Though a small country, Lithuania has a an incredibly long history and probably surprising for most, different cultural groups. Samogitians, or lowlanders, are one such cultural group who have a strong presence in modern-day Lithuania and played an important role in Lithuania's history.
To put it simply, Samogitia is an ethnic region of Lithuania with a long and interesting cultural heritage. Samogitia is considered the low land, and this name has been in use since the 13th century.
Historically, Samogitia, or Zemaitija in Lithuanian, was independently ruled by Samogitian princes before the unification of Lithuania. Samogitia played an important role in the wars against Teutonic Knights in the 1200s and remained at least partially independent until the late 1700s when all of Lithuania was taken over by Tsarist Russia. Remaining steeped in national pride and cultural heritage, Samogitians were responsible for rejuvinating folklore, language, and history in the 19th century
Samogitia currently consists of the cities of Siaulai, Palanga, and Telsiai in northwestern Lithuania. Telsiai is considered the capital of Samogitia. Samogitia is notable as it was the last part of Lithuania that converted to Christianity -- it only converted in the early 1400s and most people continued to practice their pagan religion. Additionally, the people of this region have actively conserved the Samogitian language, which is slightly different from Lithuanian, cultural traditions, and cuisine.
Samogitians speak one of the two Lithuanian dialects and until fairly recently, women dressed in long skirts with brightly colored stripes and intricately detailed head scarfs. Examples of the outfits from different regions on Lithuania can be seen on the second floor of the National Museum in Vilnius.
In Samogitia, traditional botanical knowledge has also been maintained, and 113 plant species are considered medicinal. Use of traditional medicines are combined with modern medicine to create a holistic approach to healing in this region of modern-day Lithuania.
How to experience Samogitia while visiting Lithuania
Samogitian pancakesIf you happen to visit Lithuania and want to experience a bit of Samogitian but don't have a ton of time in country, try Samogitian pancakes. Samogitian pancakes are potato pancakes stuffed with meat and formed in a flattened football shape.
RumsiskesHouses were also traditionally very different than elsewhere in Lithuania and several example homes can be seen at Rumsiskes. Rumsiskes is a massive open-air museum located only a couple hour drive from Vilnius (near Kaunas) and is worth a visit if you have time.
Visiting SamogitiaIf time isn't an issue, the wonderful blog True Lithuania has a massive post with maps that provides details for Samogitian sites that are worth visiting. A few examples on the "Samogitian trail" include the Panemune Castle (and road that has a couple of other related castles), a pagan shrine in Sventoji, and the Uzgavenes Museum (a pagan/Lithuanian festival to scare away winter) near the Zemaitija National Park.
- Petekvicicute et al. 2010. Urban ethnobotany study in Samogitian region, Lithuania. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research Vol. 4 (1): 64-71.
- Samogita Blog
- True Lithuania Blog
Do you like to learn about culture where you live or travel? What is one surprising/cool thing about where you're based?