Friday, October 29, 2010

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The 4th Awakening

8 What Happened to Great-grandfather John?
The energy unleashed by the Herrnhuters among their Latvian brethren took time to consolidate itself, but when the tsar, the barons, and the Lutheran priesthood repressed them, they chose to die, and by doing so took a leap into the future.

In the geographic space that had been under the influence of the Herrnhuters in the last half of the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, there occurred something that was a surprise.

No longer able to sing their Johns Songs anytime they wished, and those they could sing limited to Johns Day Festival and not a day beyond (this is like your radio station silencing your favorite singer), the pa-Yans or pagans had an inspired idea. When disbanded and forbidden to meet for choir practice, the remnant—now ecumenicalized and kind of secularized for lack of better words to describe their fate—talked among themselves and said: Let us do them one better and organize the First Latvian Song Festival. This was the first proto-song-cum-festival of the future Latvians.

It was not yet the Great Song Festival that most everyone knows today, but its trial run. In 1864 the choirs from a large number of towns round about Dīkļi (Dihkli), not much more than sixty miles from the Estonian border, where the Herrnhuters also had been a strong a presence, gathered for peasant Sing-A-Ding. It was a post-Awakening Halle-luiah or Lihgo (luiah) Fest. It would be derelict not to mention that the lead song at Dihkli was the Lutheran hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (Dievs kung ir mūsu stiprā pils).

The Mighty Fortress of the Lord God sat on the Herrnhuters hat, and there was nary a stalk of straw left.

The barons and their ministers had prevailed in their belief. Since this writer’s great-grandfather lived not far from Dikli, he probably attended the festival, too. Or did he? His inn, where he had held Herrnhuter meetings burnt down one day some years before. Family history has it, that his wife (my great-grandmother) was making candles over a hot kitchen stove and spilt some of the wax on the stove, whence the flames then caught in the flax stuffing the floor cracks in the ceiling above. When I was a child, I believed that story. Now that I have grown up, I conclude that my great-grandfather and great-grandmother were fools (re: making candles over a hot stove below strands of flax hanging down from the ceiling) or they invented an explanation that any grownup could figure out was a politically motivated fib.

Thus, while one branch of my family was in on building the foundations of the future Latvia, they as Herrnhuters were discovered by the barons and Lutheran church to be Trojan Horses in their midst, at the very least de facto if not de jure. In short, the pa-Yans (pagans, peasants) were taking the Hut (hat) of the Herrnhuters a little too much for their own. The failure to mention them as present at Dikli suggests that repression stood at the back door and joined in the singing of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”.


After the inn burnt down and great-grandfather died, his younger wife is said to have fertilized the baron’s fields with cow dung as she stood at the back of a horse-drawn wagon and pitchfork it over the field. The peasants are said to have said (my free interpretation): “Lookie here, the wife of starasts (overseer) is herself now slinging shit.” Mercifully, my great-grandfather was dead by then and my grandfather not yet a school teacher, a choir director, or among the first of wealthy men in Latvia thanks to his managerial skills put to good use in turning out a newspaper.

My grandfather participated in the 1985 Song Festival event. He presented a short play called “Fog” (Migla) for which he won 2nd prize. The play was a “how to” work, meant to tell the countryside audience (his target audience) that if it wished to prosper, it should abstain from alcohol. The spirit of Herrnhutian common sense dominates the play, though there is no mention of any past association with it.

End of parenthesis.

In 1873, nine years after the Dikli festival, the Riga Latvian Society launched The Great (my emphasis) SongFestival. The authorities watched it closely for signs of rebellion. No such signs appeared and the event went off smoothly enough. The next festival followed in 1880. Because the tsar was assassinated in 1881, the Great Song Festival had to wait until 1888, for its 3rd edition. The 4th Great Song Festival happened in 1895. Thereafter it has been performed, if wars and pestilences did not prevent it, five years.

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