In Latvian/Lībiešu tautas kultūra
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Liivinmaan kartta

Photographs of Liv Villages in Kurzeme Region 1902-1927

The Livs are Finnish people who live the furthest West on the Baltic Sea. They used to inhabit a wide territory in the Vidzeme and Kurzeme regions of Latvia. Before the Second World War, the Livs remained only in twelve fishing villages along the Kurzeme seashore. These were: Lūžņa, Miķeļtornis, Lielirbe, Jaunciems, Sīkrags, Mazirbe, Košrags, Pitrags, Saunags, Vaide, Kolka and Melnsils. The villages were located in an approximately 60 km long and a few kilometers wide coastal zone, which stretched from the furthest northern point Kolka to the West.
The Western Livs called themselves rāndalist (the coast people) while the Eastern Livs called themselves kalāmīed (fishermen). The language of the Livs rāndakēļ (language of the coast people) consisted of Western and Eastern dialects. As a mother tongue, the Liv language now is spoken only by about ten Livs, while at the beginning of the 20th century the Liv language was spoken by a couple of thousand people. The Livs started to call themselves by the collective name līvli (Livs) during the First National Awakening in Latvia after the First World War.

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Andreas Johan Sjögren
The Finnish linguist Andreas Johan Sjögren (1794-1855) began a new stage in research into Livs and the Liv language. Sjögren collected Liv language materials and determined the number of Eastern Livs and Western Livs living in Kurzeme in 1846 and 1852. Research into the Liv language was later continued by many other scholars, among them the Professors Emil Nestor Setälä and Lauri Kettunen. In addition to linguists, also ethnographers and folklorists were involved in researching Livs.

Axel Olai Heikel
In 1902, during an expedition covering the three regions of Latvia bordering the Baltic Sea, Axel Olai Heikel, the Curator of Ethnographic Department of the Finnish National Museum also visited the Livs. He researched the territory inhabited by the Livs in the northern coast of Kurzeme from Miķeļtornis (Pissen) through Mazirbe (Irben) up to Kolka (Domesnäs). Heikel also photographed Liv buildings and attire. At the same time he collected Liv materials for National Museum of  Finland Archives.

Emil Nestor Setälä, Eemil Arvi Saarimaa and Vilho Setälä
Emil Nestor Setälä, a Professor of Finnish Language and Literature at the Helsinki University (1893-1929) went on a second expedition to the Livs in 1912. Along with Setälä, also Eemil Arvi Saarimaa, Master of Philology, and Setälä’s son, Vilho, participated in the expedition. Researcher Saarimaa collected Liv folkloric materials. Vilho Setälä took many ethnographic photographs and portraits of Livs. He also inscribed the language into a parlograph.

Lauri Kettunen and Oskar Loorits
Lauri Kettunen, Professor of Finnish Languages around the Baltic Sea, Tartu University (1919-1925), made his first expedition to the Liv coast in 1920. Kettunen’s  travel companion was his student at that time Oskar Loorits, who, to a larger extent than any other person, has collected and published Liv folkloric materials, among them Liv folk songs. Loorits’ dissertation “Liv Folk Beliefs” (Liivji rahva usund) was published in 1926. While researching the Liv language, Lauri Kettunen photographed life in Liv villages in 1920, 1921, 1923 and 1925. In total, Kettunen visited the Liv coast eleven times. As a result of his research, a rich body of work was created, including a collection of examples of Liv language dialects and a Liv language dictionary.

Ferdinand Leinbock-Linnus
Ferdinand Leinbock-Linnus, Estonian ethnographer and Director of the Ethnographic Department of the Estonian Folk Museum, photographed bee-keeping in Liv villages in 1927. He has written of his research into Liv fishing and crayfish industry and participated in the creation of the first documentary film about the Livs.

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The sea, low sand beaches, pale-yellow sand-dunes rising to the edge of a forest, among them marshy areas and small sandy fields –– this is the landscape of the Liv villages of Kurzeme.
Liv villages were clusters of small individual farmsteads. Erected among the coastal sand dunes, and stakes for hanging nets pointed to the existence of a village.

As late as the beginning of the 20th century, archaic features characteristic of Latvian and Lithuanian construction could be found in the old Liv buildings. One of these was the dūmnams –– the smokehouse –– built of logs, a building that served as a special kitchen. In the middle of the floor was an open hearth and, from a beam located lengthwise above the hearth, hung a kettle. In the smokehouse various household tasks were done –– brewing of beer, washing of clothes, butchering of farm animals, preparation of meals, as well as eating of meals in the summer. On stakes in the house, plaice, Baltic herring and sprats were dried. A smokehouse in the form of a pavarda kambaris –– hearth chamber –– also was retained in the old dwellings of Livs, which consisted of a living room and an antechamber. In this antechamber there were no windows. There was an earthen floor, an open hearth and beams for hanging kettles. This hearth chamber also fulfilled the function of an entryway. The stove of the adjacent room was heated from the antechamber. On occasion, on the other side of antechamber a second common room was built. More living space was acquired also by extending the dwelling through the addition of another room, a kitchen or a chamber. As a result, the existing hearth chamber became the entryway on the other side of the house.

The homestead buildings were located around the main house. The granary was divided into two sections, the two granaries being located side-by-side under a common roof so forming one specialized building. Dual-entry doors were located in the long wall of the building. A barn also included a storage area for hay and an attached lean-to, which was also utilized as a storage place or sleighs, carts or wagons. The sauna was located near the well, while the threshing barn was outside the yard. The threshing barn not only included a threshing-floor but also served as a storage barn for hay. The threshing floor was located at the end of the building.

The old Liv buildings had a two-slope saddle roof. Covered with wood shingles, the heavy roof had an overhang supported by hooks and was held up by massive roof  beams. The roof construction of the Liv buildings conforms with Latvian and Eastern European traditional construction. The buildings generally were erected on massive foundation logs directly on the earth.

Roofed with wood shingles, the net huts of fishermen were located near the seashore. In them were placed the nets after they had dried out on stakes. These stakes, which were installed near the mooring place for the boats, were made of supporting wood poles, set up in rows in the sand parallel to the shore.

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On the Kurzeme coast, Baltic herring, sprats, plaice and cod were fished. Baltic herring and sprats were fished with nets and creels –– fish-baskets –– in early spring and autumn. Plaice were caught with seine-nets in the summer. The seine-net had a large and a small wing. At the end of the wings were attached wood poles, to which were fastened long tow ropes. A stone, serving as a sinker, was fastened to the back of the wing. Bugbears, objects to scare the fish, were attached to the ropes to make the plaice move between the towropes. After being herded into the low coastal waters, the plaice were lifted out with a gaff. Cod were primarily caught with fishing hooks, while spawning cod were caught with nets.The plaice were cleaned and salted. After being left in the saltwater for several days, they were taken out and pinned on smoking skewers. They were then hung in a smokehut made from old boats or, in earlier times – in a smokehouse. Under the long smoking skewers a slow-burning fire was lit and, in its warmth and smoke, the plaice were dried and readied for eating and selling.

Photographs 44 - 61


As late as the beginning of the 20th century, beekeeping was an important activity for the Livs. In older times honey was collected from bee trees where bee swarmed to make their hives. These bee trees were trees with natural hollows or especially hollowed out cavities. The entrances to the beehives were closed off in the winter. In the middle of the 19th century, constructed beehives located near Liv homesteads replaced the natural bee trees.

Photographs 62 - 69


Beside fishing and keeping livestock, an important source of income was agriculture. Having acquired land, Livs became small-scale farmers after the First World War. In the sandy fields they grew barley, oats, summer rye and potatoes. Potatoes grew well in the fields fertilised with brown algae and sea sludge.

After being cut down with a scythe, the grain crops were tied into sheaves. The dried off sheaves were taken to the threshing barn for further drying on the beams. Afterwards the dried sheaves were spread on the floor. The grain was threshed with flails or two or three horses, led in a circle on the spread out grain. The summer crops were threshed by foot. After the threshing, the remaining chaff was gathered with pitchforks. The grain mixed with chaff was poured into a pile in front of the open door of the barn to be winnowed. Air currents separated the grain from the chaff.

Coastal pines were used in the building of boats. The fishing boats were equipped with a mast that could be raised and lowered, with a sail and a foresail, reminiscent of the boats used in the Estonian coastal islands.

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Unique historical features of women’s folk costumes.

According to information dating back to the 18th century, women wore a large woollen shawl that was pinned on the breast with a silver brooch called a sakta. These woollen shawls were characteristic of the Baltic countries and Finland, and their origin is rooted in ancient history. When going outside the house, the head and shoulders were covered with this woollen shawl. At the end of the 19th century, a white woollen shawl (kõrtan) and a narrow-striped skirt (trīplimi gūngaseŗk) constituted the women’s folk costume. The stripes of the skirt were red and black. The bottom rim of the skirt was decorated with sewed on, coloured ribbons. Besides the narrow striped skirt, also black skirts with 3 to 4 red stripes around the bottom rim were worn.

Distinguishing apparel for married women was a mouth scarf (mundangs) and a headdress made up of three parts (aube). The mundang was a long, narrow, white scarf. It totally covered the chin and cheeks and was tied at the back of the head. As early as the 17th century, information has been found concerning the wearing of such a scarf. The three-part headdress was sewn from three pieces of cloth. For decoration, small roses fashioned of cloth and glass beads were sewn on the back of the headdress.

As footwear, men and women wore moccasin-type shoes made from a single piece of leather called pastalas, and bast shoes –– vīzes  — made diagonally woven osier bark. The Swedes living in the northwest islands wore the same type of  pastalas. Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians and White Russians wore vīzes  prepared by the same technique.

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The linguistic and ethnographic researchers who came from Finland at the beginning of the 20th century met many old inhabitants in the Liv coastal villages.

Photographs 109 - 126: KOLKA, SĪKRAGS
Photographs 127 - 140: VAIDE, LIELIRBE, MAZIRBE, KOŠRAGS


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Organiser of the Exhibition: National Board of Antiquities. Finland
Handwriting: Marja-Leena Kaasalainen
Layout/Design: Maikku Soveri
Translation/Latvian: Valts Ernštreits/Liv: Valts Ernštreits/English: Margita Gailīte
Consultant/Historian: Valda Šuvcāne

In Latvian/Lībiešu tautas kultūra

144 kuvaa