Aija Veldre Beldavs



Submitted to the faculty of the University Graduate School in partial

fulfillment of the requirements for the degree

Doctor of Philosophy

in the Department of Folkore and Ethnomusicology,


Indiana University


April 2001




I Sing Out Nine, You’re Working on One: Historical Latvian Ritual Insult Song Warring "Apdziedāšanās”

Two sides, all-female or mixed, are engaged in a public song war led by female callers at Midsummer, wedding, or a work party between neighboring peoples. The other side is accused of laziness, stupidity, incompetence, and animal loss of control. Verbal aggression may become heated so obscene and erotic songs appear, appropriate on ritual occasions formally designated as "without shame." Offense must not be taken, though scuffling has been reported. As in Afro-American "dozens," one must not loose cool. After raving and raging, there are songs of reconciliation that only "old dues" were given to honor tradition. In this third liminal space between two roughly egalitarian groups a dialogic clash and negotiation has occurred, a winner for the occasion is declared, and both sides emerge from the performance adjusted to each other. The "callers," not only with powerful voices and sharp wits but entrusted to evaluate social dynamics with maturity, have put the cards on the table with group-voice, individual misdeeds are brought out in the open, but after public exposure and shaming forgiven with cathartic release. The air is cleared until the next performance and the two separate groups who must cooperate celebrate together. Though ludic, the flyting is not purely recreational. It has purpose and attitude with the aim of social reconstruction, regeneration, and maintenance. In contrast, heroic flyting between male champions is pre-combat with the intent of the victor taking the life and spoils of the looser, thereby destroying the opposition as an egalitarian. The aggression of heroic humor is cruel and mean, while apdziedāšanās even at its most aggressive or erotic retains enough playfulness, exaggeration, or understatement to stay out of the realm of real physical aggression. Apdziedāšanās seems to be cognitively a dynamic clash of unstable but embodied dualities, thinking in twos (either/or; +/-). Two entities appear oppositional or appositionally, metaphor deriving from experiential gestalts and laws of interaction with inherent hard-wired brain structure aspects. Attributes of these non-essentialist concepts are reworked in the third space of in-between, maybe, and gray. The foundation of the world of daina is concrete first, rather than the abstract, gradient, or morphed. Metaphor of physical conflict, contest, war, or struggle is a fundamentally experienced reality that ritual attempts to control and constructively direct as fundamental to people cooperatively living in small groups dependent on each other. The Latvian version has historically chosen women to be the players, giving them an opportunity to display female vitality, strength, wit, and ability to think on one’s feet as a fitting helpmate in a subsistence society that could not afford luxury.