Kāzās iedama, Bezkauņa paliku; Pāriešu mājās, Turēšu godu.

Puisīts tek uz meitiņu, Meitiņ tek uz puisīti.

Vilka dobe celiņā. Tur tie abi iekrituši,

Biksītēm mijušies, Mutītēm devušies. (35415)


Viena pate Jāņa zāle Brīžiem stīva, brīžiem mīksta.

Ja tā stāvu nestāvētu, Nebūt kāzu, krustībiņu. (33693)

Going to wedding, I become shameless; Returning home, I keep my honor.

The lad goes to the lass, the lass goes to the lad.

A wolf pit in the road and they have fallen in,

They’ve exchanged their pants; there they’ve swapped kisses.

Just one Midsummer stalk, at times hard, at times soft.

If it couldn’t stand up, there would be no weddings or christenings.

In his description of a Kurland wedding in 1649 Paul Einhorn in Historia Lettica is horrified: "They sing such unchaste, debauched, and profligate (nešķīstas, netiklas un vieglprātīgas) songs day and night without stopping that even Satan himself couldn’t conceive of anything more immoral and shameless (nešķīstas, bezkaunīgas). His descriptions are informative, though his opinion is that Latvian peasants are uncouth savages. He describes mumming and Yule log evening in Reformatio Gentis Letticae in Ducatu Curlandiae (1636) as being a shameless celebration with eating, drinking, dancing, jumping, shouting, and making terrible noise going from one house to another.


Nei kauna vecam, Nei kauna jaunam,

Šī diena, rītdiena Bez kauna laista. (35173)

No shame the old, no shame the young,

This day, tomorrow, brought forth without shame.

Bride chaser side sings:


Šķobies, grozies, Mūs’ māsiņa! Neļaun stādīt Stumburiņu. Turn, twist, our sister! Don’t allow the planting of the tree.

Bride taker side sings:


Dievs dod mūsu bāliņam Stīvstumburu iestumdīt. (35475) God, give it to our brother, to push in a stiff tree.

Sexual insults are a part of the insult song corpus. Their use is justified with the expression giving dues to veca tiesa" (old custom). They are part of a corpus that was most offensive to the German chroniclers and clergy through the centuries. Known as nerātnās dainas, they are published separately in volume VI of Barons’s collection and volume XII of the Imanta edition. Berzing (sic) and Eglis translated some of them in 1969. Since there have been no other serious, to say nothing of fully academic attempts to research the phenomenon of nerātnās dainas, my remarks also have to be of an introductory nature. One observation that emerges from this study is that if we look at the phenomenon simply from a contemporary socio-cultural viewpoint, there are going to be very different conclusions than if magical and supernatural thinking, which surely is an aspect of the oldest aspects and roots of the phenomenon, are also considered. Adamovičs (p.82) identifies the bawdy songs to be cultic, and there is outright association of magic with reproduction.


Pisa mani, grūda mani Zem resnā ozoliņa,

Lai aug tādi dēli, meitas Kā resnie ozoliņi. (35342)

Audziet kupli, sīpoliņi! Tēviņam liela ķeķe;

Audziet kupli kāpostiņi! Mātei kupla pavēdere. (34484)

Pista meita maizi cepa, Nepistā plācenīti.

Ņemiet, puikas, izpisiet, Lai cep abas mīkstu maizi. (35376)


Hump me, drive me under the great oak tree,

So there may be sons and daughters like the mighty oak trees.

Grow in big bunches, onions! Dad has a big bag;

Grow thick, cabbages! Mom has a thick underbelly.

A fucked girl bakes bread, an unfucked girl bakes only flatbread.

Take her, boys, and fuck her, so they’ll both bake soft bread.

In a contemporary setting, depending on the circumstances and company, the songs appear ridiculously funny, simply pornographic, or somewhat embarrassing. In a broader textual daina world context there is much more of an appropriate sense of a celebration of vigour, health, and fertility rather, than perversion. They are to be sung humorously with exaggeration, not to be taken personally or seriously, and with good spirits. Unlike the pornographic invective there is less hostility than camp:


Es pisīga, es vēlīga, Man laba veselība.

Kad atnāca rudentiņš, Man radās tāds maziņš. (34674)

I’m horny, I’m willing, I have good health.

When fall came, a little one (baby) came to me.



Fertility magic is associated with music. Kursīte (1996: 413-415), drawing from the historical etymology of Karulis (II: 93-94), underscores the fertility symbolism of the sistrum puškaitis used at weddings by the song leaders to keep time. The puškaitis is deliberately shaped as a tree in full bloom, decorated with ribbons, feathers, and even small bells. Etymologically the musical instrument belongs to the Indo-European term *phu- (swelling, blowing, fermenting, growing, blooming, flowering) all with derivatives concerned with fertility, spring regeneration, efflorescence, sexuality, and ornamentation. All celebration is accompanied with decorating with greenery, flowers, and wreaths, the activity described as decorating or ornamenting – puškot.

There are questions, as for all dainas, as to how much of what is described corresponds to known actual practice, as opposed to gross exaggeration or fantasy, or exists in practice but is nonnormative or practiced by only some segments of the society or under special conditions. Since no work has been done on the subject, it is not possible to answer that question, except to note that dainas in their complexity and breadth have the full range of different levels of correspondence for belief, metaphor, and practice. Since as apdziedāšanās songs they are required to be exaggerations and the subject matter is special occasion or nonnormative, their relationship to social belief and practice is particularly complex:

While obscenity, scatology and sexual proess are important themes in these exchanges, accusations must remain in the realms of the imagination. (Edwards & Sienkewicz: 130)

Similarly Rosalynn Shropshire describing her experience of the dozens or soundings among Afro-Americans, originally a male genre, emphasizes that the purpose of the performance is to learn to be cool under attack, including extreme verbal assault, even more aggressive than the Latvian model as it involves attack on the honor of the female relatives of the opponent. But also here degeneration into a fight is a failure of the default test:

One must out talk one's competitor, thereby getting the most laughs from the group. And one must not loose emotional control. No respect is given to emotionalism that escalates into a fight. The fundamental rule is that the insult must not be literally true because truth takes the group out of the realm of performance art into "reality." (personal communication)

That is, sung in an apdziedāšanās context, insults are not to be outright attacks and the butts are not supposed to take offense. The songs do not so much give direct information about practice, as giving information what is situationally considered normative and what is not, thereby being a source for attitudes and beliefs. Tabus and restrictions are a source of underlying normative value structures. As Mary Douglas has pointed out, they also are a way of marking what is civilized as practiced by "us" and what is animalistic and uncivilized as attributed to outsiders. (1966) Nonnormative as opposed to normative structurally is seen in terms of category or classification. Typically, gender tabus classify and identify what behavior is appropriate. Usually stronger, coarser, and more vulgar expressions are reserved for men and women who do not conform are classified negatively and marginalized. On Nov.16, 2000 I wrote to the folkloristi listserve in Latvia asking for help with the interpretation of a strange daina and also asking about offense taken if this song were used today:


Aija (Nov. 16, 2000, translated from Latvian)

I have come to a difference of opinion about the translation of the following ironic folk song:

Menckas tēvam piecas meitas, Visas piecas amatnieces:

Divas bures, divas zagles, Piektā kjernes laizītāja. ( 42400)

Father Mencka has five daughters, all five are craftswomen:

Two are magicians, two are thieves, the third is a churn licker.


Would it be possible to ask help to understand how strong is the irony insofar as knowing the craft, taking into account the candidature of these girls for being courted as wives? That is, if these lines were used in a current context, how strongly would someone feel they were attacked?

Vija Skrule:

Perhaps they would be offended if they really were thieves and churn lickers, but perhaps in our days a magician could be a rather profitable craft (depending on the proper marketing) and possibly interesting to suitors.

But if seriously, that’s the nature of Latvian humor – and if someone becomes offended, then in my opinion that shows guilt.

I don’t think there is anything terrible about using such songs today, many times similar ones have been heard.

Ansis Bērziņš:

I am suspicious it could not be an apdziedāšanās song. Who is the “mencka”? Is it the name of a farm? Perhaps there is something about fish? I don’t know anything about menca-fish customs...:)) In comparison:

Pērkons has five sons, all five are in the craft:

The first roared, the second struck, etc...

But if “Mencka” is a farmstead and the people are the inhabitants, then earlier that could have been a fairly strong attack (uzbrauciens). To say the truth, in our days, also, but it is hard to imagine a family who would have five girls of marriageable age, all living in the same farm, and besides that some neighbors would have come to sing insults about them (apdziedāt). :) But if this were used for a folklore ensemble, for another folklore ensemble where there was a leader and participants, then it would be light humor only. :)

This exchange raises some of the difficulties one has in reacting to the nerātnā daina corpus in particular because of its non-normative character. The term mencka suggests fish, which has both double entendre and straightforward mythological associations. I picked this song because, as Bērziņš immediately noticed, the mention of five and a word suggesting a type of fish seems to place the song as having supernatural aspects in its formulaic correspondence to mythological songs involving five offspring of a deity who have different functions. However, to classify a daina as only fantastic is to suppress the fact that many have been informative in historical research. Drīzule, among many others, points to many instances where a practice may be confirmed through separate historical documentation and archaeological sources. Drīzule points out that, for instance, orphan songs in their approach to suffering approach naturalism in addition to utilizing the fantastic, so realism is a possibility in at least some cases. (Drīzule: 195) Therefore, as in the rest of the daina corpus, vernacular beliefs related to practice different from or contrary to dominant normative Christian beliefs are almost certainly recorded within the nerātnā daina corpus. Thus, exceptional standards as to appropriate behavior may be invoked at Midsummer.

A practice mentioned as a joking insult is not simply ruled out as practice, only its situational appropriateness. Additionally there is the diachronic aspect. How the songs are used and interpreted now is no assurance they were so interpreted in the past. Some gross differences between attitudes in significantly more pagan 16th and 17th centuries, when complaints about them emerged, and later more Christianized periods are to be expected because of situational changes. It is unlikely that the presumably more naturalistic pagan attitudes dating back to raiding times when women were sometimes captured and then recaptured by hostile clans as booty, or where women and children were seen as ways of quickly replentishing a decimated clan, would be the same as later Christian attitudes, concerned with, for instance, with the spiritual aspects of chastity as much as practical ones.

The linguistic area of sexual terms are related to that of other Indo-European peoples suggesting associations that are aggressive but under control and related to agricultural work. The ancient term pist (fuck) is related to the Indo-European *peis (the up and down pounding action of pestle in mortar) and is frankly stated in dainas:

Es meitiņa, tu puisītis, Iesim abi velēties!

Ja tev laba bunga vāle, Sit manā silītē! (34676, 1)

I a girl, you a boy, let us go wash clothes.

If you have a good pounding dolly, hit it in my trough.


The concrete association with milling and other work that turns grain into nourishing bread underscores the healthy, productive nature of the activity rather than perverse masochism separate from the cycle and rhythm of nature, work, and their human artistic expressions. There are too many of the nerātnā dainas that treat sex as matter-of-fact to be reduced to prurience. The equivalent to the "four-letter" words in English are not to be used casually but not because they are bad words. It is because they are powerful, originally magic, words. The frank actions are not pornographic, but functional for the occasion. Thus the group of songs beginning with the formula stāvu, stāv (standing, stand):


Stāvu, stāv tev, tautieti, Ja tev stāvu, man gatava:

Ja tev stāv kumeliņis, Man gatava villainīte. (35524) or

Ja tev stāvu oša zars, Man gatava liepas sile. (35524)

Get it up, suitor; if it’s up for you, mine is ready:

If your horse is up, my woolen shawl is ready.

If the ash branch is standing, I have a ready linden trough.


The Balts had a number of festivals where erotic expression was an integral aspect, including Shrovetide, the breaking of flax period, and various fall harvest-home celebrations. There are many songs having to do with fertility, health, and vitality, which are most understandable in a magic context, such as ritual striking or beating at Easter with pussy willow branches or with branches during mumming to encourage fertility. The attitudes toward sexual health and fertility seem to be matter-of-fact in a way different from Western Christian ones until recent times:


Budelīti, tēvainīti, Izkul manu vedekliņ!

Es tev došu cimdu pāri Par vedeklas kūlumiņ’.

Mummer Father, thresh my daughter-in-law thoroughly!

I will give you a pair of mittens for beating my daughter-in-law.

Wife beating is not, of course, the subject in this song, but the mother-in-law as the senior woman responsible for the well-being of her family is asking the person representing the spirit world to perform a magic act of fertility on behalf of the young wife so she can bring the family children. Although coitus is symbolically associated with aggressive, or rather active, agricultural work (pērt, kult, sist), violence against women, including wife-beating is conspicuously absent as a topic of joking, and is condemned where it appears straightforwardly in the general daina corpus. Ritual beating is controlled, purposeful, and with positive magical results, but beating one’s wife for real would be harmful and destructive aggression, a loss of control. Alcoholism and ineptitude appear to be much more prominently singled out as condemned social dysfunctions. (cf Vītoliņš, 1986: 1183-1202) It is the dominant concensus of several generations of daina researchers that in the daina world a woman was treated with relatively egalitarian respect.

The singing of nerātnās dainas as the height of approaching emotional limits in apdziedāšanās has, of course, just as much polyfunctionality as any other aspect of folklore with different meanings to different participants in different times and regions. One of the functions of apdziedāšanās, including the singing of nerātnās dainas, is social control. Normative social control in the daina world is largely achieved through shame. Gossip (ļaužu valodas) is a major concern of the daina woman either on part of elders and neighbors or, if at courting age, of boys.

Benedikte Mežale in her study of apdziedāšanās in Latgale, largely Catholic eastern Latvia, strongly identifies and even equates the ritual with religious absolution as indicated by the title of the book: Apdzīduošona in Weddings or the True Absolution of Sins (Apdzīduošona kuozuos vai patīsa grāku atlaisšona). Mežāle speaks of the healing power of the ritual (dzīdynūšu spāku): "during the course of singing the participants are involved in a great cleansing, the biofield increases, spiritual components are reconciled, the person becomes more balanced, cleansed, and therefore healed…one may speak of the power of thought and word, which a person remembers in thinking and doing good." (p. 13) She identifies the apdziedāšanās ritual as a woman’s way (sīvīšu rūta – p. 13). The nerātnās dainas are identified as sung for the purpose of the young couple’s fertility, and in her experience are sung only by married women:

In the everyday impropriety (nekaunībuos) were not allowed in the countryside. It was enough that everyone knew they existed…In a living apdziedāšanās tradition the songs found as Baron’s nerātnās are sung proportionally barely a third. Even today many verses circulate among children or grown-ups …which are publically never used; only now and then are told to each other…Calling out naked attributes leave an unpleasant effect in the area and people feel as if dirty water has been thrown on them. Only great cleverness can dampen and add a different unique sense. (p. 14-15)

Mežāle notes that straightforward depiction of physiological functions, while possible when a heightened sense of merrymaking has been reached (jautrības vilni) comes to the furthest edge (galejuo rūbeža) or even steps over the line (puorejīs aiz rūbežas). Finally, she underscores how necessary is the ability to perform the nerātnās dziesmas skillfully and with understanding (lylu sapruotību), how the dangerous, threatening, and uncontrollable is "wrapped in wool" (ītarpti vylnā). (p. 15)

Many of the nerātnās dainas in Barons’s collection would not be actually sung in a wedding as described by Mežāle, and they are not included in her collection, but, nevertheless, they are transmitted and known:

Don’t look for songs that are too offensive, what are called ‘raw’ songs. Of course such have been collected and many have been written down, but they are deformed and mostly without taste, don’t hold in folk song rhythm and are too Russian. But most of all I haven’t heard them sung in living tradition. Usually the lead singers just communicate the words outside of the wedding context, usually adding that they have not sung them because to actually sing such songs, then the insult-intent and drunkenness level would have to be who knows what. In short, such as wouldn’t happen. But maybe Laima has simply saved me from such weddings. (Mežāle 112 –113)


Mežāle is wrong about the most explicit and offensive songs in the Baron’s collection being technically faulty. It is striking how many technically, in terms of meter and structure, fit seamlessly into the daina world. And many of them are imaginative, clever, and sound authentic. Their persistence in being passed on from singer to singer, even if it is not actually sung in an ordinary performance, would rather argue for authenticity of the nonnormative kind. Also, others who have written forwards to bawdy song collections do not necessarily share Mežāle’s views. Mežāle also does not consider functions of erotic and bawdy songs from possible other viewpoints and settings than the ethical. What comes most obviously to mind is a general release of erotic tension, anxiety, frustration, and aggressiveness. While it seems reasonable that unmarried women would not sing bawdy songs, nevertheless they would have anxieties as to finding a suitable mate, especially if the optimum courtship period were running out. These anxieties could enter into the general atmosphere, considering that old maids and bachelors (both equally negative terms) are a primary butt of the songs. However, Mežāle’s observation that many of these songs would not have been sung in an ordinary 20th century wedding is to be taken at face value.

It can not be claimed that a 16th century still largely pagan mentality would have had effectively the same religious interpretation, or that all segments of society would have shared in the same view as today. Certainly, depending on the group, there would be greater or lesser tolerance for the explicit and in-your-face. It is not hard to abstract from Mežāle’s deeply Christian beliefs to other accounts that the ritual in general, even in a nonreligious perspective, while pushing at emotional limits ultimately intents to reduce tensions, rather than cause dangerous outbreaks of violence. To what degree, for instance, sexual licence may have been involved historically in the past among guests at weddings, Midsummers, or other occasions this paper cannot solve. That at least on some occasions this did occur is suggested by a number of historical accusations that deplore drunken debauchery, some of the songs themselves, and certain practices even today, but what those conditions might have been or at what historical periods can not be resolved here and would require closer examination of historical evidence.


Nieka laba nedabūju Tās māsīnas panākstos:

Ne es pate jāt dabūju, Ne auzīnas kumeļam. (35168)

I didn’t get much good at the bride chasing of that sister.

Neither did I get to ride, nor oats for my horse.

Barons has classified this as a bawdy song. While almost anything can be seen as bawdy in the appropriate frame of mind, even in English riding, oats, and horses have more than casual associations with sex. One colloquial term for joking or pranking is zirgoties (horsing around), which takes on a double entendre in that the horse is one euphemism for the phallus. Another term is iebraukt zirgu…(auzās, pupās, purvā) [to drive the horse into oats, peas, or the swamp], which I interpret as allowing emotions to confuse and get someone in trouble. Of interest is that the noun ending shows the singer to be female, and the song seems to be an example of women co-opting men’s songs.

Mežāle affirms that once bawdy songs are introduced, others may take on a double meaning, “resulting in considerable fantasy on part of the participants.” (Mežāle: 113) Indeed, many songs have the potential to be bawdy in a double entendre sense, and clearly are seen as such under some contexts. Or a song may be tweaked just enough to make sure it has a bawdy interpretation, as in the group of songs about the girl asking the boy to help her throw the hay in a pile. In its usual singing, it is closes in expressing tenderness without aggression, but in the second singing it becomes explicitly sexually aggressive:


Pati māku sienu pļauti, izkaptiņu asināt.

Tik vien lūdzu tautu dēlu lai sameta kaudzītē. (from memory)

Bija pļava, bija zāle, Bija laba kaudzes vieta;

Vajag laba tautu dēla, Kas iedūra kaudzē mietu. (LD 34 502)

I know how to mow, how to sharpen the scythe.

All I’m asking the neighbor lad is to throw the hay in a pile.

There’s the meadow, there the grass, there a place for the hay;

All that’s needed is a neighbor lad who could thrust a pole into the hay.

In comparison to Mežāle in eastern Latvia, the monograph on Suitu region singer Veronika Porziņģe in western Latvia makes little religious claims for the role of apdziedāšanās and while Porziņģe also did not write down the bawdiest songs, she does not question their authenticity. The Suitu region is known for a more aggressive stance, even though it also is a small Catholic island among Protestants.

(In a 1978 recording session) Both Veronika and Lielā Trīne allowed themselves only ‘proper’ (godīgus) texts when singing wedding songs – as appropriate to an unknown situation. To sing the nerātnās, it was not enough to beg; a crate of whiskey had to be promised. And even then the most pointed ones were not sung. Veronika did not ever step over the line where cleverness changed hands with shamelessness or vulgarity. Also in her notebook she has not written down a single ‘shameless’ verse. But she did know them! She even remembered from which woman she had heard them. (Dziesminiece Veronika Porziņģe: 12)

What seems particularly relevant, then, is that a distinction is made between what would be a personal attack on a particular person as to being appropriate behavior for that person and practices known in another context:

Ritual invective, like other forms of oral referring, sets out the values and expectations of society. Performers are given licence to focus on those qualities and behaviors, which are considered socially undesirable. By looking closely at the insults, which are offered it is possible to build up a very clear picture of community ideals…By focusing on the important structures and personalities, the oral artist relieves the tensions from outside and within society. (Edwards & Sienkewicz, p. 132)

It is possible to compare the Latvian material to topics covered in the journal Maledicta , since 1976 devoted to the study of "invectives, insults, slurs, curses, threats, blasphemies, vulgarities, offensive words and expressions, ‘bad words’, nasty or naughty language heard most often in stressful, angry and other emotionally charged situations, verbal aggression, slang for body parts and excretions, ‘dirty words’, blue words" and other vulgarisms and non-normative terms. (The Best of Maledicta: 7). The immediate impression is that the tone and effect of themes and topics of international currency involving representation of women appear to differ strongly in the Latvian version as having a largely gender-free, egalitarian, or even pro-female attitude.

Broadly speaking, today conceptually the Baltic fits into a "northern" type of general contemporary attitude toward invective and sex, including a misogyny perhaps less passionately personalized than in the south. While not an exception to misogyny and patriarchal attitudes, a strong pragmatism rather easily overrides emotional prejudices, pre-conceptions, and personal inter-family practice. The election of the first female President in Eastern Europe is an obvious example since she was seen as the best choice.

The bawdiness in the nerātnās dainas, while very explicit, neither appears typical of the male pornographic view, nor is it romantic or sentimental. Perhaps the closest in artistic tone and imagination are some of the old blues songs, such as Robert Johnson’s "Come in my Kitchen," which stand out for their clever directness rather than crudeness.


Es puisītis, tu meitiņa, Aužam kopā audekliņu!

Tev šķietiņš, tev nītiņas, Man sudraba atspolīte. (34637,3)

I’m a boy, you’re a girl Let’s weave together some cloth!

You have the reed, you have the mail, I have a silver shuttle.

In his short, two-page forward to a publication of the nerātnās dainas in 1990 Knuts Skujenieks says: "as did our ancestors we feel the magic of words and protect the instruments of life from casual eyes and ears. But this tabu should not be absolute." (Skujenieks: 4) His evaluation of the corpus is that it is "humane," "sensible," "clever," "sensitive," and "healthy." (Ibid).

Some of the songs included in the nerātnā volume were sung by men night herding horses (pieguļa). Since pasturing was usually not so far from the homestead, sometimes young women would bring food or come to socialize. But in formal apzdziedāšanās performances they were most often sung by married women within ritual constraints once the contest was well under way and had become heated. Just as the song war is not left in the hands of young male aggression, which would have greater potential for turning into real violence, so perhaps powerful and potentially dangerous emotions involving hostility, arousal, discord, and grievance are mediated by those who are considered to have a special place between the sacred and profane and to have the maturity and experience to control these forces. The insults sung by the women consist of the use of graphic sexual terms that are not used in everyday language, gross exaggerations that no one would take seriously, or understatement and indirect reference recognized by everyone as double entendre. There are jokes about serving cooked genitals as inappropriate food for feasts. (34592) Some in mentioning miraculously quick pregnancies seem to even have fertility echoes:


Dievs nedod tādas meitas, Kādas meitas panāksnieces!

Nav saulīte nogājuse, Ar puišiem pelūdē;

Nav dieniņa izaususe, Ar čunčuli istabā. (34526)

God not willing such girls as the bridal pose girls!

The sun hasn’t gone down; already they’re in the shed with the lads.

The day hasn’t dawned, already with a bairn in the room.


Those resonate with other songs with miraculous births, animal couplings, and especially the sow giving birth to many piglets, or the mummer mother giving birth on the road (34916, 6), which have fertility suggestions.


Kur palika panāksnu Skaistās meitiņas?

Cit’ ar suni gubenī, Cit’ ar kuili midzenī.

Kas ar suni gubenī, Tai būs raibi kucēniņi;

Kas ar kuili midzenī, Tai būs raibi suvēniņi. (34914)


Budelīšu mātītei Ceļā tika radībiņas.

Uz akmiņa pirti kūra, Strautā slotu sutināja. (34916)

Where are the bride-chaser pretty girls?

One’s with a dog in the haycock, another with a boar in its lair.

Who’s with the dog in the haycock, will have mottled puppies;

Who’s with a boar in his lair, will have spotted piglets.

The mummer mother gave birth on the road.

The sauna was made on a stone, in the river the switch was softened.

Kursīte (1996: 7) sees totemistic identification of female with “pike, pig, marten, linden, wagtail, and Sun daughter” and of “perch, oak, wolf, hawk, and Sky son” with male. Such songs, which in a purely modern interpretation would appear just insulting, are positive as an indicator of health and fertility in a fertility context:


Kas tā tāda mella cūka Sēd pie mūsu bāleliņu?

Tā nebija mella cūka, Tā brālīša līgaviņa. (LD 21 236)

Who is that black pig sitting with our kinsmen?

That’s not a black pig, that’s brother’s bride.



While there are nerātnā dainas from the male point of view or else songs that are co-opted by women, most of the corpus does not consist of ordinary men’s recreational songs. Many can be understood in terms of the supernatural or magic or even the feminine divine. The term for the female vulva laimes caurums (Laima’s hole) while in a contemporary sense can be literally and amusingly translated as "portal of fortune and happiness," if in mythological context is related to the Great Goddess Laima, becomes a much more awesome concept. The word tricināt, drebēt (shake, tremble) are used in two contexts. Kursīte points out that these are terms for ecstatic experiences, including that of sex (Kursīte 1999: 252 about the sun daughter’s leaf-like trembling in response to the sky sons). Similarly a sexual interpretation is reasonable in what appears to be both a courting and apdziedāšanās song about the gadfly’s ability to shake and tremble the oak branches in relation to the bee-girl. There is certainly erotic symbolism of the bee sting or of honey in other dainas. Finally cosmic creation itself involves sounds and motions that are recreated in such rituals as the noisy merrymaking of festivals and celebrations. Laima, the fate and fortune goddess of creation, makes it possible for life to emanate from the cosmic sea, which by destroying takes everything back into itself. The hole of Laima is not only the source of sexual ecstasy and the passageway of birth on an animal and human level, but on a cosmic level could be seen as the portal of creation.

That the bawdy songs were significantly connected with fertility rituals has direct evidence, such as the ritual with the stebere (phallus represented by vegetables such as a carrot and onions or fruit) in fall celebrations, which the female work party offers and is wrested away by the male work party.


Es mācēju baru vest Un steberi parādīt;

Es bij’ laba barvedīte, Man bij laba steberīte.

Puišiem nāsis izbadīšu Ar to jēra steberīti. (34639)

I know how to lead the group how to show the stebere.

A good leader of the group, I have a good stebere.

I’ll poke out the nostrils of the boys with a ram’s stebere.

What also characterizes nerātnās dainas is that many are not just pornographic imagery using graphic language, as is the following that lists the most common names:


Nevienam kundziņam Nav trejāds uzvārdiņš.

Kā manam peķīšam: Pīzda, peķis, petenīts. (35184)

Nākat šurp, ciema puiši, Še ir visi gabaliņi!

Še pupiņi, še nabiņa, Še ir pate grāvja mala,

Še ir pate grāvja mala, Melniem alkšņiem apauguse. (34487)

No lord has three surnames.

As does my snatch: cunt, pussy, nooky.


Come courting, village lads, here are all the parts!

Here the tits, here the navel, here the edge of the ditch.

Here the edge of the ditch, grown over with black alders.


Some appear as riddles and if they had not been placed in the nerātnā collection, one might not know they were double entendres:


Kas tā, velns, pār mūŗa muižu, Ne tai logu, ne tai durvju?

Vienas pašas nama durvis, Ar sūnām aizaugušas. (34822)

Kas tas, velns, par putnu bija, Nakti skrēja ezerā?

Sarkans kaklis, melni spārni, Divas lodes pakaklē. (34824)

What devil is that brick manor neither has it windows or a door.

Only one door, and that is grown over with moss.


What devil kind of bird was that dived into the lake at night?

A red neck, black wings, two balls in a wattle.

Many are quite imaginative, poetical, or humorous at the same time as they are direct and unsentimental, or use imagery that everyone can decode. Some are rauciously exhuberanat; others have a madcap way of putting someone in a ridiculous situation:


Šurp nākdamas, panāksnīcas Skārdiem šuva peteniņus: Mūsu puiši cauri dūra, Skārdi vien skanējās. (35479)

Made kauna negribēja, Mušas kaunu padarīja:Dui mušiņas sakāpās Deguniņa galiņā. (35081)

The girls of the bridal posse had sewn their cunts with tin buttons.

Our boys just pushed through, the tin ringing.

Made was prim and proper, but the flies didn’t care:

Two flies had a quick screw on the tip of her nose.

To suggest that a marriage had to be arranged quickly because the bride is already pregnant, there is allusion to her dripping milk. Or a woman may be said to have a child hidden in a shed or bushes. Alternatively the bride’s party girls may be jokingly insulted of being in a similar state. What is more remarkable about the Latvian corpus is that the men are insulted along the very same lines:


Ko, Jānīti, godājies(i)? Sen es tavu godu zinu:

Piecu bērnu tēvs tu biji, Vēl par puisi godājies. (34853)

Why, Yani, are you displaying honor? I know your honor too well.

The father of five children, you still pretended to be a lad.

The Victorian sense that females have only procreative sex does not seem to be supported by either the nearātnās or other related dainas, or by the range of knowledge exhibited in the nerātnā corpus, the frank acknowledgement of female arousal and desire, and the exhuberance shown as consistent with celebration and the language of ritual laughter. In addition to Propp’s study of ritual laughter in the tale of Nesmejana, Cohn identifies the ritual laughter to have a similar function in the Japanese myth about Ame no Uzume’s bawdy dance to lure out the sun goddess Amaterasu from the cave she has hidden and plunged everything into darkness and death:

As commentators such as Yanagita and Matsumura Takeo have pointed out, because laughter was thought by the ancient Japanese, like members of other primitive societies, to be an effective way of propitiating or placating deities, it played and important role in magico-religious rites. In particular, the laughter engendered by the exposure of the female genitalia was thought to be effective in promoting or renewing the regenerative powers of life, just as the female organs themselves were thought to have the power to subdue malevolent spirits. At any rate, the association of laughter with displays of vitality and (successful) efforts to resotre light and life to a disturbed world is very much in keeping with the comic gestalt pattern. (Cohn: 13)

The archaic nature of many of the basic associations is underscored for instance by Vīķe-Freibergs in her discussion of the formulaic “Lai skan (dzird) visa pasaulīte" (May the whole world resound). She concurs with a 1962 dissertation by Polis that in one case the Midsummer calendar and fertility deity Yānis’s position on the gatepost is possibly replaced by a representation of the female vulva (1997: 91-94). Parallels to the yoni - lingum cult of India come to mind:


Sit, Jānīti, vaŗa bungas Vārtu staba galiņā!

Lai skan visa pasaulīte, Lai sanāca Jāņu bērni. (53801)

Piķīts sēd liepiņā, Pelēkām austiņām.

Sit piķīti, vaŗa bungas, Lai skan visa pasaulīte. (53970)

Beat, Yani, the copper drum on top of the gatepost!

May the whole world resound, may the children of Yanis assemble!

Piķīts (the vulva) was sitting in the linden with gray ears.

Bang, piķīt, the copper drums, may all the world resound.

The frankness, the exaggeration, or depiction of vigorous sexuality not characteristic of Western values until recently, is not to say that sexuality is not controlled, or that either female promiscuity or adultery would be sanctioned. The bee cult seems to be a cult especially focused on married life concerned with normative sexuality. To what degree and under what conditions nonreproductive and premarital sex may have been either practiced or on any level condoned is yet an issue to study and most likely doesn’t have a simple answer. There are many songs about males trying to score by saying they won’t get the female pregnant, which suggest that premarital and nonreproductive sex were factually acknowledged. At the very least coitus interruptus is frequently depicted as birth control, as well as other forms of nonstandard or nonreproductive sex where the girl is "saving" her vulva for her future husband, though clearly having sex (35329, 35340), or there isn’t actual penetration (cf 35375.


Pis, kundziņi, kurpītē, Ne manā pežiņā!

Lai stāvēja mana peža Arājiņa dēliņam. (35340)

Pirms, tautieti, mani ņemsi, Es jau pist tev nedošu; Kad paņemsi, tad es došu, Saujiņā turēdama. (35329)

Fuck, lordling, in my shoe, not in my pussy.

Let my pussy wait for the ploughman’s son.

Before you take me as yours, young man, I won’t let you fuck me;

When you take me (for a bride), I’ll give you holding in my hand.

Many songs might be said to lack coyness in a Western and Christian perspective. In one song the pussy is straining its "ears" after the lads going to night pasturing (35001). In another (34887) the male is saying "gana, gana" (enough, enough) while the female is saying vēl gribās! (want more). In others the girl responds to advances by mock threatening to break off the phallus (35599), still others joke about her relieving "those needs" with a horn or other object (35349, 35350) until the real object is available. (Cf 35349) Some songs suggest she is not a passive partner in sex, as when she offers her "lake for the horse to swim in" adding "Ne tik dziļi, ne tik sekli, Pa pavadas galiņam.” (Not so deep, not so shallow, but restrained by holding the bridle.) In another she says she herself knows how to “shove the lad’s tool into her water depths” (Pate māku puikas rīku Sev dzelmē iepravīt. – 35256). A number of songs take pride in thick cunt hair as an indication of health and vigour, and some songs make fun of shearing it like wool. There is considerable aggressiveness displayed by the females that matches that of the males:

Brīnumiem es izaugu Viena meita māmiņai;

Man kūsītis sāvu stāv, Puišiem dūru vēderā. (34511)

Panāksnieku meitiņām Pucšķērītes kājstarpī;

Dodiet mūsu puisēniem Sveču galus nopucēt! (35241)

Panākst puiši piestu jāja, Pagaldē pagāzuši.

Vai jūs akli neredzat, Ne tai roku, ne tai kāju.

Ne tai roku, ne tai kāju, Ne melnajacaurumiņa. (35243)

Gribiet, puiši, ņemiet mani, Gribiet, mani neņemiet!

Es piesaku jums pie laika, Apuškā negulēšu. (34731)

What a wonderful girl I grew up, an only daughter for my mother;

My cunt hair stands straight up and pokes the boys straight in the stomach.

The bridal posse girls have shears between their legs. Let our boys polish up some candle ends.

The bridal posse boys were riding amortar Overturned it under a table.

Are you blind that you cannot see? It’s got no hands or feet.

It’s got no hands or feet, not even a black hole.

If you want me, boys, take me, if you don’t, it’s all the same!

But I will tell you ahead of time, I’ll not sleep on the bottom.

What also does not appear in the contest is direct name-calling, such as "whore" or "slut" (mauka), but the reason may be more complicated than avoiding direct invective. The females of the opposite side are accused of having such insatiable drives as to engage in outrageous and unacceptable behavior, such as having sex with animals, which is the same accusation as made for the men. Something like having sex with animals in an agricultural society is at least conceivable, and there are myths about animal and human lovers and spouses, but it is outrageous enough to not be taken as a real insult. In one comic scene the cunt is pictured lying in wait like a predatory animal with vagina dentata teeth instead of the maidenhead:


Pīzdiņ’ guļ vīrekstīs, Zobus vien erģīdama.

Kaut pipele zinājusi, Pīzdai purslas izbadītu. (35285,1)

The cunt was lying in the spirea, showing its teeth.

Would the prick have known, it would have pushed right through.

The term rīka meita (tool girl) appears in the corpus (34592) only in a contemptuous sense, opposed to the term alus puisis (beer lad – 35501) or staļļa puisis (horse groomer – 35526, 35527). The implication is that only low character or status people would engage in certain activities:


Staļlu puisis, rīku meita, Tie bij abi biedrinieki:

Staļla puisis izsukāja Rīku meitas pavēderi. (35526)

Horse groomer, tool girl: great companions.

Horse groomer brushed out tool girls’s underbelly.


Terms for a prostitute, in north Europe apparently being used archaically for an adulterous woman, such as kuņa (bitch) are found in the nerātnā daina collection, but according to Burgen (p. 77), calling someone by that name isn’t a deadly insult to people in northern Europe:

And if they’ve failed to protect or control their women and, by extension, safeguard the family line and the inheritance, he must bear some of the blame. We are talking, of course, about southern Europe. Northern European men just don’t seem to care what their women do any more. Call a Swede or a German a son of a whore and he’ll think you’re nuts. Call an Englishman a cuckold and the chances are he won’t even know what you mean. (Burgen:110)


Ko, Ieviņa, godējies? Es jau tavu godu zinu:

Visu puišu brūte biji, Piecu bērnu māmuliņa. (34848)

Why, Ieviņa, display your honor? I know your honor all too well:

You were bride to all the boys, the mother of five children.

There are a number of dainas that can be interpreted as the trade of sex for goods, the second perhaps one of the few cases of genuinely sinister domestic black comedy:


Gotiņ mana raibaļiņa Ar pežiņu nopelnīta:

Ja pežiņas man nebūtu, Nebūt govs raibaļiņas. (34725)

Ko, vīriņ, tu rājies, Neba tavu naudu dzēru:

Es pārdevu melnu jēru, Melnā jēra naudu dzēru. (34878)

My dear cow, my spotted one, earned with my cunt:

If I didn’t have a cunt, there’d be no spotted cow.

Why carp at me, hubby. I wasn’t drinking with your money.

I sold the black lamb and drank with its money.


The black lamb is, of course, a euphemism, and the wife has acquired a tragic form of independence from an inadequate domestic arrangement.

In contrast to modern urban male entertainment, it is striking that the nerātnā complex is almost entirely about courtship or domestic situations, with only a minority ascribing doubtful practices to other ethnic groups (Russians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Gypsies, Jews) and even those are not particularly rancorous.


Māmulīte bēdājās, Tēvam stega nolužusi.

Nebēdājies, māmuliņa, Vēl tas cegris (stegris) cilājas. (34960)

Mother was sorrowing that father’s tool be broken.

Don’t worry, mother, that tool is still rising.

In the nerātnā daina corpus there are very many instances of metonymy where negativity is lacking in the sexual organ, either male or female, standing for the person. In the classical literature on the subject, including the feminist, there is supposed to be a fundamental attitude difference as to metonymical usage of male or female sexual anatomy, for instance:

The worst insults for men nearly all come back to women: to being a cunt, what a woman is; a bastard, which is a woman’s fault; or a queer, like a woman. As men are so fond of saying, ‘Life’s a bitch’. (Burgan: 102)

This does not appear to be the case in the relatively egalitarian nerātnā daina world and the effect is less to demean as to personify the sexual organ and to release it from constraints of seriousness.


Rikšu, lēkšu pežiņa Pār istabiņu.

Pipele pakaļ Šņaukādama. (35427)

Trotting, cantering the pussy is across the room.

The prick is after her blowing spittle.

Depiction of anthropomorphicized organs doing human-like things like dancing would be consistent with values that do not consider sex per se to be shameful, but rather powerful in the sense of magic. It is consistent with a worldview where both the phallus and the vulva are symbolically displayed as powerful magic, as possibly in some Midsummer songs. In the songs where a female is depicted, as running through the forest blowing a horn, what is being laughed at is her inappropriate behavior, since as part of marriage symbolism, young men announce their courtship intentions by blowing horns. Additionally, the phrase buļļa ragu cilājot (to take up a bull horn) is a euphemism. A woman said to take up a male courting gesture, is depicted as being so "horny" that she looses control, assumes a male role, and therefore becomes laughable. And yet, there isn’t that sense of absolutely condemning or mortal sin equivalent; it is more a sense of laughing at the ridiculous and incongruous. There is also a strong element of female bravado:


Es izaugu krietna meita, es piemīzu ezeriņu;

Tur tie jāja, tur noslīka Slavenie tautu dēli.

Es to daudz nebēdāju, Ka man’s zēni neprecēja,

Kāp’ kuiļam mugurā, Jāju pate precībās. (34702)

Es, kāzāsi atnākdama, Skādi vien padarīju:

Es saplēsu mālu podu, Puišam dēlu pataisīju.

I grew up a mighty girl, I peeed a whole lake full;

There they rode, there they drowned: those famous suitors - boys. (34683,1)

I didn’t worry overlong if no one came to court me.

I mounted a boar and myself went courting.


Coming to wedding I just made trouble

I broke the clay pot, made the lad a son. (34663)


Similar to the mumming song:


Es mājās nepāriešu, Kamēr skādi padarīšu:

Citu gadu ap šo laiku,Tad būs mazi budelīši.


Nudie’ māte, kas dievvārds, Es bez puiša negulēšu.

Ņemšu puisi aiz matiem, Raušu salmu gubenī. (35196)

I won’t go home until I’ve made trouble.

This year about the same time there will be little ones, mummers.

Really, mother, I swear to you, I’m not sleeping without a lad.

I’ll grab a lad by his hair and pull him into the haycock.

(The term raut (grab) is the term used in bride abduction.)


There are a number of examples where something would be much more likely a genuine threat in real life from the male point of view, such as breaking the clay pot and making a child, and indeed this songs does have variants from the male point of view with a less ridiculous and more threatening effect. In the song contest a male boast is cleverly and with bravado co-opted by the females. On the other hand the tie to the cosmic and magic also exists with this image. Kursīte points out that the broken vessel is both a symbol for coitus and for destruction of the cosmos followed by reconstruction. In some dainas it is the sky god who breaks the vessel, and a goddess gathers the pieces to bind them into a new vessel. (Kursīte, 1996: 21):


Dieviņš kannu sadauzīja Pa vienam gabalam;

Mīļā Māra sastīpoja Ar sudraba stīpiņām. (Tdz 55 346)

Dieviņš broke the jug piece by piece;

Dear Māra bound the pieces with silver hoops.

In other dainas the Sun maiden gathers the branches of an oak tree struck and destroyed by the Thunder god. By a slight twist the sacred erotic can be turned to comedy. The motif of the shaking bride overcome by emotions appears on the sacred plane with the sun daughter(s) shaking with in the presence of the courting sky gods. In context of still other dainas, there is possible connection to the cosmological shaking of the universe as it is being created. Additionally, the nerātnā corpus has a strange type of mock insult parody. The young men are placed in an inverse, laughable, and yet believable position of shaking like leaves, overcome by emotions when speaking to girls.


Drebi, drebi, apšu lapa, Vējiņš tevi drebināja;

Tā drebēja puišu sirdis, Ar meitām runājot.

Shake, tremble aspen leaf, the wind shook you;

That is how boys’ hearts tremble speaking to girls.

Topics of insult generally involve putting the opponent in a ridiculous, laughable, and vulnerable position. "The simplest kind of verbal attack is to accuse another person of low intelligence or lack of culture. Usually this involves scatological images and anatomy, rather than sex." (The Best of Maledicta: 12) Descriptions in the nerātnās range from slightly nonstandard, such as women peeing standing up, to slapstick or loosing control at formal, inopportune, and dignified occasions by something like farting. There are also outright medical problems, such as not being able to hold water. Generally they are cross-culturally recognizable. Appearance and clothing are commonly derided as outrageously inadequate, and especially noticeable are the many dainas making fun of the quality of one’s horse. While the horses of both males and females are made fun of, additionally the horse is prototypically associated with male display and as double entendre with the phallus.

Conspicuously absent are insults about female relatives or mothers. There are almost no references to homosexuality, but there are some to anal sex (35504 in a derogative fashion.


Vāciešam galva sāp, Man sāp sūdu caurumiņš;

Liec, vācieti, savu galvu, Pie tā mana caurumiņa. (35668)

The German’s head hurts, my asshole hurts

Place, German, your head by that hole.

However, oral sex is describd in a few for both sexes (cf 35002, 35139, 34524), as are various positions (cf 35144) including standing up (cf 35374), from the rear (cf 34974), and bestiality. Except for the last, they have a matter-of-fact tone.


Kuņa kuņa ganu meita, Suņam deva ganīdama.

Man nedeva, puisīšam, Ne svētdienas rītiņā. (34898)

Bitch, bitch, the herder girl, herding, she gave to the dog.

She didn’t give to me, a lad, not even on Sunday morning

Fantastic dainas where humans are accused of siring or birthing strange animals (cf 34904) underscore the historical roots of magic involving human – animal couplings and are another example of difficulties in trying to infer straightforwardly. Bestiality is not a real insult when it is fertility magic or the fantastic, nor may it be taken seriously as insult in the apdziedāšanās ritual. This does not, however, exclude unsanctioned practice. Voyeurism (35590) and autoeroticism seems to be straightforwardly depicted as practice. In practices, such as use of vegetables (cf 35418) there are no clues if the context is magic, realistic, or fantasy. All are probably possible components within an overall frame of insult and exaggeration.


Pēterīti, bāleliņi, Sāc ūziņas brucināt!

Es redzēju tautu meitu, Savu kūsi skrūvējot. (35066)

Rācenīšus ravējot, Dabūj rutku steberīti.

Visu nakti meņģējos Ar to rutku steberīti. (35418)

Dievs dod prieku, veselību Mazajam bērniņam!

Bērniņš zīda mātes cici, Māte tēva pipelīti. (34524).

Peter, brother, start whetting your pants!

I saw the girl, screwing her cunt hair.


Weeding turnips, I found a magic black radish.

All night long I was messing with the black radish.


God give health and happiness to the little child!

The bairn was sucking at mother’s tit, mother on dad’s cock


Because the songs are performed under liminal conditions, the question of to what degree inversion of ordinary expected male/ female behavior is a source of humor is relevant. But the answer is not as simple as it may seem in view of the broader context outside the nerātnās dainas, which do imply considerable egalitarianism and parallelism within clear gender divisions. Of course, the more exaggerated, the less probable. The question of tolerance of non-normative also comes up. Latvian society was in pre-industrial times rather individualistic in its scattered settlement pattern, thereby leaving considerable responsibility to the individual for his behavior, rather than having absolute tabus or rigid laws, so one would expect considerable flexibility in adapting to the circumstances. Also one may consider the trickster literature noting that by comically breaking social norms, the opposite, in fact is strengthened. Such elements as lack of control over ones biology and psychology, unquenchionable gluttony and sexual appetite, irresponsibility, and ignoring self-restraint codes are all characteristics of the trickster and liminality. But those historical sources that rail at "debauchery" as a part of certain celebrations, indicate named practices to be known if not standard or acknowledged. and suggest the relationship to performance to be sufficiently complex that recent Western characterizations of women can not be automatically assumed as models for female behavior.

These are farmwomen valued for their ability to do hard work and their ready wit; a helpless, dependent person is a luxury, not an asset. As in Balkan female singing, display of health and vitality is a courting strategy. Sexuality is an acknowledged aspect of being the potentially healthy mother of children, and also fundamental in cross-cultural standards of beauty with presumably different adaptations to broad socioecology. The Baltic has even been a source of a significant number of female Olympic medallists. In a 1630 witch trial a husband accuses his wife of being a witch and trying to strangle him, not a believable scenario for a physically weak person. (Straubergs II: 547) The daina woman is certainly not a langurous damsel in distress, and even if the depiction is exaggerated as in songs where parties of girls are described as a bunch of rowdies, the exhuberance is believable. The first song (35384) doesn’t even seem like much of an exaggeration, but in some cases could have happened, while the second case in comparing the girls to dogs peeing on fenceposts is clearly much more exaggerated. The third (34498) has elements of both realism and fantasy.


Meitas puisi piepeņķēja, Pie priedītes siliņā.

Kalaid puisis peņķējās, Talaid meitas gabalā. (35384, 1)

Bez ceļa nākuās Panākstu meitas,

Pār žogu lēkušas, Gar mietu mīzušas.

Egļu žogu pārlēkušas, Apšu mietu apmīzušas. (34498)

Ko, puisīti, knakstījies? Tu jau manim nepatīci.

Kurš puisītis man patika. Tam es pate palīdzēju. (34857)

The girls tied the boy to the pine tree in the forest.

While the boy was getting loose, the girls were long gone.

Cutting through back roads, bride chaser girls

Have cleared the fence, peed along the posts.

The pine fence jumped, peed on the aspen posts.


Don’t bother groping around me, lad; I don’t like you.

If I liked a lad, I myself helped him.

In one group of dainas the defense of female honor is humorously seen in terms of putting on military armor:


Šuj, māmiņa, man krekliņu, Šuj tērauda piešuviņu!

Lai tautieša vara diņķis Garām skrēja tirkšķēdams. (35477)

Sew, mother, for me a shirt. Sew a steel bottom to it.

So the suitor’s copper tool will run past, twanging.


To attempt to study to what extent and under what conditions nonreproductive and pre-marital sex may have actually been tolerated in the 16th century when the pagan world view was still quite strong, it would be helpful to know the extent of the knowledge of abortificants and contraceptives by the "grandmothers" or "witches" who were both herbalists and specialists in birthing and fertility. Infanticide of undesired infants, most obviously resulting from rape in a raid, is depicted in a number of sobering songs. The unwanted child is often labeled as belonging to a foreigner and is returned to the waters (drowned), while "our" child is "lifted into the sun" or offered life with the protection of society.


Ko, Trīnīte, godējies? Sen es tavu godu zinu:

Divi dēli, trešā meita Guļ ezera dibinā. (34851)

Why, Trinite, putting on airs? Long I’ve known your honor.

Two sons, the third a daughter sleep at the bottom of the lake.

Another tragic topic covered but made light of in the nerātnā corpus is child neglect and death resulting from irresponsible mothering:


Jostenieku meitiņām Pilni grāvji bērnu brēca.

Citu bērnu vilks aiznesa, Citu zaķis nobadīja. (35115)

The Jostenieku girls had ditches full of crying babes.

This child a wolf carried away, another the rabbit knocked down.

It is possible that women might have had a high degree of control over their fertility, and therefore some freedom in sex. The factor that serf women were considered lower class, from the viewpoint of the German landowners, and therefore not having the same standards or respect as (German) manor women may be another factor to consider. The power of higher standing men, such as the manor lords over lower standing women, such as the serfs on their manors, does not escape depiction in the songs. It is also probable, to guess from current attitudes going back a number of gnerations in addition to internal daina evidence, that there was considerable tolerance of experimentation between a promised or betrothed couple, and that premarital sex between betrothed couples was apparently a not uncommon practice, suggesting alternative wedding arrangements.


Neliedzies, tu Jānīti, Tu pie manis klātgulēji!

Man pieder tavas auzas, Tavs bērais kumeliņš. (35176)

Don’t deny it, Jaani, you slept with me!

I own your oats and your bay horse.



The claim of the female upon the male and his assets by right of him having slept with her has strong social support and pressure for marriage in the event of pregnancy and has continued to recent times. Once a good match had been made, fertility, of course, was highly sought and desired. From the sociobiological perspective, indiscriminate promiscuity would not be a desirable reproductive strategy for the typical female in any society. However, absolute abstinence and intolerance for nonreproductive sex may be more of a Christian than vernacular and pagan value.

This is not to say that the daina world is an exception to international human differences in sex and gender in terms of confrontational explicit aggression. Latvian shares in the Indo-European metaphor of the male as predator and the female as prey in the form of a bird, small furry animals such as martens, or more startling to contemporary concepts – the bear. The metaphor is common in the wedding enactment and the male scores by shooting the animal or bagging the bird. However, in the daina world the songs are playful and fall in the area of limited and humorous aggression as an acknowledgement of tension rather than serious sadomasochism. They lack the tone of more serious aggression and in some cases have rejoinders. The popular folk song "Suņi zaķim pēdas dzina” (The dogs were taking up the rabbit’s tracks) ends:

Lai gan zaķīts līku, loku, Tomēr mednieks nošauj to!

Although the rabbit darts here and there, the hunter shoots it dead.

(cited from memory)

But sung to the same tune, is the opposite counter "Ai, sunīši, nerejieti” (Oh, dogs, don’t bark), which ends with the squirrel showing only its rear end to the dogs:


Maza bija, bet ražena Diža meža vāverīt’.

Asti vien tik parādīja medinieka sunīšiem.

Small she was, but clever, the worthy forest squirrel:

Showed only tail to the hunter’s dogs. (cited from memory)


Significant amounts of imagery circulating in oral tradition today is less playful and more sinister than what is in the nerātnā collections (dainas, anecdotes, beliefs, etc.) with explicit and aggressive jokes about girls as rabbits and scoring symbolized by animal heads as trophies on the wall. Some are close to the kind of cruel and sadistic humor described by Kurlents in heroic literature and bylinas. Not infrequently current harsh and crude jokes are described as Russian rather than Latvian. Strong and open emotionality is seen as Russian in opposition to the more reserved and indirect or even icy Latvian. On Jan. 1, 2001 I humorously challenged a New Year’s greeting of a listserve member who had posted a wish for the members to have fat rabbits or Santa Claus by asking if "fat" indicated promise of prosperity for the low birth rate in Latvia. (I was deliberately equating "fat" with "pregnant.") Up to that point the exchange was still in light mode, but the answer was in dark humor mode, which contrasts to and is uncharacteristic of daina mentality. Heavy topics, including AIDS, had been raised in the previous month’s discussions:

I myself like thin ones better, on a plate or otherwise (and in general healthy food is such that afterward the plate can be be washed with cold water without problems) but who would wish diseased rabbits for others.

There doesn’t seem to be anything equivalent in the nerātnās dainas, and venereal disease doesn’t appear as an item, though there are many dainas about medical dysfunctions and abornalities that would interfere with normal sex.

Thus, an extended study would have to note value differences in historical periods as archaic, 19th century, and 20th century at the very least. Many of the nerātnās dainas have an archaic cast to them as being a part of the ritual of laughter. The frankness and female openness that one does not expect in Western society until recently may belong to a special archaic game, ritual, and language complex that has parallels in other cultures. Torn from context, the nerātnās dainas loose their normative-in-a-nonnormative context and become purely nonnormative or in some cases either just funny or pornographic, depending on values.


Lec, lec, Grietiņ, Tu vari lēkt,

Ne tev kūlās Ne karājās. (34950)

Jump, jump, Grietiņa, You could jump.

There was nothing swinging, nothing dangling from you.


Probably sung by the men:




Meitas brēca, meitas sauca, Baltas rokas lauzīdamas:

Vārna nesa pautu kuli, Jau pipeli aiznesusi. (35009)

Girls were screaming, girls were calling, wringing their hands:

The crow was carrying away the bag of balls, and had already taken the pecker away.

Similarly the cunt is depicted, as screaming and crying that the cock is drowning, but is assured it will come out all right in 35260,1.

The dominance of women in a public event for both genders is consistent with archaic views that believe women, particularly older women, to have special supernatural powers, particularly pertainintg to fertility, successful birth, and welfare. The ambiguous +/- power of the witch has not been turned into totally evil by a male psychology that polarizes women as attractive or not attractive (=hostile, to be feared or put down) with the capability of assigning social roles accordingly. It is distinct from inter-male recreation or inter-gender teasing and flirting among young people in courtship. There isn’t much available on how much public flirting was tolerated in the past, and the whole topic of joking relations between in-laws, marking special areas of potential stress and conflict, has not been studied. During the wedding, the relationship of daughter and mother-in-law is addressed directly through joking insult songs. Other obvious relationships would include sisters-in-law (māsa, mārša) and new wife with brothers-in-law (dieveri). Of all the songs with a male "I" the ones approaching real hostility are directed at the "daughter’s mother" (meitu māte) in the courtship phase as she obviously has considerable power as to her daughter(s) being accessible for courtship. As for relationships between unmarried young people, in the memory of informants, liaisons were carried on privately, and public joking was less teasing than rough public acknowledgement of sexual tension, and more likely between people who were not likely to be involved. If one were actually involved with someone, they would not want to call attention to it. The songs that focus on boy-girl relationships is a large corpus, and would require a separate study: LD9287-13175. However, the daina world is largely lacking in romantic love poetry with resulting ambiguous expressions of aggression and attraction:

Jokes directed against members of the opposite sex were aggressive and at the same time served as a means to steady the ambivalence of hostility felt toward the opposite sex and being drawn toward it." (The Best of Maledicta: 67)

That is not to say, of course, that there is a lack of softer expression of tender feeling between courting couples or married couples. The section on courting (precība) songs has many examples. In fact, one thing that stands out in the nerātnā daina corpus is the framing of some nonmissionary types of sex as marital, rather than outside the family context. It might be expected that urban culture s would define prostitute.s conceptually more in market than social terms. There is also much parallel imagery of male and opposing female, though as far as song wars, Midsummers was the one definite time men and women sang against each other.

Dižens auga ozoliņš Mālainā kalniņā.

Pretī auga kupla liepa. Kas ozolu kaitināja. (LD 2804)

Stately grew the oak on a clay hill.

Facing (against) it grew the luxuriant linden teasing the oak.

Modern performances include informal teasing between young people; however, one should not simply extrapolate from the present to the past, especially since the sanction against unmarried girls participating in sexual insults is not necessarily observed in our times. Likewise, since individuals and groups have different tolerances, what speech acts would be regarded as genuine insults also differ. In present-day Latvia some serious re-negotiation of values is taking place.

The course of a virtual "song war" that erupted on one Latvian listserve last year, lends some support for the psychological basis of women-mediated ritual as opposed to spontaneous interaction. There were significantly fewer female participants, but they knew the songs better. The "war" ended somewhat abruptly as some of the men got too aggressive with their insults. This was repeated on a smaller scale in August, 2000. One of the female participants of the original "war" was sufficiently insulted by a sexual innuendo about chasing young boys that she quit posting for a while, even after an apology by the offender was offered. The joking started with the woman saying she did not prefer men with mustaches and beards as a way of telling someone who had shown interest in her to "buzz off" through joke, and therefore offering "face" for his retreat. But the man insulted failed to understand the convention and therefore instead of accepting this face-saving gesture decided to insult her back. The return insult that stepped over the line was that she should prefer a mature man to one who didn’t yet have hair. This, of course, comes too close to the serious criminal charge of pedophilia, not a joking matter since there had recently been an actual scandal involving government officials, though male. Women may know the ritual song and talk conventions better even today, while some men may not sense limits to aggression, thereby stepping over the line into genuine insult and/or dangerous aggression. As people got to know each other on the listserve, the level of tension decreased and adjusted to a generally more common level of tolerance that was higher than originally, and with less extreme "testing" of what would be tolerated.

Examples of archaic connections of comedy to bawdiness abound from archaic Greek sources, the sorrowing Demeter being cheered by Baubo, or in the Kojiki the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu being drawn out of her self-imprisoned cave by the indecent dance of a female trickster Ame no Uzume. (cf Cohn: 12 – 14) Interpreting Slavic evidence, Propp, also emphasizes the magic function of both ritual laughter and sexuality on the crudely direct level of exposing the genitals. These are "displays of vitality" (Cohn: 13) in the face of destruction, an act originally of magic. As mentioned previously, there does seem to be evidence for a yoni – lingam cult, possibly at Midsummer and surviving to today, the stebere phallus. If the yoni cult disappeared earlier than the lingam, it is more evidence for continuing patriarchalization of concepts century by century from an Old European period where, as Gimbutas indicates, the hedgehog was venerated as a womb, and the toad as the mother of milk. Where greater social differentiation and a more military-heroic reality with its ethic resulted in one gender revolution, influence from the Great Religions and the medieval realities they represented affected another. Today there is, of course, another paradigmatic shift in basic conceptual categories and orientation.

Along with the introductory remarks to the colloquial translations of select bawdy dainas, Sex Songs of the Ancient Letts (1969), there are several articles written by medical doctors in some of the folk song collections that don’t elaborate much more than to agree that the ancestors had a healthy and natural approach to life. Information on non-normative language does not appear in standard dictionaries. Even in Karulis’s etymological dictionary of archaic terms, the relevant information is hidden, rather than directly accessible. In November 2000 there was a minor public stir when word got out that an elderly professor who had published 1000 copies of a slim volume of invectives was unhappy that these copies had caught public attention. However, the words not used in polite company circulate as in electronic chats among young people.

As one concentrates on apdziedāšanās songs and nerātnās in particular, one gets the sense of entering an earthy agrarian world, rule-governed and with a strong sense of ethics, but perhaps rather different from Anglo-Puritanic heritage in its different division of frankness and indirectness. It is much more direct, but the directness is expressed artfully and with humor and is therefore an "indirect direct." It is a comic world where even the most serious mishaps, accidents, violations, and misfortunes are reacted to with laughter ranging from sympathetic to invective. And it speaks of archaic, alternative ways of organizing society that the church tried to suppress since it became a power in its efforts to become the only conduit between the mundane and the sacred. Even today it has not entirely erased these concepts. One finds in this world something closer to nonwestern attitudes that have not been transformed by Christian models. The Berzing and Arsene book describes the wedding in earthy terms, and their remarks on apdziedāšanās are:

The German conquerors threw the Lettish wedding out of kilter by forcing the couple to show up at the altar for a church wedding. Thus, after the Christian ritual, the Letts separated. The bridal crowd went to her parents’ home to stoke up for the coming chase, the bride-nappers left for the groom’s diggings to prepare for the party. The ritual demanded that they undergo mock harassment and resistance on the road from ‘the bride’s guerillas.’ At the farm, the womenfolk would attack them caustically with songs before they were shown the dowry…[At the groom’s end] The confrontation at the gate would produce a ruckus as the group on the inside indignantly denied any knowledge of a kidnapped girl. Acid missives in quatrain form would fly over the fence (35395). Eventually the bride-chasers would be admitted-to look for themselves-and finally the bride would be found in some corner of the farm. During these preliminaries as well as throughout most of the wedding feast, the two competing choruses would blister the air with acid rhyme… (Berzing and Arsene: 138-9)

There is a strong sense that a restriction of graphic terms equivalent to what are known as "Anglo-Saxon four-letter words" to ritual almost surely has more to do with their magic power than with prudery, since earthy discourse is not absent from the everyday. Just as dangerous animals - wolves, bears, and snakes - were spoken of indirectly, so there were indirect words for private body parts in mundane circumstances. In the nerātnā daina corpus double meanings include assorted metaphors and euphemisms for having sex such as washing or swimming a stallion or colt in a lake, feeding oats to a horse, breaking a clay jar, a bear with a whistle in its mouth, ploughing or harrowing, digging or falling into a trench, a key unlocking a gate or box, scoring a bear, shooting or finding a marten or squirrel, offering a bun with a hole to a man, keeping a knife in a sheath, opening a box or door with a key, drinking billy-goat milk, being penetrated by an oak branch, and taking off a girl’s wreath. Female imagery includes black birches at the edge of a lake, a river overgrown with osiers, a drum, and a butterbox with mice after it. The billy goat horn, a drumstick, and the stallion are some of the most common male images. Situation and context determine if a term is sexual. Thus one must decide if the mention of a horse (kumeliņš) is a straighforward reference to a horse or a euphemism for the phallus. As the wreath is the symbol of the girl’s honor, so the cap is the symbol of male honor: "Kumeliņi, kumeliņi, Tu man kaunu padarīji: Tev kājiņa paslīdēja, Man nokrita cepurīte. Man nokrita cepurīte Daiļu meitu pulciņā.” (Colt, my riding colt, you dishonored me: your foot slid my hat fell off, my hat fell off in a group of pretty girls.)

Graphic sexual and scatological terms even today are, not used in everyday speech. And even today, in spite of fifty years of strong Russian influence, there is some resistance to using sexual terms in invective:

My view on invective and the influence of other peoples is that the ‘old’ humor of Latvians was more scatological (sūdains, mēslains) than sexually oriented, and that invective was essentially gender-free. This is in contrast to the Russian where most of the swear words are oriented toward the recipient’s family. Of course Russian influence has made its inroads. It appears that English speakers and Germans also don’t have this approach, and the strongest terms of abuse for Germans seem to be about pigs. (Ragze, personal communication)

Latvian tends to resort to foreign words, such as Russian, when in need of particularly strong swear words and the old collections of swear words do not seem to use sexual terms for swearing. Both "mother" and "brother-in-law" (suggesting familiarity with one’s sister) insults and swearing are conspicuously absent as recorded in archaic Latvian tradition, in contrast to their conspicuousness in modern Russian. Burgen notes that absence of mother insults is characteristic of northern Europe. (Burgen: 77) Philip Thody points out that modern Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Welsh don’t use sexual terms as swear words, while French, German, Spanish, and Italian do. (Thody: 143) The usual explanation is that historically Western religions have seen sex as shameful and emphasized its relation to sin. (cf Sagarin). The use of sexual terms for invective is an indication that there is shame or anxiety about such usage. The general lack of such invective usage in the traditional Latvian past suggests that the graphic terms were not avoided because of shame, but because they were seen as powerful magic not to be used mundanely.

Another indication that this was the case is that everyone in the countryside, male and female, originally knew the terms. This is in contrast to the repertoire of genteel/ women’s language vs. street/ men’s language where genteel women may be completely unaware of men’s street terms in urban cultures:

The fact that swearing in modern English no longer tends to be blasphemous, but to refer almost exclusively to parts of the body considered unclean, is an indication of how modern taboos differ from those of the past. In pre-literate and pre-industrial societies, taboos did not merely refer to what was forbidden. They also hedged around what was sacred. This concept plays little part in modern taboos. (Thody, 143)

Thus, Latvian still has the invective, vilks (velns, jods) tevi parauj (may the wolf [devil, dark one] take you or sasper pērkons [jods] (may thunder [dark one] strike you) as a reminder that in the past speaking the name of a dangerous creature would summon it even involuntarily. The verb parauj is strong enough to be used as an invective without an agent or an unidentified one: rauj viņu deviņi (may nine take you). (Straubergs II: 546, 644) The use of rupuce (toad) in Lithuanian as a strong swear word is further indication, since toads were sacred in Baltic belief systems, a sign of the Milk Mother, but the expression would only evoke bemusement to the typical Western ear. In Latvian the word rupeklis is used to mean "coarse, vulgar person." Blasphemy doesn’t appear to be common in the daina world either, perhaps another indicator of the rather superficial layer of Christianity in it, predating modern secularism. Both thunder and velns (devil), however, are invoked from the list of archaic deities, but not the death goddess Veļu māte. However, since graphic sexual terms were known and spoken at certain times, but avoided at others, their association with supernatural power in view of other contextual information is quite likely.

Animal terms for women, such as marten or wagtail, or for their anatomy, especially referring to small furry animals, appears to be lacking in negativity, even though they may have little association with the supernatural. One might expect avoidance of reference to the bear as a dangerous creature, but curiously the animal is involved in the erotic semantic field both as the animal with a whistle in its mouth and the hunter shooting, hitting a bear in the “hole of Laima” (34934). The bear was one of the forms of the Great Goddess, and a bear cult did exist throughout Eurasia, leading one to speculations as to what kind of rituals could have resulted in the erotic associations and stories of heroic offspring of a bear and human. Its erotic aspect is a powerful indicator that sexuality in the archaic past was seen much more as magic with a probable greater ritual orientation to the female and fertility. This is in contrast to a more patriarchal view that sees sexuality as male-oriented and male-recreational.

The effect is of a society that is simultaneously more outspoken, in tune with the realities of life on the farm in close association with farm animals, and of a cultivation of discrete, indirect ways of speaking than modern English. To my knowledge no attempt has been made to study traditional Latvian distinctions in male and female speech. In its conciseness and unsentimentality, daina language is quite different from, say, English genteel, cultivated women’s language, though composed and performed mostly by women. It has some emotional equivalence to the ballad. But it also lacks the equivalent aggression of men’s colloquial language in English where, for instance, some form of “fuck” is sprinkled throughout every sentence. However, there is no reason not to believe, that as universally, the use of rough and non-normative language by men as a way of expressing aggression, anger, or assertion far exceeds such use by women.

A taboo is more violated when a woman utters obscenities than when a man does. Women have traditionally been seen as the gentler sex, and the custodians of civilized values… less prone to violence than men, the threat to resort to animal-type behavior is more frightening because less frequent. (144 Thody)

However, in the apdziedāšanās situation there doesn’t seem to be much distinction as to which insult categories are applied to men or women. Both seem to be equally accused of violating the culture/ nature distinction by accusations that they act like animals in their intemperance as to food, sex, and outward appearance. Even today the direct terms for the sexual parts don’t seem to have the asymmetric effect English has. Thody points out that "balls" and "prick" may be positive terms of assertion, but "cunt" is always negative. (Thody: 145) This is not the case in the bawdy dainas where the use of the female pīzda, peža (vulva, vagina) is pretty much in parallel to the male pipele, pimpis (penis). The parallelism of the use of archaic terms carries on in the chats among the youngest who are putting on a brash Western air (cf, while also retaining Soviet acquisitions of strongly abusive sexual insults adapted from the Russian (often not translated into Latvian), which are more abusive to women. The dainas have a matter-of-fact air that lacks abusive harshness even when strong emotions are expressed:


Ellē augti tev, peķīti, Ne manāi kājstarpē:

Tevis dēļi man’ vedīs Caur puriemi, caur mežiem,

Caur puriemi, caur mežiemi, Caur smalkiemi krūmiņiem. (34481)

My box, you should grow in hell, not between my legs;

I’ll be taken for your sake through swamps and forests.

Through swamps and forests, through thick underbrush.


Even contemporary Latvians know the last lines about being taken through swamps, forests, and underbrush as part of the abduction enactment of weddings. The song says straightforwardly and with humor that weddings are directly related to sex.


Atsasēžu ežiņā, Pasavēru pežiņā:

Tur man govis, tur man vērši, Tur man baltas vilnānītes. (34470)

I sat down on the border to look at my cunt.

There are my cows, there my bulls, there my white woolen shawls.

Of the possibilities of negative, abusive, or nonnormative terms, most appear gender-neutral or dialogic, rather than anti-woman and many are sufficiently archaic that they are understandable today only in terms of related historical concepts. Such negative traits as being lazy, stupid, clumsy, lacking in control, greedy, drunk, ugly, or intemperate are equally applied to the genders. One can see how the euphemism could develop out of double entendre that is more about magic, being indirect, or being clever than being ashamed of sex in the more archaic examples as opposed to a context with more contemporary awareness of the same being too raw. One interesting gender-free usage is in the equally negative attitude toward both genders as to single people past the courtship stage. In the daina world vecā meita (spinster, old maid) is parallel to vecais puisis ("old boy" – bachelor, negative, in contrast to positive contemporary sense). In context of the the courtship songs an old maid is negative because she is running out of courting time to make a match and form a family. In a modern context with greater emphasis on individual rather than communal, the shift is to a version about being less desirable because of lessening attractiveness and the biological clock running out. In the older context, a bachelor is equally negative because subsistence societies have little tolerance for nonproductive slackers, including shirkers of family responsibility. But outside the daina world, a bachelor is defined purely from the male point of view as having maximum freedom and minimum responsibilities. In the older view the focus is upon the individual’s value to the clan, rather than exclusively upon male psychology and dominantly more patriarchal perspective. Similarly, the ideal pairing is approximately the same age, but there are songs about older wives when material and inheritance conditions force a broader range of options, in parallel to older husbands, both considered less than ideal:


Vai Dieviņis man’ norājis, Ka man veca līgaviņa?

Veci pupi jāgrabina Kā pa liepu dobumiņu. (35670)

Is God chastising me that I have an old bride.

Old tits to rattle as in the hollow of a linden tree.

That in some cases the wife could be seven or more years older as attested by gravestone records in Kurzeme (Rūtens, personal communication) is another indicator that material circumstances had powerful effect in somewhat nonstandard or less than ideal pairings in an essentially subsistence economy.

Since contribution to the society in terms of family responsibility is valued for both males and females, but noncontributing behavior is not, a certain egalitarization is facilitated. In terms of the overall apdziedāšanās model, the dialogic and conceptual parallelism holds in the nerātnā daina corpus:


Ko puisīti, lielījies, Vella spieķi turēdams?

Es varēju lielīties, Man bij Dieva grāmatiņa. (34858)

Why are you boasting, lad holding the Devil’s rod?

I can boast also, I had God’s book.

If one did not have reference to the context of countless other dainas, one could interpret this at the extreme of opposing demonic male sexuality to female piety. However, considering that "box," a term for vulva, is used even in English, and "book" is coded to mean the same, a Latvian familiar with the dainas would much more likely see the song as an egalitarian parallel opposition of male and female sexuality, opposing dark and light, earth and sky, devil and god in a humorous opposite inverse. Another indication that female sexuality may indeed have been a significant presence is indicated by some dainas where the sexual aggression of women is rejected:


Še atnāca parādmeitas (panāksnieces?). Pisti, grūsti gribēdamas.

Lai pis vilki, lai pis lāči, Mūsu puiši nepisīs. (35460)

The debtor (bride chasor?) girls came, wanting to fuck, hump.

Let wolves fuck (them), let bears fuck (them). Our boys won’t.

It is interesting, however, that modern polite Latvian lacks a common word for having sex, though kopoties ("to copulate") is often heard. The old word pisties has become even stronger than "fucking" is in English because it is less often used, and to speak of a piselīga meita (horny girl) would grate most ears as too strong. Kursīte points out that the word mieslot, miesloties (related to the term for body miesa) was in use in common 17th century language (Kursīte, 1999: 251), but it would only be a curiosity today. The term drāzt is used in the sense of "screw," and as in English "to make love" is used euphemistically (mīlēties, maigoties).

A discussion on nerātnās dainas and related topics erupted on 1/21/00. Summary excerpts and translation:


Male In (1/21/00 USA).

Two, apparently American Latvians, by the name of Bud Berzing and Arsene Eglis published a book Sex Songs of the Ancient Letts in 1969 where they tried to translate the nerātnās dainas rather thoroughly

" My brother Johnny /35056 - 1/

Had shortness of breath

He walked many a ditch

In search of an herb

Which would cure him,

But all was in vain.

Then, while tending cows,

He found a medicine

In a linden crotch

That medicine sure helped

It made Johnny well again."

I wanted to know if dainas were translated in other languages…

In, begging pardon for a change in topic

Female #1(1/21/00, Latvia)

In honor of the 150th anniversary of Krišjānis Barons
"12 Latvian Dainas" were published in Latvian, German, English, and Russian. The most "naughty" could be this one:

To each man comes a time

To rejoice and to exult;

When my turn did arrive

I jubilated likewise.

M2 and I could cooperate to translate some naughty dainas. I or someone else could type in the original language, but M2 could tanslate. I would like to warn that I would only pick out the ones most favorable to womenkind. :-)

Aija Veldre Beldavs (1/21/00, USA)

There are quite a few translations into other languages, starting with the original classic publications meant for the German intelligentsia and in 1868 I. Sproģis translation into Russian, then Jonval’s 1929 translation into French of mythological songs, Katzenlenbogen’s 1935 translations into English, and now in all kinds of languages, including Japanese. The scientific publication of 15 volumes that started in 1979, with volume VI published in 1993, has not been finished. And apparently they can’t be bought. In fact some of the earlier "rare" editions are easier to access here through interlibrary loan than these new publications that have all been bought out and I can’t even find in the Library of Congress. I would be thrilled if someone could inform me that I am wrong!! About the naughty dainas, it is sad because their scientific value has been underestimated. The Berzing/ Eglis book is now a bibliographical rarity and my copy was stolen. After a long search, I finally got another copy through the Internet. I don’t know if the authors have a right to republish. The book should have a new introductory essay.

M#1 (1/22/00, USA)

F1 offered to collaborate in the people’s field (tautas druvā). Ok, but I like some you wouldn’t:

Veca meita gauzhi raud,

Saulee pupi sakaltushi;

Tavas pashas vaina bija,

Kam neliidi kanjepees.

Weep not, old girl,

It's your own damn fault;

For sunburn on the tits,

You gotta smoke some pot.

M1 having translated a folk song

F1 (1/21/00 Latvia)

During the Awakening several naughty daina publications were made. I have Puisīts tek uz meitiņu (Boy Goes to Girl) published in 1990 in Rīga. Avots has also put out two attractive books more for school purposes, Latvju tautas dainas and Latviešu tautas mīklas, sakāmvārdi un parunas (riddles, proverbs, and sayings). There is even one rather naughty there:

Velc, puisiiti, bikses nost, Naac pie manis klaatguleet:

Es tev do'su ezeri'nu Kumeli'nu peldinaat.

(this is from a school childrens’ repertoire)

[Take off your pants, lad, Come sleep with me:

I will give you a lake for your horse to swim in

Translation mine - AVB]

But you wouldn’t pick this one:

Guli virsuu, tautu deels,

Es guleeju apak'saa;

Es ar Dievu runaajos,

Tu ellee raudziijies.

Maybe you’d like to translate it?

M1 (1/21/00 USA)

F1 offers for translation:

> Guli virsuu, tautu deels,

> Es guleeju apak'saa;

> Es ar Dievu runaajos,

> Tu ellee raudziijies.

Confucius say:

Man who lie upside down have stickup.

Lady who lie upside down have crackup.


[Literal translation, this is a variant of 35654 - AVB

You sleep on the top, young man, I sleep on the bottom. I was talking to God,/ You were looking into Hell.]

F1 (1/21/00 Latvia)

No poetics. One wonders if dainas can even be translated. It only remains to teach the other side Latvian. [By "other side" Au means the Vispasaules vīriešu komanda (All World Men’s Team) as someone jokingly called the men’s side. AVB]

M2 (1/21/00 Canada)

Ko raugoties ieraudz'iju,

Man t'ul'it j'apast'asta.

Urr'a, urr'a vecais velns,

Vid'u sarkans, apk'art melns.


What I saw looking I must tell straight out.

Hurrah, hurrah, old devil,/ The middle red, around it black.]

Aija (1/21/00 USA)

F1, could you tell more about Puisīts tek uz meitiņu? In my opinion some naughty dainas would be acceptable for appropriate age children. For instance this very well known daina in the context of life, family, and marriage:

Viena pate Jaanja zaale/ Briizhiem stiiva, briizhiem miiksta.

Ja taa staavu nestaaveetu,/ Nebuut kaazu, krustiibinju. (33693)

Berzing/ Eglis translate it as:

A single stock of Midsumeer Night's grass,

At times times stiff, at times flabby.

If it couldn't ever become hard,

There wouldn't be weddings or christenings.

But M1’s translation of the previous daina is very free!!

M2, maybe I’m wrong but I don’t recognize your daina from the Barons’s publication, but you can’t remember them all. Do you remember where you heard or read it?

F1 (1/22/00 Latvia)

Knuts Skujenieks introductory and concluding remarks, almost 200 pages, dainas with numbers. But M2 is not the only one who has seen something:

xxx savu stiivu biibi

Ar duureem saduureeja,

Kam tas raami neguleeja

Melnajaas biksiitees.


[Translation: XXX his stiff thing

Pummeled with his fist,

Why wouldn’t it lay still

in his black pants.


M3 Male (1/21/00,USA)

Now, now, M1. The translation isn’t even close! What happened to "weeps sorely". "Damn" isn’t even in the original text. Sunburn isn’t the same as "dried up". And there’s nothing about "pot" in the last line. Going into the hemp field has nothing to do with smoking, but with making love. Try again.

M4 (1/22/00 USA)

Touche, F1, but in my Imanta 1968 Copenhagen daina publications (Ed. Švābe and Straubergs) # 35137 comes out differently. XXX have always been mighty men, but they have just had bad press:]. In the introduction to volume XII a doctor has analyzed the contents of the naughty dainas and I was surprised that searching for the blooming fern had deep moral significance and one shouldn’t have sex, and I had always thought it was the opposite! It also says that the naughty dainas don’t mention venereal diseas and those were introduced to Europe only later? [Remarks on current AIDS problem in Africa and number someone posted as joke.]

(Discussion goes into lengthy evaluation of Haralds Biezais theories on Midsummer as a time when sexual liberties are taken, versus the songs that warn girls to keep their wreaths and not sleep during Midsummer night. The thread concludes with acknowledgement of respect and/or relative equality accorded to women in the dainas.)

Cited dainas by F1 include:

Kas guleeja Jaa'nu nakti,

Tas ne Vellam nedereeja:

Neredzeeja Jaa'nu nakti,

Kad zied Jaa'nu papardiites.

Who slept during Midsummer night

Was of no use even to the Devil.

Didn’t see during Midsummer night

When the Midsummer fern blooms.

Es aiz kauna nezināju,

Kur tās savas acis likt:

Jāņu nakti līgodama,

Vainadziņu pazaudēju.

[I didn’t know where in shame

I could place my eyes:

On Midsummer night while ligo-singing

I lost my wreath. Translation - AVB]

[She introduces the song Haralds Biezais used as a touchstone for linking Midsummer to archaic carnival sexual practices in southern Europe, whose relevant distich is:]

Jaanju nakti nepazinu, Kura sieva, kura meita:

Vai bij sieva, vai bij meita, Visaam zaalju vainjadzinji. (33148)

[On Midsummer night I did not know, Who was wife, who a girl:

If a wife, or a girl, All had green wreaths. Tranlation - AVB]

M5 (1/23/00 Latvia)

I read the discussion on naughty dainas and thought about it if there was looseness (of morals) or not… According to what criteria? That of today, the Christian church, archaic times? If according to archaic times, it might be difficult to define what was looseness in archaic times. In my understanding, everything associated with Midsummer in those times was not considered as loose. The Russov Chronicle, the activities in the Brigita monastery what is now Pirita. Of course if we go by today’s criteria, looseness is not lacking, but such can be found also in other ancient rituals.

F1 (1/23/00,Latvia)

(Cites passages from Ārons Matīss who was inspired by Garlībs Merķelis about Midsummer as a festival of "reconciliation," including the engagement of young people.)

The wolf may throw his hair, but not his nature. A Latvian doesn’t loose his mentality no matter what storms may cross. I don’t want to be presumptuous, but maybe it can also be attributed to Latvian women – "if the Russian woman is not beaten, she isn’t loved," but among Latvians it can clearly be seen that the boy had to tiptoe to get close to her. Not for nothing even the most "naughty" dainas don’t seem so totally indecent. There can be no talk of any group-type orgies during the solstice. The place of the naughty dainas is only at weddings. Among others, the very weak activity of the "all nation…" team on the Internet testifies to that.:-)

M2 (1/23/00 Canada)

Aija, wait until it gets warmer, maybe Latvians will have gathered dainas and will have done something to advance the cause. In the spring all nature awakens and hormone production increases.

M6 (123/00 Latvia)

M2 already said it is too cold.

In (1/23/00 USA)

Be as it may with the world men’s team, but, Aija, if you consider why Latvian women are honored in the dainas and why she hasn’t had the dishonor as in other people’s customs, then praise belongs to the Latvian man who through the centuries has in his mind seen her as a beautiful and equal companion.

In who always loves and honors girls

M7 (1/23/00 Latvia)

He he…I must agree. Although in various aspects different national group representatives may have a pull on Latvian rabbits (zaķiem kabina), Latvian women are the best, taking things as a whole.

Best and regards,

M7, professional :)))

As a result of the discussion a female participant took out from her local library in Latvia the Skujenieks book and sent it to me to copy, and I returned it to her in time to return to her regional library. Additionally, an informant with whom I had corresponded for over a year, a man in his seventies, offered me personal information. Being aware of the discussion of nerātnās dainas on the list, he sent several responses to questions about them, followed by a "What the Hell, here goes" about his first sexual experience with a older young woman as initiated by and in the context of Midsummer celebration. The information leads one to speculate about Berzing and Arsene’s contention that "It might be theorized that the high degree of sexual freedom enjoyed by the Lettish young people paradoxically kept down the incidence of marital infidelity" (Berzing and Arsene: 297). The informant countered when I expressed surprise at the information that was being provided:

You are involved with dainas and interpreting our people’s folkloric past. You are a city person and wish to compare agrarian life and its morality with your own. But you really can’t do that because in the countryside, particularly in Latvia, where one farm is quite at a distance from another, young people didn’t have the same opportunity to meet as in the city, but their hormones worked the same. That was a time when horses pulled wagons and there were only a few cars in the city.

Excerpted and in translation:

After my father died, I often lived in the countryside in my grandfather’s farm, which was farmed by my mother’s sister’s family. I started school in the countryside. My aunt had two daughters and the farmhand had a very beautiful daughter, about 19 years old. Her work included looking after my nieces. All kinds of young men were always trying to get to her, how far they got I don’t really know.

It was Midsummer evening and night with the bonfire, eating, aplīgošanās singing and dancing. The farmhand’s daughter was very popular, but she just stayed there fidgeting (grozīties) by the fire. Toward morning she came up to me and asked if I had found the blooming fern. Of course I said no, because I didn’t know which ferns had blooms. Well, then come with me and I will show you. The bonfire was by the forest edge and the path through the forest led to a meadow and haycocks. When we got to the haycocks she again asked if I really wanted to see the blooming fern, and of course I said yes. I still thought it was a flower. [Graphic description omitted. The girl identifies the ferrn and blooming as having sex.]

Afterwards, the two returned to the bonfire "as if nothing happened", and this was the start of a relationship that lasted through that summer, which the informant characterized as "a mutually beneficial experience". He said it was for her a way of relieving sexual tension heightened by the attentions of her many suitors, without getting pregnant. The relationship ended with the summer and her leaving for the city, but he met her five years later with a husband and two children. "She said, ‘As you can see, I am happily married.’"

That is how it went. She had suitors, but apparently did not get involved with them sexually. She came to me to relieve ‘that need’. I remember telling her I will make her a child, but she just laughed and teased me, saying, you can’t make anything, because you still don’t have real pubic hair…For me there was no psychological harm. It was good school as to what a woman likes and with that I have never been selfish…because while it is easy enough for myself, one has to work at it with a woman…When I start to think of it, all that and the smells of Midsummer, it comes back to memory as if it were yesterday.

Upon my query if this was a common practice, he answered that he did not know, but suspected his case was not unique.

I don’t know if many young women got someone to satisfy their needs…. But in view of the discussion where someone had joked that they were thankful for a female pedophiliac in their youth recently…I thought I was not the only lucky one, but I didn’t say anything. To no one, not all these years.

When I asked if the practice was commonly known, he said that normative religious views would suppress public expression:

I guess one could call it (like) ‘Bible belt Puritanism’. If something like that happened with a nun, the church would hide it, as has happened in the past.

I don’t want to say these were widely practiced customs, or if they were customs at all. We lived in the countryside and fucking (pišanās - non-normative, rude use) was viewed there differently than among town people. Often one sees animals having sex and that is seen as natural. Everyone knows what is happening. Children imitate animals…one plays a cow and another a bull, not really having sex, of course…but they don’t think of morality.

In further response to my question as to the morality of the situation, he answered:

I don’t think we ever considered kauns (shame), gods (honor), or morality. We were only concerned about being found out and the unpleasant consequences. We were not ashamed of each other in the sense of being naked.

The forwardness and initiative taken by the girl may be related to speculation about the topic in another personal communication as to previous sexual experience, starting with the highly probable assumption that the primary motivation would be to avoid gossip on part of boys who are in the desired marriageable group. Along the lines of children experimenting, it was suggested there could be instances where a brother might take more than the usual liberties. In the most archaic dainas on marriage and courtship endogamy is clearly indicated as a known practice. In these dainas it is always depicted negatively, but as a real practice. While rare, at least now, among human societies it does appear as an alternative marriage arrangement in such societies with maximally diverse marriage arrangements, such as the Tibetan. (cf Durham: 42-153) There is a corpus of songs about "brother and sister marriage," of the girl having to choose between brother and suitor, and the special relationship of brother and sister in the daina world that is changed when the suitor enters it. The Latvian material confirms the purpose of "lai radiņi biezumā” (so the kin stay thick) to have been an alternative way of keeping land and valuable property in the family, but condemns the practice in those songs that have been collected:


Vai dieviņi, ko darīšu Grib brālītis mani ņemt.

Raudādama, vaidēdama Notecēju upmalā.

Karu savu vainadzīnu Sīka kārklu krūminā.

Maucu savu gredzentīnu Zaļas niedres galīnā.

Laižos pati upītēi, Raudivīšu pulcīnā.

Labāk guļu upītēi, Ne brālīša gultīnā.

Labāk upes rauduvīte, Ne brālīša līgavīn’.

Ne brālīša līgavīna, Ne māmīnas vedeklīn. (Vītols, 1984: 64)

Dear god(s), what shall I do? My brother wants to take me.

Weeping, moaning I went to the riverbank.

My wreath in the fine-branched osier bush.

My ring on the end of a green reed.

Myself into the river among the pochards.

Better to lie in the river than in brother’s bed.

Better a river pochard, not my brother’s bride.

Not my brother’s bride, not my mother’s daughter-in-law

Whatever the circumstances and motivations of the girl’s boldness in finding so junior a partner, and without knowing if this was an idiosyncracy or a significant indicator of some more widespread practice, no conclusion can be made if it is culturally significant information. One possible explanation is a disjunction between two belief systems, one that creates expectations (because of betrothal or even more remotely initiation customs in the past) leading to sexual tension, but the other which discourages its expression and enforces it through gossip (Christianity, emphasis on virginity). In any case, the information provided by the informant is hardly unique that sexual liberties have been tolerated at Midsummer even to the present. With that in view, reconciliation of different belief layers and implied practice with many dainas about a girl’s honor, as symbolized by her wearing of the maiden wreath, needs to be worked out. There is evidence that an older belief layer equates the wreath with fertility and courting status as the prototype, rather than virginity as such as a subcategory. The songs about acorned wreaths (zīles), so common that the term also comes to be used for "bead" in a headdress, also seems to support the fertility significance in addition to the greenery and flowering aspect. (cf Gintnere: 85-101)


Sukā, māte, man galviņu, Zīļo manu vainadziņu,

Rītu jās trejas tautas Man augumu lūkoties. (LD 14131)

Comb, mother, my hair, place acorns/ beads on my wreath;

Tomorrow three suitors will ride to look over my shape.

A crooked standing wreath (šķībi stāvošs) is a euphemism for a girl’s honor, but what this honor is is not as well defined as one may at first thought. In some cases the wreath does not fit well as an equivalent for virginity:


Kālabad Anniņai Šķībi stāv vainadziņš?

Kā tas šķībi nestāvēs, Piecu dēlu māte bija. (34795)

Why is the wreath standing crookedly on Annina?

How is it not going to be slipping, She’s the mother of five sons.

If the wreath simply were a euphemism for the physical maidenhead, as it seems to be in some dainas, it could only be lost once. However, the term is used loosely to mean honor more broadly defined. That the maiden wreath was in earliest times a more general symbol for unmarried status in contrast to married is also suggested in that the groom’s mother may alternatively take off the bride’s wreath in the capping ceremony. If it were a deflowering symbol, one would expect the groom to take off the cap, which in many regions he does. Again, the different versions existing side by side suggest one attitude that is more female-oriented (verdant girlhood) in perspective, and the other more male-oriented (virginity). Additionally, Kursīte points out that the Great Goddess herself is the one who makes the change in status from unmarried girl to married woman in her form as the pike (līdaka) when she carries off the wreath in the relevant daina cycle. (Kursīte, 1996: 354) Additionally at Midsummer wreaths worn by everyone attest efflorescence.

Pregnancy before marriage is not, of course, desired, and if it occurs there is very strong pressure on the man to marry, and female promiscuity cross-culturally predictably marks a woman as undesirable or “used-up.” Perhaps even more than pregnancy, a girl would be concerned about being talked about by the young men as being easy, as well as censured by everyone else in a close-knit society. A universal courtship strategy where a girl has to appear attractive and desirable, but not overly available or anxious is not contradicted by Latvian evidence. There are also songs that are unambiguously monogamous, the dominant ideal:


Maza bija man lādīte Deviņām atslēgām;

Kas atslēdza pirmo reizi, Tas lai slēdza visu mūžu. (34999)

Small was my treasure chest With nine keys.

Who opened it the first time, Let him lock (use)it forever.

Nevertheless, in spite of a heavy normative overlay emphasizing maiden-status as is normative in a Christian culture, there may also have been in some deep countryside regions of Latvia among the farmhand class, an undertone of female sexuality that was publicly not acknowledged, but sometimes tolerated and seen naturalistically, especially at Midsummer and weddings when rationalized or justified as an old custom. Health and fertility, coinciding with a girl’s blooming and courtship period seem to be the focus, though gossip, especially by young men, and other strong social sanctions were constraints.

The most likely explanation is that Midsummer has retained echoes of one of its former functions, which was betrothal, and that after betrothal there was a certain amount of tolerance for pre-marital sex. Additionally, there seem to have been in the most archaic layers periods of sanctioned licence and exception since not only those of betrothal age participate, and everyone wearing a wreath obliterates the distinctions.

There was also the archaic daina world practice of meitās iešana (going to visit girls) by groups of young men. The girls sleep in the klēts (byre) and receive visitors. This, of course, is regulated, and not a free-for-all. It apparently included practices such as bundling (sleeping together without having sex). In addition to songs where the male guest asks the mother for a girl to sleep with him, other songs may refer to the medieval European practice when beds were few and winters cold:


Es, pats lāču šāvējiņš, Lāču gaļas nedabūju;

Stobru vien kustināju, Apakš sagšas gulēdams. (34671)

I, a bear hunter, didn’t get bear meat.

I only could move the barrel, sleeping under the blanket.

To my knowledge there is no study about Latvians on bundling or girl going, though there are many asides here and there in literature. My query to several folklorists in Latvia about the subject was met with the polite suggestion I find to interview an American Latvian who might have worked as a farmhand before World War II.

Clearly, a serious study of the nerātnās dainas would be significant for gender studies. Issues include asymmetric sexual politics versus a more balanced or cooperative egalitarianism implied in the daina world. Greater egalitarianism in sex seems to be associated with more of a balance of patriarchal power with the acknowledgement of female creativity and contribution. most societies the sexual division of labor is one of the components of sexual identity, which makes any change especially difficult. In particular, a freeman cannot normally perform women’s tasks without ceasing to be a man – as was the case of the famous North American transvestites, berdaches...or without ceasing to be free – which would have been the outcome in Ancient Greece. Following this line of thinking, slavery in Antiquity would have been a systematic means of making men do women’s work. (Sigaut: 450-1)

The communal, ritualized joking in apdziedāšanās could also be contrasted to modern instances of artistic flirting as on the net, but, again, there are limits to what aspects could be compared. Beyond the scope of this study, would be examples of of modern electronic erotic ludic flyting, but what appears on Latvian portals is beyond the scope of the paper. I did look for examples, of erotic ludic flyting, which is artistic rather than a serious attempt at matchmaking, something similar to what I have seen in English. Thus, as a model for what I was looking for, in the Usenet newsgroup alt.jokes.limericks two characters, Jon Gearhart and Carol, carried on a lengthy public erotic teasing/flirtation match in 1999. The explicit effect and imagery is somewhat similar to that of the erotic dainas, though the limerick format uses different poetic devices, such as end rhyme. It is clearly an artistic performance rather than a seductive private chat. Gearhart is active on other newsgroups involved with verbal art play, such as alt.anagrams, while Carol seems to be anonymous. It appears the two people don’t actually know each other and are not in fact intending to become personally involved. They publically display outrageous graphic language as an artistic performance. For example:


Message-ID: <>

Date: Sat, 13 Nov 1999 15:11:18 -0500

From: Carol <>


Newsgroups: alt.jokes.limericks

Subject: Re: Planting a tree

References: <>

Jon Gearhart wrote:

> Bare that lovely bush Carol dear

> And I'll cum give you my spear

> If your hungry beaver

> Needs a tree to relieve 'er

> Then I've got what she needs right here

> This woody of mine is no joke

> On his bark your beaver might choke

As she takes the whole horn

> She'll bump two acorns

> At the base of this mighty oak

> So get out your tree climbing gear

> Those boots with the spikey things dear

> I'm a masochist

> Since my mast ya kissed

> And I need more kisses right here---

> |


I just got in a new shipment,

Of heavy duty equipment.

After sizing your oak,

You'll need more than a poke,

As I climb up to make my assent.

I'll start at the very tip top.

Making some of your branches drop.

Your sap will start runnin'

When I begin sawin',

And hacking with little chops.

Then only a stump will remain.

But you won't be in any pain.

Once those acorns I crack,

And plant them out back,

You'll grow over again and again.

So I'll plant you a whole new tree.

One that's sized just for me.

Leaving my mark,

Carving into the bark,

A heart with CJ and JG.

Carol ;-)

If there is anything other than a display of virtuosity between two verbally gifted role players, the net audience doesn’t know it. There is no communal culture to infer other than that of limerick lovers using an old art form with contemporary sensibility to enjoy erotic flyting.

Except among the youngest and those who get on certain electronic chats, outright sexuality does not seem to be a common topic of public discussion in Latvia, especially of mixed groups as it is considered invasive and private. For comparison and contemporary context, the information I accessed from the internet about current Latvian opinions on sex and gender almost entirely represents a male point of view, and the effort must be viewed as of an introductory nature. While gender categories and female sexuality were no doubt normatively controlled in any historical period, they may not have conformed equally strictly to normative Christian standards in the 19th and 20th centuries, but may have drawn from local indigenous customs of old standing with values that were not necessarily identical to the official ones. Their relationship to contemporary standards is even more complex.

It would require a separate study to adequately contextualize daina attitudes to sex and gender in contemporary Latvian experience, especially, since in the last years, as all other aspects of the society, they are in a rapid state of renegotiation and polarization. Generalizations about attitudes to sex and gender in Latvia today are complicated and multi-layered, and although there is much popular expression, I did not find academic analyses, so my sources are skewed to extremely aggressive male attitudes on the internet, which can not be covered in this study. What seems striking is the extreme of polarities in values on the subject in the public display between males and females of the older generations. The Soviet period following a pious middle-class Bible period added a type of gender-differentiated prudery and a different type of double standard that was different from the propriety that was natural in pre-industrial farm life.

An unfavorable demographic situation for females has created a market where female value has lessened from what appears to have been at least structurally a relatively more egalitarian situation in the past. The effect is that there are more young women who have compromised their reproductive roles with partners who are unavailable or inadequate as providors of children and more men who do not feel pressured to assume responsibility. There is also inadequate information and resources for adequate health care, so that among some segments of society there is considerable ignorance and prejudice in such matters as contraception and AIDS. On the one hand in some segments of society marital infidelity seems not only common but blatantly open for both male and female, but beyond that and probably related to recent politico-economic problems in Eastern Europe, sex marketing, low living standards, alcoholism, and low morale have become serious social issues that have to be confronted. Not surprisingly, examples of male predatory irresponsibility and low expectations of many females is not hard to find..In contrast, conservative religious views do not adequately acknowledge nonreproductive sex, even as it clearly occurs, resulting in considerable duplicity, hypocricy, and misinformation – all to the disadvantage of informed consent and sexual and reproductive female human rights. Anatol Lieven writes:

In all three Baltic states women – and to a lesser extent men – tend to marry very young. Often girls become pregnant (there is a shortage of contraceptives), or simply hope that marriage will aid their escape from home and passage up the housing list. Often it is simply the only way to permit love-making near censorious parents (and grandparents) in overcrowded homes…The result, of course, is to place all the stresses of life upon marriages which, as a result, are breaking up at an even faster rate than in the West. It is commonplace to find, in the Baltic, a woman in her late twenties with a failed marriage, a child, and nowhere to live except with her parents – or worse, with the husband whom she has come to loathe – and a fixed determination not to have any more children, however, many abortions it may take. (Lieven: 23)

This is complicated, however, by modern values on top of a vague north European tendency to egalitarianism, and strong diversity, or rather polarity, within Latvian society as well as other changes resulting from contact with the West and recent inheritance from Russia. Western style feminism is mostly a curiosity and when it exists, is in an incipient phase. The double standard seems more on the private than on the public level, and based more on demographic inequality than on genuine misogynic values. Again, the gender of the female President was not a serious question, and women with powerful qualifications are generally treated in terms of their office first and gender only secondarily, not unlike the atmosphere in the northern European countries generally, though job discrimination is another problem. In private discussions with Latvians in Latvia, the attitude toward the nerātnās dainas took on something of this strange double standard where the intellectual and public stance as to gender rights and egalitarianism exceeded private practice or the realities of inequalities generated when gender is seen in terms of simple analogic parallel, instead of some form of symbiotic cooperation.


One interesting modern gendre, called "savage dainas" (nežēlīgās dainas) in the words of the webmistress Gundega:

characterize our modern Latvian folk humor sense, way of life, and a general moral-physicological degeneration level. The collected dainas are from RADIO SWH Be Be Breakfast cassettes created by Fred and Ufo from what the readers have sent to them from e-mail, the listserve Kokteilis, and some other sources.



Pisies meitiņ, ko tu gaidi? Vai tu sava gala gaidi?

Atnāks nāve, paņems tevi, Tārpi pežu skrubinās

Visiem vārti izpušķoti, Kaimiņam nepušķoti,

Kā viņš izpušķot tos ies Ja jau šķūnīpakāries.

Alu, alu, zivi, zivi, Jāņu māte, nelecies,

Kad mēs beidzot būsim divi, Tad tu baigi norausies


Visa laba J??u z?le, Kas ir labi izkalt?ta.

J??u z?li uzp?p?ju, Mati skrull? sagriez?s.

Fuck away, girl, what are you waiting? Are you waiting your end?

Death will come and take you; worms will gnaw your cunt.

Everyone’s got greenery on their gate, the neighbor doesn’t have it. How can he decorate the gate when he’s hung himself in the shed.


Beer, beer, fish, fish, Midsummer mother - don’t get uppity.

When we finally are just the two of us, then you will really get it.

All is good Midsummer grass when it is well dried.

I smoked the Midsummer grass, so my hair got curled.

While there is some similarity to the pre-industrial style classic dainas, the topics are far more sinister and realistic, and they express the dark humor of contemporary society rather than the lighter, life-affirming older ones. In the four examples the overly stark and sometimes criminal scenarios include a threat, the use of drugs (smoking pot), suicide, threat of violence – perhaps rape. It is almost if there were a gothic recast to the old high-spirited and mostly playful nerātnā daina genre. Nevertheless, change is so fast that at the time of this writing different material was emerging, such as old humor portals <http://www.> and the oHo listserve reanimated to a lighter and more egalitarian orientation. It is hoped my pioneering efforts will be already updatable as of publication.