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Highlander’s belt (in local dialect: oposek)
Opasek — a highlander’s decorative broad leather money belt tied with several metal buckles. This object comes from the Podhale village of Ząb (named Zubsuche until 1965). It was probably made in the 19th century but its manufacturer, place of completion, and time of last usage, are unknown. In 1961 it was purchased for the ethnographic collections at the Dr Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane.


Highlander’s belt (in local dialect: oposek)
Opasek — a highlander’s decorative broad leather money belt tied with several metal buckles. This object comes from the Podhale village of Ząb (named Zubsuche until 1965). It was probably made in the 19th century but its manufacturer, place of completion, and time of last usage, are unknown. In 1961 it was purchased for the ethnographic collections at the Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane. At present, it is one of the 63 money belts acquired in the Polish Tatra region, and one of the 22 money belts made before World War II.
All belts gathered in the Museum are somehow unique. They differ, for example, in the number of buckles, their kinds and sides for fixing them to the belt, decorative motifs embossed in the leather, metal decorations or the lack of them, and finally the number of pockets. Every one of them is an interesting historical object of leather work that was documented at the Tatra Museum from the very beginning of its operation. The first exhibit of the ethnographic collection was the money belt bought in 1888 from Józef Baran in Zakopane by the Tatra Museum Society.
The belts constituted one of the key elements of the outfit in the entire area of Slovakia. They were made of cloth and leather.
Richly decorated broad leather belts tied with metal buckles were particularly typical of the Carpathian Mountains. Depending on the region, they had their own various names.
In Podhale, where they used to be commonly worn, they were called oposki.
Richly decorated belts were worn for show by wealthy gazdas, whereas those less ornate were worn on ordinary days. The belts had different functions. They were used to fasten clothing (they did not hold up trousers; this was done with narrower belts) but, due to their mass and height, their primary use was to cover the body, particularly during heavy works. They protected men from injury, strengthened the figure and protected them from the cold and humidity. The internal pockets (1 to 3) were used to carry various objects such as pipes, tobacco bags, clasp knives, awl and money. The latter item was hidden in an inside pocket and was inaccessible without taking the belt off. Such a good hiding place was used by some to smuggle Hungarian pipe tobacco (basiag), which was commonly used by highlanders. The shepherds used the opasek to carry holy herbs that were to protect and treat them in illness.
This element of clothing played an important part in beliefs and magical practices. The belt was often attributed with special powers, e.g., due to the fact of hiding an apotropaic agent, such as spruce tree chips in it, or exercising magical practices while making it. Such beliefs were particularly common among shepherds staying in the mountains.
There is little information preserved on the subject of making the belts in Podhale. We only know the names of the Podhale leather workers from the inter-war period. One might assume that earlier this element of clothing was made by the village self-taught boot-makers who knew how to process leather, and leather workshops in towns like Nowy Targ.The largest centres specialising in leather products were located south of the Tatra Mountains in today’s Slovakia. We know that the Podhale inhabitants willingly bought the Slovakian, mainly Liptov, belts and bags ordering them directly from workshops or buying them at markets, fairs or from travelling salesmen. After World War I, as a result of cutting off the Slovakian craftsmanship centres with a border, the village manufacturers from Podhale took up the leather work. At that time, the Podhale shepherds bought the belts from the Slovakian shepherds trading them, for example, for sheep or pipes made in Ratułów in Podhale.
The belts were made of tanned cowhide. After the right preparation, a rectangular piece of hide was cut that was potentially dyed red or black or left in its natural colour. The red colour was reserved for the most expensive belts made of the best leather. The hide with its various flaws was dyed black.
Later the cut-out piece of the hide was folded three times. It was made in such a way that two equal parts formed the basic part of the belt, while the third remaining part placed over the top edge formed a kind of a lapel covering the belt face. Its length was different. After such folding there appeared a spacious internal pocket. The next operation was to mark the places where the buckles and straps could be fastened and attached. The buckles were usually sewn on the left and the straps on the right. The belt had 3 to 6 buckles bought from manufacturers specialising in metal processing. They were usually made of brass by casting (in older types) or cut out of a metal sheet. They were decorated with open-work motifs and ornaments embossed with special stamps.
The length of the front pocket lapel was measured from the place for sewing the buckles in. Then the belt was decorated by cutting or punching the edges, studding metal decorations, completing ornaments with roulettes and metal dies, and finally the decorative threading of leather straps at the back of the belt. The last stage was sewing in the buckles and straps.
After completion the money belts were additionally decorated by their users, mostly shepherds who attached chains, uniform buttons, medals, etc.
At the end of the 19th century, the belts that were previously commonly worn in Podhale started to fall into disuse. They were worn by older men who unwillingly accepted new changes, and shepherds in whose outfit they were finally preserved. Today they are identified with this occupational group, and are therefore known as baca belts.
The belt on display is made of cowhide. There are some traces of using a red dye on the leather. As mentioned earlier, the object’s provenience is unknown, but it manifests features which are typical of the so-called Liptov belts. This may mean that it could have been manufactured in one of the Slovakian workshops or modelled, for instance, in Podhale after the Liptov products. What is typical is its width (falling within the range of 14–22 cm); the number of buckles, which were 3 to 6 in the Liptov belts; the rectangular shape of the lapel covering the front pocket; its length going nearly to the middle of the belt; and finally the leather strap plaiting at the back of the belt made with thick diagonal stitch.
The belt is fastened with four buckles of an elliptic, elongated shape cut out of a brass sheet, profiled on the edges and decorated with the cut technique and the use of roulettes and metal stamps. The buckles shaped like this are called kukiełki in Podhale. They influence the ornate character of this element of clothing, similarly to the metal studs in the front lapel and back pocket, leather strap plaiting and finally the motifs consisting of dots, straight and wavy lines embossed on the belt leather.
Two particularly interesting ornaments pressed on the belt face are the eight-point stars visible on both sides of the fastener. This is the motif of a narrow leaf plantain (Plantage lanceolata) commonly used in herbal treatment. This eight-point form refers to the shape of the plant's leaves similar to an earthy rosette. The plantain has broad curative properties, e.g., it speeds up the process of healing wounds, and it was one of the plants carried by the shepherds in the belt pockets. Over time the motif became a popular ornament used by the leather workers.

Elaborated by Anna Kozak (The Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane), © all rights reserved


Highlander’s belt


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