The ethnic history of the Belorussians
Later the territory inhabited by the Belorussians became part of the Polish-Lithuanian confederated state of Rzeczpospolita, as a result of which the Catholic faith, Polish language and culture gained wide currency among the Belorussians. At the end of the 18th century, after the Three Partitions of Poland, the Belorussian lands became part of the Russian Empire. From then on the influence of the Orthodox Church was on the rise as it was in greater accord with the cultural and historical traditions and aspirations of the peasantry, a section of urban population and gentry than those of the high crust of society. Religious differences became one of the causes of the peculiarities in the formation of the Belorussians' ethnic self-identity. The common ethnonym Belorussians (Belarussians since 1991) became established in the 20th century after superseding the previously used names, such as Belorusets, Litvins, Rusins and Polesyans.
The Belorussian population (Belarussians, Breshchuks, Litvins and Litviaks) totals over 10 million, of which 807,970 at present reside in the Russian Federation. Two major ethno- territorial groups are distinguished among the Belorussians: the Poleshchuks ana the Litvins. The main faith is Orthodox Christianity, with 25% of the believers professing Catholicism.
The name "Belorussia" derives from the term "White Rus", which was used on 13th-century German maps to designate the area of Polotsk Duchy. In the 14th to 16th century the name was applied to the area of the future Vitebsk and the Mogilev Provinces to distinguish them from the territory of "Black Russia" lying further west. Polesve in the south of Bel lorussia (Belarus since 1991) is one of the most archaic zones of Slavic culture.
Settlements and Dwellings
The Belorussians' traditional rural dwelling is a log khata house with a gabled roof. Its roof was covered with thin planks, straw or reed, whereas the floor was made either of plain earth or with a layer of clay over the earth. The entrance to the khata was through an inner porch, where the family kept its implements and tools and various domestic utensils. The stove, which usually faced the wall opposite it, stood to the right of the entrance. The stove pole was believed to be the place where dziad ancestor spirits lived and was therefore particularly revered. Behind the stove was a plank platform on which the man and his wife slept in cold seasons. In the utility section near the stove, there was a small cupboard for dishes, a lozhkarnia shelf for spoons and a pail with water. Diagonally across the room stood a dining table in the "red" corner under the icons. The flaxen table cloths, patterned ruchriik towels and postilka covers served both practical and aesthetic purposes, lending the khata a colourful, decorative appearance. Along with clothes and wisps of grass, towels were hung from poles attached to the ceiling beams.
At the beginning of the 20th century the Belorussians' typical rural settlements were small and large villages and mestechko boroughs — the inhabitants of the latter specializing in crafts or trading. The planning of the boroughs in the western and eastern parts of Belorussia had peculiarities of their own. What is characteristic of the western areas is the main square with shopping rows and a Catholic church alongside an Orthodox temple, whereas their eastern counterparts looked like ordinary Belorussian villages with their buildings set in lines along the sides ot the streets.
In the past the Belorussians had an original archaic device for lighting the khata. It was a hollowed log, the thinner end of which protruded from the roof, like a chimney. An iron posvet grating was attached to its flared lower end, with splinters burning, the ashes dropping into a small tub standing on the floor under it and the hollow log acting as a flue.