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Rafting Festival - 25th anniversary in honor of craft skills

Imagine - the Gauja is full of logs about six and four meters long, which, so close to each other, form such a dense layer that the water is almost invisible! And they are masterfully driven by raftsmen, who have taken their places on the 70-80 meter long tail raft. This view was common until the end of the 1960s, when the Gauja was a waterway for transporting timber. Today, the skills of raft crafts have been purposefully passed on to future generations, and in 2021 Latvia applied them to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. On May 21, everyone is invited to the Rafters Festival in Strenči, where the skills of rafters will be honored for the 25th time.

“The initiator of the transfer of skills was Mārtiņš Gaigals. We looked up old raftsmen who trusted us and showed us the tying of rafts, they shared their experience. This will be the 25th time that everyone will be able to see part of it when attending the Rafters Festival, ”says Jānis Vāvere, a member of the association“ Gauja Rafters ”.

Preparations for the approximately 37-kilometer journey begin several days in advance. "We use about 35 cubic meters of forged pine. One day from five to six meters long logs wall raft, which meets about 80 meters long. After the holiday, a whole day passes until the logs are caught from the river. I remember sowing a raft for about 12 hours for the first time, now, 25 years later, the raft is ready in about seven hours. This year we will start on May 18 at the Spitz Bridge to arrive in Strenči on May 21. ”

Jānis Vāvere says that initially the timber was tied in rafts, the logs traveled more than 300 kilometers. After the Second World War, the open rafting of logs began, followed by rafts on a sieve raft, moving valuable cargo. “The river determines the size of the raft, for example, in the Daugava they could be wider, because the river is also wider. Rafters need to know the river, its nature. There were several crossings in the Gauja that regulated the flow of timber, and there were several posts, including in Strenči, where floating crews were operating on the waterway. The logs from the Gauja got to the Small Baltezers, where there were water gardens for lifting the logs to process them and transport them by boat. ”

The work of floats was not easy. It was also affected by congestion and water level fluctuations. During these 25 years, Jānis has also experienced dangerous situations both due to the high water level, when during the 2013 floods the raft wrapped around the bridge piers and split into four parts, and when the water level in the river was low. "It was very difficult to get away with the floods. The length and weight of the raft had to be fought. In addition, the Gauja is steep and winding. But in another year, when the water level was low, we had to drive in the dark, and we noticed that the 70-80 meter long raft was still being turned into a circle. ”

Rafters also have their own vocabulary, which is summarized in the book “Tradition Book. Gauja Rafters ”(author of the book - Ieva Vītola). A plow shoe, begani, urpis, cleats, passer, follower, taratika, gravel - these are just a few words that prove the uniqueness of the skills. "It can be learned by doing so, so job skills need to be nurtured and passed on to future generations. We cooperate with other countries, share experience. It is important for us to pass on the skills of rafting so that this special heritage is not lost. ”

In 2018, the skills of Gauja rafts were included in the National Intangible Cultural Heritage List, the Gauja Rafters Association started cooperating with raft associations from Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Spain and Germany and created an application for inclusion of raft skills in the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The application will be considered in 2022. The skills of rafters are knowledge of preparing logs, tying rafts and floating along the Gauja, using the river current and being well acquainted with the nature of its flow in the spring.

It should be mentioned that on May 22 we invite you to go to St. Jacob or Camino de Santiago road hike from Strenči to Valmiera (29 km). Start at 9.00 from Strenči Evangelical Lutheran Church (Baznīcas Street 5). The number of places is limited, so it is necessary to apply in advance by writing to e-mail lacesarmite@gmail.com. Participation fee: 7 EUR. We invite you to park your car in Valmiera and take the Valmiera-Valka bus to Strenči at 8.00.

25th Gauja Rafters Festival. Program on
May 20

From 19.00 - recitation of the festival
Dances and a beautiful evening on the Gauja together with the group "Pajūgi". Ride on the pontoon boat "Made Marija" (at the boat dock in Gaujmala). There will be a café.
Entrance for donations in support of Ukraine.

May 21
At 8.00–18.00 wooden sculpture sawing competition 9.00 - Rafting
Festival Fair
10.00 - concert of amateur groups (dancing SPD “Tīne”, children's DK “Tīnīte”, SDDK “Madaras”, LDK “My Way”, playing PO “Strenči” (at the old raft)
10.00–15.00 - mobile rope track will be open (in the parking lot)
10.00–18.00 - ride on the pontoon boat “Made Marija”, fee (from the boat berth)
10.00–14.00 - Vidzeme florists meeting promenade at the stage)
10.00–14.00 - sports games in the spirit of rafts (in the meadow at the stage)
11.00 - Valmiera Kennel Club dog show and demonstrations (in the meadow behind the elk figure)
12.00 - arrival of the raft, festive procession, greeting of the rafts (at the old raft)
12.30 - greeting of the drummers of Yamaha Music School at the festival (at the old raft)
13.00 - action “Cake cake” (at the stage)
14.00 - concert of the group “Keksi” (on the stage)
21.30 - musical dance performance - performance “Mysteries of the Gauja” (on the stage)
23.00 - evening music on the Gauja (from the bridge along the stage)
23.30 - ball with the group “White Bears” , entrance 5 EUR (on the stage)

May 21 at 9.30 pm
on the Strenči open-air stage
Original performance “Mysteries of the Gauja”
Water is never the same
as it flows. What we are experiencing can
not be repeated.
Like the men who once sowed rafts,
Fearing rain and wind.
Thus, the stone is free of water, the
strength is the sand of the Gauja.

Music - Kristaps Krievkalns
Choreography - Edīte Ābeltiņa
Text author - Elīna Krastiņa

Participants in the performance:
Contemporary dance group “Buras”
Latvian National Theater actor Gundars Grasbergs
Kristaps Krievkalns - keys
Miķelis Vīte - drums
Armands Treilihs - bass guitar
Ēriks Upenieks - guitar
Soloists - Elīna Ose, Laura Leontjeva, Matīss Tučs, Tomass Sergejs

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