In the late 1890’s, the Canadian government advertised heavily in Europe, encouraging immigration and the opportunity to work and to own land in Canada’s western territories. Although Ukrainian immigration to Canada began in 1891, by 1911, with the growth of Russian socialism and the increasing failure of Tsar Nicholas II to manage political unrest, particularly amongst the lower classes and rural peasantry, the political situation in Ukraine was beginning to destabilize. Ukrainians left their homeland, both as political and as economic refugees.
Young women wore their hair down in single braids, but at marriage, it was braided in two braids as part of the wedding ceremony. From then on hair was worn up, and the head covered. In Slavic culture, hair was associated with vegetation due to its rapid growth, strength and density. You can often meet the following comparison in folklore: “growing like weeds in the road”, “Girl like a guelder rose,” “son like oak”. According to ancient beliefs, disheveled hair was associated magic and the underworld. Women with such hair were called witches and people tried to avoid dealing with them.
When the Slavic people immigrated to Canada, they exchanged / shared, & received folklore, folk magic, plants, & culture with the local indigenous people and that is why you see Kokum scarfs worn to this day. In the book Kohkum’s Babushka: A Magical Métis/Ukrainian Tale, Marion Mutala tells of an Indigenous man who stopped by her booth at a literary festival and after looking at her book, & remarked that “babushka” is a Cree word. “Pootishka means ‘she is wearing’. It is either pronounced babushka or pootishka, in Ukrainian: Baba, бабуся (babusya)”, means grandmother. As a child I just assumed that the word was just Ukrainian, so it is very cool to see that this is more cross cultural exchange.