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.
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?
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.
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.
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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