next previous contents
Next: EVERYDAY LIFE Previous: First names

Ethnic regions

There are four major ethnic regions in Lithuania: Zemaitija (Western Lithuania), Aukstaitija (Central and Eastern Lithuania), Dzukija (south- eastern Lithuania on both sides of the Nemunas river), Suvalkija (the northern parts to the south of the Nemunas river). The westernmost part of Zemaitija around the port of Klaipeda is rather different from the rest of this region. It has been known as Lithuania Minor. (A part of what has been known as Lithuania Minor is now included into the Russian Federation and Kaliningrad region (formerly Konigsberg). The formation of Lithuanian ethnic regions was determined by different political, economic and sometimes even religious conditions.

Zemaitija and Aukstaitija have always enjoyed the greatest degree of stability. At the beginning Zemaitija was a geographical concept, it referred to the lowlands to the west of the Neris river. The economic conditions of the Zemaitian peasants have always been better than those of the Aukstaitian peasants. Here farms were larger and older because they were never divided among the sons after the father's death. The culture of Zemaitija and Lithuania Minor have very much in common.

Aukstaitija is the largest ethnic region. It includes the fertile Central Plain and the undulating hills and lakes of Eastern Lithuania. Aukstaitians used to divide their farms among their sons. Therefore there were a lot of small farms. Villages built along the single High Street survived here for a very long time. In the parts which were occupied by Poland in 1920, villages of this kind have survived to the present days. Aukstaitians have managed to preserve better their old crafts and the features of communal life. Eastern Aukstaitians and western Byelorussians have a lot in common, because Aukstaitija and northern Byelorusssia used to belong to the same ethnic culture.

Dzukians saddle the Nemunas river. They owe their name to the phonetic peculiarities of their dialect (they pronounce t, d, tv, dv before i and e as ts, dz, tsv,dzv). Earlier Dzukija and the adjacent districts of Byelorussia belonged to one and he same unified ethnic area. To the present day Lithuanians residing in the Gerveciai and Pelesa district in Byelorussia speak Lithuanian.

Suvalkija is the youngest ethnic region. It derives its name from the town of Suvalkai which belongs to Poland now. Suvalkija has also been known as Uznemune or Suduva. In the middle Ages this country was devastated by the Teutonic Order. In the 15-th and 18-th centuries it was settled mostly by newcomers from Aukstaitija, Zemaitija, and Lithuanians from Prussia and even Western Europe. After the partitioning of the Polish-Lithuanian state in 1795 this country, together with Dzukija as far as the Nemunas river, was given to Prussia, and later, thanks to Napoleon, it was included into the Warsaw Principality. Serfdom was abolished here in 1807, much earlier than in the rest of Lithuania. The movement of farmers from villages to farmsteads started here also much earlier. According to the census taken in 1897, the rate of literacy among the peasants of the Suvalkai Province was the highest in the Russian Empire. Up until as late as 1940, Suvalkija, differently from the other Lithuanian regions, adhered to Napoleon's Statute Book. At present two of the Suvalkai district, Punskas and Seinai, although inhabited mostly by Lithuanians, belong to Poland.

Although the border lines between different ethnic regions in Lithuania cannot be established very strictly because there is a lot of overlapping in their linguistic, architectural, artistic and natural characteristics, the study and comparison of these characteristics enables us to know and feel better the beauty of Lithuanian folk culture.



next previous contents
Next: EVERYDAY LIFE Previous: First names

J. Kudirka "THE LITHUANIANS"

Copyright ©, 1996 Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.