Veļu laiks, Dievaines, or the Time of the Spirits


Late autumn – October, November – the leaves have fallen, the field work is done, the weather is often foggy, there is time for reflection…. This time of year, once the wolves begin to howl in autumn, is called Veļu laiks (“The Time of the Spirits”) or sometimes Dievaines. The same term or variations of it, such as Veļu vakars, is also used to denote a specific day of remembrance and of honoring the deceased. This is not really a traditional Latvian holiday in the sense of solstices and equinoxes. It doesn’t even fall on a specific date. Rather, Veļu vakars, a very personal and private doing, can take place anytime during mid to late autumn.

Read more

Singing in Šķaune

About 20 years ago a young couple on an outing to the far reaches of Latgale [eastern Latvia] met and recorded a couple of local traditional musicians and singers. Ilmārs and Janta Mežs kept in touch with one of the musicians – a violin player – and this past summer Janta invited me and another friend along to Latgale to meet him and to see whether there were any other traditional singers and musicians left in that area. We focused on the town of Šķaune and its surrounding area, which is right on the Latvian border with Belarus, about 20 miles east of Dagda. First, though, we needed to apply for permits to enter the border area and then present them at the border patrol office in Šķaune, or else face searches and reprimands by patrolmen. Apparently a lot of smuggling goes on across the Belarusian border, which is also a frontier of the European Union and the newly expanded Schengen free-travel zone.

Read more

A Colorful Bunch — Intro to the Latvian Folklore Movement

“Folklorists” are often considered a strange lot, both among Latvians abroad and in Latvia proper. Maybe even more so in Latvia. You’d think that if Latvians wanted to distinguish themselves from other nations, then folklore would be their piece de resistance. But it’s disheartening to see that the unifying enthusiasm for folk songs, folklore, and other things ‘Latvian’ of the late 1980s and early 1990s was just a passing phase for much of the nation. Be that as it may, I was born into a folky family and it’s stuck with me. So obviously, I looked to the folklorists for my niche here in Latvia as well.

Read more