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The Latvians have their own “Trail of Tears.” Our language has constantly been under siege. This came to be known as Russification. Under this policy, Latvia was flooded with Russian words, and even the official writing system of Latvia was changed. Russian was promoted as better than Latvian, and Latvian was often referred to in a derogatory way (some people called it “a dog’s language”). So, after 50 years of this sort of business, Latvia finally broke free.
Latvians have consistently lived in the same territory for many millenia. The Latvians are an ancient Baltic people, who, along with their fellow Baltic nationalities, speak what are considered to be among the most archaic Indo-European languages (i.e. they are among the languages most similar to the original proto-Indo-European language, from which most of Europe’s languages and many of India’s languages are descended). Latvian’s sister language, Lithuanian, is more archaic than Latvian, and their mutual extinct linguistic sibling, Old Prussian, is even more archaic. Latvia was an independent country between 1918 and 1940.
In 1990, Latvia restored its independence, and in 1991, during the Soviet coup, it reaffirmed this declaration. Now, nearly 5 years later, Latvia is still struggling. Its government is riddled with corruption, elderly people have to subsist off of meager and usually inadequate state pensions, while the government authorizes raises for itself. Last year, you could see that Latvia had undergone a humongous drive towards “Westernization.” The streets of the capital, Riga, looked much like those of any other European city, but you had just to travel to the country to see the dire situation that many people are in.
Currently, the Livonians are still trying to get their act together, but if they play their cards right, they might be able to save their language and culture. Their language is in dire need of revival. There are about 30-50 total speakers, with 9-13 of them being native speakers.
Other nationalities also reside in Latvia, but none of them are indigenous residents of the territory of Latvia; only the Latvians and Livonians are.
A Finnic-speaking tribe known as the Livs settled among the Latvians and modulated the name to “Latvis,” meaning “forest-clearers,” which is how medieval German, Teutonic settlers also referred to these peoples. The Germanic settlers referred to the natives as “Letts” and the nation to “Lettland”, naming their colony Livonia or Livland.
The Latin form, Livonia, gradually referred to the whole territory of the modern-day Latvia as well as southern Estonia, which had fallen under minimal Germanic influence. Latvians and Lithuanians are the only surviving members of the Baltic branch of the Indo-European family.
Latvians share a common language and have a unique culture with traditions, holidays, customs and arts. The culture and religious traditions have been somewhat influenced by Germanic, Scandinavian, and Russian traditions. Latvians have an ancient culture that has been archaeologically dated back to 3,000 B.C. Latvians maintained a considerable connection and trade with their neighbors, and near ethnic cousins the Finno-Ugrians, otherwise known contemporarily as Estonians and eventually Finns as well. The first indications of human inhabitants on the lands of modern Latvia date archaeologically to 9,000 B.C., suggesting that the first settlers were hunters that stayed almost immediately following the end of the last Ice Age.
By law there are two indigenous nationalities in Latvia. These are the Latvians, and a tiny ethnic minority, named the Livonians. The Livonians are a Finno-Ugric people, which means that they and their language are related to that of the Finns and Estonians.
The Latvian government established a special cultural region for them, in their historic home, in the northwest part of Latvia. This region is called “Livod Randa,” or the “Livonian Coast [or Shore]” in Livonian.
The Ice Age in Latvia ended 14,000 – 12,000 years ago. The first human settlers arrived here during the Paleolithic Age 11,000 – 12,000 years ago. They were hunters, who following the reindeer herds camped along the rivers and shore of the Baltic Ice Lake. As geology of the Baltic Sea indicates, the coastline then reached further inland. The earliest tools found near Salaspils date to the late Paleolithic age, circa 12,000 years ago, and belong to the Swiderian culture.
During the Mesolithic Age (9000 – 5400 BC) permanent settlements of hunter-gatherers were established. They hunted and fished, establishing camps near rivers and lakes; 25 settlements have been found near Lake Lubans. These people from the Kunda culture made weapons and tools from flint, antler, bone and wood.
Livonia was inhabited by various Baltic and Finnic peoples, ruled from the 12th century by an upper class of Baltic Germans. Over the course of time, some nobles were Polonized into the Polish–Lithuanian nobility (szlachta) or became part of the Swedish nobility during the period of Swedish Livonia (1629 to 1721) or Russified into the Russian nobility (dvoryanstvo).
In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was assumed that Baltic tribes were originally one nation and thus had the same deities. Early authors trying to reconstruct a Latvian pantheon using data from neighboring regions. This trend was later also adapted by Latvian national romanticists. After the abolition of serfdom, a new national identity was forming and authors sought to prove that Baltic cultural traditions were as deep as those of other nations. It was hoped that a grand epic could be constructed using pieces preserved in folklore. It was also thought that the ancient religion, forgotten during 700 years of oppression, could be reconstructed. However folklore sources proved insufficient for the task. Some attempted to reconstruct pantheons to be as impressive as in Greek mythology, which led to some deities being simply invented. Besides the assumption that deities of other Baltic peoples must be Latvian as well but were simply lost over time, many new deities were modeled after Greek and Roman deities.