Bohoniki is a peaceful little village not far from Sokolka in the east of Poland; it is the last Tartar village before Belarus, maybe also the last of its kind. There is no doubt that few people would have heard about it be it not for one fact: it was in this area that, in 1679, thirty Tatar soldiers were granted land for their faithful service to the Polish King Jan III Sobieski. A Tatar lady, who takes care of the Mosque, does not fail to stress that it was a reward for their valour in battle. Other sources simply say that the King was in financial straits and presented the land to his Tatar soldiers in lieu of due pay. There are now only three Tatar families living in Bohoniki, but, considering that the village does not comprise more than thirty houses altogether, they make up about a fifth of the local population. And it is their Mosque that makes the village famous and attracts visitors from all over Poland and abroad. Eugenia Radkieicz is the Mosque caretaker and you catch her dashing across the empty street to the small wooden Mosque when a tour bus arrives to conduct her lecture on the history of Bohoniki for groups of Polish schoolchildren. The few families that remain are mostly elderly or sick; Ewelina's father is bedridden and suffers from a Liver complaint. She takes care of the animals now and her mother worries about her future, as she must take care of them both when she gets older. Many of the other family members are alone with their children working in cities as far afield as London to Riyadh. Mrs Koztowska's son is in Spain and her elder son just returned from London, she cares for her blind husband who was injured as a boy by a German shell during World War II.
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Â The community is still strong, the Imam comes in from Bialystok once a week for Friday prayers and they are trying
to set up a Religious School in nearby Sokolka. The village is changing though, as the young leave for foreign cities the old are left behind, but they have survived for 400 years in Poland, so they will survive still, by struggling and adapting. The large Muslim cemetery on the wooded hill just outside the village is proof of their endurance and integration with its Slavic surnames and Muslim Crescents. And when you leave the village and travel back into central Poland you see their legacy more vividly now; as you look upon the faces of the Polish race you may see a Tartar's features below the surface. And the village elders used to say: "if you scratch a Pole, you will find a tartar underneath"
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Photographs Front Cover: Faces from the past, from a display of Tartar ancestors on the wall in the meeting house P 4-5 The old Muslim cemetery (Mizar) P 8-9 The New Muslim Cemetery dating from the 18th Century P 10 Ewelina on the road to the Belarusian border P 12 A page from a book on Polish Tartar history P 14 A cold-blooded Polish horse rests in paddock, a relative of the Mongolian horse that Tartars used to invade Europe P 18 Woman from Sokolka prepare tea and food for the visiting elders P 19 Tartar dresses made in Kazakhstan for Bohoniki Islamic festivals P 20 A Catholic shrine at the entrance to the village, Catholic, Orthodox & Muslim Villagers live side by side P 21 Bohoniki’s famous wooden Mosque, there are only two left in Poland P 22-23 Inside the 19th C wooden Mosque P 24 Mrs Koztowska’s younger son, just returned from working in London P 25 A deceased relative P 27 Eugenia Radkiewicz The Mosque caretaker & her eldest Grandson P 28 Mrs Koztowska’s Larder and pantry, fresh eggs and flowers even in winter P 29 Chopping wood to heat the 19th C Cottage P 35 Entering the Muslim meeting house where all the areas Tartar elders gather once a month P 37 Eugenia & her eldest Grandson, her Son lives and works in London Many of the villagers care for their grandchildren while their own children work abroad P 42 Mr Koztowska, whose been blind since 1945, he stays in bed most hours only rising for visitors P 44 Mrs Koztowska preparing Tartar potato dumplings P 49 A Tartar elder from Sokolka arrives at the Tartar meeting house P 51-53 The descendants of Tartars living in the present day Poland a country thought of as racially homogenous and purely Catholic P 54 A few Tartar families remain and apart from the abodoned houses, Catholic residents occupy the other buildings P 55 An elder from Sokolka contemplates in the dinning room of the Muslim meeting house P 57 Eugenia cycling home from a friend’s house Back Cover: A map of Tartar incursions into Poland, Lithuania & Belarus