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A solid wooden cane topped by a brass handle; an exhibit in the Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, inventory number 15457/MEK. It has often been displayed during many on-site and off-site exhibitions, and published in descriptions and photographs; on a day-to-day basis, it is stored meticulously wrapped in acid-free paper in a cardboard box on a shelf in a depository of the Museum's collections. It is quite valuable as it is one of only four similar items, the so-called kełefs, in the Museum's collection.

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A solid wooden cane topped by a brass handle; an exhibit in the Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, inventory number 15457/MEK. It has often been displayed during many on-site and off-site exhibitions, and published in descriptions and photographs; on a day-to-day basis, it is stored meticulously wrapped in acid-free paper in a cardboard box on a shelf in a depository of the Museum's collections. It is quite valuable as it is one of only four similar items, the so-called kełefs, in the Museum's collection.
It is not known how the described object arrived at the Ethnographic Museum, because in the museum records one can only find information that it comes from 'interwar collections'. However, whether it was purchased specifically for the museum collections, or if it was part of some other collection, a favourite object offered to the Museum from the kindness of someone’s heart, the answers to these questions can be found neither in the museum documentation nor in archival materials.
When we look closely at this exhibit, we will see that it is a stick made from dark, hard wood, probably oak, varnished, octagonal, even along its entire length, without any fittings at the base. It is equipped with a brass handle, one part tapering and curved downwards, so that it forms a circle; the other ends bluntly in a tetrahedral, in the shape of a hammer finished in steps, with 5 steps of different thickness (called a war hammer). The handle has a convex head in its upper middle section, the so-called cone, with 9 graved petals, nailed from the top with an iron nail. The whole handle is decorated with a concave engraving, creating a geometric decoration, composed of dashes, circles and triangles.
The handle of the kelef is the most characteristic part of this Hutsul item, always brass, decorated, with one bent ending. Due to the exceptional curvature of this fragment of the handle, which once was a blade, and the stepped ending of the other side, in the old museum records in reference to kelef we can find not only misleading, although well-known from the Hutsul region, names such as toporeć or bartka, correctly referring to axes, but also 'pickaxe' [czekan], because the origin of this unusual form of cane was thought to come from a certain type of weapon used by Polish noblemen, or pickaxes, although such a form of a kelef is closer to a slightly different form of weapon — a war hammer.

The name kełef cannot be translated and there is no more information about the function or origin of this type of item. We only know that, along with bartki axes and pałycia sticks, they were also an element of the richly decorated Hutsul men's outfit worn on festive occasions. So they were used as sticks, carried in the hand, possibly used for support, so they were just a male attribute, and their decorative function was basic. As Włodzimierz Szuchiewicz wrote in 1902 in  Hutsul: 'The entire Hutsul costume has to include a hatchet or kełef, and for the older men often a stick, a pałycia.
A characteristic feature of all types of Hutsul sticks, distinguishing them from those originating in other areas, is an ax handle even along its entire length, and also covering its upper part, from the handle itself, with a brass sheet or braided wire. Under the handle of this kełef, along a length of 10 cm, the ax-handle is covered with a brass sheet, embossed with 6 horizontal stripes of engraving, consisting of teeth separated by small circles. Geometric patterns were embossed here with the help of a stamp after applying the sheet to the wood.
However, against the background of the highlanders as a whole, kełefs were something special, not seen elsewhere. They have no counterparts in the entire Carpathian area, unlike pałycia — sticks and pasture poles or axes — the shepherd's axes, commonly known from the Podhale region, for example.
The collection of Hutsul sticks in the collection of the Kraków Ethnographic Museum includes 25 objects, including 13 axes, 7 pałycias, 1 raw stick and 4 kełefs. There is no more precise data on the provenance of these kelefs, it is only known that they come from the Hutsul region (in the museum records there is a presumptive annotation — Stanisławów or that was bought in Kossowsko) from the 1st quarter of the 20th century. The fact that they were made in this area is also proved by their formal features typical of the Hutsul products: brass handles and decoration with a characteristic geometrical ornamentation.
More information on this topic can be found in the 'Yearbook of the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków 2008, vol. XV, entitled Guide to the Collection of the Hutsul Museum of Ethnography of Seweryn Udziela in Kraków.

Elaborated by Małgorzata Oleszkiewicz (The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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Hutsul cane “kełef”

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