Latvia Ethnography

It is believed that in Indo-European antiquity Prussians, Latvians and Lithuanians were settled north of the Slavs and that around the 20th century AD. C. they were in the Baltic region, recognizable by their own culture. In the century XIII the current Latvia was inhabited by the lineages of the Curians, Zemgali, Seli and Letgali; the overall name of Latvians appeared later. Today’s written language corresponds to the Zemgali dialect. The territory occupied by the Latvians is quite flat and even now there is an abundance of swamps and forests. This circumstance made possible the persistence of a very ancient culture, despite the many civilizing influences that the country underwent in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as part of the territories belonging to the Teutonic order and later under the Swedish, Polish and Russian domination.

The national culture of this people is characterized, as in general for the whole of Northern Europe, by the great use of wood supplied by the abundant forests.

Against wolves and other prey animals, traps are still in use formed by pits with sharp poles, loops with wooden springs and even fences in which the animal itself, approaching the bait, causes the automatic closure of the doors. Wild bees were originally searched for in the hollow trunks of trees and trunks were also dug to offer the bees shelter. Hives in the form of standing or lying tree branches originated from this use. The settlements of the Latvians still today consist of preferably scattered farms, in which a patriarchal system of life in common with the servants dominates. With the increase of the population separations took place and a double type of economic life was determined in Courland and Livonia, and small villages based on groupings of families were also formed. Among the other Latvians, in Polish Livonia, the settlement in the form of a village is the rule; there the village also prevails near the coasts and in the border areas. The shape is that of small groupings and not infrequently the farms are arranged in close rows. But from the century. XIX the population, wherever the ancient traditions of settlement allowed it, returned to straw dwellings. The earthen and masonry constructions are poorly adapted to the humid climate and marshy soil. Almost everywhere houses are built of tree trunks, using the long and straight branches of the silver and red fir; oak wood has also been used since ancient times. For the roofing, large previously split boards or even straw are used, in which case the roof forms sloping around the chimney pot. In many places, summer kitchens still have the shape of conical tents supported by poles and covered with tree bark. The oldest part of the house is the entrance, once heated with an open fire; but today it has been transformed into a kitchen, with brick walls and a funnel-shaped fireplace, built on the German model. A room is attached to this room. In the houses where it is arranged in the Eastern European manner, this room has a stove which is heated from the entrance. The walls leave the rough square beams visible, but on the occasion of a wedding they are covered with white linen, replacing the ancient use of tapestries. Then there are other rooms. At first, in the Finnish manner, those were inhabited which, equipped with a stove, are intended as a granary. These rooms, like those used as a bathroom and equipped with a stone stove, they are located a little apart from the main building. The sturdy warehouses built from tree trunks hold the most precious commodities and also serve as a bridal chamber, etc. They have an antechamber supported by pillars and are built on large stones. Also there are the stables. In the rooms used as dwellings for the residents of the house there are, distributed in the different corners, beds, often for several couples and for children. Tables, benches, chairs, chests for the storage of women’s clothes, and beds, often in the form of chests or canopies, began to spread according to German models: first people slept on boards stuck all around the walls, and the belongings were preserved inside large round boxes of bark of tree or splinter of wood, or inside wooden barrels and the like. In addition to domestic mills, primitive wooden mortars are still used for grinding grain, and beer is prepared in wooden barrels by throwing red-hot stones into them; food is also prepared, as in the past, in such wooden or tree bark containers. The wedding beer mugs are made of wood and still have various symbolic ornaments.

The manufacture and dyeing of fabrics are still domestic work. Vegetable materials are mainly used as dyes: for example, for yellow, lycopodium, juniper, heather, barberry (Berberis vulgaris), etc. From these, through mixtures and reactions, other colors are obtained. The male suit consists of a shirt, often richly embroidered on the chest and sleeves, long trousers, gray wool knitted socks and leather sandals stopped by corrugations. Over these garments he wears a robe, also of heavy gray wool, tightened by a colored belt. He also wears a large hat and, in winter, a fur or a large and long cloak.

Women also have a shirt as their main garment, richly embroidered on the chest, sleeves, shoulders and hem; they wear a dress of one color or of several colors with stripes or squares; rarely, according to the style used in Western Europe, a bodice; but above all a cloak richly embroidered with braids, closed with a round buckle, according to a medieval style; and of medieval type are also the headband in the form of a diadem that girls wear and the lace cap of married women. The ribbons used by women, woven in many colors, feature a particular richness of ornaments with their labyrinth braiding and swastika motifs.

Almost the only characteristic among the wedding customs is the ceremony in which the bride is put on a bonnet for the first time by an older woman. For the bride herself, the groom’s witness ties an apron around the belt. Typically, the groom and his entourage still ride horseback to the ceremony.

Latvia Ethnography