Īsas pārdomas par pagātni

Nākamais Vēja zvanu izdevums (kas būs pieējams ALJA Kongresā Čikāgā!) būs veltīts tieši pagātnei. Paldies Jānim Skrebelim par pārdomām par pagatni, lai paši varam iedziļināties pārdomās gatavojoties uz jauno Vēja zvanu izdevumu!

Kas ir pagātne? Neiedziļinoties pārāk filozofiskās pārdomās, droši vien lielākā daļa varam piekrist, ka pagātne ir viss, kas noticis līdz šim brīdim (par pagātnes skaidrojumu varētu runāt ilgi, bet tas nav šo pārdomu galvenais mērķis). Bet kā ar mūsu pārdomām par pagātni? Par kuru laika posmu domājam, kad pakļaujamies aicinājumam domāt par pagātni? Par cilvēces pirmsākumiem? Par savu bērnību? Vai par to, ko darījām vakar?

Personīgi, pirmās instinktīvās domas manus prāta ceļus noved pie bērnības: cik dzīve bija  vienkārša, cik pasaule bija vienkārša! Pieaugot bērnības atmiņas kļūst romantizētas un iegūst tādu kā zeltītu ietvaru, tāpēc lielākoties šo laika posmu atceramies kā bezrūpīgu un skaistu. Nereti, kad uznāk vājuma un drūmāku pārdomu brīži, kad dzīve šķiet pārāk sarežģīta, šaubu un problēmu pilna (man ir 24, un es “zinu” īstās dzīves problēmas), uznāk vēlme atkal būt atpakaļ šajā (šķietami) bezrūpīgajā dzīves posmā.

Mēs mēdzam glorificēt pagātni un laikus, kas piedzīvoti – mūsu atmiņas izdzēš daļu no informācijas un paspilgtina atsevišķus emocionālus pārdzīvojumus (gaišus notikumus atceramies daudz priecīgākus, kamēr drūmos brīžus kā sāpīgākos dzīvē). Un tas notiek ne tikai ar mūsu personīgajām atmiņām – bieži dzirdam sentimentu, cik agrāk zāle bija zaļāka, debesis zilākas un dzīve labāka. Par šo sentimentu man pirms pāris nedēļām atgādināja dzirdētais “Rīgas konferencē”, kad Vaira Vīķe – Freiberga komentēja izteikumus par mūsdienu politisko situāciju un ilgām pēc (kaut kad esoša) zelta laikmeta politikā. Viņa minēja,  ka šādi komentāri vairāk atgādina grieķu mītus par šo zelta laikmetu, kad cilvēki agrāk bija skaistāki, labāki, gudrāki utt. un ka tagad mēs esam tikai un vienīgi pasliktinājušies, mums trūkst vērtību, morāles utt. Jāatzīst, ka iedzīvoties šādā sentimentā ir visai viegli, jo ir ērti ieņemt pozīciju, ka tagad viss ir slikti un ka agrāk viss bija labāk. Daudz grūtāk ir iedziļināties un saprast katras situācijas apstākļus un kontekstu, kas bieži vien atver acis un liek saprast, ka šie “zelta laiki” tik zeltīti nemaz nav bijuši.

Manuprāt, ir vērtīgi pagātni neaizmirst, bet tajā pašā laikā nevajag dzīvot pagātnē. Pagātne ir jāpatur prātā, no tās ir jāmācās, jo tikai skatoties atpakaļ mēs varam būvēt jēdzīgu un cerīgu nākotni. Tāpat kā metot šķēpu, ir jāatliecas atpakaļ, lai tas aizlidotu tālāk un augstāk. Tikai jāatceras – nevar tikai atvēzēties – ir arī jāmet! Pagātnes pieredze nekam neder, ja tikai dzīvojam atmiņās un gremdējamies pārdomās, cik labi bija agrāk. Bet, ja uzkrāto bagāžu liekam lietā, ja izvērtējam pagātnē pieļautās kļūdas, mācāmies no tām un balstām savus lēmumus ne tikai savā, bet arī citu pieredzē, tad ir cerība, ka pasauli padarīsim labāku un priecīgāku ne tikai sev, bet arī saviem tuvajiem, mīļajiem un plašākai kopienai!

JJ

Death and Dying in Latvian Folklore

Representations of death in Latvian culture and folklore differs vastly from modern representations of death we encounter in everyday life, especially for those of us living outside of Latvia. This is an attempt to examine and explain Latvian folklore about death with theories from the Harvard Extension School course “Dying Well.”

No matter the differences in community, upbringing, or cultural heritage among individuals, death is a reality faced by all people, however unknown. Franz Wright observed that “The world is filled with people/ Who have never died” (Wright, 2003) but that has not stopped people, transcending generations and geography, from philosophizing about what happens when our lives end and death’s implications. People of ancient Latgallian, Selonian, Semigallian, and Couronian tribes, or more generally known as ancient Latvian tribes, are no different. Latvians have their own ideas about the badness of death, living in the face of death, grief, and eternal life, exhibited in folk songs, poetry, and passed down to appear in modern Latvian performance.

Important beliefs, values, and aspects of life define attitudes towards death, no matter the culture. For Latvians, it is primarily war, serfdom, and respect and worship of nature and deities that most significantly influence folklore dealing with death. Complex circumstances affected views and ideas about death.

Why is death bad? Shelly Kagan suggests that being dead is bad for us because we miss out on the good things brought by life. Barring fears about dying or what happens after death, the deprivation account attempts to explain why death is seen as a bad thing (Kagan, 2012). The deprivation account is relevant in old Latvian songs and poetry, especially in those dealing with young Latvians who have something to look forward to, such as marriage and raising a family. However, considering the circumstances of frequent battle and uncertainty in ancient Latvian life, young men did not always live long enough to take a wife. Such is the case in the song Balādīte or “Ballad”:

Our brother, with his horse,

Rode into the lord’s woods.

The lord’s men found him and agreed on a harsh punishment,

They took our brother’s horse.

They took our brother’s clothes,

They took our brother’s hat.

They released him, naked,

They sent him bound for home.

Our brother spilled white tears,

And the lord’s men returned his hat.

Our brother spilled salty tears,

And the lord’s men returned his clothes.

Our brother spilled hot tears,

And the lord’s men returned his horse.

Our brother spilled tears of blood,

Begging they return his flower.

Begging they return his flower,

That was pinned to his hat.

Fierce anger arose in the lord’s men,

They cut off our brother’s head.

Our brother’s head falls,

Crushing the flower that was pinned to his hat.

The flower which he had received this very morning,

From his betrothed.[1]

This song exemplifies the deprivation account as it follows a young man at the end of his life. With each verse, the audience becomes more familiar with the good things in this person’s life, such as his horse and his dignity (lost when he is sent home without clothes or his hat). As each good thing in life is taken away, the song evokes a feeling of the man already dying. The most significant deprivation is felt when it becomes clear that he will never see his betrothed again. The flower represents the last thing given to him by the woman he loves, as well as the gifts bestowed upon him in the past and the good things he may have shared with this woman in the future. His head crushing the flower as it falls shows how death, under these tragic circumstances, truly is bad when it comes at a time when life holds the promise of so much good. This scenario, although not based on documented events, is realistic for young Latvian men during feudal centuries in Europe (Embassy, 2014). Not only were these men at risk of losing what is good in their life to death, death could easily come sooner than expected at the hands of foreign lords, under whom they lived and worked.

Despite the possibility of untimely death, other Latvian folk songs challenge the deprivation account with the belief that the afterlife is comfortable and, in some cases, preferable. Pagan beliefs in deities, such as Mother Earth and personification of the sun, provide a foundation for the idea that death is not something to fear. Instead, death is integral in being a part of nature, which is something to be worshiped according to ancient Latvian beliefs. The following ancient poem, or daina, is one such example:

Do receive, dear Mother Earth,

In thy bosom sister sweetest;

Tuck her in so warm and comfy

In thy sandy shawls all snug.[2]

In addition to comforts for one’s carnal body provided by Mother Earth, the astral body and the soul are greeted by the Sun:

You once greeted me, Mother dearest,

With a sheet of white linen;

Now the Sun warmly awaits

Upon the hill of white sand.[3]

These poems allude to the comfort of shawls and linen sheets, and to the motherly personification of the Sun and Earth, to describe the good things that are to be had in death. In these two dainas, good things in life are not a reason to be sad about death, as in the deprivation account and in “Ballad,” and instead are used to describe the serenity of the land of the dead, known as Aizsaule, or “the land beyond the sun.” Due to pagan influences, Latvian folklore respects and welcomes death as a part of life interwoven with nature. In this case, those who sing about dying or preparing to die want to ask their loved ones to remember them as a part of nature, because an afterlife among sacred lands and forests is far superior to the simple pleasures of life. This perspective places aspects of the afterlife superior to what people may be deprived of in death. Thus, serfdom and pagan beliefs, both significant in ancient Latvian culture, yield contrasting theories on the badness of death in Latvian folklore.

Even with a belief system that destined the dead to the comforts of the Earth and Sun, grief is prevalent in Latvian folklore and in performance adaptations of it. Grieving for young men going to war is especially significant in Latvian folk songs dealing with death. Serfdom destined their lives to the service of lords and barons, including in times of war, when serfs would fight their lords’ wars, sometimes for over a decade (Szentivanyi, 2018). Knowing that they are unlikely to ever return, young men and their families sang songs and dainas laden with anticipatory grief:

When I left for war,

I left behind my sister in her cradle.

Returning from war,

I find a masterful tailor and decorator.

I ask my mother,

“Who is this masterful tailor?”

“She, my son, is your sister,

Who you left behind in her cradle.”

“My sister, masterful tailor,

Make for me an ornate war banner.

“Decorate it with green or red symbols,

This is the last time we may ever meet.”[4]

Although the son has yet to lose his life to the war, he has already missed out on important parts of his family’s life, and the family described in this song has already lost their son to the war. Grieving has begun for the family: grief for the experiences he has missed and will never have, and anticipatory grief for the likely event of dying in a foreign baron’s war. Arthur Kleinman addresses the strange reality of grieving for a person before they die in “Catastrophe and caregiving: the failure of medicine as an art.” Grief can begin when there is a loss of identity or presence, or when death is expected (Kleinman, 2008). Such is the case in Latvian culture when coping with a son, brother, or spouse going to war.

Similar displays of grief in Latvian culture are in performances inspired by Latvian folklore. Dance performances such as No Zobena Saule Lēca, or “From the Sword the Sun Rose” (Daņiļevičs & Brikmanis, 2018) and the first act of Māras zeme, or “Māra’s Land” (Ērglis, Purviņš, & Seņkovs, 2018) are artistic interpretations of life in Baltic tribes and deal heavily with death of young men and grieving for them. Some moments from both performances exploring grief in Latvian culture are as seen below:

No zobena

Image 1. Performers portray the emotion that comes with the prospect of war. Published by LMT Straume November 2018. No Zobena Saule Lēca, 0:52:50. Video: http://straume.lmt.lv/lv/kultura/kultura/no-zobena-saule-leca/1034243

Maras zeme 1

Image 2. Simultaneously a funeral procession and pyre, this is a representation of the magnitude of loss and grief experienced by tribes whose sons must someday go to war. Published by Mareks Gaļinovskis July 2018. Māras zeme. Photo: https://www.facebook.com/DzSvFotoManLV/photos/a.411799655983294/411816369314956/?type=3&theater

Image 1 is representative of anticipatory grief common in Latvian folk songs and folklore. Although it is believed that existence after death would be a welcoming, comforting change, death in a war waged by lords still renders sadness for everyone involved. These wars are something they are compelled to partake in, adding to the feeling that their death is unjustified and untimely. Image 2 is the result, as well as what the younger boys have to look forward to; the loss of life is significant and will continue. Such is a source of a magnitude of grief common in folk songs. In addition, Māras zeme and No Zobena Saule Lēca further exemplify contrasting views on the badness of death in Latvian culture. The tragedy of serfdom and wars overwhelms the comforts and the welcoming Earth and Saule mother figures awaiting them in the afterlife. Despite death being a broadly-accepted part of life, grief that comes with one’s life not quite being their own, as with serfdom, is all-consuming and relentless.

With views on death as a tragedy at odds with views on death as comforting and peaceful, how do individuals living according to Latvian culture live in the face of death? As Stephen Cave explores in his essay, “If Death Comes for Everything, Does It Matter What We Kill?”, the conceptualization of death and dying is nuanced, and so shall people’s feelings about death be (Cave, 2014). Latvian folk music and folklore exhibit an interesting combination of living in harmony with death, but from a safe distance in order to avoid it, if necessary. The existence of veļu vakars, or the night of the astral body, and October being the month of the astral body according to Latvian folklore, is an example of honoring death in life. Veļu vakars and the month of October is a time during which people live in harmony with death more so than usual, which involves the living honoring their dead ancestors with feasting and song. The dance performance Māras zeme includes visualization and interpretation of the event that is the night of the astral body. This night is described as follows: “the spirits of the fallen feel no peace and with every autumn return to Māra’s land,” (Ērglis, Purviņš, & Seņkovs, 2018).

Maras zeme 2

Image 3. Performers conveying the eerie yet meaningful night of the astral body. Published by LTV.LV July 2018. Māras zeme. Photo: https://ltv.lsm.lv/lv/kultura/xxvi-visparejie-latviesu-dziesmu-un-xvi-deju-svetki/galerijas/?id=365

However, honoring the dead does not have to include succumbing to it, as in this folk song:

The spiteful grave

Stands as my enemy.

I throw an axe or stone,

But it only wants my body.[5]

Despite existing practices to honor the dead, this song is an example that the living would rather stay alive, if they could help it. The grave is personified and then vilified, wanting to take away life and everything that is good that comes with life. The grave is not passively waiting until something brings the living to it, the grave actively seeks out the living to take their life, despite obvious objections. The night of the astral body, however, celebrates the people who are beyond the grave. These two concepts form Latvians’ approach to living with death: recognize and honor it, but do not willingly go to it, if possible. It is as Cave wrote in his essay: “we cannot stop Death from going about his business, and we oughtn’t pretend that sparing the ants (or the flies or the butter) will keep him from our door; but we need not rush to be his foot soldiers either,” (Cave).

In Latvian folklore, eternal life has nothing to do with the carnal body, and more to do with astral and spiritual bodies, as shown by the dainas “Do receive, dear Mother Earth” and “You once greeted me, mother dearest.” The perspective of Latvian folklore on eternal life is evident in attitudes about whether death is bad and living in the face of death, both of which would be very different if Latvian folklore did not contain the concept of eternal life. “Do receive, dear Mother Earth” discusses comforts that come after death and mother figures who take care of the dead after they have passed, as well as becoming a part of sacred nature. “You once greeted me, Mother dearest” presents the afterlife as warm and familiar, as opposed to cold and hostile as typical Western ideas about the afterlife suggest. There are poems that suggest that even in the afterlife, the deceased may have what was best about life:

Do not weep, my mother dearest,

That I died whilst still so little;

I’ll be there to gladly greet thee,

I’ll sweep clean the burial yard.[6]

This daina illustrates the belief that in death, people reunite with their loved ones who died before them. Not only is eternal life comfortable and warm, it offers some of the good things that a person had in life. Eternal life in Latvian folklore is not a burden or tiresome, as Kagan proposes in the section “Eternal Life” in his book Death (Kagan, 2012), and is instead sacred and something to welcome, because dying is natural and not anything that should be feared.

Latvian cultural attitudes toward death and dying, although nuanced when unwelcomed factors are involved, primarily stem from respect and worship for nature. Ancient Latvians view death as a natural part and progression of life, as it involves eventually becoming a part of what they worship. Thus, death is a part of their everyday life, and their traditions encompass the recognition of and respect for death. Grief experienced by those left behind is not denied or rejected, and the good things in life are not ignored either. Grief and sadness do not, however, overshadow the fundamental Latvian cultural view of death and dying as a part of existing among nature.

Appendix

Original texts, in Latvian, for each song or poem can be found from the following sources.

In order of appearance:

  1. “Ballad”: https://www.akordi.lv/song/2204-Ilgi_-_Baladite
  2. “Do receive, dear Mother Earth”: Dainas: Wit and Wisdom of Ancient Latvian Poetry by Ieva Auziņa Szentivanyi
  3. “You once greeted me, Mother dearest”: Latvian Sun Songs by Vaira Viķis-Freibergs and Imants Freibergs
  4. “When I left for war”: https://www.dziesmas.lv/d/Es_karai_aiziedams_2_-_/1361
  5. “The spiteful grave”: Karavīru audzināj’ folk music album by Vilkači
  6. “Do not weep, my mother dearest”: Dainas: Wit and Wisdom of Ancient Latvian Poetry by Ieva Auziņa Szentivanyi

Note: All folk song texts are, by definition, part of the public domain. Books and albums listed are simply collections of publicly available texts and the authors of those works do not own the songs and dainas found within the book or album.

References

Cave, S. (2014). If Death Comes for Everything, Does It Matter What We Kill? Aeon.

Daņiļevičs, A. (Choreographer) & Brikmanis, U. (Director). (2018, November 1). No Zobena Saule Lēca [Dance performance]. Rīga, LV: LMT Straume.

Embassy of the Republic of Latvia to the United States of America. (2014). History of Latvia: A brief synopsis. Retrieved from https://www.mfa.gov.lv/en/usa/culture/history-of-latvia-a-brief-synopsis

Ērglis, J. (Artistic Director), Purviņš, J. (Artistic Director) & Seņkovs, E. (Director). (2018, July 7). Māras zeme [Dance performance]. Rīga, LV: LTV.LV.

Kagan, S. (2012). Death. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Kleinman, A. (2008). Catastrophe and Caregiving: The Failure of Medicine as Art. The Lancet, 371 (9606). Retrieved from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(08)60057-4/fulltext

Szentivanyi, I. A. (2018). Dainas: Wit and Wisdom of Ancient Latvian Poetry. Rīga: SIA “Apgāds Mansards”

Wright, F. (2003). Walking to Martha’s Vineyard. New York: Random House.

Featured image from Latvijas Enogrāfiskais brīvdabas muzejs Facebook page.

Kristiana Grinbergs, Harvard University, 2018

 

Maija Grinberga: 2×2 Vasaras Atmiņas

57-2019_06_30__21_11_26-617

Foto: Kristīne Putnis

Vasaras sākumā, man bija izvēle aizlidot uz Latviju piedalīties ALAs praktikantu darbā, vai palikt Amerikā un piedalīties Toronto Dziesmu un Deju Svētkos, kā arī 2×2 jauniešu nometne. Es esmu ļoti laimīga ar lēmumu piedalīties 2×2 nometnē. Es ne tikai satiku lieliskus cilvēkus no visām pasaules malām un veidoju nozīmīgus draudzībus, bet arī sajutu ka biju atpakaļ Latvijā. Man bija iespēja piedalīties diskusijās par svarīgām tēmām saistītas ar modernu latviešu kultūru ar cilvēkiem manā vecumā, gan no Latvijas, gan no ārpus Latvijas, un iemācīties kas ir līdzīgs un atšķirīgs no tām divām kūlturām. Caur šīm diskusijām un nodarbībām, mēs 67 dalībnieki sākām justies kā maza ģimene kas sanāca kopā ar vienu tautas dziesmu, deju, un valodu. Pēc vienas brīnišķīgas nedeļas, gandrīz visi dalībnieki atkal satikās Toronto Dziesmu un Deju Svētkos. Mūsu nometnei bija deja un koru grupas, un daži piedalijās savās mājaspilsētas kopās. Manā prātā, Toronto dziesmu svētki būtu bijis daudz švakāk bez lielu 2×2 dalībnieku skaitli, jo redzēt gandrīz visus tos pašus cilvēkus tieši pēc nometnes beigas bija tāda silta sajūta, kad varēju izbaudīt svētkus ar pazīstamiem draugiem. Iespēja piedalīties 2×2 nometnē un Toronto dziesmu svētkos ar jauniem draugiem lika man justies, ka nometne bija izgarināta vēl vienu lielisku nedeļu, dodot ilgāku laiku pavadīt ar brīnišķīgiem, sirsnīgiem, un latviskiem cilvekiem.

Maija Grinberga

Ilze Puķīte: “Dziesmu svētkos mēs svinam tautas spēku”

toronto td

Foto: Maija McManus

Jūlija sākumā, es apmeklēju XV Latviešu Dziesmu un deju svētkus Kanādā, kur dejoju ar Vašingtonas DC tautas dejas grupu Namejs. Es ļoti baudīju atkal piedalīties dziesmu svētkos kā dalībniece. Baltimoras svētkus 2017. gadā es apmeklēju tikai kā skatītāja, un, kaut vai nevajadzēja agri celties mēģinājumiem un bija vairāk laika lēnā garā izpētīt tirdziņu, koncertus, un izstādes, man tomēr trūka tuvās draudzības sajūta un dejošana pati. Dejot līdzi tūkstošs citiem latviešu dejotājiem no visām pasaules pusēm Mattamy sportu centrā, mana sirds bija pilna. Dejasbija skaistas, cēlas, un jautras pēc kārtas, un Raxtu Raxti mūs aizrāva ar brīnišķīgo pavadījumu. Mūsdienās ir bieži grūti izjust cerību, lasot avīzes un skatot ziņas, bet dziesmu svētkos bija iespēja atcerēties vissvarīgākās lietas: draudzība, mīlestība un tauta.

Viens no iespaidīgākajiem mirkļiem šajos dziesmu svētkos notika kopkora koncerta laikā. Tieši tad, kad pirmo reizi dziedāja vārdus, ,,lec, saulīte!” dziesmā ar tādu nosaukumu, elektrības piegāde tika pārtraukta visā pilsētas kvartālā, un zāle palika galīgi tumša. Es nebiju vienīgā, kas domāja, ka tas bija darīts tīšām, kā daļa no uzveduma, bet drīz mēs sapratām, ka bija īsts elektropadeves atslēgums. Tomēr, latviešiem nav vajadzīgi ne mikrofoni, ne ampi, ne skaļruni, lai dziesma skanētu līdz debesīm. Mums ir tikai vajadzīgi latvieši, mūsu balsis, mūsu sirdis un dvēseles. Tumšajā zālē, man asaras bira no acīm, domājot par tumsu Latvijas vēsturē un mūsu tautas spēku to pārspēt un pārdzīvot. Dziesmā un dejā mēs atrodam spēku tumsu pārspēt, un dziesmu svētkos mēs svinam tautas spēku.

Paldies, ALJA, par iespēju atkal piedalīties dziesmu svētkos!

Ar cieņu,

Ilze Puķīte