Suiti Cultural Space

Suiti is a small Catholic community in the predominantly Lutheran Kurzeme, inhabiting the Alsunga novads, Gudenieki parish in the Kuldīga novads, and Jūrkalne parish in Ventspils novads in the Western part of Latvia.

Historically, Liv, Cour, Scandinavian, German, and Polish cultures have intermingled and replaced each other.  Each has left a certain impact in the formation of the unique Suiti heritage. The unique character of the Suiti culture also bears the features of their religious otherness, and the traditions rooted in the lifestyle of farmers and fishermen. The attempts to separate themselves from their Lutheran neighbors acted to promote marrying withing the community, and that’s why it’s difficult to find a Suits who would not be related to another Suits.

In the Suiti culture Christian ideas are inseparable from folk traditions.  One of the obvious markers is the use of protective signs: to protect one’s property and the health and security of people and animals, the Suiti use both the slanted and incubus crosses, the so-called sun ornament, and the formula K+M+B (the first letters of the Biblical names of three wise men from the East), blessed chalk, coal, medicine, and water are kept in the house.

The cultural space of the Suiti is marked by a unique variant of the Latvian language (the Liv dialect), which is an important vehicle for the Suiti oral tradition (folk songs, beliefs, toponyms, tales, biographies, etc.).

Of the important life events (christening, wedding, funeral), weddings for Suiti are most important. The structure of this event has been meticulously documented (including films “Dzimtene sauc” or “Kāzas Alsungā” directed by Aleksandrs Rusteiķis, 1935) and “Cerību lauki” (directed by Andris Slapiņš, 1987). Suiti singers have been used also in feature films “Pūt, vējiņi” (directed by Gunārs Piesis, 1973) and “Dzīvīte” (directed by Aivars Freimanis, 1989). The Suiti believe that some day they are bound to have a real wedding among their community members, that’s why the traditions are being kept alive.

There are also certain seasonal festivities that, being inherited from pagan times, have been mixed with Catholic traditions.

One of the most striking expressions of Suiti culture is the singing of Suiti women: the bourdon polyphony that is formed the narrow said melody (recitation) overlapping with the so-called bagpipe bourdon (on ‘e’ and ‘o’ sounds). One and the same melody (with variations) can be performed in several functional contexts (family and seasonal festivities, various work and life situations), changing the text accordingly. The singing is often teasing and critical, directed at a particular person or a group of people.

Another important marker is the opulent national costume. The Suiti are proud not only of the beautiful clothes, but also of the preserved traditions for making them.

Because of their unique culture the Suiti have often become the center of attention for researchers and the society at large. In 1924 in Riga, they demonstrated their singing and playing of their traditional instruments. Over the decades they have performed at various events of both traditional and contemporary culture both in Latvia and abroad. Their presence at the national song festivals is indispensable.

Even though history has not been kind to the Suiti and their culture, they still try to maintain their traditions. There are singing groups in Alsunga, Gudenieki, and Jūrkalne. Children’s groups have been formed in Alsunga and Basi.

An important contributor in promoting the awareness of Suiti etnic identity and preservation of their cultural space is the association “Suiti Ethnic Culture Center” established in 2001. Owing to its activities, the Suiti have been more enthusiastic in finding people who still know the old traditions, renewing some of them (playing the kokle and bagpipes, learning traditional crafts etc.), and popularizing this old culture in the country at large.

Signe Pujāte

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Signe Pujāte par suitu kultūrtelpu Latvijas kultūras kanonā, 2008.

(Latvian) Dziedi līdzi Suitu sievām: Kurzemes radio raidījums [CD]. ([20–]). Izpilda folkloras grupa „Suitu sievas”, raidījumu vada Dainis Pilskungs. [Latvija]. Latvijas Nacionālās bibliotēkas Audiovizuālais krājums, Fcd/11390

Nosargāt gadsimtus: suitu kultūrtelpa [DVD]. (2009). Režisore Daina Rašenbauma. Latvija: Biedrība EKC „Suiti”. Latvijas Nacionālās bibliotēkas Audiovizuālais krājums, Fdvd/1996

Suitu kāzas: precību un kāzu dziesmas [CD]. (2016). Izpilda „Suitu sievas”, „Maģie suiti”, „Gudenieku suiti” u.c. [Alsunga]: Etniskās kultūras centrs „Suiti”. Latvijas Nacionālās bibliotēkas Audiovizuālais krājums, Fcd/11647