The irony of being alone is that you have no definition. What is you, and what is not-you can’t be known. Anything you can specify is going to be vague: ‘I am not the nothing which surrounds me.’ Aloneness and nothingness aren’t equivalent, yet one gives the illusion of the other. (Etter, personal communication)



Ko, bitīte, tu dziedāji,

Tev bij maza dvēselīte;

Lai dziedāja dundurītis,

Tas mācēja trīcināt.

Tas mācēja trīcināt

Pa ozola pazarēm.

(Āronu Matīss, 1888, #1766)

What are you singing, bee girl?

You have a small spirit.

Let the gadfly sing.

He knew how to shake it,

He knew how to tremble

Branch to oak branch.




Ko dunduri, tu dziedāji;

Zirga asins vēderā?

Dziedāsim mēs māsiņas,

Salda alus piedzērušas.” (LD 779)

What are you singing, gadfly;

Horse blood in your stomach?

Let us sing, sisters,

We’ve drunk sweet beer.


Insults, consistent with ritual apdziedāšanās



The traditional or classic Latvian antiphonal ritual insult singing contest apdziedāšanās may be viewed as a striking example, metaphor, or even archaic prototypical case of how meaning, identity, beliefs, concepts, norms, values, and paradigms are recurrently constructed, established, and reconstructed rhetorically and strategically in social action through dialogue, dialogic, and argumentation, while reinforcing value of and belief in long-term continuity and what today could be termed cosmic synchronicity. The performance grows out of a social context where there is a recurring need to confront psychological stress and ambiguity and potential dissonance in the meeting of two relatively equal participant groups, and equally the expectation of joyful, artistically meaningful celebration after a performance of possibilities. An important function of agonistic dialogue, as the term "song war" (dziesmu kaŗš) suggests, can be institutionalized conflict expression and/or resolution through ritual (Rappaport 1967). However, the settling of specific disputes, such as with Eskimo nith songs, is not the prototypical purpose, though it may be a way of relatively egalitarian neighbors to construct and adjust norms and values, sometimes imperceptibly and unconsciously, through dialogue, in contrast to concrete judgment rendered by legal authority. Most broadly the Latvian model appears to share with other societies of relatively low stratification a means for two different, potentially hostile, relatively equal groups to move from suspicious or hostile tension to a more relaxed state of co-operation, where at least in a controlled formally defined safe setting or space they are able to celebrate together, share food, and reorganize communication. Much of this is not consciously planned, but has aspects of system self-organization.


Apdziedāšanās (aggressive antiphony) is a special part of a larger apdziedāšanas (without the long "a" = celebratory) context and world-view. The general usage of the term apdziedāt, "to sing about" is not necessarily agonistic, but celebratory, including praise as well as blame, and a primary way of the subject to interrelate with the world. The aim is an exploration of sense or meaning of apdziedāšana in both its general and restricted usage, and the predominance of the specialized meaning of confrontation and contest (apdziedāšanās). Although apdziedāšanās are ludic "play war" contestings, as opposed to true combat, they are not without goal and purpose. Historically they have not been only simple, playful recreational entertainment. For one, there is not a passive audience or spectators. While there are certainly examples of stage apdziedāšanās performances today, even recently apdziedāšanās has had the capacity and potential to be involved in serious expression of aggression, protest, and confrontation, even to crossing the line out of the ludic to true aggression.

Humor as a device for going to a more relaxed state with the anticipation of pleasure can also be dangerous or ambiguous. As studies of archaic humor suggest, it was often used as a weapon, or conversely as resistance and sabotage. In those cases it was a deliberately cruel and mean-spirited form of aggression in the struggle for domination. The song war represents a solution beyond the dangerous and destructive way of reducing tension by subduing or killing the enemy, or a sublimation, modification, or adaptation of clearing tensions through deadly force. The constructive assumption is that if one may joke about something, distance is required and the subject has to be brought under control. The subject at that moment does not have the power of overwhelming and dangerous fury.

Attunement, harmony, and control of aggression are necessary in small societies. Behavior is usually controlled by the nonresponsive, limited aggression of gossip (aprunāšana) or at the extreme by all-out aggression of curse, witchcraft, and ostracism. Accusations and grievances are given public contesting possibilities in apdziedāšanās interactive ritual insult contests in a society that otherwise highly values harmony and self-restraint.

The ritual contesting is also an expression of cognition in terms of dual interactivity using a bipartite model, which could be characterized as a Latvian version of Yin/Yang schema, organization found throughout the modalities of traditional pre-industrial agricultural Latvian culture. In this schema culture and nature/ biology both mirror each other in important analogic ways, and culture is also a part of larger nature. In the historical patterning of performances using the bipartite model, both change and continuity are expressed. Recurrent instances of antiphonic apdziedāšanās performances, while each a unique experience, draw on collective memories of previous performances. The contesting model, a form of ludic fighting formerly with a deeper purpose than entertainment, is cognitively observable throughout social and cultural structures based on distinctions of them and us in social relations and divisions. The fundamental schematic model of the Latvian daina world is two parts struggling, contesting, feuding, or engaged in dialogue. That is the most dramatic form of complementary relationship, which can also be described as contradictory or ambiguous in the two parts never being totally separated since they can only be understood in terms of each other. The cosmos is divided into two worlds, the primary form of relation and exchange is seen as taking place between two parties, the structure of the daina stanza is fundamentally bipartite with a further bipartite divisions, and society is seen in terms of distinct categories, sometimes shifting as to content, but also fundamentally a relationship of two. Metaphors, language etymology, myths, style of singing, and the internal make-up of daina-units all are expressions of this basic schematic dynamic or contesting bipartite model. It is a binary system with such concepts as us/them, inside/outside, male/female, or kin/affine within a binary system that allows for endless coded combinations as well as permutations, like dual strands of DNA, with other binary combinations. While many of the specific dualities may be negotiated and change, as do beliefs, concepts, and even paradigms, the model seems to have been in use for an indefinite past, as long as it can be followed back in history. Much of the time it is not consciously employed, but is subconsciously self-organized. The psychological need to gain a sense of control when threatened by chaos and ambiguity does not change and Latvians have chosen to recall the complex social event known as apdziedāšanās in modern performances.

One may consider if this particular type of paradigm of opposites is an instance of conceptual negation and polarization, (Zemtsovsky: 189). However, the stated purpose of apdziedāšanās is to establish positive relations through interchange, occurring in a third state and resulting in changes of both originals.

In terms of both humor and liminality, two discrete cognitive units are brought into parallel interaction thereby assuming them equivalent for the moment, but at the same time remaining separate and different. Humor results from that instant of recognizing incongruity and undergoing a “rapid...cognitive shift which undermines an element of that unrelaxation,” and causing physiological relaxation through laughter (Latta: 45) After the ritual, the two groups retain their discrete identity, but the interaction has changed them. Traditionally most often changes in cognition are imperceptible, and the participants believe they have been involved in a recurrent pattern rather than emphasizing the negotiative aspect.

The most original proposal on my part was made public in the AABS Conference of 1998 where I read a pre-dissertation summary, and there have been subsequent discussions on listserves involving folklorists. I spoke of a semantic field that includes: bees, honey, a work band of sisters, a kinship based on honey rather than blood, sacred blooming linden trees, creation through weaving and through singing, the Fate goddess Laima (patron of song, weaving, women), and various prototypical oscillating movements both back and forth and up and down movements associated with creativity, and constructive or binding magic in contrast to deconstructive magic zūdināšana. The relationships are repeated throughout various small constellations or grammars of culture.

Types and patterns of apdziedāšanās performance appear to have commonalities with communal singing contests throughout the world. Apdziedāšanās includes the guest – host type, which makes interesting the vast literature on that model in Oceania where, unlike the Baltic, war dances are performed. Latvian weddings are among those throughout the world that enact bride capture drama where fighting with songs replaces actual violence in a region where raiding was actually one former historical way of obtaining a bride. The insult song exchange is a highlight of the enacted hostilities between the two groups. Another type, represented by the festival Midsummer, suggests something more like the singing exchanges studied by M. Granet in China, particularly since females and males sing against each other. That the model is more inclusive is suggested by work party insult song exchanges. Two different village or neighbor groups meet as equals, perhaps on neutral ground for the purpose of a communal task or goal. There is also the guest – host model, which is more asymmetrical. Generally, dialogic asymmetry is downplayed among Latvian contestants in different types of performance, accentuating complementarity, rather than hierarchy. Who is guest and who is host alternates at the bride’s end and at the groom’s end with shifting dominance.

The model is of two parties who do not contest for permanent dominance, even though there usually is an acknowledged winner in the specific performance. This can be contrasted as well as compared to the north European flyting model, prototypically male dominated, and more likely to anticipate real combat following ritual boasting and insulting (Parks, 1990). The purpose of flyting is to establish dominance and defeat of one party. A study of apdziedāšanās allows for an unusual glimpse into public rituals dominantly constructed and performed by women’s groups, and suggests that female domination of the performance is consistent with expectations of cooperation. In north Europe women were more naturally seen as peace-brokers in contrast to men as warriors (bāliņi). It also suggests the conceptual availability, as needed of a more egalitarian social model, alternative to an asymmetric, patriarchal one regardless of ones interpretation of social realities. It offers a study of cognitive structures both as collective representations and as individual innovation. The study does not make strong claims of homology, but points to etically observable and emically recognized recurrence of analogous patterns across such conventionalized expressions of experience, as genre. Looking in reverse at dialogic to the problem of One and the Many, Latvian cosmology seems to particularly focus on the level of the split of one into twos, never really disengaging from each other rather than on the generative aspect of one becoming many within a universal human awareness of the dynamic state of life.

Balance and adjustment between discrete, opposing principles seems to be a primary concern and concept of Latvian mythology, cosmology, and ritual, as exemplified by the metaphor of swinging, one interpretation of the Midsummer refrain līgo, as well as other rituals involving swinging, particularly at the spring equinox Lieldienas. Another is the back and forth creative and constructing action described by the word šūt (to sew) and the related siet (to tie or plait) as well as the action of weaving aust. Karulis points out that the bee, apparently of considerable importance in the semantic field informing apdziedāšanās, is seen as "sewing" a honeycomb. The Midsummer god Jānis’s room seems to be created by “sewing,” or rather weaving of walls by the wattle and daub method, a method surviving in the making of fences, but not the walls of buildings in Latvia (“Šūtin, šūta, pītin, pīta. Kā rakstenis izrakstīta." [TDz 53648] Sewn as sewn, plaited as plaited, as an engraving incised.) (Karulis, 367) Midsummer is the primary calendar occasion when apdziedāšanās occurs, the apparent highlight of the cosmic wedding cycle. Karulis’s etymologies suggest that words related to the creation of something through a physical action that involves alternating, repeated motion is deeply embedded in the diachronic of the Latvian language. Finally, it would appear that repeated ritual striking or beating pērt in numerous celebrations for the purpose of fertility (Karulis, II: 38), as well as terms for the sexual act pist, pīst as related to the term for mortar piesta (Karulis, II: 10-11) could be included as possibly associated with the sizeable semantic field that sees the creative act as back and forth motion or interchange. The sense of striking or beating, often vertically rather than horizontally, are more likely to be seen as aggressive or even violent acts, unlike swinging, sewing, or weaving, or the making of honeycombs by bees. Sexuality prototypically involves both positive creation as well as ambiguous and often threatening aggression. Contests generally are often termed as hostilities or disagreements (strīds) and the song contest is indeed framed as an aggressive act in that it is termed a song war (dziesmu kaŗš) and metaphors drawn from military language are often used. The ultimate reality of aggression, competition, domination, and the predatory attitude are acknowledged, but also transcended, situated, and limited. Of course, the "war" is intended to be a play war, substitute-war, or contest with the function of reconciling two sides by reducing or venting tensions, rather than a violent destroying or subduing act. One side cannot exist without the other and the sides are seen as entities or categories persisting indefinitely, in folk terminology, "as long as the sun is in the sky" (kamēr saule debesīs) or "forever" (mūžīgi). Often, but significantly not always, the contest is erotic and an accepted occasion for the performance of bawdy songs (nerātnās dainas) once the insulting becomes heated. Predatory and overly aggressive sexuality is brought under control or civilized even as it is expressed.

Archaic style Latvian mythical concepts frequently appear dually in a state of oscillation, apposition, opposition, or twinning, starting with the archetypal ones of order and disorder, creation and destruction, fortune and misfortune, ordinary and sacred, serious or comic and tragic. In spite of Indo-European heritage and ongoing Christian ideological pressures, there appears to be marked resistance to coding in terms of absolute or moral good and evil. The dualism does not become fixed as polar or absolute; Zoroastrianism seems to have faded out when it reached the Baltic. The separation does not become complete, but the two are tied or connected together as companions, or as anti-companions. Thus, the chthonic deity Velns, though syncretized through Christian ideological pressures, fails to evolve to full Satan status. The old daylight sky god Dievs does not have an equal fixed or stable opposition. He may be opposed to the dark sky (Jods), a chthonic deity (Patollus, Pikuls), or the Earth.) In some folktales Velns is helpful to humans, and often a trickster Dievs dupes him. In at least one folktale Velns is the primal "water being" and in many others the Earth Diver companion to Dievs. The sky god in turn tends to retain many of his old attributes and his evolution to God of the Great Religions is also largely incomplete in the daina world. It is as if in spite of heroic effort to create categories and boundaries necessary for communication and social life, the fundamental dualities can never be totally separated but neither can they be syncretized or fused. The trickster aspect may be the natural outcome of incomplete separation of duality; what order puts together, disorder tears apart. Latvian mythological deities appear to have a dual nature, or there is an appearance of two associated beings. The dialogic nature of this dual association is emphasized in that most often the pair, either antagonistic or complementary, is depicted as engaged in dispute, or a state of hostilities (ienaidā). Laima (Fortune) argues with Nelaime (Misfortune), Laima argues with Dievs as to the fate of a person, the Sun goddess Saule and Dievs are in enmity over the courting specifics of their offspring. Usually, this does not end in combat. The Sun goddess is in a state of enmity with the Moon god, her mate, over their division of cosmic space. Sometimes physical combat is depicted, as between the Thunder god and Velns. In one version the sun goddess strikes the moon god with a sword and cuts him in half for infidelity. The goddesses Laime (Fortune) and Nelaime (Misforutne) may struggle with each other on a bridge as to who will push the other into the water. Far more often, a pair of deities is depicted as walking and talking with each other, significantly in dispute.


Apdziedāšanās may be seen as a play with the idea that discreet categories are recognized, but they must recurrently be brought into alignment, their borders constantly adjusted as opposed to the idea of synthesis, fusion, and obliteration of those "eternal" (mūžīgās) categories altogether. The focus appears to be upon maintaining or developing discrete created order, often a laborious and even magical task, rather than deconstructing it. The obliteration of borders is seen as dissolution, a return to the destroying One, the cosmic flux. It is schematicized as immersion in water or a release in smoke through burning. Discrete units coming into conflict or tension try to adjust their borders without losing their identity (coming from the daina concept saderēt), so they will grate less harshly against each other, kin vs in-law, male vs female, and neighbor vs neighbor. There is no loss of identity, fusing, synthesizing, or even resolving the irresolvable, but there is co-evolution, co-adaptation, and co-dependency through dialogic, with an unusual twist in that the primary performance leaders and composers are women.

The folk awareness of what could be likened to entropy is consistent with the concern of oral culture to develop mnemonic devices, such as metrical patterns in poetry and balanced, rhythmic patterns in textiles, dance, and music, as well as other schematizations of experience. Walter Ong (1982) has pointed out, these are attempts to codify, store, and interpret information in the face of information decay, loss of memory, and the reality of the flux and entropy of life. Change, then, is not so much denied, as taken for granted, as surface movement or instances within basic cosmic principles, such as dual interactivity that recurs in terms of saules mūžs (sun time). While the surface references may change according to, for instance, genre (song, riddle, incantation, proverb), a deeper level may be preserved and transferred to another context and meaning. Thus, while both folk culture and academic culture have awareness of both construction and deconstruction, folk culture perhaps takes deconstruction for granted and focuses on the laborious effort of construction.

One indicator of this focus on construction rather than deconstruction is that Latvian daina culture is no exception in avoiding naming, calling on, or celebrating the dark, chaotic, dangerous, and destroying forces, as in the saying, "Vilku (velnu) piesauc, vilks (velns) klāt." (Call the wolf (devil), and the wolf (devil) comes.) Rather it invokes and values what is lasting. Thus it values material artifacts – landmarks, heirlooms, and symbols of long-term existence, such as stone in Latvian culture, as a means of fixing and recalling memory and for the sense of continuity that is emotionally craved. Contracts and oaths, as of marriage, are made placing ones foot on a stone. In contrast, the interest of postmodernism has been the opposite: to deconstruct and problematize constructions that came to be taken too seriously by scholars with an essentialist, positivistic, or algorithmic bent. Latvian folk culture assumes as given that all creation will not only change, but also be swallowed and destroyed by the eternal. It tends to restrict invoking the sea because the sea is the source and destruction of life. Magic incantations do invoke the sea when the function is to destroy something.



The specific goal is to identify an important but neglected area of Latvian tradition and make it available beyond the Latvian audience. The theoretical goal is to develop a heuristic that allows best entry into a historic corpus in hope that it may add to emerging models that make available significant, but difficult-to-access historic folklore. How does a phenomenology interested in behavior, kinesthetics, performance, and relations arrive at a heuristic with which to extract information from texts, concepts, and mental representations? How to account for variable stability in the transmission of knowledge and information across generations? Answers are afforded in the analogic connections whereby an existing cluster or domain of thought is linked to another target domain. For the purpose of study, one may say "let" there be a stable concept, even though this is a convention to observe process.

The intent is to situate the special, restricted apdziedāšanās (challenge, insult), performance, usually sung with the godubalss (ceremonial voice), within the general tradition of apdziedāšana (neutral or positive dialogic of singer and subject) within a daina-song world as common cognitive cultural strategy patterns for creating meaningful coherence. Situating these songs within a "classical" period when they were a central as well as integral part of a pre-industrial way of life not only grounds them in a specific discourse, but also adds depth to an understanding of different contemporary usages, which continue recursing to the same largely archived sources. Text and ongoing historical commentary constrain and suggest dominant conceptual patterns, while stressing polyvalence and a continuous creation and search of sense.

A corpus is, then, to be identified, delimited, translated, analyzed, and related within a larger context of information and scholarship on play, ritual, liminality, ambiguity, wit, gender, conflict, and myth as sacred knowledge. The recreational/ play function is strongest in current performances, but daina-texts suggest much stronger myth/ritual function in the past with use of military or hunting terms and allusion to myth and pre-Christian concepts of fate, fortune, order, and disorder.

As Krišjāns Barons and others have suggested within the daina world, the general sense of apdziedāt ("to sing about") is a primary, fundamental and intimate way of the subject, usually in the first to second person, to interrelate with the world. The celebratory feature seems to correlate with magic thinking, the necessary participation of the subject in her world.


Dziesmas skan agri, vēlu, Dziesmas trīc Daugasnē;

Nevar kāzu, ne kristabu Bez dziesmām pavadīt. (35790)

Songs sound early, (songs sound) late; songs go forth to Daugasne;

Not a wedding, christening, if not sent off with songs.)



Challenge apdziedāšanās seems to asymmetrically stand out within the ambiguous or neutral apdziedāšana. It can be seen as within the agonistic tradition and a case of joking relations as treated in anthropological literature broadly ranging from West African cross cousin aggressive humor to Chinese alternating contest songs between men and women. While antiphony doesn’t necessarily require aggression, that is the default popular sense of apdziedāšanās today, and is potentially inherent in the concept. It would be incorrect to consider it a negative term because while one may place the value of negative on hostilities, the term implies or carries with it the expectation of a desirable outcome of those hostilities.

The force of such an initiating formula as "Stājatiesi sveši ļaudis abejs pušu istabā.” (Stand together, stranger people, each on their own side of the room) can be understood with greater depth in historical and geographical context. Much that is in the daina world can not be understood at all in the context of the world of everyday current without immersion into the historical roots of the subject. It is an immersion that has been made by significant numbers of Latvians, not only scholars, consulting both elder members of their community and archived sources, but people from all walks of life. Significantly, both second and third person address are usually used. However, sometimes the first voice is also assumed with the double effect of one side playing or speaking for the other with a resulting ironic effect.

Without a deeper structural understanding of how the Latvian apdziedāšanās relates to other cases of song wars in archaic societies and modern recontextualizations of old practices throughout the world, it is impossible to appreciate the deep historical roots of singing contests today, or how Midsummer has not only persisted as a recognized holiday in modern Latvia but is the single most important holiday that Latvians share in spite of it being seen as "pagan." Not an insignificant number of Christians seem willing to suspend their Christianity for this day-night. There isn’t even much of a pretense of a Christian saint. St. John the Baptist with whom the Church has attempted to link the holiday fades before the presence of the "pagan" god Yānis. Many practices only make sense when one understands a different mindset and worldview where magic predominates. Songs have the magic power of creative sound and are commonly a part of ritual setting. In such a context songs noticeably cross into other genres, such as incantations, riddles, and proverbs. Finally, in contrast to today, where the function is primarily recreational even as there is a general sense that there is more, in the past there was a strong link with the sacred and mythical. Even today there is a tendency to allegorize or justify, thereby tilting toward the view of myth as a type of truth, rather than falsehood. Clearly, contemporary Latvians are continuing to have a deep dialogue between history and the immediate now. Many examples of poems and other literature that connect the past to the present and the natural landscape, could be cited, almost at random:

Skuju raksti mātes dotos cimdos,

Jānis zaļajām ozollapām vīts,

Tāšu svārkos cauri gadu simtiem

Tautas dziesma nākusi mums līdz.

Evergreen needle patterns in the mittens mother gave,

Yanis twined in green oak leaves,

Clothed in birch bark she has come with us

Through centuries the folk song.

(Ārija Elksne, Dzīvs Priedes Čiekurs (A Living Pine Cone)

Amber is our eternal mirror.

After thousands of years washed ashore

on the beach,

it will still reflect our thoughts,

and even if the finder be disappointed,

or sorrows, our pain, our joy

will spark back true

and will tell of the pines

that in eternal rhythm

sway, sway, sway.

(Krūklis, Dzivs Priedes Ciekurs, 1979)

Amber grain

With a bee

Asleep in lucidness

Transformed song.

(Zenta Liepa, ALA flyer, 1984)

In songs about singing the daina unit is compared to a pebble, often as a piece of amber, washed through time in the sea. As someone of this time picks it up, they realize it was once flowing sap from a living tree. Information is also seen as something that is communal in that while it starts out as separate voices, it fuses and becomes frozen as texts and in this objectified way is transferred to others rather than in their original living expression. However, it has the potential to be recovered and enter the living stream of active use. Another folk image is of winding up the strands into a ball and placing them into a container until they need to be taken out and unwound (sung). The daina is a distillation or concentration of cultural knowledge, polyvocal in multiplicity, ambiguity, and potential for use.

Dainas were not created by a specialist class, but are what remains of living traditions performed by ordinary people, notably by women. A historical treatment of apdziedāšanās, then, seems to answer the popular demand for "authenticity," a way of reconstructing past representations for current needs.


Domain as Source for Usage

Apdziedāšanās is an aspect of what I am calling the "daina world," a fuzzily bounded permeable corpus of collected texts. The daina world, largely available in archived form, has functioned as a symbolic classifier and dynamic reservoir and source-world for Latvians who otherwise often disagree. The focus is on an expressive textual world with texts as contexts for other texts. Although a constructed, artificial "toy" world, actualizable in performance, it holds valuable information about real things, including concerns in cultural history. Dainas ground and constrain performance, and are sources of inspiration and common reference.

The closest thing to a unitary locus of meaning as a wellspring or source of cosmology for differing Latvians is the daina world, but its interpretation varies with each reading. The rakstraudzis (sampler) of the Latvian weaver is a case in point. The more creative weaver did not slavishly copy designs, but used them as somewhat equivalent to dictionary reference in her construction of design. The song balls of yarn, if they physically existed, as has been argued by some, would have served a similar function.

The daina-song corpus of around a million and a half variant units archived in the Riga Archives is highly redundant in information. Contest songs, known in the restricted sense as apdziedāšanās dziesmas, are scattered throughout major collections, but most are concentrated in wedding, Midsummer, and work party groupings. Entry from any vantage will confront the reader with some of the same concepts or clusters. On the topmost hierarchical level of worldview many connections, domains, and conceptual levels can be identified and related. Related concepts are deeply embedded throughout culture. It is expected that a highly integrated stabilized culture will show strong intersemiotic connections among expressive forms throughout its modalities and would express its relationship to its ecological basis. The surrounding ecological environment has been mostly stable relative to the lifetime of individuals and spans different generations. It provides a particular cultural syntax based on concrete sensory experience of that environment. Information processed by the different senses is interrelated and integrated. Geometric shapes dominating in textiles are also repeated in dances and singing games, ritual motion, and architecture and are generalized in belief systems. Melngailis mentions a daina where the singer says she knit her patterns while listening to a drumbeat. Rhythm, pattern, and periodicity terms are related in Latvian etymology. So are Latvian signification terms, notably on raksts (pattern, sign, writing) and rakstitāja (pattern-maker, composer, in recent Latvian - writer). The verb rakstīt is used for song-composition, for weaving a pattern, for rhythmic animal movement (woodpecker pecking), and rhythmic flailing, threshing, or inscribing. Not surprisingly the dominant meaning today for rakstīt is "to write." There is a sense or image in the word of a foregrounded or selected figure which is really a part of an extendable pattern or ground that has no edges or whose edges are out of sight. Juhan Kurrick speaks of "established mythical themes of which the individual songs are only ambivalent and/or ambiguous expressions." (Kurrick 22) The basic themes emerge if dainas are seen as a totality with each daina as a permutation, "part of the total fabric" (Ibid 24). Vaira Vikis-Freibergs speaks of interconnections "between a whole cluster of key words or concepts" with each "key a separate note which combines with others to form a chord" (Vīķis-Freibergs, 1980, 219) and of each recorded text as a “node in a multidimensional network, linked to many other texts by labeled relations of similarity.” (LPLFS, 1989: xi) One song blends into another, sometimes with only a change in word or phrase, a shifting tapestry.

That analogous interconnections and even synchronicity is felt to be common within the daina world is suggested by historical etymology linking different sense experiences. Thus, measures and their analogues figure strongly in the sounding world of the dainas. Laima not only decrees (lemj) or places/ situates (liek) a lifespan, but she also inscribes (raksta) a human life. The word raksts (sign, pattern, measure) has concurrently visual, aural, and tactile meaning connecting as analogous different sign worlds. A total sense of the extension is suggested by the word burtnieks (Lith. burtininkas) (prophet, magician, magic sign user, one who incises signs in a bee tree birkas): " They are sitting next to each other, side-by-side. Both were kin children: your father burtenieks, my mother a raganīte (witch)." (LD 21051) The word for sign in Lithuanian and Latvian burti is in the oldest layers concretely connected with owner identification signs inscribed in bee trees.

On the other hand, the daina units are also often inconsistent, ambiguous, and contradictory in relation to each other. The multiplicity and the concrete vivid imagery have the capacity of great metaphorical power and endless interpretive possibilities. Shifting, alternating, and multiple realities are characteristic of a corpus of many voices, not normalized by authority. If the daina corpus is viewed as a text, it still is a fuzzy unbounded social text constructed by many unidentifiable authors only partially mapable to other traditions inside and outside the Baltic. Even slight differences and small deviations may be of considerable qualitative importance. Lotte Tarkka’s discussion of intertextuality, dialogic, rhetorics, and interpretation of Finnish oral poetry is relevant also to Latvian cases: "Coherence does not deny the existence of differentiation or fission, but simply stresses the dialectical process in which meaning is generated alternating between differentiation and association, as in intertextuality." (Tarkka, 187, ff). Using the metaphor of net, as each daina is connected to other dainas, they are also eventually connectable to larger areas, such as the Eurasian, and ultimately to the human net. Of course, from any one specified point the outreach of the net gets dimmer and harder to see as it is further away.


Epistemological implications

Some basic questions underlie or are implied by the interests of this paper. To what degree do basic processes underlie all human thought and are universals? My own inclination is pragmatically cognitive in the direction of Mark Johnson, Eleanor Rorsch, and George Lakoff, who follow Wittgenstein, in awareness of mental processing that underlies common human experience in childhood. However, beyond very bare bones awareness, I take the position with most folklorists that almost all of the interesting information is in elaborated cultural and individual differences.

Problems of cognition and information may be seen for example in the analog/ digital relationship. Periodization, dividing into discrete units rather than continuous blends allows for efficient, flexible, and rapid communication, but can not fix the flow, only point to it. Imposing categories on the perceived environment is basic to all cognition, including music, art, and language. There is an assumption that meaning in folk music involves some shared, though not equally distributed knowledge by all participants, so that everyone can appreciate and participate in the performance or manipulation of available musical resources by the performers.

The daina world seems to take ultimate unity and the connectivity of everything for granted, and focuses on the practical task of defining discrete units in terms of concrete experiences.

My broadest impression after years of immersion in the daina world, is that of largely less specialized and less differentiated type of "Western" agonistic thinking before it became formalized, as prototyped for classic Greek tradition, to a passion for logical reasoning, linear and causal terms, and fixed category. It may appear in some ways more Eastern than Western, which may be deceptive. It raises the question of how folk philosophies are related to highly sophisticated philosophies of either East or West when vigorously scanned. Such questions come to the fore as to how holistic and how dependent in terms of context, relationship, or experience is the thinking of a tradition as opposed to how analytic, context-free, and contradiction avoiding. My own study is unable to address the philosophical issue directly, while recognizing it as relevant.

Some researchers have approached the philosophy of Latvian traditional beliefs by a study of the Latvian concepts and deity laime/ Laima (fate, fortune, destiny). To what degree does the individual agency and will of an individual matter in relation to situational forces? Within the mix and plurality of the daina world voices reflecting different experiences, commonalities appear to emerge that suggest a world that is not highly differentiated or specialized, but open to actualization and specific interpretation. Tranquility as a way of lessening suffering and a sense of the tragic by the acceptance of the nature of nature may seem Eastern, but is likely more broadly archaic as there is an activist aspect that is distant from what one may think of Indian mystical passivity and closer to Chinese practicality. The basic outlines seem to be those of fate, personified by the goddess, but there is considerable freedom and responsibility as to how the individual performs within those constraints and boundaries. To what degree does a person entertain ambiguity, contradiction, and the irresolvable, and to what degree is he open to actual dialogue where he will become modified by the experience?

Apzdiedāšanās ritual may be viewed as the persistence of long-term agonistic dialogic between "sides" or "halves" within a larger domain that is I-Thou celebratory apdziedāšana. As the confronting sides remain discrete, rather than fuse, one individual crosses over to the other side during the most important celebration, the cosmic (Midsummer) or human wedding. That causes realignments, even if just homeostatic, on both sides and sets up further exchange through mutual obligations. Underscoring this experience of knowing, forces an awareness and need to cooperate with the familiar Other, even as the Other remains such. A degree of tolerance has been reached even on this very simple, basic, or primitive level.


Epistemological methodology

Culture, the social production of knowledge, and the conceptual matrix can be approached through techniques developed in literary theory, such as hermeneutics, in that texts serve as context for texts. Close textual examination of the semantic field, which I call the daina-world, and analysis is my research core. Stable patterns, such as formulae, will be identified, as well as some of the voices in polyvalent dialogic trying to be heard and to construct sense. But daina-texts are also an example of historical social process, having been primarily recorded in the 19th and 20th centuries, characteristic of pre-Industrial and oral cultures. As greater context and supplement, I will pay some attention to extra-textual, and even archaeological research, in that it has been traditional in Latvian academic study of folklore. At least two levels of hegemony and subversion are relevant: the subject indigenous Latvian thrall population dominated by German landowners and clergy, and internal social dynamics. The latter is related to contest songs, but the former is relevant to understanding the mentality of humor among Latvians as reflected in their folklore in general.

These methods will be informed by a general background and lifelong immersion in traditional Latvian culture, history, and ecology with special interest in asprātības (clever retorts). Using Estyn Evans’ model, I considered contextualizing the subject in different focus levels: ecological/geographic background, historical/political background, the daina-world and its commentary, and the play/wit and ritual/myth perspective. Perhaps the major difficulty and limitation, especially for a researcher outside Latvia trying to access obscure and difficult -to -locate material, is the regional aspect of the material.

The core of this study concretely focuses on the level of textual dialogic, informed by intertextuality and commentary for the purpose of gaining insight into dialogue between text and culture, diachronically in time and regionally in space. It is seen as motivated by and a preparation for the highest level of dialogue between self, society, and history (Calame-Griaule et al. 1983; Bruner and Gorfrain 1984). It does not see as contradictory attempts to satisfy an expressed continuing need of Latvian users: to have historically informed "authentic" source material available for ongoing use even as it is recognized that the concept of "authentic" is problematic from perspectives based on hermeneutics and phenomenology. It attempts to bring about the perspective of a performance-oriented folkloristics to archived, historical material and reinterprets "authentic" to mean "scholarly" rather than grounded in static representation. It tries to "reread, through their rhetorical structure" (Tarkka, 168). It recognizes as relevant to such demands for "authenticity" a commonly expressed emic Latvian sense of "our" rather than "imposed" tradition as a historical development akin to the aspirations of other peoples who have felt they were colonized or exploited by other cultures and have expressed a strong need for a counter culture or alternative to what is perceived as foreign hegemony (cf Franz Fanon).

No scholar can be unaware of the difficulties (cf Nordic Frontiers. Recent Issues in the Study of Modern Tradtional Culture in the Nordic Countries, 1993; Songs Beyond the Kalevala, 1994; Bula 2000). My approach to the archived, historical materials is to acknowledge that indeed they are seriously faulty sources of information, but that information transmission from real life is always problematic, and a scholar must work with what is available in accordance with his stated purpose. Information transfer from real life always involves a compression problem, high bandwidth, and high-density information. Information transfer by its nature is reductionist, and the researcher must outline the constraints. Associations are made, but they are self-reinforcing ones. Thus the daina archive is a compression of loose information so that things completely separate may get crushed together and computed. Differences and diversity are collapsed. No epistemological approach escapes postmodernist concerns. On the other hand, associations are far from random. The brain is a self-organizing system whose many parts work together to form a coherent system, sensitive to initial conditions. As the network of neurons in the synaptic web is activated, some basic patterns inherent in the available assemblage of information are "rediscovered." The study takes for granted the concrete and specific social construction of reality and meaning and it acknowledges that the dynamics of culture are situated in social relations. It also assumes such construction has basic ascertainable constraints and limits, such as the laws of the physical universe, the human body, and long-term conventions generated over time and space that provide a very general universal frame. Another loose informative cross-cultural reality check is provided by the fact that Baltic materials are variously loosely framed within historic and geographic realities shared with neighboring peoples. Therefore some information about social relations and practice can be extracted from historical texts. In all cases, a ground up text-based rather than a top down information processing approach has been used as the basis of analysis.

The study acknowledges the concerns of ethno-poetics of the fundamental ambivalence or polyvalence of all expressive forms, which give rise to parallel levels of communication. By forefronting some particular views, such as female perspectives on song, myth, ritual, and other symbolic forms, it aspires to balance others that have not done so. It does not, of course, claim to be the only perspective.


To situate my textual study within contemporary usage, I devoted about two years to intensive participation on Latvian list-serves originating in Latvia where intense exchanges between iekšlatvieši (Latvian Latvians) and ārlatvieši (Latvians outside Latvia) occurred. Even though Latvia is now in an economic crisis and largely unable to fund cultural studies, the discussions did diverge now and then from economics and politics to interests more relevant to my study, even specifically to an extensive discussion on nerātnās (naughty) dainas and several on calendar holidays, including Midsummer. Such ongoing participation, in addition to memories of my growing-up experiences with apdziedāšanās, informs and forms a broader context, just as methodology in the broadest sense has included immersion.

The specific methodology is over-determined by the constraints of the available materials, archived textual materials together with commentary spread out in time and space and situating contemporary and historical ethnographic accounts. Often Latvian traditional studies have involved a sleuthing approach, grasping any and all clues as if to solve a puzzle, looking for patterns. This is a formidable interdisciplinary effort including archaeology, material culture, historical documents, language and historical etymology. The assumption is, as Gregory Benford’s suggests in Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millenia (1999) that artifacts, such as bones, DNA, and texts do communicate across historical time, and the task of the researcher is to find the best way to decode or interpret whatever is possible of the message. Redundancy is the key. Some kind of whole can be inferred from the parts, the "message gets through in a holographic sense." (Benford, 55) Redundancy is also a key in that the parts are stored throughout culture and in the memories of different brains that variously communicate across age sets, gender, class, occupation, region, and other categories in addition to information that is restricted as category specific. Redundancy also operates on the genre and convention level, or stored as long-term values, norms, and roles. One may even think of information in the opposite sense of degradable, in Richard Dawkin’s sense of memes, as resistant to elimination because it endlessly disperses and mutates once introduced.

Only recently has attention been focused on individual performers (for apdziedāšanās on Veronika Porziņģe in western Latvia and Benedikte Mežale about eastern Latvia). Thus daina study faces similar problems to Biblical and classical studies sensitive to intertextuality. Daina study on the first or textual level lends itself to a cognitive approach with an interest in conceptual and semantic domains, cognitive maps, and relationships of motifs across texts, schemata, frames, and social behavior scripts. This is the approach taken by Vaira Vīķe-Freibergs who dovetailed oral-formulaic analysis to cognitive research, acknowledging multidimensionality. It also lends itself to semiotics and the play of tropes, an approach favored by Janīna Kursīte, familiar with the Tartu school and Russian semiotics, including Propp. As a consequence, much of the older concrete and detailed motif analysis continues to be informative, reframed in cognitive terms. All of these approaches seem to accept or assume that embodied, embedded, and basic explanations of the world are redundantly scattered throughout different culture modalities and are resistant to change. But this is not so much a matter of seeing through homology, as inferring holographically. These are not static approaches, as the concern is with the process of how schemes, genre, and other structural elements, associations, and conventionalized patterns are reconstructed and modified in the process of structuring discourse. Information is perceived, utilized, processed, and stored through structure. An awareness of that structure allows a limited amount of cautious integration.

Daina-songs do continue to be performed as living tradition, though general public knowledge and interest has decreased and has become more concentrated among interested users, such as the folk ensemble performers. However, or because knowledge is less generalized, public demand for “authentic” source-material continues to exist, as it has since the first collecting of folklore in the Romantic Period. Many users continue to emphasize the more constant and stable, taking variation and innovation for granted. Also, many users, in addition to learning by participation in living tradition from living people, recurrently return to the archives to be inspired by textualized, recorded performances, the extensive archived collections, dynamically described among daina motifs as ancestral springs (avots) or more statically as dowry chests (pūrs).

Texts were related in terms of and context for each other. This was not done exoterically, randomly, or in the armchair fashion. As a Latvian participating in Latvian communities, I have had a life-long interest in the "old traditions" and have for many years been asked to give lectures, write papers, and lead seminars on Latvian traditional culture. Because of the enormous difficulties and complexities involved, I believe meaningful daina textual study is possible only with a strong grounding in the daina tradition together with its ongoing commentary. This was the strength of the old scholars who, while they did not have modern recording devices to help contextualize their materials, nevertheless were studying either their own cultures or the cultures of their sisters, mothers, and grandmothers acknowledged throughout society, including by the menfolk. The daina world may well be as large an assemblage of traditional materials essentially created by women as is known, and with the highest relevance to cultural gender studies.

The broader background approach is thus holistic and holographic, drawing from life-time study of the daina-world, but for this study it narrows to an analysis that relates the Latvian antiphonal ritual song contests to a traditional oppositional or dual conceptual scheme apparent in Latvian mythology, cosmology, magic incantations, and ritual. Such dual concepts have been discussed by Russian scholars J. Lotman, V. Toporov, and V. Ivanov in addition to Roman Jakobson (1956) and the French scholar who is better known to the English-speaking world, Levi-Strauss. Structuralists were searching for information that was inherent rather than derived from immediate experience in the form of deep and universal cognitive patterns that would hold across cultures.

However, a study informed by postmodernism and intertextuality searches for ways to combine structuralism and performance. Gregory Schrempp, has suggested the term "performative structuralism" (personal communication) as a neo-structuralism for transforming the view from static to dynamic. This view allows ongoing substitution in a shifting oppositional relationship as evident in Latvian cosmology, instead of fixed pairs, and allows for more flexibility than Durkheim, Mauss, and Granet allowed. This view acknowledges with the cognitivists and constructivists that there seem to be conceptual near-universals embodied and embedded in common human experience across cultures (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980; Lakoff 1987), but that the oppositions are not frozen, but change in usage and across cultures. Cognitivists replaced old theories of categories as defining essential properties with concepts such as polysemy (related word meanings form categories), family resemblance (category members may be related to each other without necessary properties in common), and prototype (best example) of category.

The experience of duality seems to be embodied in such common human experience, such as biological sex and socially constructed gender, based on complex biological variables and life experiences. While in-between gender may be acknowledged in many cultures, dual gender experience is prototypical and basic, acquired by children at an early age. Where a dual gender system is marked and developed, as seems to be the case in the daina world, a duality of visions is also cognitively implied with far less negotiation than the question of asymmetry in social reality. This is not to say that gender characteristics, either as cognitive or social reality, are the same across cultures. But what is sex-typical behavior may differ considerably across cultures, and we cannot simplistically project from our present values to the past: "There are wide variations among groups in what is defined as appropriate behaviors for the genders." (Doyle: 111) While it seems to be a cross-cultural statistical tendency for boys’ play to involve competition and conflict, while the play of girls more role-playing (cf Halpern), clearly there are different optimal levels for different societies of the extremes. Unfortunately, there is not enough information from isolated ethnic minorities to strengthen even the extreme observations by Berry, which found no significant differences in spatial ability perceptual skills among Eskimos where both men’s and women’s survival depended on its development. (Berry: 207-229) This is in contrast to the overwhelming evidence to the contrary across cultures where such gender egalitarianism aspects are not necessary for optimum survival. It is possible, for instance, that because native women were valued in terms of their work ability by the Baltic hegemony, a higher level of female task-orientation and/or competitiveness could have been optimal for the ecological conditions.

Since apdziedāšanās performances seem to have functioned as rituals of liminality or negotiating the in-between, the classical ritual, ritual clowning, and trickster studies are, of course, relevant. I also drew from my life-long interest in Baltic mythology as a source of information to fundamental belief systems evident in the daina world. This kind of multiple resource approach as context for whatever specific focus a scholar of daina chooses has been common in Baltic tradition studies. Such diverse fields as ethnopoetics, ethnolinguistics, performance studies, literary theory, mass communications studies, the sociology of play and humor, feminist studies, the oral-formulaic approach, and frame/ scheme analysis may contribute to the theoretical framework with which dainology is approached.

The sources of Latvian folkloristics include historical documents (travelers’s tales, church records and protocols, pastoral reports, grammars and dictionaries, and other records by nonLatvians) and oral folklore collected mostly in the 19th and 20th centuries. Other genres of folklore, ethnography, history, archaeology, etymology and anything else that adds relevant information may be consulted.


Significance of Study

It is a hope this study generates further interest in a subject where a historical tradition dominated by women has become the major national source of identity. Songs originally expressive of a pre-industrial way of life, such as orphans or new brides among "strange people," were recontextualized in the national awakening as protest songs of the Latvian people against their foreign oppressors. One type of "song war" became another.

Traditional Baltic constructions of duality illuminate the type of asymmetric dialogic Bakhtin introduced with historical evidence of archaic style that has become scarce, scattered, and difficult to access, especially considering the language barriers of small populations. This study is a pioneering effort in forefronting contest singing that has been traditionally female dominated in performance and creation, and is important to national identity. The daina world offers a view into Latvian traditional constructions of experience that is not just from the male perspective. The question of women’s and men’s songs, and their relationship is raised, but not solved. There is a lack of the male oriented epic and skop traditions in the Baltic, but there are less specialized praise/insult traditions that women cultivate. The perspective of regional musics is raised if, as Boiko has suggested, the polyphonic vocal drone as ceremonial voice was possibly associated with Eastern Balts in contrast to the sutartine round tradition of Western Balts. The study senses the call and response, as also the choir and choir leader model to have resonance elsewhere throughout the culture, and suspects it may even represent a minicosmos of patterns, cognition, and social structure. Reality is not primarily in the long-term units that come into contesting dialogic, but in the process of interaction, in the singing exchange that vitalizes these units, which have full definition only in terms of the other.

In view of such as Koskoff observing that many studies "have noted the links between women’s sexuality, their culturally perceived sex role, and music behavior," (p. 3) apdziedāšanās is highly relevant to this interest and has received no attention outside the Baltic, and has been studied only in passing in the area. The ritual insults include aggression and obscenity that in many cultures is considered to be either male public privilege, or else from a male point of view marks women off as prostitutes or their equivalents. (Koskoff: 3) But in the Latvian case, even though the obscenities by females are indeed normatively restricted to ritual, and it is not considered traditionally fitting that unmarried girls sing them, the songs are not necessarily sung only by women past childbearing age who are not sexually threatening. The default expectation is that the performers are married rather than past childbearing, thereby stressing active fertility. Finally, the role of women in public musical performance cannot be dismissed as merely an inverse carnival or liminal phenomenon, but has far-reaching implications in terms of gender behavior and ideology. The musical activities do not seem exhausted by a "focus on their primary social roles" as socially defined by men (Koskoff: 49). Perhaps it is not a leap out of historical tradition that the President of Latvia, Prof. Vaira Vīķe-Freibergs, is a dainology specialist as well as psychologist.

Ideal and/or radical patriarchy tries to eliminate public self-construction of woman and makes her a projection of male vision, relegates her to the status of passive nature, which is ordered and brought under control by man to be useful to him, a construction out of dismemberment. In such a case, woman and nature can be categorized similarly as a challenge, a to-be-tamed wild state, the romantic, primitive questlands, or an object of predation. Latvian tradition is no exception in having strong male-centered predatory metaphors, but there is also a recognized public female perspective. Thus, the abduction drama is, as in many cultures, the central reenactment of a wedding, even though Latvian tradition recognized an alternative to patrilocal marriage, the iegātnis system where a daughter inherited the land and her husband was the stand-in until her children could inherit. In wedding games, as among other Eurasians, the suitor or bridegroom is depicted as a hunter and the bride an animal to be captured, but additionally there are, for instance, games where the bride and groom contest who will have the upper hand, such as who will surreptitiously step on the other’s foot first. While playful, they are actual mini-contests in that the male does not necessarily win. In addition to the male view, a strong anti-romantic counter vision is available that is female constructed and controlled, as well as publicly displayed and acknowledged within ongoing life, rather than relegated to special safety valve occasions.

In the Latvian case, the singing contests involving women publicly forefronted in performance do not occur only at weddings, but also at calendar holidays and other occasions where two groups of "strangers" meet. Latvians do not have epics, nor do they have heroic flytings, both of which seem associated with early military aristocracies; the Latvian peoples were at an early feudal stage when they were conquered. Ward Parks argues for the prototypicality of the male flyting, pointing to the fundamental association of maleness and aggression, and seems to dismiss ludic and even guest-host flytings as secondary and/or derived phenomenon. He even downplays the role of women who are involved in amatory ludic flytings or as goaders of warriors to shame them into fighting. However, I believe there is no reason to assume that a contest paradigm which could lead either to fighting or to cooperation can not be considered as primary with two options, one hostile and the other cooperative. The play or comic aspect of the serious may develop close enough in time to be considered its alternative or opposite option. It is possible that less asymmetrical alternative gender duality is played out as rationally consistent with other archaic constructions of duality that may have been suppressed, ignored, or eliminated by the dominant and great currents of history that followed specialization, including military aristocracy.

Some have found Latvian resonance with certain Eastern traditions more so than with developed postindustrial classical Western genres (cf Vija Vētra trained in the temple dances of India, current interest in Zen Buddhism, and Rūta and Valdis Muktupāvels interest in Siberian shamanism). However, what seem to appeal in these highly sophisticated Eastern traditions are their archaic roots, the less differentiated or specialized and pre-industrial (cf Chatteryi) rather than the developed later philosophies. They would therefore have analogies to “western" or European musical foundations that are sufficiently undifferentiated as to be “non-western” in the classical sense. The Baltic in numerous studies has been depicted as in-between, a crossroad, the hinterland, or a “shatter zone” not wholly West or wholly East from the viewpoint of classical Western civilization.

Special Difficulties and Constraints

The sources I have used divide into emic (texts, particularly songs about singing) and etic (daina commentary through history), both with attendant problems of translation, especially of the highly compressed daina-units. The undertaken study represents difficulty of the highest level and a single person cannot bridge these difficulties. There are problems of translation across a number of theoretical, cognitive, schematic, and linguistic levels and frames.

Although dainas are the most popular and best researched folklore genre among Latvians, little is available for modern scholarship in English, and the ones in other major languages are mostly outdated or outright antiquated. Even the older research in German and Russian needs updating. In English there is a collection of essays edited by Vaira Vīķe-Freibergs, and also a computer-accessible corpus of sun songs co-authored with her husband, articles in the JBS and several periodicals published in Latvia, several dissertations including one on burial songs and the one by Guntis Smitchens on recent use of song as ideological war against Soviet hegemony. Much of the older material focuses on aesthetics, ethics, mythology, or class conflict. Scholars in Latvia, making the shift from former Soviet hegemony to new information opportunities, have strong priorities but very limited resources. Apdziedāšanāss dziesmas, according to recent personal communication, have been treated only in passing, and to my knowledge there is no major work emerging on the subject.

Researchers have published works of fundamental importance in Latvian, but these have already become bibliographical rarities almost impossible to purchase. Economics have forced a situation where what is published is underprinted less than demand, and with no inventory to meet future demand. American universities have not acquired many of those fundamental works, such as the scientific edition of the Latvian folk songs. I was unable to find a number of needed publications through all the resources of the net and interlibrary loans, and was unable to purchase them in Latvia. The used book market is almost dead. Hoped-for efflorescence in Latvian traditional studies, as Latvian independence replaced a long-blocked Soviet period, has not materialized. The country is fighting for economic survival, so that its priorities are basic economics and politics rather than culture. A few excellent collaborative publications have come out, such as scientific articles on the Latvian forest in a socioecological context, Latvijas mežu vēsture līdz 1940.gadam or the ethnographic survey of dairy farming and foods by Linda Dumpe.

Work is going on in assessing the state of materials in the Latvian Archives, particularly the Rīga Latvian Association Knowledge Committee collection, which is fundamental – what has been lost or damaged, and what needs to be published of unpublished dainas. (Vīksne: 31-7)

Because the topic is a high difficulty pioneering effort, much of the effort necessitated selecting, assembling, and translating a corpus together with select related commentary. The subject of apdziedāšanās has variously been touched upon, but there has been no larger study devoted specifically to it. In the past the clergy and nonLatvian ruling classes denounced apdziedāšanās performances as scandalous, vulgar, and unChristian. The first Latvian intellectuals were anxious to prove their people as "cultured" and concentrated on what they considered sacred and serious, largely taking the "comic vision" for granted and of less importance for serious research, thereby neglecting it. Additionally music research was filtered through classical Western academic standards, often inappropriately.

Research was also hampered with the extremes of too much uncatalogued generalized daina study, and too little of the most relevant information. Daina research has been a fundamental concern since "The Awakening" (Atmoda), as the Romantic period is also known, so the quantity of literature on dainas in general is formidable, a state similar to Kalevala research in Finland, but with the disadvantage of being more obviously colored by ideology. The subject of apdziedāšanās, however has not been treated more than in passing and I found only one article specifically addressing the subject (Sneibe). Research of relevant components of the performance schema has to be assembled, often from different contexts.

The past fifty years of folklore scholarship in Latvia before the Second (grass roots folklore movement preceding independence) and Third Awakenings (independence in 1989) were constrained within and by Soviet hegemony. Research was done within models approved by Marxist materialistic ideology. Putting aside those studies whose primary purpose and/or effect was to validate or celebrate Soviet hegemony, others attempted to work within the system, sabotaging it by either continuing the type of research that was done before the Soviet period, or to further more individual needs. Virtually no funding and no work on mythology and ritual was done during this period, although that had felt to be a strong need in that neither Šmits (narrative folklore) nor Barons (lyro-narrative daina) singled out "mythical" material as a discrete entity. Mythology is seen as involved with ethos, worldview, cosmology, ethics, and deeper questions of philosophy and psychology. The Soviet hegemony was therefore not interested in promoting potentially alternative sources of identity. In contrast, the 1994 February issue of Zinātnes vēstis (Science News) called for folklore scholarship to be a priority in the new republic. It specifically singled out mythology as a touchstone of continuing ethical values as well as continuing a tradition that is widely seen to go back to prehistoric times. The economic crisis, however, has not supported education and research generally, to say nothing of folkloristics specifically.

A Western mythological approach may find a strange inverse in the emphasis on the relatively short daina-songs as mythology sources, supplemented by short narratives (incantations, sayings, proverbs, even individual formulae) in relation to the longer narratives, tales and legends, prioritized in the West. But there are precedents in other cultures, namely the vedas of India. Often, Einhorn’s classification of dainas as hymni deorum, has been accepted as songs addressed to gods or supernatural beings, but more broadly addressed to whatever seizes the mind’s eye in a numinous experience. Lithuanian scholars, such as Norbertas Velius have identified a "unified system" throughout the territories of the Balts "based on the mythical conception of nature and society" as "traced in the oldest archaeological evidence, and its numerous relics" that have survived to the present and should therefore be "treated as a system, not as a collection of individual facts." (p. 292) Furthermore, Velius, among others, identifies this system to be "primarily based on territorially variant oppositions typical of dualistic society." (p. 293) The primary oppositions are modified in typical Indo-European fashion by the introduction of a third member resulting in territorially variant three-member oppositions" as constituting the "most typical feature of the world outlook and social stratification of the ancient Balts." (p.294)

Scholarship in the Baltic in the past has tended to be integrative both in subject and in terms of scholars working with each other. Discrepancies in information between longer narratives and dainas have been explained variously, but most commonly the longer narratives are seen to conform more to dominant European patterns, while daina-songs are seen as more idiosyncratic of the Baltic region. For example, there is relatively little mention of Velns/ velni (Devil/devils) in the daina-songs, but there are many narratives about the same subject. Since the songs are largely an address or relationship of the singer to the world, when they are addressed to the sacred world, there is a strong tendency to avoid addressing the dark forces directly. If one does address, for instance, a disease spirit, it is done respectfully, euphemistically, and with the suggestion the spirit go elsewhere. Of the few dainas about Velns (Devil) or velni (devils), many are either in jest or comparing a hostile person, such as a mother in law or a stingy household mistress (vīra māte, velna māte = devil mother, husband’s mother) to the demons. In the narrative tradition, Velns has a much bigger role because the tales are about him, not addressed to him and there is more distance than in the lyro-epic song.

It is unfortunate studies of song wars were not done in the heydays of structuralism and functionalism and even before, while the pre-industrial way of life was more of a living memory, or only a visit to the countryside away. One can and should focus on apdziedāšanās performances as they are today, either as a consequence of the Second Awakening folklore movement or, where in increasingly isolated and abridged instances, they are still a part of countryside and family celebration. But with the passing of not only the pre-industrial age, but leaping into Western market economy, performers continue to mine what was unearthed in the First Awakening as sources of "authentic" inspiration. The vitality of this type of performance is largely carried by the numerous folklore ensembles, who however, as Smidchens (1996) has pointed out, are small, local groups who learned from the old country musicians, and are therefore the acknowledged younger generation inheritors of that tradition even by the old musicians themselves. (cf,

I had no access to the actual early primary historical manuscripts of previous centuries. I was unable to access the compilation of historical sources that exists as a volume of the academic publication of folk songs Latviešu tautas dziesmas in 15 volumes that is being published in Latvia. Many of these have been compiled and relevant texts quoted and translated from Latin into Latvian in Latviešu konservācijas vārdnīca and are otherwise repeatedly noted and quoted by historians whose sources when used have been crosschecked. Some of them have been reproduced and/ or translated, such as several translations of the Henricus de Lettis Livonia Chronicle. One problem is the tradition to Latvianize the names of authors even in the bibliographies, so that the original can’t be reconstructed.

Important compilations of sources of the history of Latvian music is found in: Vītoliņš, J. and L. Krasinska, Latviešu mūzikas vēsture (History of Latvian Music). Riga: Liesma, 1972. I also used: Latviešu literatūras vēsture. I. Latviešu folklora. Edited by E. Sokols et al. Riga: Latvijas PSR Zinātņu Akadēmijas Izdevniecība, 1959. While I used the Latvian translations of the Vītoliņš and Krasinska book for historical sources as the basis of my English translation, in most cases, I consulted a number of Latvian translations, such as Spekke and Švābe, of the same passage to arrive at an English composite translation.

Foregrounded sources

I will briefly touch on some of the modalities of culture, which seem to be relevant to an understanding of dual organization, particularly myth, kinship, contest, and archaic style of singing. I consider Melngailis and Sneibe’s observation that the ritual song contest was often associated with an archaic style of singing, the Baltic vocal drone characteristic of western and central Latvian group singing in the last century (but more broadly known earlier), as another significant indicator of the originally deep or sacred aspect of the performance and the long-term persistence of an agonistic tradition where prototypically apdziedāšanās involves two groups in a ritual contest. I have sought to situate the Latvian dominantly female tradition in a broader transcultural context by looking at other archaic style or historical song contests of northern Europe, such as flytings, as well as ritual insult contests where the theoretics of the subject have been most developed by anthropologists even though they are nonEuropean (China, the Pacific islands, Africa).

Because the comic vision is a situational attitude, songs used in apdziedāšanās contests are scattered throughout the archival classifications. However, some are used repeatedly and are clustered in the sections on Midsummer, weddings, and work parties talkas. I have used the standard archival collection publications and additionally have looked at the repertoires of two contemporary singers, Mežale and Porziņģe. Additionally I am informed by my past participation in apdziedāšanās performances, though no documentation was attempted at time, and have noted discussions on listserves when obliquely relevant to the subject.

Midsummer is the prototypical calendar holiday for the performance, though insult songs resembling those at apdziedāšanās were also sung at other holidays, such as during mumming and even Christmas. Thus, exchange or singing of insult songs does not necessarily involve two fully assembled responsorial contesting groups, though conceptually the players always represent their group against another. The wedding is the primary occasion in the life cycle for apdziedāšanās. In the past separate activities took place at the bride’s end and the groom’s end, each involving ceremonial insult greeting of the guests. A song contest could happen at either end, but since only a few representatives from the groom’s side would come to take the bride to her new home, the full contest would take place at the groom’s end where both sides had assembled their singers. Insult songs range from playful to funny to invective.


Autobiographical dialogue

The combination of native speech knowledge, membership in the Latvian immigrant "learned" community, recently acquired semiotic and cognitive perspectives at Indiana University, and recent dialogue relationships with Latvians throughout the world on the internet may help serve as a bridge for the exchange of information between those in Latvia and those here. It is hoped that the experiences acquired here in the West may be informative to Latvian researchers in Latvia.

My overall background interest, following my own marginal rather than central membership in various groups, is in the liminal. In chaos/ complexity theory terms that is the edge where order and disorder optimally interact. The interest has included the relation of humor to aggression and confronting the strange, asymmetrical, or out of kilt; how people use humor and insult as weapon, defense, or tool; and how they deal with irresolvable differences, inequalities, and injustices. Though relationships are presented in stereotypical, essential, or idealistic code as within balance or harmony in the daina world, it is to suggest life as dynamic and ever adjusting, just as letters or numbers are used to construct literature and mathematics respectively. As a person of the 21st century I am interested in how the daina world confronts ambiguity, discord, irresolvable conflict, violation, violence, asymmetrical duality or outright inequality (class, gender, generation-sets) - in short, the trickster and the "dark" aspects even as the value is placed on rhythm, balance, and looking to the bright side. Apdziedāšanās always seems to take place in the liminal area of adjustment and change as marked by rites of passage or rites of calendric passage known as the path of the sun or the meeting of two groups who have arrived at a border (no-man’s land, bridge, river, edge of great body of water).

I was drawn to the subject of apdziedāšanās from two experiences. In my early years I observed and participated in mini-song wars at Latvian Midsummer and wedding celebrations, usually performed as conscious re-enactments of the old ways. Outside these performances I noted the everyday biting wit of older Latvian girls and their taunting and teasing of boys as well as among themselves as a common, valued, and acknowledged form of interaction. It seemed a contrast to my experience with American girls I knew who did not particularly cultivate such mock aggression, whereas joking and mock insult was common enough a way of relating among males.

This kind of ribbing, jostling, bantering, and prank-making, I also found as a primary form of interaction later in the mid to late eighties during the early period of personal computer exploration by youngsters who were creating their own worlds in their rooms on cottage electronic BBS’s (bulletin boards) with the TRS 80’s, Apple IIs, and Commodore 64s. Most of the participants were also avid adventure fantasy role-playing gamers. When these cottage BBSs had run their course and given way to the Net, it seemed I would have a strong background to study the classical Latvian insult song tradition since insults were the weapons of the so-called song wars. In my mind there was a functional equivalent of what I had experienced in two very different contexts, one with archaic Old World roots, and the other an expression of the technological and commercial world of the Internet that is becoming increasingly cross-cultural and dominant for a class that wields power by virtue of access to the provided information. I also come from a background involved in science fiction (being on the organizing committee of ConFabulation at IU) and gaming. Shorthand expressions of camaraderie and agonistic flaming on the net had parallels to the old challenge spirit. Some of the folklorists in Latvia with whom I have chatted with electronically have also independently come to similar views that there are some parallels of apdziedāšanās, everyday ribbing exchanges known as villošana, and aggressive humorous exchanges on the net. However, no one has done an actual comparison study. Ritual exchanges on the net (including some flaming exchanges), other current social forms of discourse such as radio parodies (nežēlīgās dainas) sent in by the public, and historical singing invective contests with pre-industrial agricultural roots among Latvians can inform each other, and may be viewed with similar tools, such as those of trope analysis. Thus, there doesn't seem to be a huge discontinuity in that the children of peasants sometimes feel more at home on the net than in a literary culture, which when constructed in the West may be largely undigested and swallowed in huge chunks. What kind of deep structures appear to be linked when they reside in very different experiences and cultures has therefore been of interest throughout this study.

Both are examples of dialogic in the Bakhtinian sense and both operate in a space that is part of the surrounding world, yet also are marked off – toy or play worlds (drama, theater, virtual). But the similarity seems to be more in the psychology and aspects of liminality involved - humor as both controlled aggression and sheer playfulness, pseudo-contest, the emergence of group leaders who not only do much of the improvisation but also are entrusted with keeping things from going too far while the majority participants act more as drone accompaniment (in the case of apdziedāšanas singing) or lurkers who throw in a word of approval or disapproval now and then to the dominant, active voices one hears regularly. These are just some parallels and too many more come to mind for it to be a "forced" comparison, but what is salient is that there are several Latvian brains that have analogized the experiences of apdziedāšana singing contests and ritual electronic exchanges as "similar" information. This suggests the associations may not be anomalous or idiosyncratic.


Dialogue with history

I came to realize, however, that one can go only so far in understanding the classical source-tradition with conventional, modern humor. There are limits to the similarities. Why, for instance, out of all the possibilities, and when there are some truly despicable traits that appear elsewhere in the song corpus, are there recurrent themes about gluttony as when the panāksnieki (bride’s kin) are derided for being rapacious eaters when everyone is supposed to gorge for days at a wedding feast? Gluttony may be funny in contemporary culture, but it doesn’t carry the sting that it does in archaic Baltic culture where food can sometimes be scarce and a lack of control and an inability to manage and share properly suggests the person is akin to wild beasts. The outrageous sexual license of which the opposite side is accused is an analogous case where excess is seen as unsociable individual threat to a sensitive network dependent on cooperation. . Without historical context it would be recontextualized to a state of misunderstanding or not understanding what is plainly embedded throughout the texts, or a richer understanding of gender relations that were not necessarily identical to our own. For instance, comparative literature on such as cross-cousin joking relationships in Africa suggests a parallel answer to the puzzle of why the Baltic bride’s kin were allowed to sneak in and do various mischief at the groom’s and in turn they would be initially treated shabbily and this alternating abuse was all supposed to be good fun with no one taking offense.

Finally, one is struck by the recurrence of certain favorite insult formulae and themes, which to a contemporary person may appear as lacking in imaginary improvisation and humor precisely because of the repetition. Indeed modern performances warm up with the traditional formulaic songs found in the archives in the warm-up period and then in a more modern style seek novelty and originality. But Felix Oinas (1990, 155-70) has pointed out what is not obvious without immersion in the old texts, namely, singing the song "as it was" (dziedu dziesmu kāda bija) or "as the old people sang it" is highly valued in myth, ritual, or incantation, while improvisation is valued in performances keyed as recreational rather than sacred or serious. Trying to understand dainas only synchronically is similar to analyzing folk songs in terms of professional classic Western concert expectations.

Thus while having participated in contemporary apdziedāšanās throughout my life, I have not primarily focused on apdziedāšanās as it commonly functions today, but on the classic daina collection mostly collected in the 19th and early 20th centuries and available in the standard published sources. My experience with apdziedāšanās both conscious creative, participatory re-enactment as well as observation of stage performances has been on the level of diversion, education, and appreciation for old traditions. Daina-texts, however, suggest much stronger archaic ritual functions with stronger emotional investment in terms of gender and group confrontation. The military and hunting metaphors seem closer to realities when membership in groups was less a matter of choice than it is today. The nerātnās dainas that appear when the contest becomes heated condemned by foreign observers and the Church, out of historical context, appear to be erotic teases, obscene taunts, or just obscenity. But Granet, Propp, and others have pointed out that archaic sexual practices often have more to do with magic, social functions, and the maintenance of living order than archaic "libertarianism." The prominence of married women in the performance of bawdy songs is consistent with their function as magic users, healers, and wise women as those who could control powerful and dangerous magic forces, of which sex can be seen as the prototypical opposite of death, as well as symbolizing actualized fertility in contrast to the potential fertility of the young unmarried. But as an expression of an alternative, rival world view, the public singing of nerātnās dainas was especially threatening, upsetting, and condemned by foreign Christian observers. The obscene taunts and erotic insults by older women must have seemed as if coming from witches,"Devil-inspired." It is even possible that as obscenity they could be related to obsolete military defiance and aggression display (magic use or psychological tactics), now confined to a safer domestic setting, in addition to the more obvious functions (display of virtuosity, tension release, teasing) observable today.

Industrialization changed the old farmstead and hamlet way of life and radical transformation of expressive traditions weakened the social functions of apdziedāšanās as practiced consistent with the ecology of pre-industrial life. Confrontation and opposition through song took on different political revolutionary aspects and was historically re-channeled to the Song Festivals and later to econational poetry. Anecdotes and parodies are now common vehicles for sarcasm, irony, and black humor. In the early part of this century, there were also popular songs ziņģes, which were included as apdziedāšanš dziesmas (collected by Jānis Bērziņš, Labietis 54 [1977]).

Classical folk style apdziedāšanās has persisted to the present as recontextualized performance to some degree at Latvian weddings, Midsummer, and work parties, but for many Latvians they are now stage re-enactments rather than participatory re-enactment performances. As folk ensembles take on the role of primary tradition developers, the song leaders also are no longer dominantly older women, and the teasing nature of the bawdy songs is forefronted as appropriate to the courtship period.

In contrast, Benedikte Mežāle recently (no date) has written a description of the tradition in her native Baltinava region of Latgale as she has experienced it. Her descriptive book-length essay demonstrates that ritual insult singing when performed as integral to the life of conservative rural participants still has a primary function of constructive social catharsis, adjusting, and cohesion. As a Catholic, Mežāle compares the effect of the ritual to Confession and absolution. The lead singers are selected not only for their ability as musical performers, but also for their sensitivity and wisdom. They must know how far the insults should go, and who should be the targets.

The daina world, as a whole or a part, is used as liminal space both by Latvians in Latvia and in diaspora. Quotation of dainas outside singing contexts (and even within types of singing performances) is invoking the voice of the sacred, authoritative, communal, immortal, traditional - but not necessarily conservatively intended or received. As an example from contemporary Latvian television the voice of the grandmother in the Latvian “TV theater” (Televizijas teatris) is not necessarily the voice for conservatives. The era in which she lived as a little girl, and the period of National Awakening that she inherited, are times that were interrupted and largely destroyed by the Soviet occupation, a violent conclusion to the industrialization process that had already started to change the old rural-centered way of life that is referenced in the daina world. As in the Awakening, the traditions that were developed over time and which could be recorded or recovered, continue to be the vital, creative, and loosely unifying source of overall Latvian identity, that which in some way distinguishes Latvia and Latvians from any other people, while affirming their membership in the human community because they in fact do have an identity. The grandmother’s voice is a privileged voice not because it is conservative and out of date, but because it is vitally nurturing in that she holds knowledge, sacred because it is lived knowledge that the younger people have not experienced, but need in their own construction of meaning.

There is another irony in the clash of top down and bottom up approaches. Traditional textile specialist Aleksandra Dzērvīte recalled historical disputes as to what costumes should be worn by choir-members representing their regions. The choice seemed to be between replicas of the costumes of the parents or grandparents’ generation, which often amounted to what was left in the attics of each region, as opposed to free adaptation, which practically came down to artists designing these costumes equivalent to choreography of dances. The “ethnographically correct” or strict re-enactment view won out during the First Independence period. While the conservative approach doesn’t accord with current academic views of process and authenticity, in fact, it had the pragmatic effect of stabilizing what was available of the old traditions and providing common ground for subsequent innovation. Ironically it probably had more of an emic orientation than the second alternative would have, as it accorded with popular conservative views in contrast to those emphasizing change by researchers.



The Translation Problem

Douglas Hofstader in his analysis of an extreme example, Lewis Carroll’s poem "Jabberwolky," and his application of his "brain isomorphism" theory comments on the problem of trying to find:

‘the same node’ in two different networks, which are, on some level of analysis, extremely nonisomorphic. In ordinary language, the task of translation is more straightforward, since to each word or phrase in the original language, there can usually be found a corresponding word or phrase in the new language. By contrast, in a poem of this type, many "words" do not carry ordinary meaning, but act purely as exciters of nearby symbols. However, what is nearby in one language may be remote in another… When confronted with such an example, one realizes that it is utterly impossible to make an exact translation. Yet even in this pathologically difficult case of translation, there seems to be some rough equivalence obtainable. Why is this so, if there really is no isomorphism between the brains of people who will read the different versions? The answer is that there is a kind of rough isomorphism, partly global, partly local, between the brains of all the readers of... (the same material) . (Hofstadter: Part II: EGB, Chapter XII: Minds and Thoughts.)

The brain isomorphism theory opposes a strong version of the Sapir Whorf language theory and informs the creative process and creative translation as a creative movement from structure to structure utilizing sensory activation of clusters of concepts, somewhat relatable to what are known as semantic fields. Thus, translation versions and variants are endlessly generated, not necessarily in a Chomsky sense, but more generally, always constrained by structure. This concurs with the many translators and analyzers of semantic fields within the daina world have seen the network relationships of daina units as frozen or captured in countless numbers of daina song verses. In a site devoted to translating the same "Jabberwocky" poem, Russian translator Vladimir Shkurkin suggests:

My impression is that the best translation into Russian would require either a conscious or intuitive perception of the image each non-word brings forth, and then to attempt to evoke that same image by synthesizing a Russian word with perhaps the same Indo-European roots. As an example, the "gr-" words in both English and Russian have similar inimical images. Russian "grom", "groza", "gryzha", "grob", "griaz'", etc. are negative images. The "wr-" words suggesting rotation or twisting appear in both English and Russian. Following this reasoning, the construction of words to evoke images becomes a matter of simultaneously evoking the image and making things rhyme, with a coherent meter. Exceptionally talented poets can do this subconsciously, and careful artisans using conscious analysis can craft something given enough time. The best of the translations translate the image with image-evoking nonsense words of parallel structure, often using classical Russian poetic inversions. <>

While I agree with Shurkin that this would be an ideal way to evoke the daina flavor, it goes beyond my personal constraints of time. My translations are much freer, but they have leaned toward a preference toward common English and Latvian historical etymology when it occurred to me. A "psycho-linguistic conceptual space" approach sympathetic to Shurkin’s has also seen as important to utilize the very valuable resource of Konstantīns Karulis, Latviešu etimolo1gijas vārdnīca (Latvian Etymological Dictionary), the approach used also by Janīna Kursīte among others.

Translation involves multiple, complex decisions of compromise, such as resituating the source material into a framework of contemporary academic interests, when commentaries may be in a different frames. The process is as much art as science in searching for closest continuers going from one situational frame to another. However, no better alternative has been offered in translating from close textual analysis.