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Friday, 27 May 2016

'ойся ты ойся' (oysia you osia) or "The Cossack Prayer"

ойся ты ойся
(facebook conversation/answer by me 23/1/2012) My translation and interpretation of a Cossack song.

'ойся ты ойся' is the phrase and is usually translated as Oysia you oysia. The reason you would have had trouble finding stuff on it is because the only actual word in the phrase is ты meaning you (singular), and ойся is an obscure exclamation so you won't find it most Russian dictionaries or literature, but with the sense of 'Oi!' and repeated for emphasis. So the phrase means something with the sense of "Oi (or hey) you oi!!!" Today it is often used to refer to the "mountain dance of the Cossacks", but it refers to a line, one of the most poignent lines, in either a joke or a song. The song, which accompanies the dance is known by a few names, 'Oysia you Oysia'(or 'oh-hsia you oh-hsia') or 'On the mountain there was a Cossack'.../'A Cossack standing on the mountain' after the first line (nameing folk songs after the first line was a common practice, but not a rule or anything). But one of the most common names for the song is the "Cossack Prayer" and I use parentheses (" ") for this because the so-called prayer is slightly humerous in either version. Nobody is sure if either the joke inspired the song or the song inspired the joke. I tend to think it makes sense that it was a real song refering to a real incident, with a dance later composed to the song and with a bit of time and nostelgia perhaps embellished a little, later joke coming up in reference to the song.

 You may or may not know that Cossacks, are not as such an ethnic group. In Ukraine where Cossacks first emerged, it simply means 'soldier' but after rebelling for independence from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a collection of semi-autonomous militaristic raiding groups sought the protection of the Orthodox church and it's self-apointed guardian the Russian Tsar in exchange for military service, primarily patrolling the open Steppe or in forts along the Russian empire's vast borders. These men (and technicly only men have been Cossacks until recent times) were primarily Russian and Ukrainian Slavs, but there were also Turkic, Tatar, German, Jewish, Polish and even a few Scotish Cossacks depending on how strict the rules of each host were on allowing outsiders to join and intergrating them. Over time various hosts were split, relocated or disbanded depending on various wars and rebellions, and they often intermarried with the local population whereever they went. But essentially it became a primarily Russian military institution that was semi-autonomous and often passed from father to son. The song (and the joke - I'll get to that) are in reference to the Caucasian War I mentioned in some of my earlier posts.

The "Cossack Prayer" song (which is what is being sung in the original video clip you posted) that accompanies the dance goes like this:
On the mountain there was a Cossack...he prayed to God.

For the freedom for the people he bowed low.

Chorus: (x2)

'Oysia! You oysia!
You do not worry.
I will not touch you -
Do not worry.'

And asked Cossack truth for the people.
[So that there]Will be truth on earth - will and freedom.

Cossacks asked for their friends, that they be in a strange land
[Thus] avoiding greed and hubris.

His wife waited, and fathers and children. Those who seek the truth, but his mother the wide world.
For of the people asked the Cossack, yes a blessing,
In order to have bread and salt, in peaceful villages.

To [let] no blood be spilled, the way of the threshold.
To let no falsehood be lived, he prayed to God.

So he prayed that Cossack, for native land,
That by sorrow, nor tears, would it be touched.

 I have added a few words in square brackets to help clarify, but basicly the Cossack is praying on a mountain top (because A he is in the mountanous Caucasus and B to be closer to God) and we get the impression this is humbly on a mountain top until we hit the chorus:

'Oysia! You oysia!
You do not worry. I will not touch you -
Do not worry.'

Brash, yet sincere he yells out to God the memorable line which on its own dosn't mean much, but here has a sense of 'Hey! You hey!!!' and once he has the xtian god's attention, he reassures 'the almighty' that it is okay, he might be as close as he can get but he still cannot touch (or harm) God. This is the humerous (though also intended to be spiritual on another level) part of the song - that a man who is a warrior, but is in the open, vulnerable to an enemy ambush or to the forces of nature (and in doing so is almost challenging them) prays. Not to mention this scene could very well be before a battle. And what he prays about speaks to the very heart of Cossack identity and tradition because he is thinking about friends and family, honour, loyalty, service, faith/truth and peace/security for his village and region - if necessery a peace secured by fighting to the death to defend it. But because he is not just any (assumed xtian) warrior, but a Cossack, 'dashing' and dareing, he is not even concerned to call out to God as if he were some person nearby, without titles or elaborate ritual.

So you can see why Cossacks, or people descended from some today would love this song as an almost unoffical anthem, because to them it is loaded with layers of meaning about what it means to be a Cossack, with a combination of boldness and yet an almost comical simplicity (yelling out to God on a mountain top) presented in a bit of an understatement, which gives it all the more profoundness. You can see though that this also is delibretly romantic/nostalgic rendition though, so it's obviously meant to be very pro Cossack.

The joke (seems) deliberatly designed to take a look at this a bit more irreverantly. The comedy of the joke, sort a poem/short story than can be sung in its own right is more about the stereotypes and contrast rather than any laugh out load funny lines. It starts with the same incidence of the prayer, except that the Cossack is identified as Shamil (which is a Chechen name - so I'm not too sure i that identification is correct - but again it varies with the version) and depending on the version he has been biten on the leg by a donkey, and he adds to his prayer that he would like a sword and will do a dance. And it contrasts the Cossacks (the Christian foreigners in the area, military, on horseback, long-coats, woolen hat etc) with the Chechen youth (Muslim, local, hangs around the markets, naked because he's been swimming). He aproaches a Cossack and tells him he bought a pig to make a stew (which being Muslim is unlikely), and rides away with no pants or boots. Another version of the joke talks about the beauty but danger of the Caucasus, the youth being armed and ends up mentioning a goat on a bridge (ie like a man on a mountain). The Chechen and/or Shamil bits usually come from the joke ones. So they can be harder to interpret because they are a little more vague and abstract in construction.


1 comment:

  1. WOW that is excellent!! Thanks for such an incredible full explanation and all the background. You can't find cultural gems like this very often.I'm a Polish American and that song just called to me for some reason.