Namēja Gredzens (Ring)

How to Recognize a Latvian

Namēja is a possessive case. Namējs is a proper noun with a masculine suffix.

I’ve been identified as a Latvian more than once because I was wearing my Namēja ring. Apparently, they were once worn only by men. In modern times both men and women wear them. The rings come in sterling silver or gold.

Latvian identity ring.

A day or so after the Toronto Latvian Song and Dance Festival in the Yorkville neighborhood a woman saw me sitting in an outdoor cafe reading a book. She immediately recognized me as a fellow Latvian because I was wearing my Namēja ring. I invited her to my table and we had a pleasant conversation.

Another time I was in a department store in my hometown sorting through blouses on an upper rack when a woman’s voice startled me, asking, “Are you Latvian?” She had seen the ring on my right hand. Yes, I admitted I am a Latvian. She wasn’t a Latvian herself but had Latvian friends.

A friend once told me that if he were ever found dead without his Namēja ring on his hand, it meant that he’d been murdered and the ring stolen.

There are different stories about the meaning of the ring’s design. Someone once told me that the thicker and thinner bands woven together showed how the great and the small can work harmoniously together.

According to Wiki, the three bands woven together represent the three ancient Latvian lands, Kurzeme (Courland) Vidzeme, and Latgale. But if that were the case, why wouldn’t the thee bands be of equal width? Not to mention the fact that there were more than three ancient lands that comprise Latvia. Why wouldn’t they be represented?

Sēlija is also known as Selonia.

Also according to Wiki, the ring symbolizes independence, friendship, and trust.

Namējs was a legendary 13th Century leader of the Latgallian tribes who resisted the invasion by German crusaders attempting to Christianize the last pagans of Europe, the Baltic peoples. Namējs was forced to flee without his son. He is said to have given the boy a ring of twisted metal by which he would be able to recognize his son when Namējs returned. The German knights set out to find the boy. In order to protect their leader’s son, all men and boys started wearing similar rings. A novel, titled Namēja Gredzens, by the Latvian writer, Aleksandrs Grīns, served to popularize the ring as a symbol of Latvian unity. The novel inspired the film, The Pagan King. In Latvian, the film has the same title as the book.

The iconic ring even appears on the Latvian one-Lat coin.

Archaeologists have spoiled the legend by finding a ring of similar design in Latgale that dates to the 12th Century, long before Namējs was born. But who is to say that a ring like that nameless one could not, in the next century have been worn by the iconic Latvian hero and thus been named after him? Finding one ring does not mean other rings like it could not have existed.

I recently saw a question in an online article about which finger to wear the ring on. It never occurred to me to wonder. I wore it on the finger on which it fit, my right hand’s ring finger. The right, rather than the left hand so it wouldn’t be mistaken for a wedding band. In a way, it is a wedding band–it marries me to my people and my heritage.

Someone on a social media site asked if non-Latvians could wear the Namēja ring. My answer is, no. If the person is half-Latvian, then yes. Other Latvians may have a different point of view.

Not everyone can wear rings. Some people have acidic skin with which the metal interacts but they want to affirm their Latvian heritage. Friends wonder if there is any other option than wearing a ring. There are many–cufflinks, brooches, pendants, and earrings among them. If silver causes allergic reactions, gold may not.

They come with or without the amber cabochon.

You can get dark Namēja honey beer and wine and vodka.

A note about the oxidation on the silver jewelry that makes it look tarnished. Silversmiths deliberately apply oxidation to bring out the detail. It’s a characteristic of other Latvian silver jewelry. Please don’t clean it off.

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The Latvian Song and Dance Festival is Over.

The Saint Paul Latvian Song and Dance Festival is over but if you missed it, you have more opportunities to see, and maybe even participate (if you’re a member of a choir and it is invited to take part) in Rīga, Latvia in 2023 and in Toronto, Canada in 2024. Start saving your money and renew your passport.

The Festival always begins with a procession.

Tickets for these summer events go on sale early in the year and sell out quickly. There are usually several hotels where blocks of rooms will be reserved for attendees. These also go quickly. If you value a good night’s sleep, don’t reserve a room at the main event hotel. The partying will probably go on all night, not just in the public rooms but also in individual hotel rooms. I was at one such festival after-party in a hotel room in Pasadena, California. The room was crowded but I didn’t think we were all that noisy. However, hotel security came to shush us. We weren’t even dancing or anything though we might have been singing a little.

Don’t you just love those lace socks?

Contrary to what the “Visit St. Paul” website said, it was not the largest Latvian Song and Dance Festival in the world. Only 8000 visitors were expected. The largest festival, of course, was the one held in Rīga from June 30 to July 8 in 2018. That year was the 100th anniversary of Latvia’s original declaration of independence in November 1918.

My cousin and her husband were at the 2018 festival. He said there were so many participants in the procession that he and his wife went to lunch and when they came back the procession was still marching along.

These events are such a huge part of Latvian cultural heritage that I had to write about them again. Every third person in Latvia belongs to a choral group. I wonder what it would be like if 110 million Americans sang in a choir?

Since 2008 the Latvian Song and Dance Festival has been recognized by UNESCO as “one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

I wrote this post primarily as a way to introduce this YouTube video, which I think is pretty cool.

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Latvian Song and Dance Festivals

The XV General Song and Dance Festival is happening in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA this weekend and I’m not there. I feel sad and deprived. I’m lucky to have happy memories of many previous festivals. Only war was able to prevent the celebrations from happening in Latvia.

Song and dance unite us as a people.

The first song festival took place in Rīga over a period of four days during the month of June 1873. Forty-six choirs, with a total of more than 1000 singers from all over Latvia participated. These celebrations of song and our culture have taken place every five years since then no matter where in the world Latvians found themselves after the diaspora following the Soviet invasion of Latvia in 1944.

However, it’s not necessary to wait five years for the next festival. When they’re held depends on when Latvians in different countries first started putting on these fests. Sometimes two happen in one year. The next one will be in Rīga in 2023,

Despite being stateless refugees in German displaced person camps Latvians did not stop singing. Many artists, including musicians and dancers, were among the refugees. Choirs and dance ensembles were formed. Days of Song were held in various German towns as early as 1946. The biggest Song Festival in exile was held in Esslingen in 1947. This past June to mark the 75th anniversary of that occasion a festival was held in Esslingen.

The festivals aren’t just about singing and dancing. They have become celebrations of our culture which include theater productions, author mornings, and art and craft exhibits as well as the expected song and dance performances. During “author mornings” writers present readings of their latest prose and poetry.

Formal balls and informal parties are also a big part of the festivities. Latvians work hard and party hearty. There is the “Get Acquainted Ball” on the first night. The next night is the young people’s ball. The Grand Festival Ball happens on the last night of the big party.

Song Festivals are held in Australia, Canada, and the United States as well as in Europe. Until recently, the United States had two song festivals, the general festivals held in various east coast cities and the West Coast Song Festival. Sadly, the most recent West Coast festival which was held in San Jose, California is likely to be the last one. It takes lots of money and many volunteers to put on a festival. More Latvians live in the east than on the West Coast. I believe that the last festival in Seattle wound up in the red.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to attend song festivals all up and down the Pacific Coast from Vancouver, British Columbia to Southern California, as well as festivals in Toronto, Canada, and Rīga.

My memories of the various festivals I’ve attended over the years are pretty random.

Toronto has the largest population of Latvians outside Latvia. It was both surprising and gratifying to hear my language spoken almost everywhere I went. In a subway station on the way to the Latvian Cultural Center, I approached a group of Latvians to ask if I was on the right platform. I was. One couple turned out to be people who’d known my mother as a young woman back in Latvia.

During the festivals, there are always too many events going on to allow time for exploring the host city so I always stay a couple of extra days. One warm pleasant evening I was sitting in an outdoor cafe in the Yorkville neighborhood in Toronto listening to a street violinist play and reading a book when a woman at another table asked, “Are you Latvian?” She had seen my Namēja ring, a piece of jewelry that most Latvians, men, and women, wear. (I’ll have to write a separate post about them.) I invited her to join me at my table and we had a long amiable chat.

The Namē ring affirms Latvian identity.

One time when the festival was held in Seattle, I reserved a hotel room in town so I would have to drive the thirty+ miles back home. Venues in Seattle are widespread. Some were downtown, and others were in Seattle Center, not within walking distance. One night after the main dance performance a friend and I took the monorail from Seattle Center to downtown. We were not alone. Other Latvians in their folk dress were on the train with us. To the bemusement of non-Latvian riders, the Letts sang all the way back to town.

I remember the monorail well. I wish every town had them.

During one festival in Vancouver, B.C. a group that included my cousin went to a dive in Gas Town. Other Latvians were already there and had pretty much taken over the place, singing, drinking, and carrying on. Later I heard that a group of dancers performed on the plaza in front of the RCMP building in the middle of the night. As far as I know, the Mounties didn’t chase them away. Maybe they looked out the windows and enjoyed the dancing.

The partying can get so raucous that I sometimes wonder why the host cities allow us to come back. They not only allow us back, but they also fly our flag to welcome us. Latvians from all over the world flock to these events. The organizer booked several venues for the numerous events. Three, four, or more hotels fill up for five nights. Business booms in restaurants in the festival neighborhoods.

The song and dance festivals in Rīga are massive. Wars may have stopped the festivals but the Soviet occupation did not. It just distorted it.

Once our country was free again the festivals grew bigger, bolder, and better. Thousands of singers and dancers perform for an audience of tens of thousands.

The Grand Concert choir is comprised of choruses from all over the world.

The Grand Festival Concert wraps up the celebration but that doesn’t mean that the singing and dancing stop.

This song, Es nenācu šai vietā could be the unofficial anthem of the festivals. “I didn’t come here to sleep. I came to eat, I came to drink, I came to have a good time.”

Choristers letting down their hair after the closing concert of the 2010Song and Dance Festival in Rīga in 2010
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Celebrating with Eau de Tap

0.0000704225353521126761 cents per word. More or less.

Amazon pays bonuses to authors who publish their books on Vella. The amount depends on the number of pages read. I just received a notice about my May 2022 bonus. Ten dollars! Woo-hoo! For a book that’s about 140k long.

How shall I spend this windfall? Go to Bali? Go to Capri? Buy an original Van Gogh?

Can’t even afford a glass.

This is not the first bonus I’ve received. It’s just the smallest one because someone read seventy-nine pages of my book. I received bigger monthly bonuses when my kind cousin-in-law, and maybe somebody else, was reading A Home for an Exile’s Heart. I think the highest bonus I got was sixty bucks.

Mostly, it’s my own fault. I haven’t done enough to publicize my novel. My efforts have been pretty sporadic at best. I don’t want to do PR. I want to write but when you self-publish, you don’t have much choice. Even traditionally published authors have to do a lot of their own book promotions. Fortunately, I just found out that one of my friends on Facebook publicizes books on her site. She urged me to send her a blurb and a link to A Home for an Exile’s Hearts Vella page. I did so but I don’t know what she will do or when. I’d love to leave it all in her hands but I’ll have to do my own PR, too.

When you self-publish, you also have to design your own cover. Even with millions of stock photos available for free, it’s hard to find exactly the right one. On a $0.00 budget, I had to settle for “close enough” images.

This was my first choice. My main character, Līvija (Lee-vee-ya) Galiņa (Guh-lyñ-ah) an exile from the Soviet invasion of Latvia in 1944, is walking home from work on the snowy evening the day after Thanksgiving, 1952. Even without houses, this scene could pass for a street on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. There’s a park on the hill so she could be walking past it. However, this image was too small and busy to look like anything but a vague mess in the cameo frame it has to fit into on Vella. I had to find a more simple image.

Courtship is a dance of love, intriguing and seductive. In one chapter my characters, Līvija and her hero, Cameron Quinn, a former fighter pilot who saves her from an out-of-control car on that snowy night, dance the tango.

Not a perfect match but it will have to do.

One of these days, I will have to turn my novel into a paperback. More nitpicky work I’d rather not do but I don’t have much choice. I have to wait for my book to have been available on Vella for thirty days before I can offer it as a paperback. When will that be? Who knows? I have yet to finish revising the last chapter in order to publish it. Since so few people have been reading Exile I haven’t been motivated to wrap up that final chapter.

The last chapter may not be ready to go, but I have a tentative design for the cover.

If only I were an artist, too.

It’s time to stop lollygagging and finish that chapter, publish it, and start publicizing my book. Writing it was a labor of love but it was hard work nevertheless. I can’t let it all go to waste.

World Refugee Day

My family and I were refugees from Soviet Russia’s invasion of my parents’ homeland Latvia. My heart goes out to all refugees, particularly those who have had to flee from Ukraine because of the invasion of their homeland. Very little has changed in the last 78 years. For that matter, too little has changed since the Bolshevik Revolution that happened in Russia in 1917. Different dictator, same brutality.

This poem, by Latvian poet, Velta Toma (1912 – 1999) speaks to the soul of a Latvian refugee. To refugees anywhere.

This diaspora happened in the same year Ms. Toma composed her poem.

This is the fate from which Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians fled three years later. Germans drive the Red Army out in 1941 but the Reds invaded again in October of 1944,
Bēglis

Aiz manis tumsā zūd ceļi,
deg mājas, un sagrūst tilts.
un visi dzīvie kļūst veļi.

Kā vēju vajāta smilts
es klīstu pa svešām vietām
bez darba, dusas un cilts. 

                    - Velta Toma, (1944)



The translation is my own. 

Refugee

Behind me, the road fades into darkness,
my home burns, the bridge collapses
And all we living become ghosts.

Like a wind-driven grain of sand
I drift through foreign lands
without work, without rest,without kin.




White Tablecloth Festival: Celebrating Lativa’s 2nd Independence Day.

(Thank you to my friend for allowing me to use her photos. She prefers to remain anonymous. You know who you are)

On May 4th, 1990 the Supreme Council of the Latvian SSR adopted a resolution “On the Restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Latvia”, turning a new white page in the history of Latvia. The White Tablecloth Festival celebrates the anniversary of Latvia’s renewed independence after decades under Soviet rule.

A clean new page is understandable but why a white tablecloth? The cloth was chosen as a symbol of national pride, unity, and self-confidence. On feast days tables are traditionally set with a white linen tablecloth. Latvian friends, neighbors, and families all over the world, those in Latvia and the Latvians of the Diaspora in their adopted homelands are encouraged to gather together as one family to celebrate Latvia’s renewed independence with reverence and joy.

The white tablecloth also symbolizes that Latvia’s break with the Soviet Union was achieved relatively peacefully through diplomacy with the occupying power.

Except for social media I’ve been out of touch with my local Latvian community. I’m not even sure if they’ve adopted the White Tablecloth Festival. I learned about it just the other day when a friend in Ohio shared photos of her Latvian community’s celebration of this anniversary.

It’s about time more attention was paid to this important holiday which usually gets little notice compared to Latvia’s original Independence Day. November 18th has been celebrated by Latvian exiles in their new countries. During the years of Soviet occupation, such a celebration was illegal in Latvia.

Buffet at the Latvian Center in Cleveland.

Whenever Latvians gather to celebrate there is always lots of food. On this special occasion in Cleveland, there were also speeches (hardly a unique occurrence) recitations of poetry, shared memories, and stories about what it means to be a Latvian. They also saw a video about the dedication of a monument to a Latvian freedom activist who died shortly before renewed independence became a reality.

Intricate drawnwork (Dresden work) embroidery.

The day before the party participants were invited to bring heirloom tablecloths that were handmade by their mothers and grandmothers to be displayed on the walls of the Latvian Center.

Crewel embroidery on a linen tablecloth.
Textile works of art. Some might even have been brought along when fleeing from the Soviet invasion of Latvia in 1944.

Of course, human nature being what it is, especially Latvian human nature, not everyone is eager to embrace the White Tablecloth Festival. Some people think it’s silly because white tablecloths are used for every celebration that involves feasting (all of them) Others prefer the name Renewal of Independence Day. I think White Tablecloth Festival is more of an attention grabber.

Glory to Latvia!

Whatever it’s called, May 4th is a day to celebrate the restorations of freedom.

As we celebrate we are all hoping that there will soon be a day for Ukraine to celebrate renewed peace and freedom.

Glory to Ukraine!

To clarify any misunderstanding. I am not collecting money for Ukraine. I prefer to leave that to long-established and respected organizations such as CARE, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, and other charities. The donations are compensation for me for my work on the blog, researching, writing, and illustrating. I apologize for not making this clear.

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WIPs: Too Much of a Good Thing.

& A Sneak Preview

Writing doldrums can show up for any number of reasons. Sometimes because I have no idea what to write next. Sometimes because I have too many ideas and it’s hard to decide which one to work on next. Sometimes because I can’t imagine anyone wanting to read anything I write, not even the people who follow my blog.

Sometimes the ideas pop up like popcorn. Too many at once. Tasty tidbits along with some old maids.

My current issue that’s stymying me is having too many works in progress (WIPs) I have a magpie mind. I like the next shiny new thing. The next story or essay idea that I want to work on at the cost of other projects that are waiting to be completed. Too often I love my stories too much to want to let them go. I get persnickety and no matter how many times I’ve been over a manuscript, I keep finding new errors. I could go on editing forever.

I have a lot in common with this bird.

My three weightiest WIPs are my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart; a collection of essays from Come, Follow My Blog, titled, Latvian Lore, and a second collection of blog essays titled, Latvia, Despite the Soviets.

Even though none of these books is finished, a friend, who is also my writing mentor, has been helping me design covers for them. Colleen loves designing covers and has experience creating designs for many of her own traditionally published books. She loves helping people. She hasn’t said so but perhaps she also eagerly helps design covers for my self-published books in hopes of inspiring me to finish the darn things.

A Home for an Exile’s Heart. An earlier version that needs a bit of editing.

I thought A Home for an Exile’s Heart, my novel about Līvija Galiņa, a Latvian refugee who, with her family, flees her homeland when the Soviet army invades in 1944 and finds a new home and a new love-interest, former fighter pilot, Cameron Quinn in Seattle in 1952 was finished. I re-read the last chapter and decided that I don’t like it. Re-writing it has proven to be more of a hassle than I expected. Too sweet. It needed a touch of tartness. Just because it’s Christmas Eve doesn’t mean characters can put aside such strong emotions as jealousy and resentment. Yet, I don’t want to be heavy-handed. It’s a sticky wicket.

Latvian Lore is a collection of Latvian myths and traditions. The problem with that one is not having enough essays published in my blog to make a decent-sized book. I need to write and research more. There’s so much information to include that it’s hard to know what to include and what to leave out. I might even include family recipes. All that is to be decided later.

This is the photo I picked for the cover of Latvia, Despite the Soviets.

After A Home for an Exile’s Heart, the project that’s closest to completion is Latvia, Despite the Soviets, a memoir about a trip I took to Latvia for a Song and Dance Festival when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Some of the chapters are essays from Come, Follow My Blog, the rest is new material. I’ve also included chapters

to give my memoir historical context that some people may not be familiar with. I need to read my manuscript from start to finish to decide what needs rewriting, revising, and if I need to add new material. It is emotionally difficult material to write about. I need a break from it before continuing. 

So what did I do? I started a new story. Flash fiction that I want to submit to a literary magazine. Caw! Caw! Shiny new object! Let me add it to my collection of WIPs.

Looking for Latvian Roots?

Deciphering Latvian names

A small country with many regions.

This is not a lesson on how to do a genealogical search but the following information about Latvian names may be helpful in your search. Today’s post is longer than usual as the subject of Latvian names is pretty complicated. Don’t let that discourage you.

You most likely won’t find a family tree that looks like his. My cousin in Latvia sent me a family “tree.” It was just a list of names and relationships on my father’s side.

When Latvians emigrated to other countries, either they or immigration officials might have Anglicized their names. Some people, like my father, lopped a syllable or two off the family name long before he had to flee his homeland.

Today a woman from Australia was looking for relatives in Latvia and not having much luck. She had only a few names to go by. One of the people she was looking for was named Helmut. That’s an anglicized spelling. In his homeland, his name would be spelled, Helmuts.

The Latvian alphabet does not include the letter “W.” If you’re looking for someone with “W” in their name, try substituting “V.”

Men’s names, both first and last, have “-s,” “-is,” “-š,” or “-iš” as suffixes.

Women’s names, first and last, end with “-a” or “-e.” If she is using her father or husband’s name the suffix of her last name assumes the feminine ending. Which noun becomes the suffix depends on the spelling of the last name. If a last name ends with “-s” or “-š” the feminine suffix becomes an “-a.” Mr. Kalns’ wife or daughter’s last name is spelled Mrs. Kalna.

Most, but not all, married women in Latvia use their husband’s name.

If the man’s last name ends in “-is” or “-iš” the feminine version of the name ends with an “e.”  On the other hand, if the man’s last name ends with “-is” or “-iš” his wife or daughter’s last name is spelled with an “e” at the end. Mr. Cālītis’s daughter would be Miss. Cālīte. Latvians have no equivalent to Ms.

This is not a hard and fast rule regarding suffixes. Sometimes both the man and woman’s last name ends with a vowel as in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Timma.

A keyboard capable of inserting diacritical marks would be a timesaver.

Letters in the Latvian language have only one pronunciation, unless they are modified by a diacritical mark, which makes them critical (!) Search engines and genealogy sites may not find the correct name if the diacritical mark is missing. This is where Google comes in handy if you don’t have a keyboard with that function. Google has a version for the Latvian language, Google.lv. There’s a tiny icon of a keyboard in the search window, click on that and a larger version pops up which includes diacritical marks, click on the mark you need and the correct letter will show up in the search window. However, if the next letter in the word does not have a mark, be sure to close out the keyboard or you’ll get the wrong letter. The letters on the virtual keyboard are not in the same as on your real keyboard so it will take a bit of searching to find the right one.

The lady mentioned above was also looking for a relative whose name was Jacob. That’s an Anglicized spelling. The correct Latvian spelling is “Jēkabs” because in our language a “c” is never pronounced as if it were a “k.” The name Veronica is spelled, Veronika. A name like Veronica would be simple to change but figuring out the Latvian spelling of a name like Jacob can be a puzzler. If you don’t know the correct spelling of the name you’re looking for check an online Latvian Name Day calendar. You may have to go through all 365 days to find the right one.

Diminutives can also complicate your search. The suffix “-īte,” (pronounced “ee-teh”) is used with feminine nouns (all nouns have gender-specific suffixes) to show affection or small size. As Latvians say, “The smaller, the dearer.” Usually, such endings are not used for women’s first names. Except that sometimes they are.

Mārīte is the diminutive for the name Māra and is generally used as an endearment by family and friends, whether the female in question is a woman the size of a female sumo wrestler or girl, a tiny elfin creature. But some parents give their daughter the name Mārīte as her legal name, a permanent term of endearment. The diminutive for a woman named Sarma is Sarmīte. Both are used as legal first names. If you know of a relative named Sarmīte but can’t find her in any database with that name, try looking for Sarma instead. Bitīte in Latvian means “little bee” but I know of no woman named Bite (bee) That doesn’t mean some woman isn’t out there whose moniker is Bite. 

Men’s first names can also be turned into diminutives but I’ve never known of a man with a diminutive as his first name. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

The Latvian alphabet that is currently used is based on Latin orthography. However, if you’re searching for pre-1922 records they could well be written in German orthography which was used at the time.

Older records may be written in an alphabet that looks like this.

Not confused enough? The Latgallain (Latgale) dialect will remedy that. The Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais is from Latgale (Latgola) In standard Latvian, her last name would be spelled Apaļais. Unfortunately, I can’t offer much help if you’re looking for someone with roots in Latgale. Try to find someone from the region to help you, perhaps someone in a local library or on a Latgaliešu (Latgalian) social media group.

I hope I’ve succeeded in making your search for Latvian ancestors a little less confusing.

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Ancient Latvian Folk Dress

From the 11th to the 14th centuries, CE.

The colorful folk costumes most Latvians are familiar with may seem to have been around forever, but they actually date back only as far as the 19th Century.

“Modern Latvian National Costumes”

Photos of archaeological folk costumes were used with permission from the Latvian National Cultural Center.

These are the garments worn by the peoples from the various tribes that came together to form modern Latvia. The folk costumes, decorations, and jewelry were recreated from fragments found in archeological digs. The clothing shown here is very similar to that worn by other Nordic people.

The word Nordic derives from “nord” meaning “north,” which would include the people of Northern Europe who live along the Baltic Sea.

I love the subtle colors of these costumes, especially the different shades of blue.

Map of Latvia’s different regions.

The regions of Latvia where these folk costumes were worn. Courland. Senigallia. Livonia. Vends, a county by the Venta River. Selonia. Latgalia.
11th Century Livonian (Lībiešu) folk dress.

The woman’s wool cloak is decorated with braided bands and fringe around the edges. She’s wearing a narrow belt that’s the precursor of elaborately woven modern belts of the 19th Century. On her belt, she is wearing small chains that hold tools, such as keys, sewing needles, and amulets. Modesty required that married women keep their hair covered. Rings were made of bronze or an alloy of lead and tin.

The information from the Cultural Center doesn’t specify how the blue color was achieved. However, it was most likely woad, Isatis tinctoria, which was used throughout Europe until the 17th Century. Crafters in our century also use dye from the Isatis tinctoria plant.

11th Century Livonian (Lībiešu) warrior’s tunic.

Decorations on men’s clothing are minimal, except for embroidery at the neckline which is fastened with the same style horseshoe-shaped brooch. He’s wearing a leather belt with a tooled scabbard for his dagger.

11th Century Livonian folk costume for a 2-3-year-old child.

Children were adorned with more jewelry and their clothes were more elaborately decorated than clothes for adults.

The mantle is studded with woven-in bronze studs. The linen shirt and wool shawl are fastened with horseshoe-shaped brooches, a design that is still used in Latvian jewelry. Her torc necklace is decorated with metal tassels that are used to this day in Latvian jewelry design. My mother once has a silver bracelet like the headband the model is wearing.

Unmarried women wear headbands or coronets of flowers, metal, or fabric that are embroidered and decorated with beads and crystals. Each region has its own characteristic designs.

An interpretation of a 12th-13th Century Couronian (Kuršu) simple and practical warriors clothing.

The outfit consists of a shirt, trousers, tunic, and cloak. In the days before buttons brooches were used to fasten garments. The warrior’s status in society was indicated by his weapons–helmet, sword, and shield.

14th Centurļļy Latgalian (Latgaļu) recreated costume.

The Fourteenth Century brought many changes to clothing. The mantle is more ornately woven of wool and linen in more intricate patterns and decorated with fringes and fiber tassels, instead of metal ones. The bracelets are more delicate. The coronet is decorated with yellow glass beads.

Photos by Mārtiņš Cīrulis

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Latvian Love Words

Valentine’s Day is known among Latvians as Sirsniņdiena, which can mean Sweethearts Day, as in lovers, but also anyone you love. My mother called me, Sirsniņa. My aunt called me, Sirds, which means heart, as a term of affection.

For my Valentine’s Day post I’m writing about the words Latvians use to express love. These words are used much more conservatively than the terms of endearment I wrote about before.

Latvians are a reserved people. It used to be, and maybe still is in some circles that Latvians’ idea of a proper public display of affection was to go to church and get married in front of God and the congregation of family and friends. Latvians don’t say the words “love” or “I love you” lightly. People don’t generally use such expressions as, “I love this pair of shoes” or “I love pizza.” They like the shoes. They like pizza. “I love you” is reserved for spouses or fiancées/fiancés. They’re not even used for one’s parents, children, or other family members. 

An embrace like this should probably be kept private even when married.

I remember overhearing a parent criticize an in-law for saying “I love you” to his young daughter. It’s not a phrase I remember hearing around my house when I was growing up. It should be enough that love is demonstrated by providing food, clothes, and a roof over one’s head. Some might say such an attitude is outdated, Things have changed, the world has changed. But I got criticized in a Latvian social media group for saying people should say, “I love you” much more often. That happened not only in this century but as recently as last year.

Here are those very exclusive words.

Mīlestība = Love

Es mīlu Tevi = I love you

Mīlulis = loved one

Mīlīgs = lovable

Mīļošs = loving 

Mans Mīļiotais = my lover 

These next diminutives are okay to use with adults, children, and even pets.

Mīlulītis = my little loved one

Mīļumiņš = my little loved one (smaller and thus more dear)

Sieva = wife (the diphthong “ie” is pronounced like the “ea” in “ear.”

Sieviņa = my dear little wife. It can be used affectionately, but depending on context can also be belittling.

Vīrs = husband (veers)

Vīriņš = dear little husband. Most likely used only in private. The word could also refer to a little old man.

Possessives:

Mans = (pronounced “muhns”) My. Masculine. But it refers to the subject,  not to the person who is speaking. e.g. “Mans vīrs” is what a woman would say when introducing her husband.

Mana = My. Feminine, also refers to the subject. A man introducing his wife would say, “Mana sieva.” 

A Latvian friend and I had a discussion about whether a declaration of love should include the word, “es” (pronounced like the letter “S.”) meaning “I.” He said that “es” = “I” is understood, so it’s enough to say, “mīlu Tevi.” Technically, in English, the word “I” would also be understood nevertheless people say, “I love you.” To me, just saying “mīlu Tevi” sounds abrupt, like you’re eager to get on to the next thing, maybe “What’s for dinner?” This rule could be a familial difference or a regional one.  My choice would include the first person singular pronoun,

Have fun with these loving words. Use them however you please on Valentine’s Day or any other day you want to tell someone you love them. Some rules are meant to be broken. 

Hearts can break when they don’t hear these words. And stay broken even though hidden.





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