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Suiti cultural heritage

The Suiti traditional attire

The history of the Suiti traditional attire traces back to the 17th century, when the parish of Alsunga, former Alšvanga, converted to the Catholicism. Affected by the Polish tangible culture and distribution of the Catholicism, the Suiti costumes also developed under the special impact of some relevant historic events:

1. The reign and lordship of Duke Jacob in Courland/Kurzeme (1642-1682), characterized by intense economic activities, when manufacturing companies of various specializations operated, including those dealing with textiles. They employed peasants, while their masters were Swedes and French, from whom the local peasants learned a lot.

2. The Great Northern War in the territory of Latvia (1700-1721). During the war (1710) there was a plague outbreak, which destroyed the welfare of Kurzeme. There were massive casualties (about 4/5 of all the farmers died from plague). To prevent a complete waste of the lands, “the lords brought people from the territory of Lithuania and even the Saaremaa Island. Some features might have been taken from the Saaremaa people. A special example of this would be the similar skirt construction characterized by ņieburi bodices (straps) sewn to skirts, typical for the Fenno-Ugrian peoples, also Hiiumaa, Saaremaa and other areas of Estonia, in the 18th century. In the 19th century the residents of the aforesaid territories adopted the style, just like in the rest part of Europe, to wear full skirts with belts sewn onto them.

3. The historical events in Europe (The French Revolution 1787-1794) and incorporation of the Duchy of Kurzeme into Russia in 1795, when it was made a province of the Russian Empire.

4. The consequences of military operations by Napoleon (1812) in Kurzeme. Whole province of Kurzeme was captured. As a result, the local peasants suffered greatly. Nevertheless, having seen the clothing of the French army and the rest of their ways, the local residents assumed some of these for their own purposes. For instance, some of the typical features that make the Alsunga female attire different from the other Latvian national costumes are high-waist skirts and fluffy ruffed shirt sleeves. These types of skirts and shirts came into fashion in the period of the Empire style (1804-1815) overlapping with the warfare of Napoleon in Kurzeme. Long tight cuffs of shirts and the particular cut of vamzis jackets and their decorations are also presumably attributed to the same period. These are also integrated into the wardrobe of many other European nations (including the Poles), as inspired by the cut and design of soldier uniforms of the Napoleon’s Army.

5.1817. 5. The emancipation of the serfs (abolition of serfdom with several disclaimers) on August 25th, 1817 in the province of Kurzeme. “…following the “emancipation of serfs” the Baltic provinces experienced a significant activity in capitalistic manufacturing. The 18030’s and 40’s were the starting period of the industrial revolution, i.e., transition from manufacturing to capitalistic factories operated by machines and steam engines.” 19.

These are the highlights of history affecting the residents of Kurzeme and the Suiti as a part of them. In order to adapt to and integrate themselves into the overall course of history, the common people were involved into these events directly or indirectly. Thus, the clothing of the common people (peasants) followed the lead. The peasants were quick to react to anything that happened around them, adopting and adjusting some features of clothing for their needs. However, the Suiti, guided by the Catholic conservatism for several generations, managed to preserve the unique style of their national attire until the turn of the 20th century. That is not to say that the national costume has remained unchanged for the whole time – it has been developing throughout the times, as far as it was possible.

Changes in the national attire during the 19th century

The are no drawings by the contemporary authors left (or known) neither from the 17th and 18th century, nor the beginnings of the 19th century, depicting the traditional costume of the Suiti community. As a consequence, we can speak about the way it looked before, by referring to the ethnographic material (The Monument Board, Atlas of the Latvian Culture) from the early 20th century, notes of the collectors and the publications of the early 20th century. The data on the most ancient periods are fragmentary – there are some clothing articles saved, and some of them are represented in one sample, so they cannot be taken as grounds for any general conclusions. As a result, it is impossible to reconstruct the ancient version of the Suiti national attire as a whole. There are only separate parts of clothing (details) to be listed, so there can be assumptions made about the clothes the ancient Suiti wore, by finding parallels with the conserved material of the closest neighbours and by considering the course of history of the particular period.

Some more accurate materials are available from early 19th century, when Europe went through social-economic changes, new capitalistic relationships were developing, manufacturing, trade and culture relations were growing. These transformations were described by Matīss Siliņš: “What the German oppression could not do during the period of more than a half of thousand years that was done by the European order of factory industry in just half of a century – during late 18th century and early 19th century. Latvia was affected by it during early 19th century. Facing competition with cheap and simple production of factories, the traditional handicraft and its samples had to be safely tucked into chests, boxes and hope chests as a dear memory, and half a century later – the remaining ones were taken to safer storage places, such as museum showcases.

The traditional costumes and adornments were inevitably replaced by the European fashion, more foreign than German – it was French, from the short trousers (culotte, French soldier uniforms) of the 18th century to the female blouses (Belgian cabman shirt). The lavish patterns of villaines, belts and headdresses were replaced by rather sloppy embroideries on caneva (tiles, loop-eyed fabrics). These were soon forgotten, and the styles were further dictated by the capricious annual season trends.” It is clear there have been the French present in Kurzeme since the period of Duke Jacob, with the manufacturing masters (in the mid-17th century) in place, up to the military operations of Napoleon I (1812), so no wonder the national costumes of Alsunga have preserved a lot of “French” style, meaning many parts and features of French clothing.

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Saktas

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Jostas

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Jaciņas

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*Sources

  1. Latvijas vēstures muzejs. LATVIEŠU TAUTAS TĒRPI II KURZEME. Latviešu un lībiešu tērpi, 1997.
  2. Axel O. Heikel Volstrachten In den Ostseeprovizen und in setukesien. Helsingforsa, 1909., Taf. XIII.
  3. Siliņš M. Alšvanga. Latvju raksti. R., 1931.
  4. Nasteviča D. Adīti mauči, 2014.
  5. Upenieks P. Balandnieki, 2005.
  6. Kursīte J . Suitu identitāte, 2005.
  7. Latvijas Etnogrāfiskais brīvdabas muzejs Suitu pūrs, 1991.
  8. Biedrības “ Etniskās kultūras centrs “Suiti”” Suit’drān’s, 2017.
  9. Latvijas Nacionālais kultūras centrs, Anete Karlsone Rakstainās jostas: kopīgais kultūrslānis, 2014.
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