The Latvians in Their Folk Songs

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The Latvians in Their Folk SongsAuthor(s): R. E. EnthovenSource: Folklore, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Jun., 1937), pp. 183-186Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.Stable URL: .Accessed: 17/06/2014 10:33Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact .Folklore Enterprises, Ltd. and Taylor & Francis, Ltd. are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve andextend access to Folklore. This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 10:33:21 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions LATVIANS IN THEIR FOLK SONGS IN an interesting lecture on the culture of Latvia as illus- trated by their folk songs, numbering some 300,000, Mr. Wolfram Gottlieb, representative of the Latvian official press, gave to the Society, at a meeting held on October 2Ist, a vivid picture of life as it is lived by the Latvian peasant at the present day, rooted deeply in the beliefs and practices of the past. " Meadows, cultivated land, forests ... green or snow- clad hills; lakes, which like dreaming eyes seem looking from the past into the present ; rivers winding their eternal courses; and in the west, the sea with its foam-clad waves, is trimming the endless pine-covered world of dunes." Such, according to the lecturer is the Latvian landscape now, and such it was centuries ago. To the tune of their almost ceaseless songs the people till their soil, rear their cattle, cast their nets into the sea, collect the golden honey in the woods. " Nature, at the heart of which Latvians live, lures the song from their lips. When the spring zephyr arrives, shepherds take their cattle to the dewy meadows and sing; when the apple trees blossom, youths assemble on the hills and greet the sun; when the summer heat lies like a burn- ing cloth over the golden cornfields the songs of sun-bronzed harvesters rise to the sky; and on icy winter nights in the peasants' huts, the many coloured thread of song competes with the whirring of the spinning wheel." Women, for the most part, were the authors and singers of folk songs, and she who sung the most and loveliest songs was entitled to wear the richest wreath. These songs have been handed down by oral tradition, and come from pagan days. German, French and Russian translations are available; and in 1831 Sir Walter Scott 183 This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 10:33:21 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions The Latvians in their Folk Songs published a series of these songs in the " Foreign Quarterly Review," the only copy of which is possessed by the British Museum. An edition in seven volumes by a Latvian collector of folk songs, Krischjahnis Barons, styled the Latvju Dainas, i.e. songs of the Latvians, contains the results of a life's work in recording popular songs. The ancient Latvians were essentially agriculturists. The virtue of this occupation is illustrated by the popular saying that " as a spring never lacks water, so a peasant is never short of bread." The Latvian's wealth is also in his cattle, which are not only a source of profit but stand to their owner in the relationship of personal friends to whom are attributed soul and character similar to those of human beings. Here we find the first of several striking parallels between the beliefs and practices of the Latvians and those of their very distant connections, the Aryan speaking people of India. In view of their common origin such resemblances were to be expected. They are noticeably close in the case of marriage ceremonies, where, as the lecturer explained, a form of marriage by capture existed-strongly suggestive of the Rakshasha marriage rite of Brahmanic tradition, of which traces remain in modern Indian marriage rites to-day. Thus " the ancient Latvians carried their brides off forcibly. When a swain had chosen his future mate, he watched her, when she went to the spring to fetch water or to bathe. He put her on his horse and made off. As soon as the girl's brothers became aware of this, they set off in pursuit of the eloping couple with swords clanking. The sister would throw a handkerchief, glove or leaves in the path of their flight to guide the pursuers. The eloper in his turn did everything possible to hinder the pursuit by destroying bridges or digging holes in the path. Such a chase would sometimes last for weeks, and was not ended until the captive had been found." This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 10:33:21 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Latvians in their Folk Songs 185 Reconciliation or a bloody quarrel ensued. In later periods this custom has been replaced by a bride price, the lover paying for his acquisition to compensate her family for the loss of a useful worker. .... Birth and death ceremonies are naturally accompanied by song. At the dawn of history Latvians appear to have cremated their dead, but on conversion to Christianity, burial was substituted. Believing in a future existence, they placed a shirt, gloves, tools, food and drink and even coins in the grave so that the wants of the departed might be fully provided for. The mourners were treated to a feast of peas and beans and recalled the merits of the deceased in numerous songs. Much drink was consumed and hilarity prevailed since death held no terror for them. Death, we are told, was a small bird which, singing, led the soul into the next world. Its imminence was foretold by numerous signs such as the screeching of an owl, the cawing of a crow, or by the appearance in a dream of some previously departed spirit. The Latvians are conscious of a superior power over them, and submit to it with fatalism. The chief figure is Dievs (cf. sanskrit diva, the shining one of the Vedas). As the guardian of their ethical and moral order, judge, punisher and rewarder, he is a ruler with un- limited power. In folk song this deity is described as mov- ing freely among the people, drinking at their weddings, taking part in their festive processions. In winter " he stands with frozen feet outside the door and waits for admission." He is regarded as a wealthy peasant whose house rises at the turn of the river, whose garden contains the finest hops and whose fields are full of corn. In many respects he closely resembles a human being. Next in im- portance is Pehrkons, the Thunderer, the grim and martial spirit of the tempest. He is the opponent of evil spirits and witchcraft. This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 10:33:21 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions The Latvians in their Folk Songs A benign spirit is Saule, the sun, the golden virgin. She follows her husband, God, the son of God, or the moon, and has sons, daughters and servants. She wears the national costume, but of silver, gold or silk and a crown sparkles on her head. In the evening she hangs her crown on a tree, embarks in a golden ship, and sails away. Other gods are Mehnesis, the moon, a male impersonation; Auseklis, the morning and evening star, and Laima, the goddess of destiny, giver of good fortune and protector of the orphan. Bad spirits, corresponding to the Indian village mothers, are known as Jods. It is the custom for a woman suffering from a great sorrow to rid herself of it by placing it in a stone and stepping over it. Such " spirit scaring " rites are numerous. Latvians regard animals and the vegetable kingdom as having the same rights as human beings and entitled to protection-another suggestion of the similarity between their culture and that of the further East. Here this very superficial summary of an interesting lecture must be brought to a close. It seems desirable that a more detailed description of Latvian beliefs and primitive custom, illustrated in the folk songs and supplemented by the results of the lecturer's personal knowledge, should be embodied in a work which, in view of the Aiyan origin of this attractive people, would prove of undoubted interest and value to all folklore scholars. R. E. ENTHOVEN This content downloaded from on Tue, 17 Jun 2014 10:33:21 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions Contentsp. 183p. 184p. 185p. 186Issue Table of ContentsFolklore, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Jun., 1937), pp. 113-224Front MatterMinutes of Meetings [pp. 113-114]Labyrinth Ritual in South India: Threshold and Tattoo Designs [pp. 115-182]The Latvians in Their Folk Songs [pp. 183-186]CollectaneaDieri Legends, Part I [pp. 187-206]Folk-Stories of Gazaland, Portuguese East Africa, Part I [pp. 206-215]Folk Song to Folk Tale [pp. 215-217]Butter Charm [p. 217]NotesPictures of London Life [p. 217]CorrespondenceJackie Kent [pp. 218-219]Mules and Men [pp. 219-221]Bell Tune [p. 222]ReviewReview: untitled [pp. 222-223]Short Bibliographical Notices [p. 224]Back Matter