of Latvia are strongly convinced that they work for the oldest
academic institution in Latvia, as we consider our history starting
in 1924, when Latviesu folkloras kratuve (LFK,
actually means 'to collect', so the word implies more of collecting)
or Archives of Latvian Folklore was founded. This
decision was taken just five years after the Latvian state was
established in 1919. LFK was organised to a great extent according
to the same principles as the Finnish Literature Society Archives,
with Finnish experts (Kaarle Krohn) coming to Latvia to lecture
about the work principles of such institutions.
The period before was one of fostering the very idea of the Latvians being a nation. The same as the Finns put their epic "Kalevala" at the basis of national idea, also the first learned Latvians sought a source of Latvianness in the nation's folklore. They felt they couldn't possibly use anything else as practically all of the modern culture on the territory of Latvia was introduced by foreigners. In 1878 the circle of the learned Latvians in Moscow decided to publish a selection of the "best Latvian folk songs". The editorial and collection work was started jointly by Fricis Treuland-Brivzemnieks and Krisjanis Barons. Barons was the one to complete the task, still three men (on the picture form the left: Wissendorff, Barons, Brivzemnieks) were there to make it happen, including Henrijs Visendorfs (Wissendorff) - a collector and sponsor.
The edition "Latvju Dainas" (6 volumes published over the period 1894-1915) was the result of the effort.
The manuscript of "Latvju Dainas" in the form of a cabinet has become one of the symbols of Latvian culture. To get some idea of what it is like, please view this page.
One might ask - what is the connection between the edition prepared in the 19th century and an institution established well in the first half of the 20th. In fact the person behind the foundation of LFK - Anna Berzkalne - had noticed that because Barons just used the texts sent to him (he lived outside Latvia until 1893), the result was dependent upon the existence of active people in the particular districts. Where there was none, no song came to the editor, leaving that district not mentioned, even if there were songs sung. To eliminate the "mute parishes" (i.e. those not represented in the edition by a single text) was one of the main ideas behind LFK.
A look into the office of LFK.
Standing at the wall - Anna Berzkalne. The map behind her shows
the representation of different parishes in "Latvju Dainas".
That proves the significance of this particular work.
The main method
used was that of questionnaires, sometimes simply urging the teachers
to instruct their pupils how to record narratives and song texts
from elderly relatives.
In 1929 Berzkalne is replaced in the position of the Head of LFK by the former Minister of Education, Prof. Karlis Straubergs. The reasons are somewhat obscure, as she was simply asked to resign.
Whatever the personnel affairs, LFK managed to perform significant tasks in Latvian folkloristics. It published 28 books in 3 different series - A: material collections (including the song text edition in 4 volumes meant to cover the "mute parishes"); B: scholarly articles and thematically arranged material; C: folk melodies. Already in 1926 three phonographs were bought and recording of the folk melodies all over Latvia began.
After Latvia lost its independence in 1940 LFK remained. In fact that period was much too short to bring about any substantial changes. Still during that period the famous Cabinet of Dainas and some other valuable manuscripts were handed over to LFK to preserve them.
Under the nazi occupation LFK still managed to continue its work, conducting a field-work expedition to different places in Latvia in 1943. When the battles of the World War II were again approaching Riga, all possible measures were taken to protect the collected material, including microfilming the Cabinet of Dainas. The most fragile items like phonograph cylinders and the mentioned above microfilms were hidden in the underground safe rooms of two banks in Riga, while the manuscripts were evacuated to a location in the Western Latvia - Dzukste. There were discussions about trying to get them over to Sweden, but this was never attempted. Maybe - fortunately for the Latvians.
After the war in 1945 the Institute of Folklore was founded. Anna Berzkalne was among eight former employees of LFK to work for it. In 1946 the Institute was included into the newly founded Academy of Sciences. Generally there are no visible differences (click the thumbnail, view the image!)
In 1950 the Institute of Folklore was reorganised into Institute of Folklore and Ethnography, still in 1956 it was again divided with the ethnographers forming a department of the Institute of History, while the folklorists were included into the Institute of Language and Literature. It is very much the case still now, except that the linguists left the joint institution setting up their own, so LFK (the name restored in 1992) is now part of the Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art.
The work of the folkloristic institutions after the W.W.II was mainly concentrated around field-work, conducting an expedition a year. One curious thing - the ideological demands pressed for the discovery of "modern (i.e. soviet) folklore" already in 1951 (as documented in the first tape recordings) that is about a decade before American colleagues defined there attitude to the phenomenon of folklore as still living. The only difference is that this kind of folklore was to a great extent deliberately created and did not evolve in any way natural for a folklore genre. Still it introduced a concept, while the actual modern folklore of that time generally escaped recording.
There are also other treasures in the archives of LFK, as it has been recording the informants for nearly 80 years now. The earliest recordings might be of special interest as people tend to become more interested in past than in present. But also the modern period could be of interest.
So, this is a short overview. If you have any questions and enquiries, go to the address page and contact us!
Back to the history main page