The Scope of Ethnographic Research Outside Lithuania: The Family and Its Customs

  • Rasa Paukštytė-Šaknienė
Keywords: Lithuanians, ethnology, family research, research into family customs, Soviet period


The object of this article is the analysis of the studies carried out by Lithuanian ethnologists and local ethnographers during Soviet times that were based on the ethnographic material collected outside the borders of the former Lithuanian SSR. This aspect has not yet been explored in the historiography of Lithuanian ethnology. The article aims to present the research into the family and its customs carried out beyond the borders of the former Lithuanian SSR, and to reveal its motivation and intensity. The choice of the subject has been influenced by its relationship with ethnicity and the importance of the family conveyed by the researchers. To achieve the goal, the following objectives were formulated: to review specific research features applied in the former Soviet Lithuania; to disclose the ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Belarus, Poland, and Russia at the time, and to show how the ethnographic material collected in Lithuanian ethnic locations was used for studying the family and the habits of its life. An overview of the history of ethnology in Soviet Lithuania has shown that ethnographic research outside Soviet Lithuania, although not very abundant, had been carried out throughout the entire Soviet period despite some confrontations with the authorities. The abundance of ethnographic fieldwork was primarily observed in the 1950s. The most intensive studies into the family and family customs were carried out in the Lithuanian villages located in the territory of Belarus, the former Byelorussian SSR. They were characterised by more archaic traditions that had already been extinct in the eastern regions of Lithuania. The studies into family customs were carried out in these areas not only by the scholars who were supposed to examine family customs according to institutional plans (for example, Angelė Vyšniauskaitė), but also by those whose research interests were not directly related to the research into family customs (Vacys Milius, Juozas Kudirka). In these cases, the analysis of family life was carried out by examining the ethnic culture of one area or another. Also, studies into Lithuanian culture were enriched by the works of local ethnographers. The publication of ethnographic sources played a similar role. One of such examples is a collection of sources of Lithuania Minor of the 17th–19th centuries, compiled by Vacys Milius in 1970. This article shows that ethnographic studies outside Lithuania were conducted not only for scientific interests or for collecting comparative ethnographic material: they were strongly motivated by patriotic feelings and the desire to uncover the condition of Lithuanian ethnic territories, to record and memorialise the Lithuanian communities living there, and to preserve historical memory, and to uphold the Lithuanian ethnic identity both inside and outside Lithuania.