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Traditional crafts and occupations Print

Rafts
Blacksmith and tar production
Mushrooms
Berries
Herbs and traditional medicine
Weaving
Hunting
Fishing


Rafts

All winter long the timber from the forest cutting was stored near lakes. From the forest to the lake logs were transported with a horse sledge. There was a specially constructed horse pulled railway cart to bring timber to Lake Baluošas. Only sandy and shallow lakesides were suitable to tie rafts. In a fenced lake area raftsmen had to sort logs according to the length, diameter and quality. Sorted timber was bound up to ten rafts in a row. There were two main rafting routes in a present area of the Aukštaitija National Park. The longest one started in Lake Utenas and leaded through Lake Utenykštis, the River Būka, lakes Baluošas, Baluošykštis and Sravinaitis to Ginučiai, further on the River Almaja to lakes Asėkas, Linkmenas, Asalnai, Lūšiai, Šakarvai and Žeimenis to the beginning of the River Žeimena. After they delivered rafts to another group, raftsmen had to walk back home about 50 km. Another group floated rafts down the stream to the River Neris and reached Vilnius. The shorter route started in Lake Dringis near Vaišniūnai. The most difficult was to cross the lake. Further rafts went through the River Dumblė and Meirona (Meira) to Lake Asalnai, Lake Lūšiai etc. This way to transport timber was practiced till 60-ies.

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Blacksmith and tar production 

Smithery was a family tradition and passed from generation to generation together with all the tools and technologies. Blacksmiths were producing a charcoal, tar and turpentine as side products. In the vicinity of Linkmenys this craft was well developed – smiths from Palūšė, Šakarva, Cijonai, Antalksnė and other villages from their parents inherited not only knowledge but also trademark in a local market. A charcoal pit still can be found in Šakarva. The old Cijonai village near Šakarva previously was named as Kalviai (Smiths). It was a royal iron-workshop which used locally excavated ore. Tar was extracted from pine stumps and tops in the same kiln. Seeking to produce a special mixture to grease the cart wheels, birch bark was added to the pit. One pit produced up to 4 buckets of tar and pitch. Some smiths produced turpentine, which they sold to the pharmacy shops in Švenčionys and Vilnius. Tar and turpentine extraction workshop opened in Palūšė in 1950. It provided tar for the rope factory in Klaipėda, exported it to Russia. Charcoal was used to heat the farms.

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Mushrooms

Picking mushrooms have always been an income resource for local people. This activity is for everyone, as for children as for seniors. Picking mushrooms was allowed on Sundays as well because the church didn’t recognise it as a work. Mushroom season starts in July and lasts till longer frosts, i.e. till November. Traditionally mushrooms were prepared for winter by drying or souring. Even nowadays local people from Šakališkė and Vyžiai lays in store for winter about 50 kg of dried mushrooms. If properly stored they can last for several years. In the 19th century people were picking only the king bolete. Since the end of the 19th century people started to prepare salted and sour king boletes, red aspen and birch boletes, russules and slipperies. Not only poor people - rich as well – were selling mushrooms in Ignalina, Salakas and Utena markets or to the shoppers, who were coming to their homes. Afterwards mushrooms were sold to Daugavpils, St.Peterburg, Vilnius and even to Germany.

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Berries

Bilberries, cranberries, cowberries as well as raspberries are abundant in the forests of the national park, but until the beginning of the 20th century only cranberries had a demand. Potato harvest and first frosts was a picking time for them. Hanged in baskets under the roof or spread on the moss cranberries can last till late spring. People started to gather cowberries only at the end of the 19th century. They were stored unboiled in the water during all winter. At the beginning of the 20th century people were picking bilberries only for the instant use. 2-3 litres of dried bilberries were stored for medicine. Citizens of Meironys and Šuminai started to sell bilberries only before World War I. Berry picking was a job for women and children.

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Herbs and traditional medicine 

People of the area are very attached not only to their land, but to old traditions and customs as well. The attitude to a traditional herb medicine was influenced by the setting the demarcation line between Lithuania and Poland in 1920. In the Northern part which belong to Lithuania, collecting herbs remained non-commercial. While in Vilnius region because of the Švenčionys herb factory it became same business as picking berries and mushrooms.
Some differences in teaching traditional medicine existed as well. In the northern part the knowledge was passed on mother’s line, to the youngest daughter or her children – only blood spells were passed on father’s line to the oldest son. In the Southern part only "female’ knowledge was passed on mother’s line to the oldest daughter, while general medicine knowledge especially incantations from the snake bite were passed on the father’s line to the youngest son. Although traditional medicine and incantations are tainted with church attributes like crossing, prayers and amen’s, the shell of Christianity is rather thin and can be easily separated – it has no influence to the content of traditional incantations.

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Weaving

Local people started making lath baskets long time ago. The reason is very simple – here grow many pine trees, because only special kind of pine trees, so called lath pines, are suitable for making baskets. This handicraft is less common in the northern part because of the lack of row material. Craftsmen were selling their baskets mostly in Ignalina marketplace. Three kinds of baskets were on demand: for potatoes and vegetables, for grass, firewood and mushrooms and the biggest for hey. Special baskets with top cover were produced for meet and for transportation of piggies. In Utena region weavers used osier willows and pine roots. Peeled willows were used for making female knick-knacks and decorations. At the beginning of the 20th century older people were still making willow bast shoes.

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Hunting

For a long time hunting was only royal entertainment. At the end of the 19th century some farmers had guns as well. They were hunting mainly predators and sometimes birds. Hunters from Ožkiniai and Puziniškis were hunting wolfs from the horse sledge riding on the lake ice and squealing a pig. At the beginning of the 20th century people from Ožkiniai and Pakretuonė were constructing fenced traps. Men from Grikiapelė, Ožkiniai, Palūšė, Puziniškis and Vyžiai were digging 2-2,5 m deep and 120-140 cm wide pitfalls widening at the bottom. Same method was used to catch foxes. Badgers were valued because of their fat and were hunted in their caves using smoke.

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Fishing

Fishing was an important food supplement for many local families. Traders started a fishing business only at the beginning of the 20th century. Until World War I lakes were owned by the state, by church and landlords. Traders from Ignalina and Palūšė had to rent them. They had boats and large fishing nets, which were very expensive, and hired local fishermen. Winter nets were especially long – one wing was up to 80 m long. About 20 fishermen were needed to manage it. In summer fishing boats were stuffed with ice, which was stored in specially built ice pits or cellars. One such pit was constructed near Lake Lūšiai in Palūšė. Walls were made of logs. Big blocks of ice from lakes were cut in winter and stored in these cellars. The top of the ice was covered with straw or chaff.
The payment for fishing was part of the catch – small fish which fishermen sold to other traders from Palūšė. The traders who organised the fishing, sold fish on local markets in Ignalina and Švenčionys. Biggest fishes were sold in Vilnius.

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