A. Aspects of Discourse, Structure, Translation, and Isomorphism

There are no voices but the researcher’s own…perpetuating the flawed model of art as a pipeline for delivering meaning, rather than as a social field for constructing, negotiating, and contesting it. (Walser: 39)

The act of (specially marked) communication is put on display, objectified, and opened up to scrutiny by an audience. Performance thus calls forth special attention to and heightened awareness of the act of communication. (Bauman, 1992: 44)

Perhaps the most difficult theoretical issue to deal with in this study is to apply a socially constituted sense of language and communicative competence (Hymes) to texts that were collected in the past. Texts are not realizations of normative structures, but are "emergent, the product of the complex interplay of communicative resources, social goals, individual competence, community ground rules for performance, and culturally defined event structures" (Bauman, 1992:33). The attempt in reverse when confronted with recorded text is to situate or contextualize daina structure and strategy within the interactive process in a postmodern context. The daina is relevant in terms of how it functions, is used, and communicates. Ironically, to see how this happens, one must on some level of study freeze or treat the corpus as if it were a thing rather than the trace of a process.

Structure is epistemologically a fiction, but mental heuristic proceeds through a certain objectification process as part of the communication process. It affords concrete reference and focus and emerges from recurrence as recalled by analogy. Structure is how the mind organizes, perceives, stores, and retrieves reality, which in its endlessness is otherwise chaotically inaccessible to the limited human mind. The philosophical orientation for this study is structural with a poststructural/deconstructionist understanding that systems are not complete, but at least potentially open as used. Of the concrete socially constituted signals one perceives some are generalized to a more abstract meaning level resulting in such structures as templates, which in turn become socially constituted means of further perception and so on recursively. Practices that are seen as being repetitions become normative custom or tradition. Ambiguity, contradiction, and what is outside the norm is either ignored or viewed with suspicion and anxiety. Knowledge of the new begins with a reference to what is felt as known.

The performance and discourse approach tries to determine what are the orienting frameworks, the interpretive procedures, and how social practice is constitutive and grounded in social relations. But the overwhelmingly dominant view of those who use the dainas as well as that of the daina world seems to take interaction for granted as unproblematic. From this perspective, chaos and disorder are fundamental facts that need no acknowledgement; the struggle is rather to bring dissonance and diversity into harmony. Pluralism is acceptable if it can be seen as coming under an overarching larger unity. Otherwise, it is seen as disruptive and undesirable. The native system of classification emphasizes the discrete, the long term, cognitively basic or middle-level, fundamentally embodied, and prototypical in the sense of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Brent Berlin, Paul Kay, and Eleanor Rosch. It is highly selective and downplays marginality and the blended in-between in favor of a system of fewer fundamental units, which tends to reorient or realign to express change, rather than split into finer units, not unlike using the letters of the alphabet to make words.

The accepted conventions or expectations are, of course, learned. But, the system is also efficient and productive in creating a rich and variable three-dimensional net, where all the points are ever shifting in response to each other. Change is seen less linearly or in change as in reorientation or realignment of stable categories that are inherent and part of the cosmos. The basic structural truths are there as if to be discovered, thus archetypal, rather than created, though with change the structure changes or evolves. Laima has woven the strands of the primary models. Humans have freedom, but within outlines that have been already set down.

Human localizations are tied in to a bigger overarching cosmic law. Within this greater web intertextuality connects everything to everything, and the component formulae are cycled and adapted in a creative process that can be described as bricolage within a tight structure. During the period they have been collected, they have been rather resistant to rapid change, particularly the basic structural formal elements and formulas. Regional analysis can come up with spatial configurations. Rozenbergs’s comparison of satire directed against native elite bajāri and Baltic German manor lords is an extended formal analysis of such temporal configurations.

Structure and function are important ways to approach meaning, though, of course, meaning cannot be reduced to them. Structure, concepts, and languages represent accumulated traces of experience. Each daina as a recorded text is an artifact to be used as a flexible resource. Among the ways dainas are used include aesthetically as poetry and pragmatically as wise words or, usually in distich form, as proverbs. Thus the meaning of a daina changes depending on the context and perspective. Dainas are multivocal - speaking with many voices, polysemic – having different meanings, and multifunctional. They are also transmitted through a multiplicity of channels, written and oral, parodied as modern nežēlīgās dainas on a radio comedy medium, and imitated in contemporary poetry.

I have turned to earlier approaches, such as those of Mauss and Malinowski and the classic Latvian scholars for inspiration in understanding the interrelationships of language, society, technology, and symbols. Since the dainas are often viewed as self-sufficient units, described as pebbles washed smooth by the waves of the sea in time and space, textual and literary criticism approaches continue to be relevant approaches. Additionally Latvian language has had considerable resistance as concrete concepts become more abstract, sometimes borrowing abstract concepts from neighboring peoples rather than extending meaning in an existing word. In the Latvian language, the interrelationship of words used today to old Indo-European roots based on prototypical experiences, is still rather easy to see. Such likeness of modern to languages to ones separate in time and space tilts the view to seeing iconic relationships or analogies to be long standing and for practical purposes rather stable. Such analogies could be seen as having accumulated to paradigm status, such as the metaphor of struggle and contest between two parties on a bridge or crossroad or other in-between state. Penetration into and withdrawal from opposing, enemy territory would also draw from experiences of conflict between groups. It does not take much effort to connect one type of back and forth motion with one from another realm, in this case with textile creation, with various kinds of agricultural tasks having repeated movement, and with the sexual act.

The primary focus of a folklorist is, of course, not typically on the universal or intercultural but on local way of speaking, the specific conventions or expectations involved, and focus how they are used in different contexts as flexible artistic and communicative resources. As can be expected, the more creative and gifted persons make full use of the manipulative possibilities. The genres in which apdziedāšanās has occurred are more open-ended and flexible than most, but being ritual in which conservation is valued, a diachronic perspective helps understand use of expectation or convention in the different genres active today.

The current academic discussion of postmodernist approaches in Latvian seems to be mostly a radical jettisoning of prior research rather than attempts to resituate prior and classical research within a contemporary orientation of discourse analysis. Should there be objection that there is no need of this classical research and classically collected folklore, one comes up with a theoretical as well as practical problem. The classical dainas and other folklore are seen as the very foundation of Latvian culture and identity. The past is not history, but a primary resource. The disjunction therefore is painful and unstable and in need of researchers to bridge it. For this reason the choice of the apdziedāšanās process is an obvious choice because it is an obvious example of negotiation, metadiscursive discourse in Todorov’s sense, and of trope to confront the complexities and conflicts of culture. In fact in its sense of group confronting group in a play war, it is the archetype of discourse and an opportunity to study musical meaning in a socio-political context. It acknowledges Durkheim’s understanding of ethnography as an expression of social relationships.

A cognitive approach is consistent with the realities of the research situation with an appreciation of form and structure as systems of coherence within an epistemology that is more phenomenological than positivist, fully participant in a way of seeing consistent with discourse analysis and ethnography of speaking. The approach recognizes inherent gross organizing pre-linguistic predispositions in the brain, such as the ability to learn language with minimum stimulation. It also recognizes tendencies to stability beyond a single brain, since at any one time multiple brains are involved. While cultural information is unevenly distributed to some degree it is shared and accessible to all members of the culture. Additionally, there are long-lasting physical markers in the geography of a community shared by individuals, offering historical and cultural ground, so information is not confined to the individual memory of one brain. The relevant intellectual lineage is rather hybrid, drawing, for instance, aspects from Herder, Bakhtin, Durkheim, Geertz, Eliade, and Feld. The ideology is constructivist, seeing that all systems and approaches are doomed to limits. It is aware of indeterminacy, chaos theory, complexity theory and self-organization as relevant to understanding how we relate to the world. It therefore is in sympathy with the efforts of Alan Dundes standing by the practical usefulness of morphological analysis of formalized structure and the necessity for typology and classification as orienting frameworks.

A fundamental assumption of discourse analysis is that music, as all art, is inseparable from politics, so that an analysis of texts and practices has to be situated as historically constituted and socially contested in terms of legitimacy and value. Memories and interests are different and may conflict strongly. Texts cannot be analyzed formalistically as if they were a cluster of traits that are self-explanatory in and of themselves, but situated within the discourses of the culture and society that produced them. The articulation of the primary divisions or categories of society, such as gender or class, have to be considered, particularly if seen as an alternative to another community or group. Thus the singing contest, even though a ritual and therefore a pseudo-contest or contest only secondarily, is still a site of contention for definition of concepts, delimitation of norms, evaluation of resources, and the control of individual behavior, and the delimitation of knowledge. In a conservative community, it is also seen as a reaffirmation of conceptual coherence as to primary categories, such as class and gender or group identity. Formulaic composition is one means of achieving this desired value.

There are strong versions or statements as to the social and historical grounding of music, such as Tzvetan Todorov who sees discourse only in utterance and a memory that operates only on an ideological field:

This is a poststructural view of music in that it sees all signification as provisional, and it seeks for no essential truths inherent in structures, regarding all meanings as produced through the interaction of texts and readers…Musical details and structures are intelligible only as traces, provocations, and enactments of power relationships. They articulate meanings in their dialogue with other discourses past and present and in their engagement with the hopes, fears, values, and memories of social groups and individuals. (Walser: 29-30)

Speaking of a text itself becomes problematic since its existence is a kind of illusion, a fixed artificiality. One may try to express meaning by saying a text is polysemic with potentially endless numbers of meanings, interpretations, and translations. Or the opposite, a text may be found in multiple contexts, with no significant formulaic variations appearing at for instance either a wedding or at a funeral. Or one may, along with Julia Kristeva who, harkening to Bakhtin, see a text as always a response to something and evoking a response with an inherent heteroglossia in the expression of multiple voices and discourses.

That acknowledged, the question remains to find grounding, pattern, and reason for conservation and its preference. How is it that a daina quatrain first recorded in the 16th century turns up in an oral context in the late 19th century among illiterate people who had no access to early written private collections recognizably the same? The singers themselves also feel they are singing as their ancestors sang. Living in a changing, largely oral world aware of the limits of memory, their ideology seems to be on the side of conservation, of maintaining what they consider timeless patterns in spite of constraints of memory.

Cognitivist Douglas Hofstadter suggests that neural isomorphism in the brains of humans, regardless of language or cultural identity, allows for "supertranslations" of certain universals. While essential correspondence between specifics of meaning is not claimed, there is interest in how one structure is translated into another with the source structure acting as a constraint. Todorov’s genre as discourse on discourse allows for models of composition or horizons of expectation to imply some pattern, even if generated through utterance and without inherent necessity.

Sociolinguists such as Mark Johnson and George Lakoff ground meaning in bodily experience and pre-linguistic structures called image schemata. Their transformation into concepts occurs in the process of generating from the metaphorical association of distinct image schemata.

Latvian traditional folklorists have concentrated on the level of formula and the constraints and limits provided by such text as grounding for shared preferred meaning and for limiting arbitrariness. Latvian sources, similar to, say Alan Lomax, implicitly link musical, artistic, and social structures in ways that might suggest the linking of performance styles to the broader communication characteristic of the community. However, this remains at the level of Alan Lomax’s insight, linking musical structure to social structure intuitively without resulting in usable theoretical insight. It seems to follow the sense in the daina world of dual relationships, where human structures are related to the structures of the cosmos out there surrounding them – what we call nature.

Another difficulty is that ethnomusicology has focused on the non-European world, while the focus on European music in the latter half of this century has been on the western elite classical tradition to the neglect of folk music in many parts of Eastern Europe. One is forced to rely on historical studies that have not been adequately bridged to modern ethnomusicological findings, and emphasizing structure and style when the meaning and context are inadequately addressed. Dainas are also constructed from a repertoire of elements or units and a set of relationship principles as to how to combine them. Thus archived dainas can be seen in terms of code that has to be actualized and implemented in performance, each performance, of course, being different.

No single person can, of course, bridge the different transitions. It goes without saying that there are very few sources on Latvian traditions in English, and the ones in other major languages are for the most part outdated or outright antiquated. But also hoped-for efflorescence in Latvian traditional studies following prohibitions in the Soviet period has not materialized. The country is fighting for economic survival, so that its priorities are basic economics and politics rather than culture. The academic journal Akadēmiskās Vēstis used to be in the IU library, but its successor, Zinātnes Vēstis, is not as of writing. A few excellent group publications have come out, notably Latvijas mežu vēsture līdz 1940.gadam, edited by H.Strods, et al.

The problems of translation from one system to another involve interpretation. One starts out with texts that are in Bakhtinian dialogic with each other and potentially with different interpretations according to context, so that a choice is made for the source word or phrase. A sample of daina humor, some of it usable in apdziedāšanās as covered in this study:


Ko tu nāci, kankarbiksi Jaunu meitu maltuve?

Visi tavi kankarīši Uz meitām cilājās!. (20430, Birzgalis p. 33)

Why do you come, rag-pants in the milling house of young girls?

All of your rags were rising toward the girls.



Kad es biju jauns puisītis, Es mācēju ģēģerēt.

Suni laidu mežiņā, Pats stāvēju maliņā.

Suns iztrieca vecu meitu, Salāpītu kažociņu.

Še, sunīti, zaķa kāja, Triec to meitu atpakaļ.

Stīvi stāv sunim aste Pret zilām debesīm.

Tā stāv meitas dvēselīte Pret jauniem puisēniem. (Birzgalis, p. 74-5)

When I was a young lad, I knew how to hunt,

I sent the dog into the woods; I stood at the edge.

The dog drove out an old maid, patched-up coat.

Here, dog, is a rabbit foot; drive the girl back.

Stiff is the dog’s tail against the blue sky.

That is how a girl’s soul stands in front of young lads.


Pret kungiem es neņēmu Savu caunu cepurīti;

Pret meitiņas māmulīti Saujiņā salocīju.


I didn’t take off my hat before the lords.

Before the mother of the daughter I folded it in my hands.

Māku diet, māku lekt Māku puišus kaitināt;

Kad uzliku audeklīnu Apkārt gāju raudādama. (7332)

I know how to dance I know how to leap, I know how to tease the boys.

When I threw on the weft, I went round it weeping. (7332)



Mock aggression

Es izvedu meitu māti Uz slidena ledutiņa.

Tik ilgām slidināju, Līdz meitiņu apsolīja.

Kad meitiņu apsolīja Tad ieņēmu kamanās. (Birzgalis, p. 94)


I took out the girl’s mother upon slippery ice.

So long I slid her around until she promised me her daughter.

When she promised me her daughter, then I took her into the sleigh



Šuj, māmiņ, man krekliņ’ sīkajām siksniņām;

Trīs gadiņ’ tautu dēls zobiem plēsa raudādams. (7379)

Sew, mother, a shirt for me with fine lacings;

Three years the suitor (tautu dēls) with teeth tore it weeping.



Sniedziņš sniga, putināja laukā mans kumeliņš;

To man dara meitu māte ne dod meitu, ne atsaka.

Snow is falling, blowing; my horse is outside.

That is the fault of the girl’s mother. She neither gives, nor denies (her) daughter.



Sakās panāksti Diet nemākoti:

Tā dej, tā lec Kā putra katlā.

The bride-kin say they can not dance:/

So they dance, so they hop as gruel in the pot. (Melngailis, p. 13)



Šo naksniņu izredzēju tautu dēla dzīvošanu:

Namā klētis, klētī stallis, istabā cūku sile. (26010)

This night I saw the bridegroom’s living style:

In the kitchen the granary, in the granary the stable, in the (living) room the pigsty.



Šķitu vēršus maurojam aiz kalniņa lejiņā;

Viņu sētu jauni puiši raudādami rudzus pļāva.

Is that the bellowing of oxen behind the hill in the valley?

Yonder young boys were mowing rye weeping.



Mock threat, (aplīgošana):

Sieru, sieru, Jāņa māte tev ir govis laidarā;

Ja nedosi sieru, pienu dzīšu govis kāpostos.


Cheese, cheese, Yaņi-Mother (Mistress of Midsummer); You have cows in the byre.

If you won’t give cheese, milk, I’ll drive the cows into the cabbage.



Erotic tease/ symbolism ("I" is female)

Jānīts manu vainadziņu koku galā vicināja;

Es Jānīša kumeliņu ērkšķu krūmu dancināju.


Yanis my wreath waved on top of a pole/tree;

I Yani’s steed danced on a thorn bush.



Tit for Tat

Vēzis ņēma līgaviņu Asarim saderētu.

Es vēzim atspītēšu Es tam upi izlaidīšu

Ja tu upi izlaidīsi Es tev svārkus sagriezīšu.

Ja tu svārkus sagriezīsi/ Es tev šķēres salauzīšu.

Ja tu šķēres salauzīs Es kungam apsūdzēšu.

Ja kungam apsūdzēsi Cienmātei pārsūdzēšu.


Crawfish took a bride betrothed to the perch.

I’ll get even with crawfish, I’ll drain (his) river.

If you drain the river, I’ll cut up (your) coat.

If you cut up the coat, I will break your scissors,

If you break the scissors, I’ll accuse (you) before the lord,

If you accuse before the lord, I’ll counter-charge before the lady.

Boasting hyperboles

Es dižana tautu meita, Dziedādama vien staigāju;

Piedziedāju Kurzemīti, Nu dziedāšu Vidzemē.

Es bij’ meita, man bij vara, Brakšķēj zeme staigājot;

Nedrīkst puiši klāt man nākt, Ne maukt manu gredzentiņu. (13177)

Es bij’ meita, man bij vara, Es varēju lielīties:

Es nopirku kroņa muižu Ar visiem zaldātiem.


Es bij’ puika, man bij vara, Es varēju lielīties:

Rīgu nesu saujiņā, Jelgaviņu padusē,

Un tās citas kroņa muižas Aiz cepures aizsprauduši. (13186, var.)

A mighty girl am I, singing I went about;

I sang Kurzeme all full; now I’ll sing in Vidzeme. (57,1)

I am a girl, I have power (vara), the earth shook as I walked;

The boys dared not approach me, nor take my ring (by force).

I’m a girl, I have force (vara), I can boast

I could buy a whole crown's manor with all the soldiers inside. (13179)

compared to a "heroic male flyting":

I am a boy, I have force, I could boast

I carried Riga in my palm, Jelgava in my armpit.

Kas to teica, tas meloja, Ka Dundagā lieli puiši:

Citam mute kā vilkam, Citam kājas kā lāčam. (57315)

He who said it, lied that Dundaga has mighty lads:

One has the mouth of a wolf, another the feet of a bear.



Kuŗas elles tu iznāci,Tik dižems tēva dēls?

Vēders šķūņa lielumiņu,Mute vārtu platumiņu. (57368)

From what Hell did you come, such a splendid father’s son?

Stomach the size of a barn; mouth the width of a gate.



Tev, meitiņa, (puisīti) tādas acis, Kā tai peļu vanadzei (tam peļu vanagam):

Kuŗu puisi (meitu) ieraudzīji, to par savu daudzināji. (57823)

You, girl (boy) have such eyes, as the windhower hawk:

Whatever boy (girl) you saw, you proclaimed as yours.

Sen dzirdēju, nu redzeēju To diženu tēva dēlu:

Suņi bikses noplēsuši, Ciema sētas lēkājot;

Cūkas matus izsukājšas, Gulot krogus paslieksnē. (20644)

Long I’d heard, now I saw this splendid father’s son:

The dogs have torn up his trousers, scrambling over village fences;

The pigs have combed his hair, sleeping behind the tavern door.

Trūkst jums dziesmu, panāksnieces, Es jums varu tapināt;

Citu gadu atdodiet, Dodiet peicas piedevām. (59802)

Another year return them, add five You are lacking in songs, bride chasers, I can lend you (some).

as interest.




Urā velns, urā velns, Kādas šitās tautu meitas!

Par pagalmu pārskriedamas, Ar zobiem guni šķēla.


Hurrah, devil, hurrah, devil, what kind of girls are these!

Running across the yard, they spark fire with their teeth.



Tu puisīt, putras kuņģi, Nenāc meitu pulciņā!

Tev kuņģītis skalojās Kā putriņas vērpelīte. (59848)

You, boy, gruel stomach, don’t come to the girl’s group!

Your stomach swills around as a gruel vortex.



Ērgļu muiža iznīkusi, Visi puiši izsprāguši:

Trīs nomira, trīs nosprāga, Trīs kā mēri vazājās.

Ar tiem trim mežā brauca, Ko tos sešus svilināt. (60075)

The Ergli manor has declined. The lads have fallen like cattle:

Three dropped dead, three croaked, three dragged about like the plague.

With those three (they) drove to the forest to burn the other six.



Sveši ļauži gribējās, Lai sader, lai sader.

Nederēšu, nederēšu, Jūs to dumpi uzcēlāt;

Jūs to dumpi uzcēlāt, Jūs brālīis sievu grib. (59591)

The stranger people wanted to make peace.

I won’t make peace, I won’t make peace; you started the fight;

You started the fight, your brother wants a wife.


Should apdziedāšanās be viewed as genre? Its instances could be viewed in terms of "distinctive features which are operative on cognitive, pragmatic, and expressive levels...indicative of the cultural concepts of folklore forms…(which) underscore their symbolic meaning…" (Ben-Amos, 1975: 32) The concept of genre stresses stability and continuity. Hopkins, writing on Norwegian traditional music speaks of mental templates as aural concepts in the restructuring process of perception: "this abstraction of cognitive elements is influenced by concepts of appropriateness that are themselves determined by previous knowledge...Any time we hear a piece of unfamiliar music we perceive it automatically through comparisons with familiar music." (Hopkins, 208) An ordered set of constraints is involved in transforming possible behavior into a particular performance.

In phenomena stressing repetition, such mantra or ritual phatic information is prioritized over informative language (Jakobson 1987:69) "to induce trance, or...altered states of consciousness, or heightened awareness."(Ibid: 37) Different components of ritual induce dissociation from the ordinary. Nevertheless, it appears that some imagery recurs historically. Thus, cult drama seeks to bring about the god’s presence from the eternal Otherworld through ritual representations of him (Jacobsen 1976:15) and apdziedāšanās involves ritual magic that on one level does that.

Creativity occurs at the fluid boundary of order and disorder. Recurrent, ritual behavior is a stable ground, analogous to the drone, which allows a play of creative choice from a large, fluid, and expandable repertoire to be used in the actual construction of the event. The schema, scripts, and formulae ensure a sharing of experience, but they are flexible allowing for creative innovation. There is also a sense of continuity from the recurrent use of the same sacred space that the forbears of the participants used. The outcomes are both predictable and open-ended with a number of expected closures.

The most active proponents of archaic Latvian traditions today are members of the Folklore Movement that is equivalent to the Second Awakening and the successor of the Choir Period, the choirs continuing to coexist with young people’s folklore and other dance groups. In some ways similar to the Society for Creative Anachronism widespread in the United States, these groups not only re-enact performance for special occasions, but also incorporate the old customs into their daily lifestyle. The native religion movement, started by the dievturi, is another force for incorporating ancestral traditions into modern life. A Baltica Folklore Festival first took place in 1987, and in 1989 the different folklore ensembles and groups of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania formed a folklore organization in common with the primary purpose of organizing folklore festivals drawing participants from the region and increasingly from countries and regions elsewhere in Europe and beyond.


B. Ritual Insulting Performance


Stand together, stranger people (sveši ļaudis), at both halves of the room.

So in song we can mock, all the bride chasers. (apdziedāšanās opening)

Ko vārdos nedrīkstēja, to dziesmās izdziedāja.

What couldn’t be said was sung. (I.Grauzdiņa, A. Poruks, 1990)

This study is historical, excavating social, psychological, and political aspects dominant in the daina world, an artificially constructed world that is pre-industrial, but used and interpreted for over a century by societies increasingly literate, industrialized, and subject to new political and economic contexts. While the study recognizes there is no meaning apart from the meaning given to it by the participants of the performances and the users of the tradition, it also claims that the huge song text corpus allows for some coarse-grain observations about some large-scale, broad-spectrum, long-term, stable structural patterns, functions, and mentalities or meanings that are of interest to fundamental processes of interaction, negotiation, and dialogue. On the one hand it falls into the area of Latvian studies or what is called in Latvia letonika. But more broadly it is interested in historical ritual attempts to transform aggression into co-operation.

The question was asked, should a historical approach to apdziedāšanās be studied as artistic performances of joking, comedy, invective, game, play, carnival, or ritual drama? How much is ludic and how much is agonistic contest, as while on the one hand it is fun and an emotional experience, there are also usually serious issues and functions. In all of them there is liminal space set aside to different degree in which, as Victor Turner (1974) observed, structure and anti-structure are dialectically interplayed, and accepted codes and models of the mundane world are questioned and renegotiated or alternatives generated, an emotionally intense artistic performance that has the effect of at the very least, renewing one’s energies in the same way as spring following winter. The world of comedy is culture-specific. What is derided and made fun of depends on the norms of societies, and one of the functions of apdziedāšanās is adjustment, realignment, and renegotiation of norm. This is dynamic regulation of social order. Bule, in agreement with previous researchers notes the high level of improvisation of apdziedāšanās: “These songs were expressly created for the given situation.” (Bula, 1992: 128). Even though agonistic, during the course of interchange, there is permeability on the edges of fluid boarders as both sides are, perhaps imperceptibly, changed.

Even complexity theory from the field of biology (cf Ruthen on John Holland's group) suggests that the optimum generative state of a nonlinear dynamic self-organizing system, such as human society, is that of tension between order and chaos. There is ample evidence from the world of the daina as well as contemporary Latvians that peoples are always involved in a balance or tension of change and stability. I remember a favorite Latvian summer camp intensive teacher, Mirdza Paudrups, in 1986 paraphrasing a Flemish poet in a graduation ceremony concluding the study of archaic Latvian traditions, “If you can't fly, then run. If you can't run, then walk, but don't stay in one place ever, ever, but always move! If you can't laugh, smile...” (p. 4) This accords with adaptive evolution that finds neither stagnation nor demolition to be optimum for survival. But without historical understanding of magical thinking significant aspects of the daina world are incomprehensible. Additionally sociological pre-industrial concepts of reciprocity and exchange, tit for tat and what goes around comes around (dots devējam atdodas or dots pret dotu), play out as expressed in Marcel Mauss’s classic The Gift, where relationship and implied obligations are tied to material exchange, is informative in terms of ritual contest.

Much of the phenomenon considered in this study could be called ritual performance or community performance in contrast to normative ritual and to open-ended festival. What I am calling ritual performance has two aspects, the normative and the negotiative or even the subversive, in different measures according to circumstances. Victor Turner considers performance to be underlain by the subjunctive mood of play, just as Rappaport emphasizes regularity. The different ritual performances in the Latvian tradition all have some interplay of structure and anti-structure, of the normative and its parody or challenge. Play, humor, irony, and clowning are means of reinvigorating and transforming structure and negotiating categories.


The more historical the orientation, the more one concentrates on roots, the more apdziedāšanās may be seen as ritual tied to long-term, stable calendric, personal life-cycle, or recurrent pre-industrial agricultural work cycles. In contrast modern performances, often staged, fall within a greater range of complexity as to how different participants understand what is happening, even within the same performance, and how much nonverbal cues frame the performance as different from what is expected by the participants as there are more possibilities of framing. One can still find the function of social control as important in deep country performances described by Benedikta Mežale in Latgale. The pseudo-contest, clowning, licentiousness, and play are anti-structural means of affirming as well as negotiating structure and order in society and the cosmos. However, increasingly, the performances are more in the realm of recreational play and theater, allowing a much greater reflexivity of cultural exploration of meaning, and thus moving into the category of festival rather than ritual performance.

Nevertheless, there are stable or ritual performance aspects even in the modern festival performances because they still tend to be tied to the regularities of the calendar or to the individual rites of the lifecycle. There is still strong resistance to appropriating them without linkage to earlier contexts. In the past, the church, especially after the 16th century with the Reformation, made strong efforts to suppress native religious ritual and to co-opt its normative function into church service. During the Catholic period from the 13th – 16th centuries paganism from the viewpoint of church reporters remained strong, but after the Reformation and Protestant efforts, it is reasonable to assume that ritual festivals became increasingly more festival and less ritual performance as vernacular culture was increasingly assimilated to Christianity. Nevertheless, apdziedāšanās was still recorded in recent years serving the function of normative ritual, framed as compatible with the Catholic religion, and compared with Confession. It is not unreasonable to consider apdziedāšanās as ritual even today, assimilated to Catholic popular values, in addition to being festival. Likewise, the phenomenon can be viewed as pseudo-contest where social tensions and conflicts are aired, resolved, and realigned. As Stoeltje summarizes: "They can confirm the social order, introduce change, foster revolution, or express alternative viewpoints or resistance to oppression, depending on what forces are in control of social reality and in charge of performance." (Stoeltje, 1992: 265) Finally the stubborn resistance to retain certain archaic elements in spite of pressure and sanctions against it by dominant Church and Western cultural values attests to the tenacity of a type of ritual performance almost certainly linked to similar ritual performances in archaic societies throughout the world.

Of the types of performance, which can be studied through texts as being contexts for each other, ritual is particularly promising because of its stated historical connection to the recurrent, stable, long-term, cosmological, archetypal, stereotypical, or perceived "eternal". Thus, Rappaport considers it may be seen as a fixed order behavior mode of communication that makes other types of communication possible. Ritual is in part connected with "the enduring aspects of the social and cosmological order," with "changeless messages" and "invariant order." (Rappaport 250) It is "a form or structure" with "a number of features or characteristics in a more or less fixed relationship to one another" and "stereotypical display." (Rappaport, 249) Ethologists speak of repeated, stereotypical, and fixed order animal behavior as ritual and ritual has been compared to compulsive behavior in humans. However, ritual, as all forms of performance, has the variable, changing, interpretive, reflexive, and self-referential interpretation of the ongoing and enduring order. It is polyvocal in the full sense of the term, including meaning, purpose, and individual experience. But apdziedāšanās does indeed follow a certain sequential order that crosses contexts, and encoded indexical messages can be inferred intrinsic to all of its traditional performances. Certainly there is enough of a structure and formulaic order, that deviation from it would be either parody, or a departure from the canonical messages, understandings, conventions, norms, and rules that structure that society. Rappaport states that ritual invests its represented conventions with obligations, morality, and sometimes sanctity: "…ritual embodies social contract. As such, it is the fundamental social act upon which human society is founded." (Rappaport, 254)

One does not have to be a socio-biologist to appreciate the significance of someone of the stature of Richard Schechner in perfomance studies to refer to ethologists, such as V. and F. Reynolds, who describe what is called "carnival" among chimpanzees. If such gatherings of bands, neither familiars nor strangers, at a marked location that is not the home territory of any band, but at common food sources, accompanied by prolonged "calling and drumming" are not prototypes of gatherings where feasting and exchange takes place between different human groups, then at least it lends support to those ethnographers who considered such human carnivals to have inestimably ancient roots. While the study of particular phenomenon in a particular time and place as experienced by individual subjects is the acknowledged goal, an understanding of the carnival phenomenon in its particularity is enriched by awareness of connections in time and space to other individuals and cultures in space and time, of how common and possibly universal it may be.

Archetypically apdziedāšanās occurs where there are different social groups with different interests, but who have some reason to feel a sense of commonality. Apdziedāšanās is a formal aesthetic historical way of expressing this alignment, cooperation, or harmonization of the discrete, a unity not based on assimilative fusion, but a maintenance of the discrete entities.

Ethnopoetics or ethnoaesthetics as concerned with the aesthetic genre patterning of and artfulness in social everyday life that emerges into marked performance of a group has been practically an attitude taken by many Latvian researchers even when they are unaware of the researchers usually quoted in American literature.

By its invariant inclusion in the calendar and in regular and predictable placement in the course of human life, ritual apdziedāšanās singing has more obviously repeating and enduring elements than other celebratory nonritual occasions lack. Furthermore, the cosmic and the human orders mirror each other, the sun being at its apex in Midsummer and the wedding being the most elaborate and public human event.


There is no evidence that the Latvian tribes had a strongly developed or separate priest class, though they had sacred practitioners. In any case, there are no ultimate sacred postulates stated in narrative terms equivalent to the Commandments, though one may infer sacred discourse on which social life is based and the sense of communitas characteristic of liminal experience in ritual performance. However, since Barons, researchers have concurred on the full development of one invariant, the relationship of cosmic and finite human: "Remarkable is the parallelism between a full cycle of human life and the calendar cycle of a year with its big festivities linked to the major stations of the sun - the summer and winter solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes." (Muktupāvels, section 2.2, prepublication)

Apdziedāšanās is a particularly important feature of cultural performances, the major occasions for public gathering of people from different, usually neighboring, households. They are highly formalized events, symbolically marked off as liminal from the ordinary both in time and space. They allow the participants as a larger community to display, elaborate, and negotiate the communicative and aesthetic genres. Apdziedāšanās is a form of ritual interaction that embodies and expresses artistically communicating between two groups. "Performance is formally reflexive...involves self-conscious manipulation of the formal features of the communicative system." (Bauman, 1992: 47) Certain performances are foreground to become emblematic of the culture. Thus both outsiders and the performers of classical Latvian folklore considered the wedding to be the most dramatic and distinctive gods (family ritual) and Midsummer the most emblematic calendar festival (svētki). The first is compared to the zenith of the sun as the most elaborate and festive period of one’s life, and the second is the most popular festival and the zenith of the sun’s power. Social tensions are released, confronted, and resolved between two groups, male and female or two clans. The opening formula may use the more distant term ļaudis (people, as in a market), instead of tautas (potential marriage alliance friends, in-laws): FFi, sveši ļaudis, abejs pušu istabā (Stand together, strangers, both sides divided in the room.) In the wedding ritual there are two sides, the panaksnieki (bride chasers, lit. "overtakers", ie bride's party) and vedēji (bridenappers, lit."takers," ie groom’s party)

Ultimately, these performances are such emotionally powerful discourse modes, involving all of the senses, that they can only be expressed as experience, rather than as articulated belief. Regardless of "meaning", they involve heightened awareness, an altered and liminal state. There is sufficient evidence in the daina world to indicate that in the past the drinking of intoxicants (beer, mead) was originally ceremonial and not everyday. Everything about the performance – the space, the time, the special dress, cleaning up – setting in order- and decorating with greenery, the suspension of ordinary work, precaution taken against supernatural forces that are felt to be especially strong – all suggest the event is more than recreational. References to the deities, witches, and sacred powers and physical precautions taken against the threatening supernatural, such as turning sharp tools upward indicate that the participants feel the relevant cosmos has reached an unstable state. Ultimately such heightened emotion is highly enjoyable for its own sake without explanation and one can not recreate the sounds of songs starting with the herders as they usher in the day of Midsummer evening and going through the night as everyone in turn joins in, the smells of gathered herbs and oak leaves on the participants, the sight of fires burning on all the surrounding hills where other people are also celebrating, the feel of one’s pounding heart and light head as the deepest emotions overcome transforming one into another timeless world. There are no words equivalent to experience, but the great classic researchers of festival such as Victor Turner, Richard Schechner, Erving Goffman, Clifford Geertz, and Arnold van Gennep relate experience to belief, value, and cognition, which heuristically can be treated as if they were analyzable. In any case, the experience does associate with reflexivity, the songs sung are not random, but have content that expresses beliefs and values of the group, and the collected texts can be analyzed together for consistent patterns. Stating beliefs or values counter to the everyday normative is related in a nascent way to reflexive role-playing. Although the singer may not actually be playing a character of someone else, she is giving voice to something that is different and other. Taking an exaggerated stance by doing or expressing something inappropriate is to set it up as ridiculous and as easy to knock down as a straw man. This is particularly obvious with the nerātnās dainas. The voice of an exaggerated other is assumed and shown to be lacking and inferior to accepted norms. What makes performance exciting rather than predictable is negotiation, the possibility of change recognized even by the participants.

The question if ritual is more of a reaffirmation of social order or its subversion is in the Latvian case also situational. However, researcher such as Rozenbergs have demonstrated how pre-industrial concerns of an earlier time, which were more of intra- or inter-clan nature, came to be recontextualized and used subversively against the hegemony of the day. But the examples we have to study are performed for family, neighbor, and clan purposes.

The wedding performance is framed as a rite of passage from unmarried to married, and in the case of the bride, if patrilocal, movement into a foreign family. Midsummer is framed as a solstice calendar holiday. The work party talka is framed as a gathering of neighbors for common work. In all cases the apdziedāšana is put on display, foregrounded, and marked by heightened awareness and a sense of communicative accountability. The formal key to the event is the assembling of groups opposite each other and the attunement of opposite tensions in a bounded space by means of a singing "war" ritual.

The attempt to adjust two different entities fits into a basic characteristic of comedy itself as incongruity created by collision of two incompatible situations, views, or realities. During that moment of perception of seeing both together but incongruous, there is also psychological and physical discharge of tension. Maintaining separateness is fundamental to comic association, the opposite classically of tragedy. A connection or association is made, but separateness is maintained.


Insult Themes

One would expect to find a key to normative values in what is ridiculed and held up for insult. This is only complexly or partially true. Many of the attributes mocked and ridiculed are predictable in that they have to do with allocation of resources and status/work assignments: laziness, stupidity, greediness, stinginess, boastfulness. The person contributing more is valued; the person who drains from others is not. Their opposites - industriousness, cleverness, generosity, and dignity are values. The person contributing more is valued; the person who drains from others is not.

There is not that much gender differentiation as to undesirable and desirable qualities, though women are more singled out for traits that disrupt the smooth, cooperative functioning of society - gossiping, quarrelsomeness, and stubbornness, while men are singled out for boastfulness and drunkenness. What is absent from the contest is genuine invective or direct personal attack. Conspicuously, the truly criminal or genuinely despicable is not a subject of joking, such as treachery, murder, rape, or robbery. Also with little or no representation in the daina tradition, though common in many cultures, is the praising/ shaming function of females exhorting men to courage in the hunt or in battle, threatening to take up the cause themselves should they fail. It also cannot simply be stated that in this unusual case, the women have done exactly that. Rather apdziedāšanās is consistent with the lack of an epic or heroic tradition among the Finnic and Baltic peoples. While individuals are censured for real and specific violations of norms, censure is coded in indirect and formalized language, understatement, false praise, and irony being favorite devices. Some of the exaggerations may be almost totally formulaic and not even refer specifically to any individual’s character.

The virtues of the daina world relate to practical daily life rather than abstract ideals. The daina term tikums is the result of the fusion of two homonyms, one pertaining to diligence and quickness in work, and the other to wealth and well-being. (LEV II: 405-The song formula Bitītei, māsiņai/ Abām viens tikumiņš (The bee, the sister, both have the same virtue) likens the ideal woman to a bee who with her business is a valuable resource to the household. It is consistent with the work ethic for both genders expressed in the proverb "Work has bitter roots, but sweet fruit." (Darbam rūgtas saknes bet saldi augļi.) Only at the end of the 19th century did the term tikums acquire the Western moral sense of generalized female virtue as modesty and purity. (LEV II, 405). Tikums was applied to a number of concrete desirable practices, abstracted in modern language as tikumība (an observance of values, ethical living). The adjective tikls changed earlier meaning of "useful, quick, and industrious" to specialize as "sexually modest," while tikums came to be used for the abstract concept of ethics or morals. (LEV II, 401-2) Similarly, the word kauns (shame) often appears concretely in connection with work incompetence or laziness, rather than in a more abstract ethical sense. The change in etymological meaning from practical, work-related to the more abstract moral concepts of Christianity can be followed in a number of words and concepts. The word that often is used today to translate "folklore" is dzīves ziņa (knowledge of living).


The term gods (honor) has a double meaning, one referring to a person’s bearing, and the other to the celebration of the important passages of a person’s life.

The primary etymological meaning of gods is connected with speaking as a way of honoring and celebrating something. (LEV I, 304-5) The most important lifecycle godi passages are birth, wedding/passage into the status of man or woman, and death.


Kādu godu i godāja, Tādu dziesmu i dziedāja:

Kad bij kāzu, kāzu dziesmu. Kad krustabu – krustabiņu. (36338)

Whatever we celebrate, such a song we sing:

At wedding, a wedding song; at Christening, a Christening song.


The three great godi of life are clearly spelled out in the dainas:


Three times in life I brew the beer: When I’m born, when I die, Taking home my bride. (1419.2)

In different variants, the term "drinking" (dzert) is used as an equivalent for "celebrate."

The secondary use of the term gods to mean "character" or "honor" apparently has to do with reputation and status, that is worthy of celebration, rather than a more generalized sense. In the daina world, gods, is seen as expressed in behavior, a display of worthiness. The word gods/ godi thus includes the meanings: 1) honor 2) reputation (also slava), 3) celebration (broadly), and 4) rites of passage (narrowly). One may choose to live a godi way, to live with honor, which includes participation in the celebrations of life as well as respect for ones body. Dainas specifically state that honor is not something only a high-born person has, but can be had by anyone.


Godam dzimu, godam augu, godam gribu padzīvot:

Godam mans augumiņš, vai ir liels, vai ir mazs. (5324)

Born with honor, raised with honor, I want to live in honor:

I carry myself with honor, no matter if I’m great or small.

Male display is expressed predictably in the archetypal image appearing on a fine horse in his best clothes, the horse going through display routines to show the worthiness of both horse and rider. The young woman’s symbol of honor is her wreath or crown, primarily a sign of vital young womanhood and marriageable status and secondarily, most likely with Christian influence, of her purity and virginity. Parallel to the young woman’s wreath is the young man’s hat as expression and symbol of gods. That the male also has to show some reserve in relation to the opposite sex is indicated by songs where he feels kauns (shame) when his horse goes out of control and his hat falls off in the midst of a group of young girls. The image is even more powerful when one realizes that the horse has a double meaning, also a symbol or euphemism of the male organ. (See for example Ancītis, 1994: 100-101) The symbolism of wreath and cap as young female and young male honor in the sense of reserve is consistent with the life-style where there is a strong sense of gender parallelism, but under conditions where men and women have to often work together in the same space. Attraction is not expressed openly or sentimentally, but roughly, often in terms of mock aggression. As Freibergs was wont to wryly point out in Garezers summer camp intensive lectures, from the folk songs one might get the idea that the girl’s primary emotional attachment is to her mother or to her brothers, while the boy’s attachment is to his horse!

Daina rituals are in particular associated with svētki (calendar holidays) and godi (rites of passage). Ernests Brastiņš associates the word pušķot (to ornament esp. with tassels, feathers, fringes) with ritual/custom (ieražas).

The living of life is…ornamented with ceremonious (svinīgs) ritual customs during its most important moments…Many of the practices are also magical, for with them an attempt is made to influence the welfare of human life. During the godi one puts on godi clothes, speaks the language of godi, and the godi are completed with godi ritual customs. (Brastiņš, 1975:1237)


There isn’t an abstract term equivalent to virtue, but what elicits praise is experienced as beautiful and clean (balts – white) like shining light. The outer and inner are not differentiated, so that it is felt that the good person has appealing language and form, that they create harmony and order around them, which is manifest in a well-kept house, yard, fields, and barns. Thus, the wood table and dishes are scrubbed "white" in preparation for festivities, just as the body is scrubbed "white" in the sauna. Focusing and accentuating the positive are some of the virtues. One is compelled to "trample sorrow underfoot" or "place sorrow under a rock" or "drown sorrow in the water" rather than allowing it full expression, typical of northern stoicism. One recurring image is that of struggling uphill in modern versions as in different versions often quoted and written in graduation wishes:


Dod, Dieviņi, kalnā kāpti, Ne no kalna lejiņā.

Dod, Dieviņi, otram doti, Ne no otra mīļi lūgt. (1448)

God, give it to climb the hill, not from the hill down.

Give it, God, to give to another, not to beg from others.

There are occasions in which certain qualities are more likely to come to the fore. When the mistress/ "mother" is the subject of song, she is either praised or ridiculed for generosity or stinginess, in that her role in relation to the work party or celebrants/ "children" is that of hostess. In the "war between the sexes" at Midsummer, the men are taunted with desiring young girls, but the women are also taunted for desiring young boys, acknowledging socially desirable pairing to be approximately even, with an older partner as less desirable but not uncommon an alternative in practical marriages where compensatory wealth and resources lacking among the younger is a factor. During a wedding, each side taunts the other for being of limited means. The bridenappers for instance, are said to have come in rags and so ravenous for food that anything that moves is in danger. In the ceremonies at the bride’s natal home, her kin maintain that the dowry chest is so heavy that the men or horses of the bridenappers can’t move it. Outrageous sexual behavior that isn’t taken seriously, and gluttony of mythic proportions is a favorite topic, as well as coming improperly attired. Insulting someone’s horse is another recurring topic. It appears the underlying theme is acting properly, as a person should, instead of as an uncouth savage or even animal with uncontrolled appetites. Having proper ceremonial attire, horses, and bearing is also important or the person will be mocked. One may note that there is a high degree of parallelism as to criticized behavior in men and women.

The bride-chasers have driven here in mottled clothes.

Last night I saw them skinning a mottled bitch.

The bride-chasers have gapped teeth like an old rake.

In the stomachs of the bride-chaser girls a colt is neighing.

Awaiting the wedding day they have eaten the colt.

Eat meat, eat, bride-chasers, pour soup into your boots:

On the road you can feed all the village dogs.

Rawson has noted, what is invective to strangers may be used affectionately among friends, and offensiveness is a matter of context, circumstance, and attitude. In the context of apdziedāšanās whose purpose is friendly, true invective is inappropriate. Rawson also points out that what is serious insult and invective differs from culture to culture:

Where the most taboo words in Roman Catholic countries tend to be the blasphemous ones - oaths in the name of the Father, Son, or Virgin Mary - the truly offensive terms for Protestants are those that refer to intimate parts of the body and its functions." (Rawson: 6)

A study of differences in insult topics according to region would be enlightening. Looking at the corpus in general, one notices there are some insults that include allusions to the devil in a nonthreatening, joking fashion. The naughty songs, of course, all refer to intimate parts and functions of the body, and while the terms are not a part of mundane speech, they are known, but in the past were not characteristically used as invective.

The song wars include what may be war songs - men's songs integrated into the womens' tradition, but as primary creators (rakstītājas) and performers of dainas, females are the primary aggressors in the ritual. Performance by females through the song medium in general allowed them to display their health, intelligence, and desirability. A girl of marriageable age with sharp wit and ready word (veikla valodina) is esteemed: "Be smart, sister. Speak a clear language." [Esi gudra, man māsena. Runā dzedru valodin’] (Vītoliņš 1968, nr. 1010) Unmarried girls characteristically sing collectively in the spring and individually while herding. There are also summer evening songs and various working songs during which participants sing and where having a clear, far-carrying voice and improvisatory ability is highly esteemed.

Strangers, do you lack songs (sveši ļaudis)?

I will make up five for you.

Next year return them, add another five (for interest). (937)

Since singing in the daina world is seen to be a special competence of women, the boasting has some truth to it:

The maple leaf was boasting

To carry a man across the River Daugava;

The boy was boasting to best a girl in song.

Are you crazy, maple leaf? Can you carry a man?

How can you, a mere boy, beat a girl in song? (868)

The males might reply, perhaps suggestively, something like:

Sing, girl, sing, girl, I will go help you;

You ran out, I have songs left over, I can lend you. (917)

The females could counter:


What are you singing, hub-neck? It's not coming out too well.

My song is already finished, you are only champing your lips. (877)

Many of the songs involve accusations that the other side is lacking in songs or their proper delivery technique:


Koši dzied jaunas meitas Apaļā kalniņā;

Žēli raud veci puiši, Staģenē gulēdami. (T.dz. 36422)


Vidzemnieku vecas meitas Zviedzin zviedza ravēdamas;

Kurzemnieku zeltenītes Ik rudeni ritināja. (Tdz 36466)

Dziedi, dziedi, tu meitiņa, Tu jau mani nevinnēsi;

Es deviņas izdziedāju, Tu vēl vienu tuntulē. (LD 856)

Kur tie rūca, dundurīši, Vai tie rūca dadzīšos?

Tie nebija dundurīši, tie bij sveši puisēnīši. (LD 879)

Uzvinnēju, uzvinnēju Viņpus upes dziedātājus:

Ne ar darbiem līdzi tika, Ne ar skaistu dziedāšanu. (LD 893)

Bright and clear the young girls sing on a round hill;

The old bachelors are weeping sorely sleeping by the fence.

The old maids from Vidzeme were neighing while weeding;

The fair maids of Kurzeme rolled the fall away.


Sing, sing, girl; you’re not going to beat me;

I sang out nine, you were still working on one.

Where are those gadflies rumbling? Are they rumbling in the thistles?

Those weren’t gadflies; they were foreign boys.

I won over, I won over, the singers beyond the river:

They couldn’t keep up with us in work, nor in fair singing.

After the singing has raged back and forth, sometimes all night, one side offers peace. If the other side is unwilling to settle as yet, they refuse by singing something like "I will not make peace, you brought up the feud (Jūs ienaida cēlājiņi)". Eventually, however, the closing ritual song is sung together as in the wedding closure:

Let us make peace, good people, we were singing, not feuding.

For the sake of a song, foreign people, let us not hold enmity!

I sing the song as it is; it was not created by me;

The old people created it; it was sung anew by me. (957,1)