Singing with the Suiti in Latvia
The colourfully-dressed Suiti women in western Latvia have been insulting people in song for centuries.
If you find yourself in a room with Suiti women in Kurzeme region of Latvia, brace yourself for a rollocking.
The Suiti are a group of ethnic Latvian Catholics in Alsunga in western Latvia.
The region is predominantly Lutheran, so they have kept themselves isolated for nearly 400 years.
In doing so have preserved their rich and unique traditions.
One of the Suit’s most distinctive customs is a very particular style of drone singing.
It is performed exclusively by women, wearing heavy, intricately embroidered outfits, using lyrics made up on the spot.
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 they had a go at the size of my nose as well.
The ‘performance’ was held in Alsunga Castle.
Wikipedia describes the castle as partially restored, although partially derelict is probably a more accurate description.
I thought the scruffy decay imbues the castle with a kind of melancholic charm.
Below is a video of the Suiti women singing on the day I visited.
It’s not the moment they cruelly mocked my shoes. Or when they cast aspersions on the size of my nose. If you didn’t give them your full attention while they were mocking you, they get 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!
Find out more about visiting Alsunga and the Kurzeme region at Magnetic Latvia
How to hear the Suiti sing
The Suiti women perform at festivals in Alsunga and the surrounding area throughout the year.
They appear at the Meteņi Day in February, Easter on Dižgabalkalns Hill, the Suiti Lebediks Festival on the last Saturday in May, Grass Day and Summer Solstice, both in June, and St Michael’s Day in September.
There is a permanent exhibition about Suiti culture at the Alsunga Administrative District Museum on Skolas Street.
The Alsunga Tourist Information Centre is in the same building. Contact them in advance on +371-2642-5015 if you’d like to arrange a performance at Alsunga Castle.
Main image: Suiti women laying in wait (© Peter Moore)