Appendix 3 – Sorb/Wend Customs and Traditions

Where does our history begin? In what way a small people not scarce, oppressed and persecuted in its history and surrounded by a foreign-speaking environment, preserved its own culture?

In the year six thirty one a Frankish monk named Fredegar mentioned the Sorbs for the first time in his chronicle. Thus our forebears stepped into the stage of history as the eastern neighbours of the Franks. As a result of the Migration of the Nations they had settled in the region between the Oder and Neisse to the Rivers Elbe and Saale and partly beyond, from Bohemia in south to present-day Berlin in north. The contemporary Lusatian Sorbs are immediate descendants of Milzener and Lusatian tribes belonging to the Sorbian ethnic community.

The Slavic tribes near the Rivers Saale and Elbe were still in an early feudal stage of development when they were confronted with the eastwards expansion beginning by the Frankish feudal lords.

Forts and fortifications were constructed only the Saale and Elbe. Here the Sorbs once defended themselves against the expansion of German feudal rulers in the 10th century and then later Saxon commanders sought refuge from the insurgent Slavonic inhabitants.

With the creation of the German state under Henry 1 and its further consolidation, by the end of the 10th century political conditions had been created with the secular power of the sword and the spiritual power of the cross which from then on firmly wove the fate of the Sorbs into German history. In consequence of early loss of independence the Sorbs belong to the group of peoples which have not developed into nations.

German commanders, electors and kings ruled and divided for centuries. In the course of historical development the land was increasingly settled by a German population. But in the midst of the interests of the imperial crown of the Saxon and Prussian kings there was the populace. Also the Sorbian people, a quarter of a million strong, who at the beginning of the sixteenth century over an area of 16,000 square kilometres constituted about 85 per cent of the population. The overwhelming majority of the Sorbs belonged to the masses of dependent and exploited classes. The preponderant social stratum of the Sorbian population was peasantry.

Capitalist industrialisation since the end of the 19th century set working power free also among the Sorbian rural population who became industrial workers, When they migrated from the countryside to the industrial agglomerations they were assimilated as a rule in the second or third generation. Accompanied by Germanisation first and by the superior force of the environment later the proportion of Sorbs in this population has been continuously decreasing at present amounting to about one quarter.

But even almost at the end of his journey the attentive traveller may unexpectedly notice that he has caught up with the history, where in the south-east of the GDR, history and the present meet. In the midst of the country’s working day you can hear the tongue of people who contrary to those who were finally absorbed in the German ethnic community, despite the swords of Middle Ages, and various kinds of intolerance in the course of the history, succeeded in preserving their ethnic identity and in further developing the Sorbian language and culture.

There are in our world lands and people with populations and territories of varying magnitude. But whether great or small they have all contributed to the great treasures of world culture, they represent a unique and irreplaceable value. Perhaps the voice and speech of our people too make up the gaily coloured picture of our earth.

There in the heart of European continent, 14 degrees longitude and 51 degrees latitude is the map reference of our nation’s path through life.

A foreign tourist who is insufficiently informed will be amazed to see bilingual inscriptions on signposts in the midst of the German state. Visible on yellow background by the side of a customary style of writing which is different to the German speaking environment.

Anyone who lacks a clear picture should take a map of the GDR. The town of Dresden is easy to find. A little to the east of it you will find Bautzen (Budysin). A little to the north of Bautzen there is Cottbus (Chocebuz).

Published in South Australia by Sumptibus Publications. c. B.Hall H.Senff

A Booklet can be purchased from the Wend Sorb Society of South Australia Inc.

(08.8365.2572) or Email Lyall