Dundaga Tourism Information Centre

Ziemeļkurzeme (North Kurzeme) has a distinctive cultural and historic character: it is the last territory with a compact community of Livs (Livonians). Scientists consider that proof of the presence of Livonian ancestry in this area is to be found in the cairn or rock burials characteristic of the Baltic Finn culture and dating back to the early 1st millennium. 

  • Dundagas TIC

Written sources tell about Livonians being in Kurzeme from the 14th century but scientists who have studied this question in detail, believe that already in the 12th-13th centuries Livonians lived in this area lalongside with Couronians.

Livonian settlements along the North Kurzeme coast date back to the 14th-15th centuries, thus coinciding with the formation of the Dundaga Manor. In the16th century, Livonian villages were a   part of the Bishopric of Courland. In 1795 the Livonian coast was incorporated into the Province of Courland. The Livonian coast had already been divided between two German landowners. Behr of the Pope Manor owned that part of the coast between the rivers Lūžupe and Irbe, but the estate of the feudal lord Osten-Saken of Dundaga included the coastal lands from Jaunciems to Roja.

The Livonians on the Courland Peninsula remained as a small compact ethnos until the mid-20th century, unlike other Livonian-populated territories by the rivers Daugava and Gauja, at Metsepole and Turaida, where we can speak of the Livonian presence only until the mid-19th century.

During the first Republic of Latvia from 1918 to World War II, coastal villages enjoyed a bustling economic and cultural life. Mazirbe was then the centre of Livonian culture. In 1923, the most active Livonian culture workers established a Livonian Union (Līvu savienība). At the union's initiative and with support from culturally related nations – the Finns, Estonians and Hungarians, the Livonian Community House (Lībiešu tautas nams) was built at Mazirbe.

The Soviet regime established a "closed zone" along the coastline from Ventspils to Kolka,as an area to protect Soviet military interests. Movement of civilian population was restricted. These circumstances and the economic development model of the ruling power that liquidated farmsteads and developed kolkhoz centres, forced the local people to move away from coastal villages into the mainland. A kolkhoz centre was set up at Kolka. Only the old remained in the villages along the Baltic coast. Kolka is the only Livonian village, which saw some growth over the last 50 years. When Latvia's independence was restored, several privately owned fish processing companies developed on the economic basis of the former collective farms. They now provide most of the jobs in Kolka Parish.

It may seem a paradox, but the isolation created by the Soviet power allowed the material culture of Livonian villages to survive. However, the traditional Livonian occupations and spiritual culture was eroded. You will not hear people speaking their native Liv tongue, but its influence has shaped a Latvian language dialect which is currently spoken by the people in North Kurzeme. 

The Liv villages along the Baltic coast have buildings still preserved from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and even the development structure of certain villages is still evident. The villages are connected by a road running from Kolga to Sīkrags, which the locals call the old Mazirbe road. The new one was built in the 1950s for military purposes, and is now used for vehicular traffic between Kolka and Ventspils. The old road, for its part, is best for cyclists. A couple of days on a biking trip is the best way to feel the distinctive aura of the Liv villages and to enjoy the nature of the Slītere National Park.

The Tāmnieki dialect of the North Kurzeme people is clear evidence of the presence of the Livonians in the region.

A small nation neighbouring a larger, stronger nation, can forget its native language and start speaking in the tongue of that larger nation, sometimes in a broken version of that language.  This is the way the Tāmnieki dialect came about: first, the Livs were learning Latvian, and later, or so it seems, a number of Latvians actually preferred this broken Latvian over their own mother tongue and thus took to speaking in the dialect, that is, in Latvian but with  Livonian grammar.

As a means of communication, the Livonian language died out by the middle of the 20th century. After World War I, the Livonian villages consisted of many mixed families that spoke Latvian. Another factor in favour of Latvian was the absence of schools with Livonian as its primary language of instruction. In order to become part of the community in the newly-independent country, the younger generation of Livonians had to be educated. Data from the population census of 1935 reveals the number of Livonians and their knowledge of the Livonian language: out of 2746 people residing in 12 Liv villages along the Kurzeme coast, 892 considered themselves to be Livonians; 790 of them understood the Livonian language, but only 215 people spoke it on a daily basis.

Several dozen people still understand and speak Livonian these days; however, it remains a native tongue only for some people of the older generation.

Līvõ kultūr sidām (Livonian Culture Centre): www.livones.lv

57.510227, 22.350140
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    Pils iela 14 Dundagas pils, Dundaga district, Dundaga, LV-3270
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