Alsung Castle, Latvia
In September 2019 I visited the Suiti people of Alsunga in western Latvia.
The Suiti are a group of ethnic Latvian Catholics in a region is predominantly Lutheran. They have kept themselves isolated for nearly 400 years and in doing so have preserved their rich and unique traditions.
The Suiti custom that I loved most was a very particular style of drone singing. It is performed exclusively by women, in heavy, intricately embroidered outfits, with lyrics made up on the spot.
Basically, each singer takes a turn to insult the people listening. It started as a way of keeping people’s egos in check – a bit like the Tall Poppy Syndrome in Australia.
The ladies who sang at me chastised the state of my shoes and mocked the size of my nose.
The ‘performance’ was held in Alsunga Castle. It was built back in 1372, remodelled in Baroque style in 1741 and left pretty much untouched since.
Wikipedia describes the castle as partially restored, although partially derelict is probably a more accurate description.
And I don’t mean that in a bad way. As you can see from the pictures it imbues the castle with a kind of melancholy that chimes with my COVID-19 lockdown frame of mind.
And why I #WishIWasThere. Even if it is just to show the ladies I’ve got myself a new pair of boots.
Since I first wrote this post I’ve received a few messages asking if I had any video of the Suiti women insulting me. So here you go.
It’s not the moment they cruelly mocked my shoes and the size of my nose. I was worried that if I didn’t give them my full attention while they were mocking me they’d really nasty.
And don’t be fooled by their smiling faces, either. There was a major smackdown going on here.
These ladies just love their work!
UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage entry on the Suiti