Delimiting what is a song in the daina world

A ‘simple’ song…is - a complicated cultural package involving props, social organization, and text, supported by deeply held beliefs. (Worlds of Music: 168)

Dzīvesziņu, kas ir tik saudzīga pret visu dzīvo šai pasaulē, cik vien saudzīgi tas iespējams.

A worldview that is as considerate toward all things living in this world, as accepting as it is possible.

(Ausma Ābele, Sveiks listserve, 12/25/00 on the daina worldview)

Dziesmiņai, nabadzītei, Abi gali pazuduši

Jemsim bērus kumeliņus, Iesim, galus meklēdami. (K 958, 8292 LTdz)

The song, poor beggar woman, has lost both ends.

Let us take bay horses, ride and find those ends.

Latvia through the daina world.

(Gregory Schrempp, Jan. 19,2001, Ph.D. defense)

To the Latvian the dainas are more than a literary tradition. They are the very embodiment of his cultural heritage, left by forefathers whom history had denied other, more tangible forms of expression. (Vīķis-Freibergs, folklorist, 1975, now President of Latvia)

The concept of "daina world" may be variously related to a psychological space refered to in dainas as pasaule (world). Freibergs writes, "Mummers are neighbors who have gathered together from around the wider surroundings – who in poetic exaggeration have become (representative of) the whole world (pasaule)." (Trejādas saules: 84). Similarly the archived daina world, which contains a huge semantic domain is more than text and its commentary is analogous to the Bible in Biblical scholarship. The artificially constructed archived daina world, which continues to expand as new material enters it, is potentially accessible to all Latvians, though in the words of poet O. Vācietis, “Singing one and the same words we each sing a different song.” (p. 60) Different people recall different “other ends” or formulaic phrases as they create a verse that is understandable to others. Just as a ritual with emphasis on recurrence is actually very creative, since each performance is different but anchored to others, so the choice of songs from an archived collection can also be creative because their use will vary with context and yet have a sense of timeless archetype.

Folksongs have experienced the same historical periods as have the Latvian people and it is reflected in the language of the songs...the oldest layers are concerned with some very old work concerns...herder, bee-keeper, hunter, fisherman, ploughman...forest clearer, thresher, miller, weaver, spinner..." (Skujiņa & P1utele: 12)

History cannot be directly and simply accessed through the dainas, though it is mined for its archeological content. Historical periods are collapsed, but even so, the daina world does yield information on some specifics, through such methods as archeolinguistics, and also many broad epochal patterns can be identified from references that match with historical information of a period. The earliest texts from the 16th and 17th centuries show the persistence of essentially the same structure, style, and themes into our time.

The overall interest of this study is in the phenomenon of singing, the performance and the functional context of singing, rather than idealized categories as such. Without subscribing to essentialism, this study is contextualizing what Latvians mean and what they associate with the word daina beyond a simple structural description of what is basically a vocal (more than instrumental) genre with a highly rule-governed, epigrammatic, poetic, and melodic text based on eight-syllable trochaic, dactylic, or mixed structure. A purely symbolic analysis decoding texts, using the paradigm of structural linguistics and semiology, to relate symbols to social discourse is obviously incomplete. The stability and transparency of the relation of symbol and social meaning is problematic. Direct apprehension of the real is not possible; it is mediated. However, constructive and structural approaches, including the use of grids and templates, are useful as hermeneutic devices. There is no illusion on my part that the real can be apprehended directly, only elicited by various different, sometimes competing and mutually exclusive, self-contradictory means. Patterns across modalities are flexible and variable.

The many structural, symbolic, and cognitive analyses of dainas, including the whole corpus of commentaries on the daina world, are a heuristic entry into it, which for most Latvians has a meaningful existence in this era of instantaneous global communications. Since all research tools inherently reflect some kind of cultural or individual bias, older approaches, such as the structural, should not be dismissed out of hand if they have revealed insightful information. In the Latvian case, since there is a strong ongoing cybernetic interchange of scholars and subjects of their common Latvian heritage, it is often impossible to disentangle aspects of emic and etic. While aspects of the daina and apdziedāšanās can be compared to analogous materials in other cultures, there is also a totality that is its own.

The Latvian people have a huge corpus of some two million dainas, much of it published, considered perhaps its greatest national treasure, and even called the "second Latvian Bible." Since it was recorded by hand when modern recording methods were unavailable, something of an ethnopoetic approach is overdetermined. The dainas are, in fact, creatively used, endlessly translated and incorporated or transformed within modern artistic genres – literature, drama, musical compositions, and citations in scholarly work. Depending on the performance medium, they are "rescored" in the sense that musically they may be appear considerably changed. All three of the major Bearslayer creations accepted as national (the Pumpurs literary epic, the Rainis drama, and Zālīte-Liepiņš rockopera) incorporate folk singing of differing levels of translation, from a recreation of the recitative chant through meters uncommon in the Latvian language, like pentameter.

The texts stored in archives and published in fundamental publications as well as countless selections, are constantly activated and recontextualized in the different Latvian societies. In effect, a text is a mnemonic device that is animated and brought into life through performance. The history of some texts can be followed through different publications for several hundred years. Dainas so fundamentally permeate Latvian culture and identity that they are as if dissolved and subsumed in the air that is breathed. The different formulae and associations are derived from different times, places, and singers. However, there are both emic and etic reasons to associate them into one corpus. Observationally, if not always consciously, relationships, redundancies, commonalties, and coalescent units emerge from variables. There is enough internal consistency of some larger patterns that one may say they refer to certain conditions of pre-industrial life that were most characteristic of certain historical time periods. But, they also include concepts that transcend these eras linking what is “Latvian” in some broader, more general sense. They record shared life-experiences that are not merely individual, but collective in the long term. The musical perception is clearly regional in nature and one of the most important functions of singing is to create group identity. However, much of the music was tied to recurring rites of both the calendar and the course of life, which cross borders, so themes can also be seen as crossing regions in broad patterns, especially those relating to mythological and magical worldviews.

While members of a community differ in their ability to process and utilize shared knowledge, even a small child knows basic elements and operational rules to use them. This is most obvious when dealing with the concrete technology and design of material culture, which one learns from childhood as a result of participating in experiences of work and play. While no two members of a culture share the same knowledge, each creating their own world of knowledge by associating personal experiences, enough of the most basic elements and rules are shared and known by everyone that it is possible for someone to step outside the culture and identify it as having its own character. Some signs and behaviors become consciously emblematic of group identity, such as the favorite songs of a song ensemble. One may successfully operate within a culture by manipulating a small number of elements and rules.

The supernatural sphere is a paradigmatic concept Viņsaule (Other-sun or Otherworld). Viņsaule provides a sense of the eternal and universal, both an imaginary source and the target of projection from the mundane Real-world of direct concrete human experience. From this mutually projected feedback relationship of Other and Self emerge a number of themes, such as contesting halves, alternating twin presence, and oscillating motion often described as “swinging” or “shuttling”. The neighboring Estonians also have archaic ritual or cult “swing-songs,” apparently women’s magic songs. Southern Estonia and northern Latvia seem to have significant correspondences in structure and melody pattern in spite of having languages in entirely different families. However, a primary difference of Finnish and Baltic poetic structure is that the first is based on the one-liner, while the second on the two-liner or coupled distich.

The common emic perception that the dainas form a unified corpus in spite of being recorded in different times, places, and by different singers and collectors is possible because “the song” is not well-defined or specified beyond a vague sense of “our song” with the membership of “us” as fluid. The song is seen as having life beyond any single instance of its performance or that of the individual who performs it. By claiming it as one’s own, one participates in tradition and partakes of a kind of immortality through sharing of centuries old traditions. Thus V. Baumanis rock and ballad group Dienu Virpulī sang in 1960: "Leaders speak, and leaders fall. Song is not crushed. The sun rises and the sun sets. Song goes on…" A daina states that while the individual dies, his words remain because others carry them:


Bērza sieksta sapuvusi, Tāsis vien palikušas;

Nomirt bija, sapūt bija, Vārdiņam še palikt. (LD 27675)

Birch bark container has rotted, only bark shred left.

It is so: to die, to rot, for the word alone to remain.


It must be acknowledged that in popular Latvian understanding there is an understanding of "the" song as recognizing diverse local performance instantiations as sufficiently related to be classified together in one category. It is a part of analogical, associative thinking that recognizes patterns in something new by analogy from past stored experiences. Thus, on one listserve a user complained that an already covered topic was being brought up as new:

Are we going to sing the same old song , this time in a different melody, that we already sang around the 10th of Nov.?" [Vai tad mēs sāksim atkal dziedāt to pašu veco dziesmu, šoreiz tikai citā meldijā, kuru jau pagājušo rudeni ap desmito novembrī nodziedājām?] (Pistole, Sveiks, Feb. 22, 2000)

Recognizing something on the basis of a past experience, when not only is it not identical, but also may only appear to be similar by analogy is to stimulate neural network pathways, which consist of neuron connections or associations that form memory traces. The brain, as a collection of distributed neural networks with neurons linked by synaptic connections can be seen as somewhat analogous to the semantic field of the daina world architecture with words or groups of words acting as nodes with preferred and possible connections to others.

The basic text unit of the daina is a semantically self-sufficient quatrain, the predominant form in Baron’s classic publication. Others before him had published quatrains rather than strings. The couplet or distich is the fundament of parallel verse construction, central also among other neighboring peoples and even to the Finnic Cheremiss who were neighbors of the eastern Balts when they were further to the east and south before migrating to the Baltic. The neighboring peoples may also share certain formulaic phrases, such the the opening formula in burial songs, "Why did you die?" (Rinholm: 130). The shortness of the daina quatrain is appropriate for dialogic alternating singing, often repeating a distich to complete the quatrain. The form familiar to most Latvians today is a more or less loose narrative association of quatrains, known as tautas dziesma (lit."folk song"), the term many feel should be used instead of "daina."

The two-part analogy basic daina microcosm structure mirrors the cosmic structure of this sun īsaule) and that sun (viņsaule). The primary syntactic function of dainas seems to be to establish homologies and analogies between the social order and the external world, thus causing culture and nature to mirror each other. It is a fundamental principle in the organization of knowledge, indigenous categorization, or modeling as speaking to ultimate values, aspects of cosmology, the ground of perception, organization, and image formation that gives the self a sense as to what is beyond it. Since Feld found this dual organization in the Kaluli case (p. 41), it may be basically cognitive, rather than culture-specific. The two structural "halves" of the daina unit together form a generative mechanism, source and target being the wellspring of metaphor. Metaphor, like humor, involves associating two things, except in the case of metaphor there is emphasis on analogy rather than upon some striking aspect of incongruity as in humor. A verse metaphor-unit is either chained in nonresponsorial singing or shuttled back and forth in responsorial apdziedāšanās. Both forms of singing are seen as similar to the construction of a honeycomb by a bee.

The action of singing is seen as a form of creation in the sense of making a mark or inscribing, which in pre-literacy days literally referred to cutting ownership signs in bee-trees or making patterns in textiles and other media (raksts, rakstraudzis – sampler), An example of images from the dainas is illustrative: the woodpecker beating an aural pattern while incising a visual one (rakstā sist), is described with the same term that is applied to using a flail swung or beat in rhythm (rakstā sist). Raksts is a very broad term for pattern, sign, composition, or rhythm with both aural and visual aspects. Abstracted, it becomes a lifetime framework pattern decreed by Laima visualized as in the case of finding one’s "life friend."


Dziedādama vien staigāju, Kā irbīte rakstīdama;

Dziedādama ietecēju tautu dēla sētiņā. (6)

Singing I went about as the wagtail inscribing (leaving tracks). Singing I quickly came into the yard of my future husband.


The origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul. (John Banville, Endgame)

The concentrated or compressed form of artistic information has led some Latvians to try to decipher arcane or expert codes. A claim was put forth somewhat seriously as to "pre-writing" code in the elaborately patterned women’s belt from Lielvārde, as well as the mezglu raksti, which some claim were actual knotted mnemonic codes of yarn-balls, acting as more than the simple ownership signs on bee-trees, boundary posts, and musical instruments:


Man dziesmiņu pieci pūri Ābelīšu dārziņā.

Ik dziesmiņu izdziedāju, Satin dziesmu kamolā. (LD 47)

I have songs five chests full in the orchard.

As I finished singing each song, I wrapped it into a song ball.

Relating cultural systems is natural in the study of Latvian traditions. Before the formal field of semiotics was developed and the Prague School of linguistic theory with the pioneering work of Roman Jakobson, Jan Mukarovsky, and Petr Bogatyrev in the late 20s and early 30s became fully known in the West, Latvian researchers already seem to have something of an intuitive sense of polyfunctionality of cultural practices, of the social function of art, and the mutual interdependence of systems of significaiton. Indigenous terms for semiotic signs, such as raksts, zīme, and even rota highlight the isomorphism of human experience in different modalities of art, music, language, myth, ritual, and so on. The term zīme appears to be equivalent to the Peircian index and the verb zīmēt means to draw a sign or picture. . Rota is either something ornamented, like jewelry, or a spring song sung in eastern Latvia. Raksts also refers to weaving, writing, song composition, and the creation of a magic talisman – the war flag. To ierakstīt is to incise, to engrave, or give physical existence to something. O. Lisevska writes, “I am written (ierakstīta) into the white birch book. I am played into the mighty organ of the pines. Now I can wander the earth safe. What is engraved (ierakstīta) can not be erased." The sense of raksts is something incised on or in a field resulting in a unit foregrounded from a sequence or field of rhythmic structures, a section as if "cut" from a larger composition. The term may refer to an entire composition as limited by the media, or any section, or any element one chooses to isolate. In a sequence of geometric units, such as a border or belt, there is a clear sense of geometric discreteness. A unit may meet up with another, merge in an Escheresque fashion form following form, or even geometrically penetrate it, but there is never a sense of combining. To be sure this is a function of geometric textile-work, weaving or metal inlay embroidery peculiar to the Baltic. Mathematician Valdis Klētnieks started work on the geometrical raksts of textiles, though he died before completing his work. (cf Karlsone in continuing technical analysis of belt pattern types) But the concept is relevant to apdziedāšanās in that it indicates how deeply and structurally the experience of plaiting and weaving is analogized to the process of creating songs, or of creativity in general, and how seeing in terms of discrete almost mathematical units also is consistent with the experience of concrete textile pattern creation. This is in contrast to the more vague and abstract, though acknowledged understanding of fusing, or loosing identity. While the timeless beginning and end state is often seen in terms of the ultimate reality of fluidity in the waters or the sea, even in mythological tales movement from order to chaos is seen in terms of discrete units “drowning” or the alternate imagery of melting snow or smoke rising to the sky. Ultimately there is indexicality of man-made creations to raksti in nature, such as a bird leaving a trace in the sky, birds, of course, also being messengers: Dziedādama vien staigāju, Kā irbīte rakstīdama. (Singing I went about as a partridge leaving my mark. (tracks). (LD 6).

A composer of either songs or textiles is a rakstītāja and she may be inspired by raksti, rhythmic regularities or patterns, observed in the forest, such as pine needles. The ultimate rakstītāja is Laima, goddess of creation, fate, fortune, art, textile crafts, music, and women. All the Baltic goddesses weave, spin, and do textile work, but along with Laima, the Sun is singled out.

In nonresponsorial singing the daina distich has been seen as both a self-contained unit that can be flexibly strung, chained, or fit together with other distichs in a honeycomb fashion, It is a node in a net of self-organizing relationships, and a temporary or unstable collection of smaller formulaic units historically surprisingly resistant to change, even as the smallest component is syntagmatic and analogic. Because of its shortness a daina song is ideally suited for antiphonal singing, a call requiring an immediate dialogic response. Responsorial performance maximizes improvisation, and apdziedāšanās songs are at the strongest end of the continuum as to instability in melody and verbal text, even as the performance itself is keyed as maximally archaic and the values expressed of at least the initial selection continue to be related more to a pre-industrial agricultural way of life than to today’s realities. That is because performers both learn their material from living tradition and archived sources. Unlike most Latvian ritual and work songs, the apdziedāšanās songs do not have refrains, as they would interrupt the desired uninterrupted back and forth flow of singing.

A conservative language, strict metrical rules, rituals tied into stable recurrences such as seasonal holidays, and a value and respect for ancestral heritage are among stabilizing aspects of the dainas. Thus, syllabic irregularity is confined by strict rules to end syllables. Having the archived dainas as a common source and standard for various aspects of culture, language, and imagery is another stabilizer. Polyfunctionality or the use of the same tunes or songs for different ritual events also allows for comparison of closely related material, as does the use of a limited number of tunes adapted to different circumstances, or varied in performance context. Different aspects have differential rate of change within any region and regions differ in development rates also.

Invariantly characteristic of dainas of different performances is a matter-of-fact, unsentimental even dispassionate tone. They are compressed, economic, lucid, pithy, profound epigrammatic nuggets, the distichs often quoted as proverbs, while two distichs are coupled as a daina-song unit. Their attitude is akin to proverb in being simultaneously clear and profound, laconic but gentle, more playful or ironic than bitterly sarcastic or sardonic, appearing to be uncomplicated and yet saying what can’t be said otherwise. A daina is a drop of water that is a microcosm of the ocean. Just as serious things are expressed through humor, judgment may also be made indirectly through dainas. Dainas are not best described as meditative, contemplative, didactic, or speculative. Rather a stoic tranquility and sense of balance emerges from the concrete and deceptively simple or straightforward. “It is precisely from this concreteness that the potential for tremendous generalization arises.” (Kokare, 1998: 15). Each concrete concept has rich associations elsewhere in the daina web apart from the metaphorical. (Kokare, 1998: 16). Freibergs relates the dual structure to a psychology quite different from a modern angst-ridden, cut-off state: “The archaic serenity expressed in the folk poems comes from centering one’s attention on the natural world and allowing oneself to be gently carried along in its ever-recurring rhythms.” (Vīķe-Freibergs, 1977:540) They are concerned with a direct grasp of reality with concrete imagery, rather than analysis with abstract concepts. The serenity also involves a certain distance or emotional stoicism, even where grief in funeral laments or tenderness in courting songs is expressed. The strength of emotional impact comes from understatement. In its minimalist imagery some people have compared the daina to the Japanese haiku, even though the structures are very different. Kokare (1998: 24) cites an example where, remembering that the daina young man’s greatest pride is his horse, “indirect pride in a young man’s horse, condemnation of a best friend’s treachery, but above all the grief in loss of one’s hoped for ‘life friend’ are all expressed in the thirteen words of four lines:”

Better the wolf ate my hundred-coin steed,

Than my friend took away my long hoped-for bride. (Ltdz III 3066)

Yet the tightly packed emotion has to be inferred. Also the overall tone of the daina corpus refuses to be tragic in spite of a large number of orphan songs and other songs dealing with dark issues. The dominant tone, while unsentimental, is life affirming, positive, and proactive. This is another reason why dainas so often are used as inspiration.

It is particularly salient to see a daina unit as related to other daina units, to emphasize its polyvalence, and to note multiple voices engaged in dialogic. Variants of each other, clusters of tunes and texts are viewed as typologically related versions that can be organized, stored, and retrieved as families, and are analyzed structurally. The melodies cluster around fixed centers and the basic tones of a melody may only contain the most stable pitch values. Thematic and formulaic relations, while also accessed through key words can group the texts. A huge amount of overlap occurs even when there is a clear invariant, as some texts may only vary in small detail, through the substitution of a word.

Unlike the epic style, the other is most often engaged using first and second voice, but in the exchange of insults, the third voice becomes more prominent.

K. Barons introduced the word popularly used for Latvian classical folk song, daina, though in Latvian it actually appears only as a verb. In Lithuanian it is a noun with the sense of "little" or "secular song" and some linguists, such as Zolmsen and Jēgers (but opposed by Endzelīns) consider the daina to have been a dance song: IE *dei- ("swaying, whirling"), Latvian dial. daiņa (restless person), daiņāties, dīņāties (to stamp in place – same action as described in the word mīņāties), deinis (jumper, dancer), dainēt, dainot, daiņāt, daiņot (to play, to sing, to dance joyfully, to sing harshly or unpleasantly or shouting), related to diet (to dance often with jumping, to frolick). (LEV I: 196, 215) The movements referred to in this complex don’t appear to suggest the light, fast, and regular steps (teciņus) of most kinds of folk dancing done today. Stamping in place and jumping are favored movements associated with ritual dancing, such as at christening, or maybe even mumming where animals movements are also imitated.

The word that actually appears in the daina collections is dziesma ("song") and is used in the title of the academic publication that is now being published. It is related to IE *gēi- (sing, call, shout), also etymologically related to IE *ghēi- (bright, shining) in the Baltic development where *gei- (> Latvian dzie-) and Baltic *gai-, such as Latvian gaisma (light). The Lithuanian archaism gaisma ("singing") is also associated with gaisme (rejoycing). (LEV I, 252)

To sing, then, is to come into being as simultaneously visible and audible, a joyful and powerful event. The ideal Latvian song sound is described as far carrying (powerful, loud) and clear. The etymological sense associated with the verb dziedāt has associations with powerful calling, shouting sounds (Karulis I: 250), which resonates with the strong, forthright sound of women’s style of singing well known in the Balkans and other parts of Eastern Europe. A special type of far-carrying sound is described as a gavile, sometimes translated as "yodel". It is a full sound commonly done solo by herders. In the morning the sun was greeted with such gaviles, and the rooster who otherwise fulfilled this function of loudly greeting the light (dawn or the sun), is the only bird designated as a dziedātājs ("singer") (LEV I: 252). However other birds, rather than the rooster, are said to have taught people how to sing, notably the nightingale (lakstīgala). While in Latvian dziesma includes all genres of song, in Lithuanian giesmē is a sacred song associated with mythology (LEV I: 252). The word daina is probably used today in everyday speech because it is shorter than tautas dziesma. Apdziedāšana (as the more general form of relating in contrast to apdziedāšanās) is a highly personal, celebratory way of relating to the world, addressing each concrete form of nature (sun, tree, bird, flower, river…) or person through song rather than prayer, acknowledging the great diversity of colors (as in the concept dārdedze – rainbow) or sounds. The terms dudzēt, dārdēt indicating resounding sounds as something is touched (Karulis I: 203) is relatable to the term daudzināt, which is used by dievturi for celebration through singing. Semantically they are related to terms for strength, health, and increase in the daudz (many) group of words to which the mother of rivers Daugava is also etymologically related, meaning a river rich with many overflowing waters (Karulis I: 203). Thus to apdziedāt is on a deep etymological level a positive concept associated with vitality, fertility, and increasing abundance. Since anything can be sung about, apdziedāšana is marking, focusing, or foregrounding, paying special attention to it, giving it honor, and thereby investing it with special power, perhaps akin to Rudolf Otto’s idea of the numinous. Therefore, if a song is apdziedāšanās is more situational than a particular type. Indeed, the agonistic apdziedāšanās challenge songs are scattered throughout the archive collections in addition to concentrations at the appropriate celebrations. This underscores the situational use of these songs.

Barons placed the songs about singing first, following a Finnic and Baltic tradition of seeing the magical word (=song) to be the generator of the world. When the daina in the national view symbolizes "Latvian song" it is timeless in a langue sense and perceived as eternal, mythically without beginning or end, the privileged expression of the people. A specific performance was seen primarily as an instantiation of a continuous process. Levi-Strauss writing on myth as sharing sameness and differences with language expresses something similar to common Latvian folk view: "language itself can be analyzed into things which are at the same time similar and yet different. This is precisely what is expressed in Saussure's distinction between langue and parole, one being the structural side of language, the other the statistical aspect of it, langue belonging to a reversible time, parole being non-reversible. (Levi-Strauss, SA, p. 205)

The first recorded Latvian incantation (Dzelzeniek, trumelniek, Atsleedz dzelzhu vārtus, Nosakliedze vanadziņš, Dzelzu vaarte daardeedam.), recorded in 1584 as a Jesuit report on pagan practices to their superiors, has a formulaic structure and phrasing similar to dainas collected in the 19th century (cf LD 2570, 31481). Such a regular appearance of imagery within a particular daina form pattern suggests continuity of a belief system and symbolic language that was transforming and adapting to historical changes. Possibly genre may differ using the same material in the delivery of the performance.

Unlike a responsorial singing performance that is supposed to be unbroken uptake of sound from one side to the other with the necessity of clear verbal delivery, the incantation is delivered in an unbroken whispered mutter.

Some images and metaphors seem to be recirculated through time and space. They appear to have a level of stability that approaches the objectifiable and act as memes or information packets or units similar to biological information code-units, genes. These are contagious. They replicate, and mutate from mind to mind and propagate through communication networks and face-to-face contact. There are also material objects that are passed from generation to generation, sometimes reduplicated and there are objects in the landscape, such as stones and trees, which outlast a generation and attract stories. Thus, even a culture without writing can transmit a large corpus of information with surprisingly slow changes. Finally culture is, in the Geertzian view, shared symbolic experience and does not live and die within a single brain, but lives distributed in the brains of all the participants who are of mixed generations as well as other social category members. Cultural information is redundant and the basic code, message, structure, or cosmology appears in many versions and variants. Until the 19th century most Latvians lived in an oral culture, less individualistic in information than is possible in literate cultures. The highly individual is not picked, transmitted, or remembered as readily as what is widely understood and accepted. This does not mean, of course, that there actually is any underlying ideal version. However, a heuristic, working, or etic unit can be abstracted for the purpose of communicating cross-culturally or outside the culture.

The amount of actual concrete historical and geographical information preserved in the texts varies, but in comparison to long narratives, it is very weak in actual names and places. Dunsdorfs points out that some songs do, however, identify the composers of the song and who is being addressed. (Dunsdorfs: 45):


Viļķenieši, vella bērni, Pirtī dzied pērdamies;

Sveiciemieši, bāleliņi, Laukā dzied ecēdami. (59995)

Viena pate kupla liepa Skrunenieku novadā.

Tai pašai zari līka Citā kunga novadā.

Those from Viļķene village, devil children sing in the sauna washing; Those from Sveiciems village, brothers, sing in the field harrowing.

Only one, a bountiful linden in the land of Skrudenieki.

Even those her branches were leaning into another lord’s region.

The daina corpus is the fundamental standard and source of the Latvian literary language even thought its distinctive poetry idiom differs from standard contemporary speech. The language of the folk songs includes archaisms and dialects as well as some old idioms and barbarisms.

While there are many studies of versification, their relationship to the music has not yet been fully worked out. The importance of dainas to Latvian language and culture is similar to the one attributed to Russian by Bailey:

The linguistic idiom of folklore is a subcode of the Russian language and in some respects is supradialectal. The linguistic features of folklore collected over the past two centuries in widely scattered geographic regions show a remarkable uniformity…folklore is conservative and traditional so that it changes only gradually; this pertains to the genre system, melodies, poetic devices, poetic meters, thematic motifs, and language, all of which may preserve archaic characteristics, although the amount of archaic material in a work may vary according to genre, area, historical epoch, or performer…linguists have turned to the folk idiom as a source of information about the history of the Russian language. (Bailey: 40)


Relating key concepts

While reconstruction seems difficult enough in the Latvian case, there are some impressive attempts even more heroic where written text is lacking altogether. Using only visual imagery from archaeology and ethnography, a study of Eurasian nomad symbol systems has been made in The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia. A Study in the Ecology of Belief. The approach carries Geertz’s ethnographic "thick description" as a means of elucidating a system of relationships to an impressive level:

Reconstructing the complex arrangements of animal prey and predators is not simply a matter of fitting together pieces on the basis of a visually satisfying pattern or according to principles drawn by analogy from other, neighboring cultures. The reconstruction of symbolic systems undertaken here assumes that even in the absence of written texts, regularly recurring patterns of imagery over time reveal a logic and an evolving signification…meaning may still be fathomed in the persistence and change of images and in the relationships of one visual image to another within the symbolic systems to which they are bound. Meaning thus emerges as an organic process with its own impulses toward variation, transformation, ambivalent negation, and resolution." (Jakobson: 3)


The approach is not just looking at isolating elements, but discovering the relations of the elements and seeing that out of them emerge key concepts and formulizations (Jakobson: 24), an "ecology of belief" (Jakosbson: 26). Symbolic codes emerge based on metaphor, analogy, metonymy, and syntagmatic sequence. Prototypes in the sense of what first appear in the record, and are subsequently modified can be noted without claim to origin. However, while Jakobson finds astonishing convergence of a key concept across broad spaces of time and place, Latvian mythology seems to be much more a compression and intertwining of some very different concepts related to different times, places, and cultures. In any case, it is an assemblage, not an isolated unit, that carries meaning differing from culture to culture, and the danger is to project meaning from one culture to another without internal evidence. The discussion of problematic projection of Indo-European patriarchal concepts into the society of formerly more egalitarian Eurasian nomads in Jakobson is a warning to look at the Latvian materials in terms of internal evidence, instead of projection:

Particularly among South Siberian peoples closer to the Eurasian Steppe zone, pre-shamanic as well as shamanic cults reveal a complex intertwining of elements suggestive of sexual and social tension. This sexual tension unquestionably reflects slowly changing political structures dependent on an ancient shift of political power away from a female-centered clan structure, and the reintegration of that power within a male tribal elite. These cults also reveal tensions between pre-shamanic belief systems and the later shamanic cults into which they were ultimately integrated. (Jakobson: 180)

Jakobson sees evidence for sexual tension in changes of elk and bear cults with shifting from pre-shamanic to shamanic specialization. (p. 182) The puzzling association of female sexuality with bears in some Latvian bawdy dainas seems less anomalous when one considers the Siberian Ket people equating bear and woman. (Jakobson: 183-4) Latvian society after conquest was artificially kept on the household or clan level as an alternative to the hegemonous state dominantly German culture, thereby also retaining a more egalitarian cast.

The first folk song, recorded with melody as "Manne Balte Mamelyt" in Friedrich Menii, Syntagma de origine Livonorum (Dorpat, 1632) is a double entendre (nerātna daina) about mice getting at the girl’s "butter container" and the girl asking her mother for a cat to take care of the problem. It was recorded thereafter without significant changes in poetic structure, meter, or melody style in the Baron’s collection of nerātnās dainas. Menius also emphasizes the improvisatory nature of songs sung by young people to greet and satirize guests according to appearance and behavior. He also describes polyphonic vocal drone singing with a teicēja, second voices, and a choir that he likens to the drone sound of German peasants using the bagpipe.


Significance of daina world

Krišjānis Barons called the dainas “songs of the flow of life” and built his classification and typology around this concept. In her biography of Krišjānis Barons poet Saulcerīte Viese characterizes dainas as an "epos of daily life...the greatest art treasure of the Latvian people" and starts with the words of another contemporary poet Māris Čaklais:

On this earth beneath the sun we are three and a half billion. Of these only one and a half million are Latvians, which is like one and a half drops of water in the sea. What song can one and a half drops sing about the sun? and yet- on this earth beneath the sun is a land-Latvia, on this earth beneath the sun is a nation-Latvians, on this earth beneath the sun this nation has a song about the sun:..."

Māra Zālīte in the forward to the rock opera Lāčplēsis sees the folk song corpus as the potential source of epic, an insight similar to Lonrot’s when he composed the Kalevala largely from folk songs:

Each epic character has a traditional semantic field, a system of concepts, a sphere of associations. The composition has been created taking that into account. Perhaps it can be called the mosaic principle, where the audience must for itself put together from separate "pieces" the total scene, freely using connective devices, such as association and allusion. (Zālīte: 9)

Folk song collecting has been a traditional folkloric activity involving participation of all levels of society, learned as well as untutored, almost entirely on an unpaid, voluntary basis. Even the Father of Folklore Krišjānis Barons received no outright payment for his fourty-five years of daina work. It was a labor of love in common, folkloristics as a widespread folk activity. Collectors of songs came from all corners of the society, dominantly teachers and clergymen. Saulcerīte Viese recounts some of the stories about early collecting:

A peasant...learned to write merely by noting down dainas. A young mother dedicated the time she spent at her child’s cradle to this task. Four sisters, all of them skilled weavers, and blessed with lovely voices, got hold of a log book, and for twenty-five years they entered folk songs, and drew local patterns and designs on pages intended for captains’ officers and records of the ship’s routes. All these people expected no reward." (Viese: 11)

Thus the daina world is not a product of a selected elite, but on different levels, a world constructed individually by many, but self-organized to form a collective entity:

He (Barons) discerned an inner order in the chaos of a turbulent polyphony of variants, and this enabled him to perceive the dainas as a single narrative, created over centuries...He penetrated to the very core of the songs that he knew almost by heart. He absorbed their world vision that is based on oneness of nature, work and a time-honored tradition of humanism. (Viese, 12)

The whole daina universe is a collection of mental schemata, including rules of composing. One notes how variant clusters relate to each other in slight changes and how each daina relates to others in a dynamic web. Dainas are also mapped according to region, with the largest differences between the extremes of west (Kurzeme) and east (Latgale).

Each text is seen in reference to other texts, a part of a fluid and open network, where every word and phrase is related to those of others. While each daina is a self-contained unit, in singing practice it is not a fulfillment of conventions, but situationally recreated. Certain ritual songs are associated only with particular holidays or celebrations, but even with these songs there is considerable fluidity of motifs and phrases. As one would expect from poetry and art, a text is inherently polysemic, rich with multiple meanings.

Fortunately, the region and performer were recorded with each Baron’s text, which is an important part of context. This gives an ethnogenetic sense of how a text is related historically and geographically to other texts, as well as how productive it was in generating significantly different variants. It also gives mapping information about mentioned practices and concepts within those texts and can flag anomalies of suspected texts as to known practices within the region of the text’s circulation. Kokare considers there is sufficient information to reach into some aspects of the life and thought of some regions even back to the 14th century. (Kokare, 1992, p. 7)


Information is seen as something that is communal in that while it starts out as separate voices, these fuse and become frozen as texts and in this objectified way are transferred to others rather than in their original living expression. However, this does not negate the polyvocality and polysemy of the text when it is recovered and enters the living stream of active use. There is a folk tendency to objectify as in comparing the access and retrieval of songs or their formulaic parts in terms of winding up the strands into a ball and placing them into a container until they need to be taken out and unwound. The daina is a distillation or concentration of cultural knowledge, polyvocal in multiplicity and ambiguity and potential for use. Since many individuals share in the "code," it is felt that "song" does not depend upon the memory of any single individual, but the essential structures exist redundantly throughout culture.

Latvian literature passing through different periodizations can be seen in terms of dialogue with, what Guntis Berelis identifies as "the Paradise Lost" construction (Berelis, 18-25) of the first generation of Latvian identity crafters, those of the middle and late 19th century Awakening, elaborating the model offered by Baltic German iconoclast Garlieb Merkel (1769-1850). Sources for Paradise Lost include anything and everything that can be made to relate to it, but the daina world provides the closest available source of ancestor voices. With each generation, Paradise Lost becomes less romanticized, but no less powerful a common source. In the sixties it reached a Renaissance followed by its elaboration in the seventies whereby themes and imagery of dainas, such as nature and work, were reworked to create a virtual, literary world that appeared to be natural as the result of intense and detailed craft as in the work of Vizma Belševica who introduces ironic asymmetric dialogic, known as "argument of flower and axe." Similarly, Imants Ziedonis in his quest for the eternally or mythically Latvian "Poem about Milk" in 200 texts draws from "episodes from country life, processes of nature, historical reflex, anecdotes, incantations, incidental metaphor." (Ibid, 174, also 146-187) In postmodern nineties literature, where language is largely instrumental to create a story from the merging of phrases and metaphors, daina references continue to be used. The daina world, as any "monument," (Ibid, 307 – 327), either of the hero or jester/carnival type, is a source for reflexivity on different cultural codes. Roots, springs, milk, and such are an important concern of Latvian arts. The daina deals with practical, subsistence activities and imbues these material necessities with aesthetic and ethical significance. "Almost all of our modern poets may be seen as continuers and developers of the daina tradition." (Ancītis, Senču kalendārs, 1994).

Folklorist E. Kokare writes of the "active life of folklore through centuries from a deep past to the present," of a "living process" that "preserves rich information about the specifics and interactions of the surrounding environment throughout the movement of time, as well as purely subjective interpretation and expression (uztveri un atveidi) (1992, p. 5). However, she also notes that the "paradigms" of classical Latvian folklore belong to very old historical layers. Some dainas describe burial practices going back over a thousand years, and those no longer in practice but verified by archaeologists. In the appropriate slot of the same song type, one region may speak of a sword, another of a musket. Changes in religious thought can be glimpsed as the attributes of different goddesses are taken over in variant songs by the sky god Dievs, but side-by-side the old versions are retained. There are many elements in the classical dainas, and particularly the mythological ones, that suggest the kind of perseverence or stability of door lock type s with their modern descendants. Baltic area studies have always been strongly interdisciplinary and historically oriented.

Russian archeolinguist V. Toporov had a special interest in Latvian language, mythology, and folk song: "Latvian folk songs have preserved as in a reservoir of forms significant evidence from an archaic Indo-European period what only now can be seen in fragmentary artifact." (cited in Sneibe:66) Endzelīns connected the word daina to the Avestan daēnā and the Vedic dhēnā, and there is the doina of southern Europe, notably of Rumania. Various researchers in passing have suggested similarity in form, function, and even content of the Baltic daina to the ritual veda of India. Since the Baltic daina, unlike the Indian sacred songs, was not the provenance of a specialized clergy, it seems a comparative study might be relevant to the mapping of an underlying Indo-European and Eurasian musical tradition, even though such broad attempts have now been largely abandoned. Additionally, the strong drone tradition of India makes this possibility of exploring sacred sound in Eurasian tradition attractive.

The first Awakening period was concerned with questions if lyro-epic songs were fragments of a larger "epic". Bula points out that Propp always considered folk epic to consist of fragments, separate songs, which are combined by specialists, but not by "the people" who feel no pressure for that kind of consistency and unification. (Bula, 1998: 56) At the time they were conquered, Latvian tribes were not at a high level of feudal organization, and may not have had impact on the general population by professional singers attached to warlord courts. Probably there were characteristic men’s and women’s songs; some can be identified as such. However, tautas dziesmas and dainas have been dominantly, but not exclusively, women’s songs without a strong gender tabu associated as far back as the earliest historical sources. Men would join in the singing when they had had a few drinks and women would adapt songs from men, which they brought in from outside. Dainas appear structurally related to other Latvian genres, and their texts are also used as sayings, proverbs, incantations, and riddles. The two-part structure when consisting of question and answer are in fact riddles, and many riddles appear as dainas with the question in the first distich. Vīķe-Freibergs points out that some of the riddle dainas can be misread as simple metaphor when the kas (what) tip-off is omitted as in this riddle about wasps (lapsenes): Ubadziņi, bizenēja Pavasara saulītē, Kulītiņas sakāruši Ozoliņa zariņos. (2743) The beggars were buzzing in the summer sun, having hung their bags in the branches of the oak. (Vīķe-Freibergs, 1997: 161-2)

Dainas are commonly cited as primary sources in Latvian academic philosophical writing in addition to popular publications as illustrations of "Latvian ethos or worldview" (cf Kasparsons, Blese, Kundziņš particularly in Garklavs, PSPAF [Essays in Worldview Poetics in Folklore]). The assumption is that a daina singer, as any human being, must practically confront many of the same problems that the professional philosopher does in his philosophy. One dichotomy I have found unconvincing in its strongest form is the academic Social Constructionist or Essentialist one when a choice is given between the absolutely arbitrary and the absolutely rigid, the type of choice that doesn’t seem to trouble folk philosophy since it mostly practically operates in some middle range of abstraction while leaving other levels more open to self-organization.

Folklorists among Latvians are often viewed as keepers of the lore, collecting from the people in order to return it back for wider use. A well-known cartoon by Jānis Jaunsudrabiņš (circa 1920) shows "the father of dainas" Krišjāns Barons winding yarn from many little song containers into one large one. The cartoon draws from daina images of songs wound as yarn into song boxes (dziesmu vaceles). This great collector of the dainas, the person who spent most of his 88 years of life coordinating and organizing the recording of dainas is still a great folk and national hero, perhaps the only hero accepted by people of very different backgrounds who can’t agree on other political, military, artistic, athletic, or scientific heroes. The downside is that folklorists are often expected by the people to be advocates for conservative views instead of trying to record process in a more dispassionate manner. On the positive side folklorists are often valued because they have invested the time, and it is presumed that to become wise in tradition takes considerable immersion, even apprenticeship. At the very least, many Latvians would agree with the statement:

We should remember that in pre-literate societies symbolism is extremely complex and the more one knew the more one could read from such symbols.



A cluster of dainas about the impossible express plenitude as categories whose membership is potentially endless or infinite with a pre-existential twist: "Who can sing all songs? Who can speak all words? Who can count the stars? Pick out the pebbles of the sea?" These dainas set up an equivalence of singing and speaking with counting, sorting, and placing in discrete sets. In so doing it could be classified as relevant to philosophical concerns of the One/ Many or cognitive concerns with categorization. It is implied there is no end to singing and speaking and it is impossible to measure and categorize the furthest outreach of human perception.

The tension between diversity and unity is somewhat resolved in daina imagery of containment. While songs may seem to be generated potentially without end, nevertheless, they can be "rolled up into a ball" and placed in a container, which is put into an osier bush, a linden or willow tree, the orchard, or the hop garden. All of these areas are sacred to Laima, probably the most complex symbolization of the feminine divine and also the goddess of fate and fortune. She is also specifically named as the ultimate source of song and of life. The psychological storage of song in a container appears analogous to placing the body in a coffin, burying it in the forest cemetery made sacred by the souls that entered the physical bodies of trees, birds, or animals because such a sacred place of the dead is also the place of new life and regeneration. There are songs that state a girl became a great singer because her cradle was hung at the forest edge and she learned song from the nightingale and other birds. The view of authorship here is less emphasis on the individual than the collective. Placing the creation of culture back into or in proximity to the larger domain of wild nature and thus life-sourced Otherworld, is to ensure rebirth and regeneration. The sense is of taking something discrete out of the flux of living tradition and returning it back for safekeeping until it is recalled again to life. It is in something of this spirit that the dainas in the Archives are still used today. Even though they have been archived and recorded for a number of generations, the actual use of even fixed text is strongly oral.



Structurally each eight-syllable daina is most often organized into two parallel equivalences of nature and culture, of the universal and the particular, of an address and a response. Some are straightforward dialogue of one distich voice answered by another distich voice, and this group is identical to the riddle with its question and answer. Nevertheless, in a song contest, if distichs are not exchanged, they tend to be repeated, so a full four-line verse is sung. All dainas are fundamentally based on two associated couplets, the two "halves" in the corpus of songs about singing, in some form of at least metaphorical dialogue. There may be an address and a metaphorical restatement of similarity. Sometimes both are condensed in the first distich, but usually the two "halves" of the daina represent a dialogic of two great domains of experience: 1) immediate human experience within the homestead ("us") and 2) observations of nature in general, concretely the forest surrounding the homestead or hamlet or the waters and skies adjacent to it ("everything else out there"), which further abstracted also becomes an Otherworld.Thus many daina verses in internal structure address the universal culture - nature dichotomy. Often the effect is to compare something more concrete with something inferred and more abstract. That may even suggest a Kantian sense phenomena opposed to thought noumena. Actually Kant, who lived in what was East Prussia, aboriginally Baltic, apparently knew of the Baltic daina; in the preface to O.G. Mielke's Deutsch-Littauische und Littauisch-Deutsches Worterbuch (Konigsbeg, 1800) Kant urged the preservation of Lithuanian, especially as it appeared in the folk song, calling it the philosophical key to man's history.

It seems that the concrete, clear, and therefore more or less delimited is used to stand for its negation - extension, something that is not as concrete, clear, or as constrained. The infinite is created through thought processes of negating the only thing that a human actually experiences, sensations and concrete imagery.


Šī saulīte man zinama, Viņa saule nezinama. (27370) This Sun (World) I knew well enough. That Sun (OtherWorld) I did not know
.Viena zeme, viena saule, Nevienāda pasaulīte:

Citam zelts, sudrabiņš, Citam gaužas asariņas. (FS 29, 456)

One earth, one sun, uneven under-sun:

One has gold, silver, the other bitter tears.


What is experienced in wild nature (forest) surrounding the homestead is related to known human activity at the homestead. The forest is also metonymy for the sacred Otherworld of deities and the dead concretely in that originally the dead were buried in the forest before Church prohibition.


The idea of one world being analogous, though asymmetrically weaker is also expressed in a common dance model, where a movement is first danced slowly, then repeated in a faster tempo and with greater energy. (Sūna: 117)

The asymmetry of the parallel dual relationship of the cosmic to the mundane, eternal to mutable, Otherworld to Thisworld, sacred to common, divine to human, stone or wood, abstract to concrete, macrocosm to microcosm is acknowledged throughout the large and small structures of the culture and in the metaphors it applies.

In the given deep structure of Latvian folk poetics all of the Otherworld localization concepts are included in the cosmological scheme. The Otherworld may appear aiz (behind) zem (under), or iekš (inside) stone//water//fire//earth. All of these poetic parallelisms in poetic tradition are connected to the ability of isolating the human, separating or placing boundaries between this living human world from that land of the dead (drowned, burned...). Stone// water// fire// earth exhausts possibilities for Otherworld localizations vertically or horizontally. All possible places where the dead, or what is left after a person’s death might remain are included: grave, underground, underworld, Hell, on top or inside a hill, sky hill, sky, forest, sea, behind sea in the west or north, Vāczeme, behind three times nine kingdoms, etc. (Mežale, 1998: 38, also citing Pakalns, 1986).

The different Otherworlds are, accessed depending on where they are conceptually for the situational moment: sailing by boat, going under water, climbing a beanstock or tree reaching into the sky, traveling and getting lost in the forest, going to the gravesite, lifting a rock or entering through gnarled roots of a tree, riding a bird or object through the sky, arising as smoke or breath, being dismembered or crushed, being transformed through shape-shifting, and so on. It remains to assess what weight each of these metaphors situationally carries within the different Latvian traditions of time and space.



Almost everyone who has studied the daina in any capacity has invested time in consideration of metrics and music, and the study of metrics is highly specialized, but a survey of over a thousand compilations and the analysis of hundreds of texts on the level of James Bailey (Three Russian Folk Song Meters) is still to be done for the Latvian case specifically, and the Baltic case in general. Janīna Kursīte and Vaira Vīķe Freibergs, continuing the work of such linguists as Valdis Zeps who was concerned with syllabic aspects of Latvian metrics, wrote some of the most recent articles. There are several articles in LZA Vestis, such as Antons Breidaks article on the "rule of quantity of the fourth syllable of trochaic dipody" being short in trochaic songs, though there are exceptions in some Latgalian, Eastern Vidzeme, and Eastern Zemgale songs. (Breidaks: 13-16) This rule, involving a caesura after the 4th syllable in an eight syllable line apparently came into being at the time of existence of the Latvian Middle Dialect, as previously in Indo-European comparative metrics the end syllable of an eight-syllable line might be either long or short. The later origin of the short end-syllables of multiple syllabic words is related to changes in the language, probably through Finnic (Livonian) influence. An important change in the Latvian language was a change from free accent to accent on the first syllable as in Finnic languages, resulting in loss of short end wovels and a shortening of the long ones. This results in an extra (lāpamais) syllable placed at the end of a line or half line. (cf Kursīte citing Endzelīns, 1996: 142, 143) Historic daina studies are, of course, inseparable from diachronic language studies. It is recognized that daina structure needs to be contextualized in a broader geographic area, since broadly it shares metrics and rhythms with its neighbors, the Finnic and Slavic peoples. Kalevala metrics are related, and the indigenous Livian folksongs belonging to Finno-Ugric language, do not differ markedly from the rest of Latvian songs. These considerations are broadly historical and geographic. Breidaks lists the fundamental linguistic studies (p.15-16) and notes that Endzelīns (1980, vol 3: 121-2) recognized Latvian folk song verse metrics developed before the reduction of two-syllable and multiple-syllable word endings. (Breidaks: 14) According to one view, trochaic stanza in its earliest roots developed from earlier, probably quantitative, eight syllable proto-Indo-European poetry. It may have been a parallel development from the ten-eleven (occasionally 12) syllable Indo-European verse which resulted in the smaller number of Latvian dactylic lyro-epic songs, which in turn developed and evolved into heroic epic in other parts of Europe, but not the Baltic. (Rudzītis: 92) In any case, it is thought that in the past there were more dactylic songs, but they were converted to trochaics, which was the dominant model. There are songs that have been recorded in both trochaic and in dactylic versions, and Lithuanians have preserved richer metric variability with more dactylics.

There are a number of strict composition rules, which will not be covered here. Perhaps one to note is the concentration of short words at the beginning of the line or half line, and long ones at the end; in fact, a line may not be closed with a single syllable word. The shortness of the 4th and 8th syllable, and the 3rd and 7th syllable having to be long are modern transformations of archaic Indo-European versification quantitative organization. (Kursīte, 1996: 153) The dactyl, often used in magic songs, is such a modern descendant of more ancient 11-12 syllable constructions, which can easily be restored to come up with such an “epic construction.” (Kursīte noting V. Toporov, 1996: 159)

Furthermore, Kursīte considers the polymetric, mixed trochaic-dactyllic meter particularly characteristic of apdziedāšanās and nerātnās songs, as well as Christening ones, to be easily identifiable with prototypical Indo-European versification principles, and finds other metrical characteristics that identify these dainas with concerns of magic. (Ibid) Furthermore, she states that the division of a verse in two, and the division of each line into two is a microcosmic reflection of cosmological dual division, thereby associating singing with the process of cosmic creation: "The folksong functioned as one of the models of the cosmos." (Kursīte, 1996: 180) This confirms to the re-creation of the four-cornered house with the same model. (Ibid: 188-189)

The first volume of the daina collection as published by Barons, and elaborated by others, is reflexive: dainas on dainas and daina singing. A daina usually does not acknowledge diachronic change, but rather stresses aspects of continuity, the inherited collective creations of ancestors. However, they do identify regional and individual differences: "Es gribu mācīties igauniski padziedaat” (I would learn To sing Estonian) or “Pēc leitīša es dziedāju, Pēc leitīša gavilēju.” (I sang Lithuanian style; I yodeled Lithuanian style.)

A time-consuming immersion in the source-tradition of the daina world of over two million archived units will be made easier as it becomes more readily computer accessible. Researchers typically spend years to get a sense of recurring, redundant and interconnected concepts common in the past, and attempt to translate them into language understandable today, informed by, but not prescribed by scholarship on play, ritual, festival, liminality, ambiguity, wit, gender, conflict, and myth as sacred knowledge.

In the balance of perceiving flux but communicating with discrete elements, clarity rather than appreciation for ambiguity is a value. Linkages are alliances, and analogies are linkage attempts to make sense of disparity. Thus, singing together is either a test of compatibility or a ritual to unite what is known to be different. Dievturi gatherings still open and close with ceremonial songs:

Together sing one song, we who are in the room.

If the song fits together (saderēt), We'll live in harmony.

With God we came together, With God we part,

With God may it remain this song-filled room.

Latvian dainas are one of the very few extensive and well-documented cases of women's song traditions being accepted by the entire nation as their primary source of national identity. Many songs that acquired the meaning of protest and alternative culture grew out of an earlier tradition protesting harsh treatment of orphans or by in-laws. These are songs of females trying to survive against the odds. Historical sources from the 16th century on agree that women predominated in daina singing and composition. Significantly fewer songs are of characteristically male pursuits, such as war and bride seeking. When they are sung by women, they acquire a woman’s point of view. Thus, the cycle of songs with the formula "Better that my mother would have [thrown me in the river, thrown me in the fire, cradled a stone] applied to the female experience of loosing honor because of gossip or becoming a slave or servant in a strange household is linked in parallel with the same formulae to the cycle where the "other half" of the song is about the warrior leaving home: (See Mežale, 1998: 26-40 for songs about forms of death, sacrifice, and infanticide.)


Labāk māte mani mazu Būt’ upē iemetusi.

Nekā lielu audzējusi Asajam zobenam. (LlTdz 22631)

Better that my mother had thrown me small into the river

Than to have raised me for the sharp sword.

Some male-typical attitudes are modified with a female poetic "I". This may include such boasting songs where the girl speaks of striding the earth so that it shakes and other typical male gestures with the formula adapted from male boasts: "I was a girl, I had power/ I could boast."

I’m a girl, I have power (vara); the earth shakes as I walk;

The boys dare not approach me, nor take my ring (by force). (13177)

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

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

Comparing the women’s boasting to the more numerous and appropriate male boasts, it can be concluded that genre was weighed more heavily than gender when the occasion called for it. That is, when women put on aggressive song displays, they apparently borrowed from the male aggressive repertoire, such as the war song cycle. Under serf conditions there was little opportunity and greater risk for men to display or develop a song tradition asserting power and control. Perhaps a tradition developed of tolerating females to display strong aggression as a surrogate for emotions that could not otherwise be displayed openly by the suppressed underclass as a whole, or by the most obvious segment of the population able to realistically carry out physical aggression:

I’m a lad; I have force I can boast

I carry Riga in my palm, Jelgava in my armpit. (13186)


Regional grounding and multiple voices

The change from regional to national focus is one of the major changes in the 20th century. While the original geographical location of particular daina clusters can be located, current usage is increasingly panLatvian. Perhaps only the largest regional differences corresponding to the divisions of Latgale, Vidzeme, Kurzeme, and Zemgale (which also happen to approximate old tribal territories) remain with east and west more strongly differentiated than north and south. Diversity and layers of musical culture characterize Latvian traditional music; alternatively one may speak of the different traditional musics of Latvia.

The process of changing to a panLatvian perspective and the lessening of strong regional differences has been characteristic of the past century. The sometimes popularly lingering concept of a Volksgeist collective is being changed by contemporary scholarship. But people assimilate that which fits into their own basic traditions and is useful in developing them further. Sometimes it is more a matter of adopting a better and more fitting label for the same phenomenon. The daina world has, of course, never in reality been an undifferentiated collective.

From the time of the conquest of the separate Baltic tribes that became the Latvian people in the 13th century, there has been strong pressure for the diversity that existed historically and geographically to be subsumed also by the common goal of constructing an alternative culture to that of the oppressors. For such a broad commonality to be viable and widely accepted, a high unofficial tolerance for diversity had to be developed as well. Particularly this was so since there was no central means of enforcing commonality except on the local level through psychological mechanisms. Commonality among a people living in scattered settlement pattern and valuing individuality is possible insofar as it is vaguely defined or loosely interpreted with few strong core assumptions.


This is consistent with Wittgenstein's theory of family resemblances and gradience (1953) as interpreted by Eleanor Rosch (summarized and related to key opponents of "classical theory of categories" in Lakoff). Wittgenstein proposed family resemblances rather than essences as the key to category identification. Wittgenstein focused on clear, most structured cases within each category and found them sufficient for identification, even in the absence of knowledge of boundaries. This is in accord with natural language and common thought practice that ignores or doesn't particularly concern itself with locating exact boundaries, but assumes that boundaries do exist. As Eleanor Rosch points out (p. 36): "in the normal course of life, two neighbors know on whose property they are standing without exact demarcation of the boundary line." Thus, definition of categories is not well defined, members may not necessarily share attributes, and some members are better examples (prototypes) than others. The daina tradition is valued because it gives grounding to the diversity of all the individuals who consider themselves Latvian. The corpus, while unbounded is concrete, a touchstone. Participating in the tradition is to reach beyond the finiteness of the individual and his specific time/space. At the same time many voices and generations populate the daina world from different regions. There is no single Voice, but the potential for endless interpretations, which, however, are not random, but limited by the text. This allows for manipulation of tradition for special purposes. Both proverbs and song wars provide opportunities for different voices to be heard.

If traditionalism is strong in the Baltic, the "normative is not a determinative" (Bauman, F722 notes). Even though Latvian dainas and Latvian philosophy related to them emphasize commonality, such is possible only in relation to or reacting to the dialogic opposite: different perspectives, ambiguity, dissonance, contradiction, and conflict. To further cite Richard Bauman, "multiplicity is the key feature". Additionally, ambiguity adds flexibility. Thus the daina voices frequently disagree within the agonistic aspect of the daina world. If there is striving for and even a sense of unity, harmony, and consensus it is because it is essentially tied to the process of dialogue, dispute, and constant adjustment. One striking formula stands out as an accusation that the other person is in error. A strong contradiction is prefaced by the formulaic "He lies..." (kas to teica, tas meloja) or "it’s not true" (nava tiesa):

He lies who said Sun on foot goes:

Through a needle forest she drives by horse;

Over the sea in a boat. (33811)

It’s not true, it is false, that Sun sleeps at night.

Did she arise in the morning where she set at night? (LD 33813,1)

In the second distich the singer clearly states her own theory in contrast to the first. Kursīte considers half of the mythical dainas to be in the direct question and answer form, similar to the riddle, which she calls the “ritual dialogue format.” (Kursīte, 1996: 170-173) It is related to the sense of fear of naming something dangerous directly, but using indirect reference instead.

Information redundancy does not in itself negate tolerance for diversity. A relatively high tolerance for contradiction and ambiguity can exist within a highly integrated and stabilized culture. Some dainas explicitly acknowledge, and most seem to assume, multiple points of view:


Living on the border (Uz robežu dzīvodama,)

Three ways I bent my speech. (Trijād' loku valodiņu") (36206)

One recurring motif is imagining an alternative identity and characterizing its separate style. Thus mummers say they are behaving "Gypsy-style". Even among modern emigres there is still enough of a sense of regionality that they will refer to themselves as čikagieši (Chicago-people), ņujorkieši (New York people) and so on. For Latvians throughout history living next to neighbors that not only spoke different dialects, but different languages (Finno-Ugric and Baltic even being in different language families) was a common and practical experience. Coordinated or complementary difference can be a source of strength:

High she sings, long she drones, lilting all the day.

My sisters sing thinly, I'll sing deep and fully. When the two of us sing, the earth itself sways.(translation of "Aiz kalniņa linus sēju" folk songs, Latvian Song Festival Program sheet, July 1978)


I-Thou relationship of singer and world

Another characteristic favorable to the development of tolerance in Latvian daina culture is the direct face-to-face communication, dialogue, or confrontation of the opposing voices. A tradition of tolerance and openness can develop out of counter-cultural experience of disadvantage. Lalita Muizniece in her dissertation on Latvian burial songs and in her article in Freibergs (1989: 136-147) explores the poetic "I" of dainas which addresses and engages anyone or anything on an immediate "Thou" level, whether it be a person, deity, tree, animal, or what we would consider an object - a stone, the sea, the grave:

The strategy of naming the non-human participant of the discourse in a direct address uttered by a human voice, allows the singer to identify it before letting it speak...The dialogue form, moreover, provides a more dramatic setting..." (Muižniece in Freibergs: 146)

The daina world is animistic and largely egalitarian. Anyone can sing; anyone can address anyone. A dialogic structure is in place for the potential development of an ethos/ideology that recognizes commonality in diversity and diversity in commonality. Even the deities are addressed on familiar terms, though, of course, the "dialogic" (to use Bakhtin's concept) is asymmetrical, which, however, is played down. The poetic I sometimes argues with or complains to these deities and sometimes is even irreverent, bitter, or sarcastic:

Three summers Shade Mother a honey cake kneaded.

Eat it yourself, Shade Mother, I would yet live.

Sun, Sun, Earth, Earth with me are at odds.

With Sun I made agreement; With Earth I could not

With Earth I could not until I gave her my body. (27579)

I saw my Laimiņa (goddess of fate & fortune) halfway in the water. Would she have drowned all the way from my tears. (9189)

Janīna Kursīte points out that in addition to implicit dialogue in which all dainas are to some degree involved, there is also the direct question and answer, which starts out with a question (who is shining, who is shimmering?) followed by an answer in the second distich (Dievs, Saule...) At some point a daina becomes a ritual dialogue, a riddle, usually with a formulaic question, “Guess, other people...” (Atminiet, sveši ļauids...) (Kursīte, 1992: 5-14)

In her “The poetic imagination of the Latvian dainas” Vīķe-Freibergs comments on another prevalent daina characteristic:

The diminutive serves to impose emotional distance, to take the edge off the unpleasantness referred to. This (is)...but one level of what is a general tendency in the dainas - the transmutation of the common, the harsh and the ordinary by transposing it to the realm of poetic imagination...becomes a device for affective focusing. (p. 40)

The diminutive is less an indicator of size than of poetic attitude. The singer can address a dangerous animal (wolf, bear), a force of nature or divinity (sun, thunder), or a formidable task (quern grinding) through the mediating device of a diminutive.

This type of understated daina song irony passes into modern black humor and crosses genres into the modern sociopolitical anecdote. Humor is a tool for survival. In terms of Nozick's closest continuer theory, econational poetry and satirical or ironical anecdotes inherit much of the daina "spirit". While folksongs continue to be sung today, they have acquired too much of the character of the classic or ancestral sacred to be as freely improvised or consciously varied. During the Soviet occupation, which discouraged and not infrequently legally punished expressions of Latvianism as "bourgeois nationalist relics" (reminiscent of German wars against "savage relics"), both genres flourished, sometimes in writing, especially in clandestine or disguised writing, in oral tradition, and in handwritten or that in-between channel of hand-made publications (hand-outs written and reproduced for a specific occasion - programs, lecture aids, visuals, etc.)


Language constraints

Unlike its closest relative Lithuanian, Finno-Ugric significantly influences Latvian with accent on the first syllable. Thus, falling rather than rising rhythms are normative, except in the Selian region. The intonation of a narrative phrase of a recitative song has an approximately corresponding undulating melody contour that descends at the end. The complex question of the Finno-Ugric linguistic and anthropological substratum is discussed at length with extensive bibliography in K. Ancītis and A. Jansons, “Vidzemes etniskās vēstures jautājumi,” p. 25 - 68. See also bibliography on physical anthropology in Latvia. Country and People, p. 291, and article pp. 289 - 291).

Daina world culture could be examined in terms of illuminating an early type of "Western," though, it is not default or typical Indo-European, namely in its alternatives to the patriarchal, militant, and male-centered in mythology, cosmology, and music performance. The influence from Finnic is also significant. Such intimate Latvian words as "girl" (meita), "boy" (puika), and "marry" (laulāt) are of Finnic origin. The daina world, therefore is connected to the Indo-European world, but not simply a variation reducible to it, and attempts in starting with an IE model and trying to fit daina data into it will result in direct conflict with some important assumptions. Trying to adapt Dumezil’s tripartite model too strongly is a case in point. Another example is the word arājs, with broad IE cognates that lead to terms for aristocrat in developed Indo-European. In the daina world the term simply means "ploughman" with positive connotations analogous to the American "free farmer" of an earlier time, suggesting someone who is self-reliant and has pride in his work. It lacks the specialized racial caste tone of the distant cognate of Hindu society "Aryan" as Baltic society did not reach such an organizational state to develop a native apartheid caste system.

The daina world records different societies through time and region, but the dominant feel is of relatively unspecialized societies lacking developed, strong hierarchy, and retaining a more primitive pioneering farmer character. The dominant world that appears is not that of warriors or powerful warlords, but of simple farmers who would as opportunity present itself also become seasonal raiders (Vikings). While not warrior women, women are not depicted as powerless victims of a violent world. They are valued for their strength and character and wisdom - integral aspects of the feminine, while weakness and shallowness are not even salvaged by beauty. The word gods is applied to both genders, though virtue is not identical for male and female. The way the word is used for male and female is dominantly dual and therefore at least asymmetrically equal, rather than sexist. Sexism and racism are of course potentials if certain conditions develop, but remain undeveloped to a specialized degree because of the particular historic and geographic conditions of the Baltic peoples. In terms of the historic-geographic studies initiated by Anti Aarne and developed by Stith, which established variation in time and space of concepts, the oicotype rather than the pure abstractified general type is of special interest.

Correspondences of Karelian and Latvian singing have been noted, though the more definitive work has yet to be done. One can imagine a mutually intelligible, though linguistically disparate, Baltic cultural area, which became the source of the different national cultures.

One of the listserves to which I subscribe is Folkloristi, sysoped by Ansis Ataols Bērziņš. Some of the folklorists, who are also all practicing leaders or members of folk ensembles or folklore groups, participated in a discussion on apdziedāšanās. They briefly switched to the topic of authenticity, and then continued to the topic that had the most current interest to them as to what kind of performances and with what degree of individual artistic interpretation should a group that calls itself a folk ensemble or a folklore group perform. A translation of a selection of the conversation follows:


Subject: Re: folkloristi: apdziedašanās/aprunāšanās (Folklorists: antiphonal insult singing and talking)

Aija Veldre Beldavs (2/3/00):

Folklorist Aivars Zariņš from Madona wrote the following in the Sveiks listserve. Would anyone have comments on it? I have had similar experiences in the United States.

Aivars Zariņš:

It has been observed that apdziedāšanās texts don’t repeat, or repeat rarely. Usually a few words are changed to fit in as needed for the current situation. The caller (teicējs) can create from either known formulae or improvise completely. I’m more interested in the creative moment, so that is what I’m focusing on. It appears the Suitu sieves (Suitu Women) have such a large dowry chest (pūrs) that they can literally create authentic text on the spot. It seems there are a few people in Latvia who are successful in doing that. I once met three men: a Lithuanian, an Estonian, and a Latvian: Mature men with considerable experience from the Socialist period. When they sat down at the table during the social part, they sat against each other and it started…! This happened without melody or rhyme. Essentially speaking (in Russian), but in content similar to apdziedāšana!!! It appeared to them to be something of a ritual that was being repeated who knows how many times.

Ansis Bērziņš, sysop of the Folkloristi listserve and leader of folk song and dance ensemble, Maskačkas spēlmaņi:

I have noticed certain formulaic verses are sung at the very beginning or when the previous topic has been exhausted or (it) has turned unfavorably to one side. Otherwise something thematically appropriate is generated on the spot. Speaking of the Suitu women (suitenes), it is more a case of confidence and popularity rather than dowry. I have often observed among them somewhat previously prepared techniques. Many other ethnographic ensembles have no smaller an inheritance (pūrs), but they don’t know how to present themselves (nostādīt), and with it – to sell themselves.



How is it that the Suitu women learned this attitude and isn’t it possible for others to learn from them?


First of all time. They began to make appearances already in the (nineteen) twenties. Second Suitu mentality. Third – they sing in a language understandable to the masses (in contrast to čangaļi). [The term čangaļi is an idiomatic term for Latgalians (in eastern Latvia) who speak a very distinct dialect.]

Arturs Uškāns 2/4/00

From playing at weddings in Latgale (to 120 participants, uncounted beyond that), where the guests are being sung about, in some ways the Suitu women don’t hold a candle. There have been times when we contested against them, the formulaic verses end, we improvise, but the host women surpass us anyway. There was only one time that one of the host women after the verse at our turn whispered in our ears, "Nu gona, gona puiseiši, dūdit i myusim padzīduot." [Now, enough, enough, lads (diminutive). Let us also sing some.] I think that was connected with the singing traditions of a specific village where the old hostesses pass on their inheritance to the new singers. I should add that these women don’t sing in any ethnographic or folklore ensemble. Unfortunately, at that time I was not involved with recording folk traditions. As far as mentality, with many Latgalian apdziedātāja singers one could ‘plow the earth’. We still have to learn such joy of life and generosity… As far as ‘understandable language,’ then I don’t understand why all the ‘Riga people and other čyuļi (Latvians who aren’t Latgalians) at the wedding do understand what is being sung about. They only pretend in Riga when relatives from Latgale are visiting that they don’t understand Latgalian.;)


Hmm…would you say the Suitu women are more aggressive than the Latgalian women?

Arturs (2/4/00)

It is not about aggression, but rather genes. For myself, I must say listening to the Suitu women, yes I like it, but listening to the Latgalian women there is a liking that involves much more. It could be something like being among good friends at home where everyone is really enjoying themselves. Continuing along such thoughts, what has been said about learning (songs) isn’t really about the manner of singing or the clarity of the performance, but a consciousness of one’s region, of one’s very biological being. That is one of the reasons I am now driving around Latgale, filming the old musicians and singers who have never learned music in school. A whole book could be written about these travels because a videocamera can not possibly reflect the personal thoughts and feelings when, for instance (thought there are many examples), an old woman who having worked all her life milking cows in the kolkhoz by hand, plays the violin, and in answer to what instrument is easiest to play (harmonica, zither, etc.) answers, Prūtams, ka vijuoli, kū ta es ar tik sastruoduotom rūkom velj varu paspēlēt!" (Of course the violin, what else could I play with such overworked hands?) And at that moment you feel even on a biological level to which people you belong and what folklore is.


I’m not saying that the Suitu women are better or worse, I only wanted to explain their popularity. That they are the most popular ethnographic ensemble is without dispute. Among other things the Suitu mentality can be compared not only to that of the people of other regions, but also to Kurland (western Latvia) mentality. The Suiti are very individualistic and are very proud of that. Maybe that is how their ‘aggressiveness’ can be explained in a positive sense culturally and politically.


How rude is it to use the word čangaļi? Isn’t that from Mērnieku laiki? (an influential 19th century novel)


I haven’t met any Latgalians who received it as overtly negative. Furthermore, I have heard them call themselves that (mostly in the context of contrasting Latvians, čyuļi, to čangaļīši (something else). Although I’m allowing there might be prejudiced people who wouldn’t like being called čyuli. But among other things, I have met many Lithuanians who don’t like to be called leiši. Then they immediately call Latvians horseheads (zirgugalvas). In their view those are equally insulting terms, but in mine no. And it seems I am right.:)

(On others understanding Latgalian:)

I’ve met quite a few people who didn’t understand. Especially when singing. Especially if tantuki (the deep country female folk singers who usually aren’t in folk ensembles) are singing. One must take into account that usually people who have connections with Latgale or Latgalians attend weddings in Latgale.


Rolands Rastaks (2/6/00)

The Suitu women are there all right; they know where the money is. I think for money they would strike up a song and sing about (uzdziedās un apdziedās) all those who are there and who aren’t there even in a striptease bar. And that’s not bad. But are there any others who can do that? I don’t understand why the bitter words in one dance song: Jurmalniece uzdancoja, man par pieciem aboliem. Ja es butu jurmalniece, es par desmit nē. (Sea coast woman danced for me (just) for five apples. Were I a sea coast woman, I wouldn’t do it for ten.’ Why NOT? Excuse me if this isn’t on topic.

Ansis (2/7/00):

I really don’t know…from what region is that song? The answer could largely be depending on the relationship of that region to "sea coast people" (jūrmalnieki) and what they understand with that term.


Rolands Rastaks (2/14/00 (about the sea coast women song)

The song is from Dzērbene – in the region of Ineši. I don’t know the name of the caller. It is danced in three parts. In Valka we sing and do it as Sudmaliņas.

Arturs (in response to Ansis’s question about how was a musical event, ETNO 2000 from which he just returned.)

It went well, but there could have been more people and better sound. But this was the first time and in Daugavpils. In any case those who attended (about 200 people), apparently had not expected anything, but the reactions were most enthusiastically positive. Of course it generated discussions among intellectuals if folk music should even be presented in such a fashion as did the Ilģi and Laima musicians: flashing strobe lights, setting off smoke, and blasting discotheque during intermissions. It’s possible a larger scale repeat will happen in Baltica. We’ll see.

Aija: How about apdziedāšanās, say at talkas, on Midsummer or other holidays where the participants are young people so there would be more of the teasing aspect.

Arturs (2/18/00)

What young people do at Midsummer in Kurzeme, I don’t know, as I haven’t had the occasion to be there. It’s been a while since I was at the kind of Midsummer where people simply come to the bonfire to sing, drink beer, and so on. For already fifteen years, being a musician, it’s been a workday since with my ensemble we play various Latvian dances at various large social gatherings. That is why I could better tell about how a number of years back in a Russian village we were being protected from the public by the police. But last year Russian youth asked Latvian girls to teach them Latvian dances. This really isn’t about apdziedāšanās, but in this ‘big (symbolic) apdziedāšanās between Russian and Latvian groups we are slowly gaining. I think today that is the biggest difference between Latgalians and Kurzemians in attitude (where in Kurzeme it isn’t a problem, since the Russian population is concentrated more in the East). But a mutual bantering (apcelšana), a good-natured teasing doesn’t happen only at talkas and celebrations, but is a part of everyday. Everything is dependent on the atmosphere.


Having grown up here, if there were a number of Latvians, they tried to get out to the countryside, light a bonfire or even set up a pole with a pitch barrel and sing at least some līgo-songs. What happens at your dances (danči) – are they similar to what happens here at the Latvian centers which are in the countryside? After a staged performance, people separate and there is an American style picnic with more drinking than singing. But at least there is a Midsummer fire and a Midsummer father and Midsummer mother usher the evening in.

Arturs (2/8/00)

It is like that here also – the countryside, the fire, the līgo-singing – all that happens. Those events where we play are meant for large numbers of people, for instance at the Rainis Museum (let us say, organized Midsummer celebrations), where different people drive in – some from Rīga, some from neighboring homes. In the beginning there is ligo-singing, the lighting of fire, singing songs about the prominent and leading people attending, etc. – all as should be at Midsummer. Then dancing, beer drinking, and general merrymaking. If someone wants to get drunk, that is no problem as beer selling goes on all night (if one’s own basket is empty). Most people, however, alternate drinking beer with dancing until the morning light. At the dances we play the same Pērkonītis, Oira, Cūkas driķojas, etc. – it’s enough for the night. Conflicts arise if drunken Russian young men arrive, who "need" discotheque. In many Russian areas they play only that at Midsummer. The word "integration" in practice means a lot of work on the part of Latvians. Most Russians stubbornly cling to Soviet traditions and wait for the good old times to return. Most of them are workers who came here during the Soviet period and don’t particularly stand out with their intellect, but rather openly jeer at Latvian culture, songs, dances, language, etc. (the apdziedāšanās from their side?). The fact that after observing our dances, at least some of them think to ask a Latvian girl to teach them means there is some minimal form of change in attitude and thinking. That’s what gaining the ‘upper hand’ means.

Aivars Zariņš (2/9/00):

I’m finally back on the net - back to the original question. Of course, I don’t think apdziedāšanās has 5 variants that repeat as formulae, but the use of formulaic songs can be observed. The point is that there are people who aren’t in folklore ensembles or something similar who are capable of improvising new, high quality lines, and in each region there are also their own šabloni – rituals, which have to be repeated to key in the appropriate moods (sajūtas).


Do only Russian young men arrive – not Russian young women?

Arturs (2/9/00):

If there are Russian girls, they are not intrusive or aggressive. I know some Russian girls who dance Latvian folk dances in Laima, speak good Latvian (among themselves Russian however), as well as know and dance Latvian dances. Of course, this is the more intelligent percentage of Russian youth.

Aija (on Russians disrupting Midsummer with discotheque demands):

It sounds a bit like a raid (sirojums) (on part of the Russian young men) that ends peacefully, the Latvians retaining their musical traditions.)


We were talking about Midsummer and the "raiders" were from the surrounding homes, who also came to celebrate, but found something alien (Latvian folksong, dance etc.). I’ve observed that intellectually challenged people instinctively are driven to protective measures when there is something strange, unknown, that in turn is expressed in an aggressive fashion (especially among youth). The musicians, of course, can also, get roughed up (norauties pa tauri), but on the one hand the police protect them if the playing is in a Russian village, but otherwise Latvians are in the majority. The second case wins out because they keep on celebrating and ignore them (the Russians). An excessively in-your-face occasion can result in the aggressor getting smacked in the chops (if he can’t be talked down peacefully). The celebration continues in any case.:)


Could someone explain the idiom norauties pa tauri?


=dabūt pa purnu. (to get it in the snout)

Would you believe it, even such expressions it turns out are unknown.:))))


Thank you, Ansi! Otherwise I was thinking for some time how to explain it somewhat more intelligently.:))))

In any case synonyms: dabuut/norauties pa: muti, purnu, tauri, strebjamo, zhaunaam, klabekli, paaksti, gurkji, bieti u.t.t.

Among other things, folklore worth studying (similar to nerātnās dainas)

From: Arturs(2/14/00):

I believe the speech we now use has not developed just recently. Ask those men living in the West who in their childhood during the first Latvian republic time spent some time in the harbor region how they talked among themselves and how harbor workers, sailors, etc. talked. You don’t even need the harbor region – ask how boys would talk at the outdoor dances or in the field transporting manure when girls weren’t around. I think the language which has been taught children outside Latvia for 50 years has been protected from the previously mentioned lexicon as rude. But here the language has gone its natural development and has also been polluted with all kinds of Slavicisms. I would like to mention an old man in Toronto with whom I was staying. He knew an idiom from the time period he lived in Latvia (emigrated in 1945) that we either did not use or time had changed. If one adds all the coarse songs, poems, and vulgarisms in Russian, then with all our Russian language knowledge it was more polite for us to keep quiet.

Subject: folkloristi: Pavisam cita opera - Man vajag palidzibu (Another Opera – I need help)

Aldis Sils:

I’m looking for a description of the old ritual dance/ singing game (rotaļa)(?) "Visi ceļi guniem pilni" ("All the roads are full of fire") I remember the music and text from an old Skandenieku recording (ieraksts), Does anyone know this dance/singing game and could they send me the description to my e-mail address? Does anyone have any idea what the dance/ moves mean?

Aija (2/14/00):

There’s a description of the Cesvaine rotaļa in two versions in

Valdis Muktupa'vels, Dindaru, Dandaru (Rīga: Avots, 1989), nr. 109, 110. The words and description suggest magic/ incantation: "All the roads are blocked by fire. All the roads are closed with keys. I will have to ride it through/ With God’s help. I will have to ride it through/ Break the key."

"Visi celji guniem pilni, Visi celji jatsle'ga'm./ Jas buus' jieti visam cauri/ Jar Dievin'a pali'dzin'./ Jas bu's' jieti guniem cauri, Pus'i lauzti jatsle'dzin'."

Ansis (2/15/00):

> Aivars:

> Who is the person who composed this song? They should give the

> directions how to dance it.


Are you saying it is fakelore (viltojums)? What are your reasons? In Muktiņ’s book it says it was recorded in Cesvaine.


Someone could check if Muktupāvels correctly listed the source as from: Music from E. Melngailis Latviešu mūzikas folkloras materiāli. Texts in: Latviešu tautas daiņas IV (p. 389 - 391).

Aivars Zariņš (2/15/00)

I don’t think there is anything faked or bad if people sing and dance. I think there are many variants and we can pick what to use; the main thing is to stay with the original (spirit). Composition is an essential aspect of any song or dance, and if we don’t know the author (we call it a folk song or dance), then I as a part of the people can continue this tradition, changing it after my tastes. However, if one doesn’t have ability to do justice to tradition so that it has appealing value, then it is better to stay away from improvisation.

Ieva Pīgozne:

My views are strongly similar. I believe it unfounded to view that today no one can create high quality "folk" music or dance. But I’d like to hear some other views. Is it perhaps that the "contestants" themselves look upon their own compositions askew. Maybe it is because it is ever harder to find unheard and unseen genuine originals. And those who have found such don’t want others to have it too easy to get to new songs and dances. Is that possibly why new material is evaluated as unesthetic (though for the sake of argument, let us say that objectively that is not the case). Or are there other possibilities?


Ansis 2/15/00

I don’t agree. The uniqueness of folk creation (tautas daiļrade) lies in its communal aspect. One person is not capable of thinking up something like that, no matter how gifted and knowledgeable. Or even a contemporary group. It is as a sea washed pebble – take it in your hands and feel how in centuries the waters of time have smoothed it. No jeweler will create something like that. He will create something beautiful, but nevertheless it will be different.

Nonsense (about not finding originals)! At least Latvians can’t complain. You don’t even have to go on folklore expeditions; you can go to the Folklore Archives and muck around a bit. I’m not jealous of new material. But let’s be correct and call it new material (jaunrade) and not folk song or dance.


How do we feel about postfolklore, Iļģi? How do we feel about the use of new instruments? And where is the boundary between what you may and may not do? Is it not the case that the boundary is determined by each person’s openness, tastes, and convictions (pārliecība)?

Ansis (2/15/00)

Oh, that’s another question. We were talking about songs (melodies or texts) and dance (choreography or melody or text) creation. For instance find appealing words and think up a melody or find a dance where the choreography hasn’t been notated or a description given. Or separately, instruments, arrangements, etc. – that is all interpretation and that really is a matter of taste about which, of course, there is no point arguing. And generally – sure, one can do anything, but the pretensions arise not in the matter of doing, but the labeling. If a folk dance ensemble or kokle (stringed instrument) ensemble is called Latvian folklore, well, then, we know…Let them be called original creation, pseudofolklore, or whatever, but not folklore. Because people, especially foreigners, see it and think it is folklore. It is like there is no law against selling plastic pieces that look like gemstones, but it is against the law to label them gemstones.:)) Iļģi correctly call themselves a postfolklore group. Or if one of the Rīga folklore ensembles decided to call themselves ethnographic (ensembles).:)


Arturs (2/15/00)

One must meditate according to one’s taste and vary according to one’s concrete sense any folk song even playing accompaniement to it on gas tanks (degvielas cisternām). If there’s a producer who can make something commercial of it – then forward! In our days any folk music is commercial if it is presented to other people, of course in gravy, but retaining individuality. That is how it is with world music. The musician himself must choose what and how he will play – if he will play the koklīte quietly in his room, or adds gas tanks to the kokle, finds a producer and goes to make a killing in the international arena.


Dina Kalniņa (2/16/00)

Western scholars spend long hours writing about current traditional, the meaning of tradition is ever being defined, modern folklore scholarship gains ever more popularity. But in a country like Latvia where there are also people who are interested in these topics, everyone does it differently. As in the Baltica event, the jury expressed very different viewpoints as to what is a folklore group, how it should perform, and what it may do, but there really wasn’t any apparently real objective vantage. That is why it would be good to hear other thoughts as to what a folklore group should be in today’s Latvia, particularly focusing on the Rīga region. What do you think, can the traditional be made modern, such that would be attended not just by the parents of the members, their spouses, and fans from other folklore groups.

Aldis Sils (2/16/00

I think an ensemble that calls itself a "folklore group" definitely needs to be interested in all aspects of folk art, not just music and songs. It is too bad that some folklore ensembles forget or don’t observe Latvian folk costume wearing traditions. I understand that sometimes an ensemble chooses to perform in a costume that is comfortable and convenient, the so-called theater costume. That can also be taken as postfolklore. But why do we see among some folklore ensembles totally inappropriate folk costume arrangements????!!!!!

In over 100 years scholars have discovered a lot about lost folk costume making techniques. Let us use this knowledge to spread "correct" folk costume wearing among our people. That is not sufficiently widespread!!!!

Ansis (2/16/00)

(Reacting to Dina’s question about how to make traditional more current.)

I think it is possible. It seems there are two primary roads to larger audiences, of course strongly simplifying: involvement in postfolklore (other people’s folk music and music or instruments), a small tilt to the sacred or mystical, and enjoyment (rhythm, tempo, smile, understandable words, contact with the public, etc.)

As for the reason why Dina started this topic, as I think, because the Laiksne postfolkloric performance had caused dissatisfaction among the Rīga domes Kultūras pārvaldes people [hosting officials]; yes, it seemed their reaction was logical. If they are giving funding to a folklore ensemble, then they wish to see and hear folklore (as they see it). But if they begin to acknowledge artistic experimentation among folklore groups, then the cultural administration needs concrete criteria what a folklore group is. And of course if one wishes to receive funding, then one must accept the criteria (even if it doesn’t seem right or honest).

Actually to the question "what should be a folklore group" doesn’t have an answer. It should be such as is desired by the participants. It is another question who wants to listen to it. If it works, let them do as they wish. For instance, Silavoti ir essentially a dievturi (neo-pagan) choir, not a folklore group. But they like what they are doing and those who invite them to many events also like them. It is another matter as Helmi said after the evaluations in VEF: Baltica must be an authentic folklore festival. And that is why one must not be surprised that those same Silavoti are not invited. In that sense, in my opinion, Laiksne’s appearance in VEF was not correct – performance in an authentic folklore festival with a postfolklore program.

Aivars Zariņš (2/17/00)

Bitter (skarbi), Ansi, bitter.

I acknowledge straightforward talk about the topic of folklore. You are right about the definition of a folklore group. However, I consider that Laiksne also has the right to view itself as such. Even more so because it is capable of being such. It’s another matter what one likes in a particular time period. Traditional evening work bee (vakarēšanās) and forestry work songs understandably don’t interest the energetic and expressive girls of Laiksne. There is also a problem with sea songs when it definitely isn’t fishing season (or maybe I don’t understand something about these occupations.) In some ways I view original creations (jaunrade) as belonging to folklore - of course in the appropriate time and appropriate place. About the funds of the Rīgas Domes Kultūras pārvalde: Of course it is possible to bend for a ten, but I understand this time that was not the aim of the Laiksne performance. Perhaps Dina also has something to say; I won’t defend too much, who knows what people will think: rivals, of course :)

Aivars from Patmalnieki

Aivars Zariņš (2/17/00 on the topic of fakelore)

Finally a free moment to answer …excuse the delay. There were unsuccessful attempts to bring to life this singing game by Vārtumnieki (their own evaluation) and by Vita Meikšāne (now Krūmiņa). The latter had a very different choreography with a circle and slow movement around the circle. I won’t precise it and I believe it wouldn’t add anything to the discussion. The fact is that I haven’t observed a single coherent interpretation. It would be interesting to find some older person who remembers the course. But realistically and in my opinion more interesting would be to look at what has been published in TDA (Archives). Among other things, what happened to the poser of the question? In Ērgļi there will soon be an original dance competition "Jautrā pastaliņa". Maybe one of the ensembles can be challenged to a talk on the subject.

From: Dina Kalniņa (2/18/00)

In Latvia there are various types of groups that practice folklore. The most characteristic is the folklore group (kopa) – the carrier into the future of ethnic culture, which however has not usually in full measure inherited it in an unbroken oral tradition, but has also learned from literary sources, interviews, and examples (beyond the person’s usual experiences). The repertoire of such groups is especially select. The group’s members are united in a broadly conceptual manner – holidays celebrated together, songs, social activities, etc. The other broadly distributed type of group is the folklore ensemble, where there may be no contact socially other than music. Today in Rīga one may count on one’s fingers how many people are receivers of direct inheritance (of the old style material -AVB) and work on a practicing folklore level. But why can totally inappropriate folk costume practices be found in some folklore ensembles?

1) Ignorance; 2) desire to be dressed in the most attractive (costume parts). Thus, the Lielvaarde costume has such a beautiful shirt, Kurzeme such wonderful crowns, but Zemgale the most colorful skirts. :)) But one must admit education has had an impact for some time. So suggestions how to make the costumes can be obtained in various places. These "errors" are most often found in choir and theater dance ensemble costumes. Errors in the making of folk costumes can happen to anyone, and also variation is possible.

Dina Kalniņa (2/18/00

That is why they are viewpoints – subjective. ;)) But to create even a theoretic basis and to perceive a folklore movement seriously, there has to be some objectivity; after all that is the function of a jury!? Well, our country has a representative democracy, so that anyone may express themselves.:)) If that were the problem, then it would be simple and I probably wouldn’t have started the conversation in this way. The problem in my opinion is something more. Folklore has never persisted in a frozen form. At this time the Rīga groups are only reproducers, and additionally each does it in their own interpretation = what happens is "stewing in their own juice" (vārīšanās savā sulā), but if you asked the Rīga school youth about what they know and believe about folklore and folklore groups, then do you think many of them would answer positively? I have to agree with Helmi Stalts that until something is done along this line on a national level, the situation won’t change. It’s not a matter of "folklorization" on a national level, but the creation of one’s own niche.

And what is an authentic folklore festival? The only person who has published topics on these definition themes is Arnolds Klotiņš and that was in ’89. But here it is: each one, if it is Andris Kapusts, Helmi Stalts, or me or someone else – has their own view on the subject, but has there ever been an attempt to look at all this with a cool mind without personal ambitions? And what is your information source (about the Silavoti not being accepted in Baltica)? After the First World Music Festival it was said about Laiksne that they were too authentic. We would like to have a concensus at least about your criteria for authenticity: in your view in the Rīga event was there even one authentic group?

From: Ansis (2/18/00):

Isn’t that normal that sometimes it is not clear what next, isn’t that an aspect of normal creative development? At this moment personally I am sure of what to do, but forward, you don’t. But tomorrow it may be just the opposite. I don’t think that is bad.:)

That’s how it should be (that Rīga groups reproduce). Any performance is to a certain extent reproduction and folklore particularly. But the creative moment and uniqueness is precisely in it, that each has their own interpretation.

Yes, you are right (about lack of current interest by youth of ethnographic folklore); that is a problem. However, the dynamics, in my view, are positive. With each year the number of people who respond positively increases. That is why it isn’t so terrible.:))

(As far as Helmi Stalts view that until something isn’t done on the state level, the situation won’t change.) That’s not the case that nothing is done. In the schools there are White Hours and folklore groups. Kultūras pārvaldes (cultural institutions) do give folklore ensembles funds. In the cultural capital fond there is a traditional culture section. In my opinion people who wish to do something have very good possibilities.

(About the criteria of the Rīgas domes Kultūras pārvalde officials.) Those criteria they can best explain themselves. They have to have some kind of criteria for any individual groups – choirs, dancers, horn liners (pūtējiem), or folklore groups. Otherwise they couldn’t even operate. Among other things Maskačkas spēlmaņi are called a folkore capella. When I was signing this year’s contract in January, it was written "folklore group." When I wanted to change that, they told me that they couldn’t because they only had funding for "folklore group" (kopa) leaders. Formalism? Undoubtedly. But otherwise it is impossible to conduct business because otherwise there will be chaos. I suppose we should ask Ints or Liāna what are those criteria.

(As to the source of the information about Silavoti being excluded.) Signe said so. 74 groups had been accepted out of 150 for Baltica for performance.

(About Laiksne being "too authentic".) That’s another problem. Indeed outsiders often have different views. They like folk dance collectives better than folklore groups. But do we have to imitate them just so we can tour more? In my view – no.

(If there were any authentic groups in the Rīga event.) No doubt you’re right, there are no completely authentic groups. Nevertheless there are some unwritten criteria which are understood implicitly. I can’t define them, they are rather elusive. But they do exist.:)

Dina Kalniņa (2/19/00)

(On uncertainty being normal.) In this case what bothers me is the folklore (folklorismus) movement as such. The creative moment will, of course, at times spark and at other times burn out. Right now each of the Rīga groups is in its own niche and goes its own way. Ok. But isn’t it worth thinking about the quality of the performance

so their performances aren’t viewed as less valuable than, say choir culture? We still have a tendency to revive, for instance, customs associated with agriculture. But what contact does someone who has grown up in Rīga realistically have with that? Authenticity and actualization would show up if the folklore group members lived in the country and kept up their farms, and then celebration of farm work would be appropriate. The audience has a hard time relating to say ploughing and reaping songs concretely. In my view, there should be an actualization of something other than "Latvians the plougher people" (arāju tauta). Here I’m generalizing, but knowing that you also know other group repertoires, I hope you understand me. You made my day (saying that the number of positive responses is growing). I have in mind a little survey about this topic among students in schools.:))) I’ve heard unofficially that the White Hours aren’t going to be on the program next year. The person who leads it represents the character of a folklore group, but as experience has shown, from these groups specifically come the continuers and popularizers of coming traditions. (About asking Inta or Liāna.) I also have that thought.:))

(About imitating to get tours.) In my opinion, no also! But going outside the country to tour is an ego-booster that you can’t get in Latvia. But that’s another topic that is less interesting to me.

(About unspoken criteria.) What do you think, isn’t it worth trying to write them down? Of course that can’t be done quickly, but at least we’d get some taste of science in our mouths that we lack.:)