Livonian life stories:
source of identity
Lizete vanenberga, 85 years old, recorded
at Luznja, Kolka peninsula, in 1987. She spoke in the Tamian
dialect of Latvian. There is a simple explanation that the Tamian
dialect was created by Livonians when they use Livonian Grammar
rules in Latvian speech. In Lizete's Lifestory there are memories
about an Estonian professor Loorits, whom she calls Baltgalvîtis
('Whiteheaded man', because of his white hair), carefully listening
and learning her mother's Livonian language and folk-tales. Like
roe in the wood's darkness - so beautiful and clueless -
this folkteller Oskar Loorits wrote poetically about Lizete's
mother. The call of the wild and mythological outlook echoes
throughout Lizete's mother. The call of the wild and mythological
outlook echoes throughout Lizete's life story.
16-year-old Lizete in Sevastopol.
The Latvian Oral History Collection.
Lizete narrating her biography
in 1986. Photo: Vaira Strautniece.
In creative way Lizete narrates
about her own life: about 2 years at school, before her father
- a seaman, took his family to Odessa, Sevastopol - during World
War I; about her husband's death on the sea, about the last Livonian
feelings when their Fatherland became the Soviet boundary, with
various military forces around.
She likes to repeat the belief
of her Mother that everybody needs to leave a cup of water in
the bail of well for Spirits, and after washing water at the
bath house leaving something for the Daughter of Mâra.
The many times Lizete was recorded every time she had another
history to tell. When a bus of tourists came, she always was
ready to tell how she in childhood saw Lenin and Stalin and how
she played games with the Tsar's children on Sevastopol's railway
station when she was a refugee, how she found Livonian language
in TV and how she came a star of cinema. It is quite possible
that sometimes she could find Finnish TV program, since the Livonian
language is very similar to Finnish, and in her old age she was
often taped on film, however, how much of these stories are her
own fantasies about her youth memories nobody could say.
Fantasies and real happenings
- all are mixed in the way of Lizete's story telling. In Lizete's
version of the traditional Livonian folk-tales motif about Blue
Cows and the Daughter of Mâra was played by a real person
- Lizete's neighbour Davinj. Many years later in another
world he could listen Lizete's tales about himself in many ways.
The Daughter of Mâra
came out of the sea with her blue cows. She had twelve cows,
twelve blue cows. She left them graze there on Davinj'
field, right across Davinj's field she led them. And then
old Davinj looked: what are those cows on his field?
- I'll take a stick to you!
Now he takes a stick and
drives them out, drive those blue cows out. So the Daughter of
Mâra looks on dunes, she looks and says:
- Don't touch them, they
are my cows!
So Davinj says:
- Drive then away, drive
those cows from my field, drive them away, I'll beat them off!
Who wants his fields trampled
The Daughter of Mâra takes her twelve cows and drives them
into the sea, drives them back into the sea and says:
- Hunger is upon you and
from hunger you will have to die, for not letting me graze them,
for driving my cows away.
And she leads them away,
she leads all her cows off into sea and she never returns.
The life stories keep specific
Livonian character and poetry longer than language which flew
away in a rapid way - nobody on the Livonian coast who speaks
the Livonian language in the family now. Without language, Livonians
could still find their identity in the historical memory.
This example from a well-known
respondent such as Lizete is just one example of the way in which
Lifestories of the Livonian Coast (Lîbieu krasts)
open the way to understanding Livonian identity.
The Livonian Coast is located
on the northern part of Kurland (Kurzeme) on Kolka's Peninsula
in Northwestern Latvia. Between the World Wars, there were eleven
Livonian fishing villages. After World War II, however, this
part of Latvia became a military zone occupied by the Soviets,
and the civil inhabitants slowly disappeared. The main source
of income - fishing - was forbidden and there was nothing for
young people to do. This area's inhabitants today are largely
The main sources for this study
of Livonian identity is:
- Life stories of Livonians
inhabitants of the Livonian coast recorded in the 1980s-1990s.
The Latvian Oral History Collection (Nacionâlâs
mutvârdu vestures - NMV) now holds over sixty life
stories that address on Livonian identity and history (these
are indexed according to the marker Lî), each of
which is at least 1.5 hours long;
- The results of qualitative
research analysing the responses of 120 interviewees who discussed
living conditions on the Livonian Coast and issues of identity
- Video interviews with experts
in this field from Estonia and Finland. Interviewees include
Seppo Suhonen, Eduard Vääri, Tiit-Rein Viitso.
Based on these sources, I have
tried to define the main themes and key words found in individual
memories recorded in Life stories in Livonian villages in the
- Refugees from World War I
and World War II;
- Livonian social life and community
activities (Lîvõd Ît) between the wars;
- Fishing, fishermen's and fisherwomen's
work and the dangers of the sea;
- Parent's high value of work
- work as a most important factor of life;
- Children's and youth's plays
and games in Livonian houses;
- Support from friends and related
ethnic groups in Finland and Estonia;
- World War II in the forests
and on the sea;
- World War II and post-war
repression and its influence on the lives of many people;
- Topological mythological motifs.
The life stories found in the
oral history collection may be divided into categories according
to the way in which the interviewees form their narrative. In
the first group, the narratives provide a broad and informative
picture. In the second group, the interviewee forms a rather
free and open life story. The life story could be a chronological
telling, where the interviewee stops at important periods and
events in his or her life, but it could also be a story that
ties simply together several important personal events in the
individual's life. In the third category, a talented orator provides
a performance, and in this story, the main highlights are the
ways of expression and the inimitable colour of the story.
In this article I will consider
how Livonians express and characterise their identity, as inhabitants
of the coast of Kurland, fishermen and women, and in terms of
ethnicity. Respondents who spoke Livonian, but have since passed
away, are Katrîna Krâsone, Pêteris Dambergs,
Alvîne Uzpils, Emîlija Rulle, Marta Betholde, Elza
Mansurova, and Lizete vanenberga, Elfrîda Zagare, Paulîne
Kljavina. Others who speak Livonian are Irmgarde Cerbaha, Edgars
Sharing a common land and history
plays an important role in identity formation for those most
active Livonian society members, who still spoke Livnonian into
the 1970s. Even up to the regaining of independence, the history
of twentieth-century Livonians continued in the oral tradition,
passed on to others by the generation who had experienced it
World War I refugees
According to the Latvian Encyclopaedia,
there were approximately 2000 to 3000 Livonians in Kurland prior
to World War I, but in 1925, only 1238 of Kurland inhabitants
identified themselves as Livonians and in 1935, 944 identified
themselves as such. Oral history sources give us a glimpse of
life behind these numbers.
World War I events appear in
many life stories, as the respondents' early childhood memories,
in family histories, and in explaining their place of birth.
I was born in the autumn
and in the summer of the next year we fled to Estonia and went
by boat to Saaremaa. I do not remember this, but I know this
from stories. (Ella
Kandere, born in Sîkrags, 1914)
Alberts Kriekjis, born in St.
Petersburg, 1917. His parents died when he was young - fleeing
during the war, no one knows, how they got there.
Pêteris Dambergs, born
in Sîkrags in 1909, remembers World War I events himself:
It was summer. We had climbed
on the dunes and watched, how in Ventspils the grain elevator
was burning. We could see its fire and smoke, we could see it.
People said, look, they're now burning the Ventspils elevator.
I started to cry and my father hit me on the bottom for that
- what am I crying for! But soon after that . . . it was so,
that the village inhabitants were planning to leave because the
Germans were coming. My grandmother, I remember said, Mûskârls
- 'Our Kârlis' (that is my dad) he can't stay here because
he has disagreements with the forester and the landlord.
Even after seventy years the
atmosphere of the fleeing reveals such details as Ventspils
elevator's fire, and father's disagreements with the forester.
These memories from such a long time ago are proof of the strong
impression an event leaves on an individual's mind, even though
he or she was a small child at the time. This personal experience
found in memories can be compared with archival materials about
refugees, official governmental notices, etc. The emotions expressed
in these stories and first childhood impressions reveal that
these events have influenced a person's understanding about values,
the world, and his or her place in it.
Well, and then I remember,
that we packed our things, some clothes, and primarily only those
clothes. We did not take other things, of course. We did not
even take the nets. We just packed those in bags and took them
to the seashore. One of our relatives from Ventspils had come
My mother's relative of some kind, and they left him in our house,
he did not come with us, he was left at home as a watchman, so
to say. [---] Those
people who could leave on their own in some way, left on their
own. At that time 'uriadniki' encouraged people to leave, went
from house to house and encouraged people to leave.
born in 1912 and has, since 1939 lived the greater part of his
life in Itti - the little city, in Finland, also remembers from
his childhood the fear as a refugee:
When we had arrived in Pernava
we could hear that the German shooting had started from the direction
of the sea. There were small children, my brother also, the neighbours
had their children, everyone screaming. Then we were under the
deck a ship. I remember, that's the only thing, that my mother
then yelled at the men above to be careful, to come down. My
mother's shout of fear has stayed in my memory to this day.
The centrality of emotion in
Pêteris Dambergs' story provides evidence of the detail
found in memories:
Young Fisher was planning
to leave. The older Fishers wanted to stay here. I still remember,
how they all were clustered together, crying along the seashore,
walking away, as though they were staying, as though they were
Their son was still calming them down, stroking
the older Fishers, and so they stayed here.
What Pêteris Dambergs
remembers himself has also become a part of the next generation's
memory. Erna Vanaga, maiden name Breinkopfs, emotionally tells
of her parents' experience. Her sister's birthplace and her grandmother's
place of death in Tallinn (Revele) is an unforgettable
part of the family's history.
And then we went to Revele
[---] Velta was
born in Revele. She worked with fish, I remember, how mother
told us how they packaged fish not in the centre, but somewhere
outside of town. Grandmother - my mother's mother and my father's
mother - both died there. Both grandmothers are buried there.
[---] She very often thought about them, mother still
cried, that they had just begun to live, everything now was destroyed.
Grandfather in Sîkrags was considered to be very wealthy
- he had ships, father's father, grandfather Didrikis had had
ships. They were considered to be rich. Then when they returned,
they saw that there was no room for them to live
Pêteris Dambergs's story
reveals the refugee relationship with the locals and the awareness
of language relatedness:
Well we left for Kuressaare,
now Kingissep, in Saamsala [the
Island of Saaremaa]. We lived there for one, approximately
one month. Then the refugees who had settled there were evacuated
away to Haapsala [Haapsalu]
In Haapsala even in
the refugee school... some Estonians attended the refugee school.
You did not have to pay for anything there. Livonian language
- is similar to Estonian, but it is not Estonian, and the language
of the islanders is also different. We were "kurrata saarlasid"
- islanders from the devil
We could get along...
The refugee situations are
shaped by coincidences, experiences, uncertainties and moving
from one place to the other. The only form of material security
is items taken from home.
(born in 1906 in Lûznja) still remembered in 1996 the long
refugee voyage and returning home to her place of birth:
I had several brothers.
In World War I, when that war came, then everyone fled from here.
With a ship from Mikeltornis to Haapsala [Haapsalu]. We were in Haapasala, Revele [Tallinn],
and there in Revele, father was taken by the war and we again
were left at home, and then from there to Vyatka, then to Kirov,
there we were. And then when father was released, he was so old,
that's why father got home. And then Father and Mother went to
work on the railroad, and we kids were around the house again,
and there, where we were, in Vyatka. And then from Vyatka we
were transferred to Rêzekne, working on the railroad. And
then from Rêzekne we
got home only when the war ended
We got home only when
the war ended. We came home only with what we had on our backs
came back on a little sled, which we were given there, and so
we came home, on the small sled.
The small sled is the salary for life in exile. But
many did not return from the refugee travels - some died, some
disappeared without trace, and disappeared in Russia.
Many of the Livonians have
very developed artistic talents, and a poetic sense of the world
fits well with the fishing lifestyle. This is apparent in the
first Livonian poetry collection where the majority of the authors
have earned their living on sea, as well as in the expressive
way in which the narrators describe their daily live and environment
in which they live.
Such is the story about the
It is berry-picking time
and all the women went to pick berries, but the hay must also
be taken care of because it has been rather rainy. Now the sun
is shining, now the hay should be processed, because there were
That was in great-grandfather's
time. He had stripped naked and tied the stump with all its roots
to his back and had gone over the hills on all fours, and the
women went home screaming that they had seen the devil. (Silvija Milda Helena Rudzîte,
born in 1921 in Vaide, story recorded in Boston)
When Ernest finally was
released to go home, he could not even step over a blade of grass. He could not even step over a blade
of grass, Alvîne Mûrniece remembers her husband's
return from Siberia. She describes her father's and brother's
struggle with the sea as though she had been there herself:
My father was a fisherman,
he was a fisherman. How many times didn't he almost drown, but
he was saved again. Once he and my brother had been fishing,
and what happened, but the wind came and knocked over the mast
and so water was coming in and around the boat. And Father had
clutched the bottom of the boat, and that brother too. That brother
said, I can't any longer, I'm letting go, I can' t anymore. My
Father said, hey, hold on, hold on, what will we say, what will
I tell your wife, when I get home, what will we tell your wife...well,
they see, that another boat is coming in the direction, where
they are. Maybe, when they come closer, they will save us. The
wind was building, building much stronger. Yes, and then the
boat came closer and saved them, but then everything that they
had stayed on the sea, and the boat too
good, that they
could save those people.
I grew up between the covers
of a Bible, ninety-eight-year-old
Emma Princis describes her religious upbringing in 1995 in Ugâle.
In Irmgarde Cerbaha's memories
brought from Sweden, Finno-Ugric mythology's familiar bird motif
plays a central role in her narrative of refugee boat crossings
across the sea.
For each it was different.
Sprogi had had a rather crazy time of it, they said, that they
survived a storm, and had to throw everything overboard. For
others it had gone rather well. My sister-in-law's mother told
me, she left from Liepâja, and they were going along and
then the fuel started to run out, and there is nothing else
Just the open sea, and everyone starts to panic. No land, none.
Gotlande Island should have been there, but it was not. Finally,
somebody noticed a crow, it was flying, and they turned in the
direction, where that crow was flying, and at they were at the
very point! They would have gone by, and through, if the crow
had not brought them
Estonian and Finnish researchers
Stories about Estonian and
Finnish researcher expeditions long remain in the speech and
memories of narrators. Lizete vanenberga remembered, how Estonian
researcher Oskar Loorits was given the name Vâldapa
(Whitehead) because of his pure white hair. Elfrîda Zagare
remembers stories she has heard about the Finnish Professor Kettunen,
who in the summer lived with his students in her father's house
Klâvi, in Sîkrags.
That student and I still
write to each other [Väino
Kyrölä]... That Finnish professor Ketunaanu [Kettunen]
had lived one summer in Santas' house, he had come with his entire
family. Later they lived with us, we gave them the big room,
and Hilda and I slept in the haystack. We learned Livonian. My
Grandmother was everyone's teacher. My father's mother Eda Cerbaha,
she was old then, she had the time to dedicate to this.
The Finnish student taught
this young Livonian girl her father's father's language. The
researcher's interest raised the value of the language in the
eyes of the Livonian's themselves. Leontîne Ûdre
I was in church at the time,
I was being confirmed. And when I came home from church, then
suddenly someone came up to me on the way home, and [laughs] so it went on all the time.
So they came, and taught me Livonian, taught me language. They
learned quickly too, that young Finn, I did not know anything,
but they taught me Livonian.
Finnish and Estonian researchers'
fieldwork found resonance in society, which raised Livonian self-respect
and awareness. All of the Livonian awakening events were encouraged
and supported by the Finno-Ugrian society - the founding of a
Livonian Association (Lîvõd Ît), the
blessing of the flag, the teaching of language in Livonian village
schools, the building of the Livonian Center.
Professor Kettunen said,
that we need to train a Livonian teacher. Hilda [Grîva, born in Cerbaha],
studied for two years in Finland because her parents did not
have the money to send her to schools... The first year was in
a craft and home economics school. The second year she studied
in a teacher's seminar, but in Latvia she was told that she would
not get a job if she studied abroad. With the help of a scholarship
from Janson, a Finn, she continued her education in Jelgava's
teacher's institute. She studied the piano with Sibelius' daughter
and learned to play the violin.
In spite of Finnish and Estonian
support, no one from this generation became a local Livonian
language teacher. The poor material conditions, the obstacles
created by Latvia's bureaucrats and the Livonian Association's
officials became insurmountable after the occupation of Latvia
in 1940, when the Livonian Association was disbanded and all
Finno-Ugric connections broken.
The golden years
In the short period between
the two world wars, the fruits of hard labour gradually became
apparent. This period of the narrators' youth was also the happiest
time, particularly in comparison with subsequent events. Livonian
culture and social events have a central role in their memories.
Mazirbe had its choir, Kârlis
Stalts' daughter Margarita led it. Blûms', Lielirbes choir
director sang in it. Blûms' choir went to Saamsaal [the Island of Saaremaa] to sing.
They had there own musicians - for brass and string instruments,
they went to Saamsaal in their own motorboat. How beautiful it
was in Saamsala! Rocks and then a small green island in the sea,
there above everything green. How did they swim up there! A pile
of hay on top, and then all along to the seashore - we have sand,
but there everything is green
all kinds of trees are growing
The impressions of youth have
remained in all their colours in Emîlija Rulle's memory.
In the case of Leontîne Ûdre, she remembers how important
Mazirbe used to be, especially after the building of the Livonian
Well, the majority of the
musicians came from Ventspils. Even, even partygoers came from
Ventspils. Then along the entire seashore, only Mazirbe had something
like that, a community centre with a parquet floor. Nowhere was
there anything like it, I don't know, it could be, that Roja
had something like it, but there was nothing in Kolka like it.
We were better than Kolka then. We had... we had a doctor, we
had a nurse, we had a midwife, we had a forestry, we had a pharmacy.
We had a station, and there was a lot of work at the station,
where they brought all the materials, where there were those
who loaded it, who chopped wood. We were a big village, yes.
All of after those dances, there were performances after those
dances. There were so many, again so many, there were party-goers,
Of all the villages, there was nothing elsewhere, they
even came from Kolka, Mensils. Vîdale, all came to Mazirbe,
yes. And then others came with the small train from Ovîi,
Emîlija Rulle talks about
her native Lielirbe village:
Before, Lielirbe had eight
old homesteads. When everyone was given land, then there were
64 homesteads. Lielirbe was a big village. We had our own musicians,
choir, the only thing we did not have was a club... At Easter
we swung in the swing, at Midsummer's we built a fire and danced,
in the winter we had Kekatvakars. The boys held Mârtinvakars,
Vatslâvji, in February the girls held the Íekatvakars.
Every Saturday and Sunday we danced. In the summer along the
seashore, in the winter inside. There was Gâlnieks' house
and Buks' house, old houses, big rooms, and in the winter every
Saturday all of the young people went to the dance. After that
we all cleaned up the room, cleaned it all. Everyone brought
something - boiled peas, my mom baked plodins - boiled potato,
white flour inside, and carrot on top.
Aina Bolinga's memories
connect her native Dûmele with a legend that she weaves
into biography, tying it to the year she was born:
The baron had a field on
the lakes, an entire field on a lake, which had been God's Lake,
but had been drained. There is an entire legend, that he was
riding a horse, and the lake like a snake crept along with him,
and he circled around it with the horse, and that is how the
lake came to be, and later the baron, digging a ditch by hand,
drained it. It was drained in 1837 - one century and one year
before my birth. The lord needed the field, he had many animals.
Work and traditions
Ella Kandere, born in 1914
in Sîkrags remembers:
We had to keep many animals
so that the sand would be fertilised. We had some eight hectares,
and rye grew well there, and along with that we had to keep very
many animals. Even though we did not get much out of the animals,
but we still needed the fertiliser because otherwise nothing
would grow in that sand. Mostly we sowed rye, potatoes, and peas...
That was all for ourselves, so that's how we grew up - rather
poor, not wealthy. I am sure; it was the same for everyone in
When they could not sell their
fishing wares, then they tried to use it as barter with the farmer's
in exchange for food. Erna Vanaga, born in 1925 in Sîkrags
Marketday was Wednesday
and when you could not sell anything, then on the way
home Mamma said - run along, dear, to that house - to Pân,
to Ding - he was the one from Dundaga
run along and ask
them, maybe they are willing to buy something and then you tell
them, that you are selling, and you tell them, if they do not
have money then we will also accept food - peas, potatoes, grain
- And they took it, too, we weren't going to take it back home
with us after all
Ernests Mûrnieks remembers:
We were not that well off.
As soon as one daughter grew up a little, she had to work as
a shepherd, then the other daughters had to go, each one
Those daughters, older daughters, never got to live at home.
[---] Here, on the
shore, before my time, there was rarely a boy who had not been
to sea [---] Who wanted to be a captain, he had to go
to school. There were also those locals who went to work on the
big ships. They went there from Ventspils. Big ships did not
Women also, however, often
found a place on fishing boats, especially if help was needed
during dangerous times on the sea. Erna Vanaga remembers, when
still as a girl:
Then Dad also went to the
shore. I remember - he had a bag of sand, so the boat does not
capsize. Dad could not go alone, after all, so I went with him.
I remember that as though it were today: Dad rowing by himself
It was not horribly high, we were not far out into the sea. And
I was really afraid, I was so horribly afraid, but still, I did
not want to show it, that I am afraid, and I wanted to go with
Dad. I remember it like it was today, that Dad rowed. And now
I had to pull out those nets, and we already see that we have
the quota, we see we have it, but now the waves are getting really
horrible, horribly big. I am afraid, and Dad says you know, girl,
you're going to have to take the oars
The seashore was the site of
all work for providing for daily needs, including brick baking,
as Alberts Kriekjis remembers:
I worked at Brauskas landlord's
brick kiln for two years - baked and made bricks. Each worker
received a rather good wage. We piled up one hundred unbaked
bricks in a wheelbarrow. You had to have strong arms and be a
strong man to control that pile. I fired up the kiln and piled
the bricks in myself, had to know how to pile them in so that
the fire got through. The boss checked each of them himself,
struck each of them. When the brick gives a clear sound, then
it is the highest quality, then they were taken away to Mazirbe
station. They had clay their, really good and high quality.
Teodors Vangravs, born in 1915
in Jaunupe remembered that working with his dad together on various
jobs, he noticed the wisdom the old man's wisdom:
There were some winters,
when you could fish all winter, and others, when it was not even
close - the lake froze from November through April, and in May
you could still walk on the ice by the sea, and you can't put
the nets in. Then we went to work in the forest. [---]
I also chopped trees, when they were ready. In those times we
did not chop forests like they do now - in the summer, in Midsummer's
they chop forests. That wood is not good for anything, it is
wasted. You can't do that - go and chop just when you think of
it. It is not good for anything when it is cut down at the wrong
time. For example, if you chop down a leafy tree in the summer,
in the early time, that tree is rotten, it does not have any
Irmgarde Cerbaha remembers
that they were accustomed to not locking doors, and at the end
of the war in the crazy times this resulted in a lack
of trust and suspicion regarding the incoming army.
At that time it was not
in fashion to lock doors. We are not used to locking doors. They
came and asked, why don't you lock your doors, maybe you are
waiting for someone... My goodness, those were crazy time
The war made it impossible
for the Livonian Association's head Pçteris Breinkopfs
to carry out his responsibilities, as his daughter Erna Vanaga
When the Russians left,
Dad was worried - the Estonians or Finns had given him a wind
generator - and the Russians had taken it all. They came in there
once and said postaza (desolation)!
Viestus Ûdrin tells:
Father's father was a captain for half of his life, the other
half he took on the job of the farm. He was big and tall, he
curled his moustache and, when he came from the sauna, put it
behind his ears. Father fished, sent the fish to Ventspils with
the little train, and had been trained in carpentry. He made
furniture, built houses (Dzilnas). We could never have been wealthy,
none here was wealthy, Father was in the homeguard, and that's
why he was deported.
World War II
In the places where Livonians
lived, the war began with the 'messengers' - Soviet military
bases that were built here in accordance with the ambiguous agreement
signed between Latvia and the Soviet Union. Arvîds Brencis
remembered, that still as a boy he received a warning from a
worker who was sent to work with him:
A bricklayer came to work
here, he employed me to help him. That bricklayer said, goodness,
I really don't know, what to think, but judging from what I've
heard, it seems really bad.
Everyone becomes involved in
and threatened by the war, even the shore fishermen. Alberts
We were fishing, and that was
already in German times, a plane was coming. We were pulling
in fish, twice, three, times around, but nothing. Then that
plane came to Saunag, it began shooting. There Zarinj [boat]
stood anchored, they had shot at that. [---] That was
the only thing they shot - Ludvigs, Feldmanis' foot was shot,
and he barely got home. And he got to shore with oars. That one
was off - he had been shot in the head - said, that it was a
Russian plane and the pilot was a woman. I said, no time to wait,
we have to get to shore however we can.
Livonian villages undergo permanent
change - men go to war, or flee to the woods and after that -
across the sea. Teodors Vangravs remembers the dramatic fates
of the locals:
Jêkabs and his entire
family went across the sea from Ventspils in their own motorboat.
Father's youngest sister went with Jêkabs to Sweden, then
to Canada. The sons had to go to the army, the Russian drafted
them. The German comes - fled, the Russian comes - fled. My brother
was sent to Siberia - he died. He did not go with the Russian,
even though he was drafted, he served on the Rona on in obligatory
service. The Russian took over. Went into the Latvian army and
he fell into that most complicated time of transition - spent
long years in Siberia.
At the end of the war, life
becomes tenser for Alberts Kriekjis:
I fled, that was the year
I hid in bunkers and everywhere. For those who were captured,
that was the end for them.
The most tragic memories are
also tied to comical ones. The inhabitants of the shore were
used to the fact that war always pushed them out of their homes,
that the war is not theirs, but that they must submit to its
rules of the game. The climax and end of the war takes place
in the forest and at sea.
Olga Rumpenberga remembers,
that Dûmele forest brothers and the Germans celebrated
They arrived with a small
half-tank - one was familiar, a friend of my husband, the Latvian
went to look for beer. The half-tank came in, I was thinking
that they are coming to capture the forest brothers, and all
those celebrating Christmas were out the window - to the sauna!
We had a full house, they were never partisans to me, only locals
They knew, that they would be chased out, they had so much livestock,
just bake the bread and slaughter the animals, salt the meat.
People came from one army and from the other, everyone wanted
to eat. Sometimes everyone drank a beer together and sang
one in German, one in Latvian. Who didn't know how to sing in
German in the German time?
Aina Bolinga, as a three-year-old,
once had to guard the forest brothers hidden under the bed:
But I remember, when another
time they were in the house when I was three years old, and they
were in the bedroom under the bed - and they placed me on the
pottie in front of them. And when the Germans opened the door,
I was supposed to scream really loudly, for them not to come
in, and I screamed, too. Gut, gut, said the German.
Dûmele, in the middle
of the forest, was like an island, where inhabitants still lived
by the rules of humanity, not the rules of war.
Both the Russian, who had
fallen, and the Latvian, who avoided the army - all shared the
same piece of meat, no one was at the other's throat - because
everyone was a person!
Many events have not become
a part of a collective memory because only a few participants
remember it. Many inhabitants moved and no longer shared a common
space, but those, who did, were silenced and could not talk about
their experiences. When they were allowed to talk freely again,
a long time had passed. People who now live in Livonian villages
no longer have common collective points of memory.
The number of documents and
records of primary sources is decreasing, as the testimony of
primary sources is available only from original documents or
an eyewitness. The only evidence of the Livonian villages destroyed
in the twentieth century is the original names of homesteads
that hang on empty houses. The other valuable links to this past
are the people who once lived there.
The number of witnesses of
the Livonian history and the scope of their memory grows when
one goes inland away from the shore. Many memories of people
who used to live in fisher villages have already been recorded
in Dundaga, Ventspils, Talsi, Rîga, and outside of Latvia
- in England in Derby, and in the United States in Boston. When
life in a common space is disturbed, then the common history
lives on in life stories. Livonians reveal their unique and particular
experiences, their imagination, and talent for performing in
life stories, which are key to a study of Livonian identity.
Oral history is a human guide to traditional history based on
documents. It facilitates the understanding of the role of historical
events in the individual's life, and the role of the individual
Translated by Mâra
(The Latvian Oral History Collection). Manuscript in the Institute
of philosophy and sociology, Latvian University. Riga.
Loorits, Oskar. Volkslieder
der Liven. Tartu, 1936.
Dzîvesstâsts / Lifestory. http://www.dzivesstasts.lv.