleared to allow farming, which, because of the poor soil, was found to be marginal. Cattle breeding was also introduced at this time.

Selective chronology

The Kurpie region was part of Poland from the beginning of Polish history in the 10th century.
  • 14th Century - Ordered colonized by Masovian Prince Janusz I
  • 1563 – the great plague and fire.
  • 1656 – Kurpies unsuccessfully fought the invasion of the Swedish Army
    Swedish Army
    The Swedish Army is one of the oldest standing armies in the world and a branch of the Swedish Armed Forces; it is in charge of land operations. General Sverker Göranson is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Army.- Organization :...

  • 1673 – the village of Lipniki was founded. Kurpie population reaches 1,000.
  • 1683 – Villages of Kadzidło, Wach
    Wach is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Kadzidło, within Ostrołęka County, Masovian Voivodeship, in east-central Poland. It lies approximately north-west of Kadzidło, north-west of Ostrołęka, and north of Warsaw.-References:...

    , Zawady
    Zawady, Gmina Baranowo
    Zawady is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Baranowo, within Ostrołęka County, Masovian Voivodeship, in east-central Poland.-References:...

     and Obierwia
    Obierwia is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Lelis, within Ostrołęka County, Masovian Voivodeship, in east-central Poland.-References:...

     now in existence.
  • 1700s – Swedish, Russia
    Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

    n, Saxon
    Electorate of Saxony
    The Electorate of Saxony , sometimes referred to as Upper Saxony, was a State of the Holy Roman Empire. It was established when Emperor Charles IV raised the Ascanian duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg to the status of an Electorate by the Golden Bull of 1356...

     and Polish troops march through Kurpie during the Great Northern War
    Great Northern War
    The Great Northern War was a conflict in which a coalition led by the Tsardom of Russia successfully contested the supremacy of the Swedish Empire in northern Central Europe and Eastern Europe. The initial leaders of the anti-Swedish alliance were Peter I the Great of Russia, Frederick IV of...

  • 1708 - a battle between the Kurpie people and the Swedish was fought near Kopański Most. King Charles XII of Sweden
    Charles XII of Sweden
    Charles XII also Carl of Sweden, , Latinized to Carolus Rex, Turkish: Demirbaş Şarl, also known as Charles the Habitué was the King of the Swedish Empire from 1697 to 1718...

     was placed in a position of danger after Kurpies’ attack.
  • 1735 – Kurpie supported king Stanisław Leszczyński and fought Russian and Saxon troops during time of the Konfederacja Dzikowska. Stach Konwa
    Stach Konwa
    Stach Konwa is a legendary Polish hero, especially important to the inhabitants of the Polish Kurpie region. According to legend, he was born in Novgorod and died about 1733.Stach Konwa probably existed, but there are no historical sources to back this up...

    , a Kurpie hero, was killed during the battle of Jednaczewo
    Jednaczewo is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Łomża, within Łomża County, Podlaskie Voivodeship, in north-eastern Poland. It lies approximately north-west of Łomża and west of the regional capital Białystok.-References:...

  • 1794 - During the Kosciuszkowskie uprising General Antoni Madaliński
    Antoni Madalinski
    Antoni Madaliński – Polish Lieutenant General, commander of 1st Greater Polish National Cavalry Brigade during Kościuszko Uprising....

    , organized Kurpie infantry troops.
  • 1795 – the area was placed under East Prussia
    Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

    n governance and now had a population of 51.432.
  • 1806 – Kurpies fought in the 6th Infantry Regiment of Warsaw Duchy
    Duchy of Warsaw
    The Duchy of Warsaw was a Polish state established by Napoleon I in 1807 from the Polish lands ceded by the Kingdom of Prussia under the terms of the Treaties of Tilsit. The duchy was held in personal union by one of Napoleon's allies, King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony...

     against Austria
    Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

  • 1807 - a battle between the French and the Russian armies was fought near Ostrołęka.
  • 1815 – the Kurpie region reverted to the Kingdom of Poland
    Congress Poland
    The Kingdom of Poland , informally known as Congress Poland , created in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna, was a personal union of the Russian parcel of Poland with the Russian Empire...

  • 1831 – Kurpies participated in the November uprising in Poland forming partisans troops under Józef Zaliwski
    Józef Zaliwski
    Józef Zaliwski of Junosza coat of arms was a Polish pułkownik of Kingdom of Poland, independence activist....

  • 1863 – Kurpies participated in the January uprising in Poland supporting Zygmunt Padlewski
    Zygmunt Padlewski
    Zygmunt Padlewski was a Polish insurgent who participated in the January Uprising.-Early years:Padlewski was born in a mansion in Czerniawka Mała, Russian-partitioned Poland on January 1, 1836. His father, Władysław, took part in the November Uprising...

  • 1880-1910 – numerous Kurpie residents emigrated to America because of the inability of the land to support the growing number of people.
  • World War II – Kurpies formed resistance movements against the Nazis.

Kurpie traditions

Because of their isolation, Kurpie folks—who were neither serfs nor nobles but reported directly to the king—took on a unique culture all their own.

A Kurpie house

Kurpie homes were made out of wood and covered with straw, with a cross or flag mounted on the roof. The interior of the house was sparse, and the floor was wood. Windows in a Kurpie home always contained six panes of glass. Shutters and doors were painted. In 1927, Adam Chetnik
Adam Chętnik
Adam Chętnik was a Polish ethnographer who studied the Kurpie. He is the author of several books on the Kurpie residing in Puszcza Zielona. In 1927 he founded Skansen Kurpiowski in Nowogród, an open air museum dedicated to Kurpie culture. He published over 100 scholarly works...

 established an open air museum in Nowogród
Nowogród is a small town in northeastern Poland located about 13 km away from the city of Łomża, in Łomża County, in Podlaskie Voivodeship, with 1,998 inhabitants . It is centered on the area known as Skansen Kurpiowski which is an open air museum dedicated to Kurpie culture and a popular...

 which showcases traditional Kurpie homes and other elements of their culture.

Traditional costume

Although their costumes were similar, Kurpies in the north had one type of costume and Kurpies in the southern part of the region had another. For example in the north, women wore red skirts with a green vest over a white linen blouse with some trim and always a necklace made of amber. Women in the south wore green skirts and employed more elaborate embroidery and needlework in their costume.

Kurpie men in the north wore long brown coats tied around the waist with a red sash. They wore white linen shirts and white trousers which are fastened at the bottom with straps from the Kurpie shoes which they wore. Men from the north can be distinguished from men in the south since men in the north wear dark brown top hats and men from the south wear small black caps.

There is some variation in the costume. For example, a man’s trousers could be grey or white, and women might wear a red or a white blouse.

Folk dance

Kurpie, like other Polish regions, has its own traditional dances, such as the “horse” (konik) where dancing men mimic a horse and rider.

Kurpie Palm Sunday

During this season, Kurpies delighted in making tall Easter Sunday palms out of small trees and decorating them with flowers and other ornaments in order to protect their houses from ghosts.


Kurpie women were famous for their beautifully decorated Easter eggs, and cookies made in the shape of the Easter lamb.


Kurpie women have always been famous for their paper cut-outs (wycinanki) of animals, geometric designs, flowers, and so on.


This custom was characterized by people sprinkling water over each other in celebration. The intent was to show your affection for the person being sprinkled, and therefore men generally took the lead in sprinkling women.

God’s day celebration

A celebration which is still popular today is a religious procession to various altars, with participants wearing their traditional costumes. The leaders of the procession bless the Kurpie lands as they proceed.

Harvest celebration

In August Kurpies collected grain and flowers and took them to church to be blessed.

Winter celebration

On the 6th of December a celebration was held praising the good fortune that the cattle had not been eaten by the wolves. However, wolves have long since disappeared from Kurpie.


An embossed wafer (opłatek), featuring a religious scene, was shared with family members and with the cattle. Women placed hay under the table and children wandered the streets and sang Christmas carols in return for treats.

New Years celebration

Cookies were made in the shape of animals (called “bulls”) and other cookies were made in the form of a circle with a bird shown on it (called “years”). Together, these cookies were hung from the ceiling.

Kadzidlańskie Wedding

The traditional Kurpie Kadzidlańskie Wedding is well known throughout Poland and includes dances, songs, chants and wedding ceremonies based on ancient wedding rituals.

Kurpie music

The music of Kurpie is very different from that of its neighbors. Over one thousand original Kurpie songs were recorded by the Polish priest, Władyslaw Skierkowski, in his book “Puszcza Kurpiowska w pieśni”. In Henryk M. Górecki
Henryk Górecki
Henryk Mikołaj Górecki was a composer of contemporary classical music. He studied at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice between 1955 and 1960. In 1968, he joined the faculty and rose to provost before resigning in 1979. Górecki became a leading figure of the Polish avant-garde during...

 ‘s third symphony, titled “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs
Symphony No. 3 (Górecki)
The Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs , is a symphony in three movements composed by Henryk Górecki in Katowice, Poland, between October and December 1976. The work is indicative of the transition between Górecki's dissonant earlier manner and his more tonal...

”, the first part of the symphony was inspired by Kurpie music.

Kurpie today

From the days of forest living to the days of marginal farming, Kurpie today is vastly different than its traditional past. Since the end of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, education, migration, improved methods of farming, improvement of commerce, and infrastructure growth have brought Kurpie into the modern age.

For further reading

A vivid account of the Kurpie region and its people during the 17th century Swedish invasion can be found in the beginning of Chapter 55 of Henryk Sienkiewicz
Henryk Sienkiewicz
Henryk Adam Aleksander Pius Sienkiewicz was a Polish journalist and Nobel Prize-winning novelist. A Polish szlachcic of the Oszyk coat of arms, he was one of the most popular Polish writers at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, and received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905 for his...

’s “The Deluge.” A brief account of the Kurpie peasant attack on the Swedish army may be found in Chapter 111 (page 554 of volume two).
Sienkiewicz dramatically describes the personal characteristics and activity of the Kurpie people in Chapters XX and XXI of his historical novel "The Teutonic Knights
The Teutonic Knights (novel)
The Knights of the Cross or The Teutonic Knights is a 1900 historical novel written by the eminent Polish Modernist writer and the 1905 Nobel laureate, Henryk Sienkiewicz...


See also

  • Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
    Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
    The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

  • Congress Poland
    Congress Poland
    The Kingdom of Poland , informally known as Congress Poland , created in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna, was a personal union of the Russian parcel of Poland with the Russian Empire...

  • Culture of Poland
    Culture of Poland
    The culture of Poland is closely connected with its intricate 1000 year history Its unique character developed as a result of its geography at the confluence of various European regions...

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