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In west Kurzeme, near Alsunga, Gudenieki and Jūrkalne, there is one of the most special provinces not only in Latvia, but in the whole world. It is the suitu province, and it stands out because of its ethnographic uniqueness
The suitu province is a unique phenomenon of Latvian Culture – it is a Catholic island surrounded by Lutheran provinces. In this territory, because of the large influence of the Catholic Church and due to the interaction of Latvian, Livonian, Polish and German cultures, an unusual cultural environment and identity have formed. Thus, it is not surprising that in 2009 the suitu cultural environment was added into the UNESCO Intangible Culturae Heritage list.
In the Duchy of Kurzeme, Catholicism was forbidden until the beginning of 17th century; however, in 1632 the master of the Alsunga province, Johann Ulrich von Schwerin, converted to Catholicism and the local Lutheran residents were forced to convert as well. The war of faiths was so strong that Johann Ulrich von Schwerin was poisoned in 1637, yet the province kept the new faith. As it was surrounded by Lutherans (even in the last century, the suiti were not allowed to marry the believers of another faith), the Alsunga province has evolved with traditions not present anywhere else in Latvia.
Every Latvian on hearing the word “suiti” imagines richly, ethnographically dressed singers – the Suiti women, who are ready to tease anyone with their songs (including the President of Latvia) sounding the special, ancient, long, and many-voiced drone (FR. bourdon) ēēēēēēēēēē-ōōōōō. With their singing manner, the Suiti women are world-famous. At present in the historic suitu territory there are still around 2000 residents of suiti origin.
However, the suitu province is not only about the many-voiced singing suiti women and rich national costumes, it is also about traditions, a special mentality, the suitu dialect, a variety of local songs and dishes, and the ability to represent Latvia internationally. The suitu province is like a magnet attracting travellers. One can hardly contain emotions seeing the steep and abrupt Jūrkalne shoreline with its pine trees leading into the sea, endless sandy beaches, calm lakes, forests rich with berries and mushrooms, winding gravel roads, field and forest scenery, old churches, castles and historic estates, Jūrkalne and Alsunga pubs, hearing the singing of the Suiti women and seeing ornamented folk costumes, special traditions and hearing the unique suitu pronunciation.
The suitu province is very diverse. Everyone can find something interesting to them. Not only is the beautiful nature in the suitu province, it also has a rich history and a layer of traditional culture. Many things forgotten elsewhere are alive and well here, like, for example, the wedding and funeral traditions. Since 2004 Alsunga has hosted three international drone (bourdon) festivals with musicians performing in this notation-complex style from France, Georgia, Hungary, and Estonia.
The most significant locations in the suitu province are picturesque Alsunga with the historic Livonian Order Castle, Catholic Church and ancient kuršu hill fort. Then there is Jūrkalne with its most impressive steep and abrupt Baltic Sea shoreline and popular tourist spots by the sea. Gudenieki is a place that is liked by nature lovers and children for the Gudenieki juniper stand – one of the largest pure juniper stands in the Baltic States – and a nature reserve which has nature trails fitted with information signs. In the nature reserve there is a beaver house and a rich diversity of biotopes which birds like very much. If lucky, one will be able to see cranes.
A marmot farm in Alsunga, called “Reģi”, invites visitors and promises pleasant adventures. In the suitu province there are two tourist information bureaus – one in the library of Alsunga (tel.: +371 63351343) and the other in the Jūrkalne Civil Parish Council (tel.: +371 63697131).