Lithuania is a beautiful country in Northern Europe. It is one of the three Baltic states, along with Latvia and Estonia, which lie directly across the Baltic Sea from Sweden and Denmark.
The country was first occupied by the Soviet Union in the 1940s, before being invaded by Nazi Germany. As World War II neared its end in 1944 and the Germans retreated, the Soviet Union reoccupied the country. On March 11, 1990, a year before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare itself independent.
The Lithuanian language is one of the oldest of the Indo-European languages. Because it is one of the least-changed languages in the world, it gives us an insight into the words spoken thousands of years ago.
The Lithuanian lullaby in the featured video is one similar to what my own grandmother sang to me when I was a baby. Lithuania’s lullabies often mirrored the rhythm of a rocking crib. The “Aaa Aaa Aaa” sound heard in the song represents the movement of a rocking chair, while the lyrics translate into “hush-a-bye my little daughter, my beautiful daughter,” with the words repeated with the rocking sound of the voice.
In the 1950s, musicologist Jadvyga Čiurlionytė set out to preserve the country’s musical heritage by recording folk songs in field expeditions to the remote villages in the countryside:
Europeana Sounds discuss the material and importance of preserving the Lithuanian culture through the recording of folk songs while under Soviet rule:
“This is folklore collected during Soviet times when supporters of the national tradition were persecuted, traditional culture considered as relic which contradicts the soviet image of a labor man working for better future.”
“This archive is unique because of the conditions how it was created and survived. It is an extreme pleasure for the people who created and retained the collections to participate in the process of the digitisation of the archives.”
“The necessity to transcribe the recordings to the digital form is obvious, because these audio and video recordings are extremely unsafe and unprotected because of the Soviet poverty and fear.”
“It was musicologist and pianist Professor Jadvyga Čiurlionytė, who initiated the collection of the audio archive in the 1950s. Human and technical resources were very poor at that time; however, it was enough love and passion for the traditional music.”
“Enthusiasts had to overcome a number of difficulties to save traditional values. Audio recordings were made with huge tape recorders weighing about 50 kg. Folklore collectors from the archive with their supporters, students of the Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy, had to carry the tape recorders on their shoulders walking on foot many kilometres visiting the most remote Lithuanian villages.”
This is a recording of a Lithuanian cattle-herding song from Dzūkija (South-East Lithuania):
These are the lyrics to the song in the recording:
Dainuoja Petras Zalanskas, žodžiai:
Palšus ganiau jautelius po žalių girelį
Parvaikščiojau kojelas po aukso raselį
Prarymojau rankelas ant balto berželio
Pražiūrėjau akelas ant palšų jautelių
I was herding the grey oxen in the green woods,
I walked my feet out on the golden dew
I rested my arms out on the white birch
I looked my eyes out onto the grey oxen
Filmmaker, artist, and poet Jonas Mekas, who is often called the “Godfather of American Avant-Garde Cinema,” is of Lithuanian descent. Jonas and his brother returned to their homeland in 1970s and recorded their journey in the documentary Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania.
It’s a delicate and reflective film. The scene above is from the documentary and is entitled “Mama Bakes Potato Pancakes.” It pays homage to the older women that Mekas remembers from his village. The documentary allows the viewer to explore Lithuania’s heritage through a personal and poetic lens.