Communal assisting work in Vaiguva area in the first half of the 20th century

Jonas Mardosa

The communal assisting work (Lith. talka, a type of unpaid voluntary collective work) in the environs of Vaiguva in the first half of the 20th century was a common form of peasant community life and more often related to the specificity of farming among Samogitians (Ţemaičiai). Large farms were in greater numbers in Samogitia, where technical novelties used to appear earlier than in other regions. So threshing machines, as well as flax working required more workmen. Therefore the assisting work was rather well organised and used most often for the main agricultural works.

Such communal assisting in ploughing and sowing was rarer and it was used to be organised if a farmer was lacking labour force. The assistance in fertilising the fields with manure is more common. Because this is a physical sweat, demanding collective efforts, it used to be done by hired workmen; or a village agreed to take the manure away to the fields from cowsheds of farmers in turn. There were various manners and magic acts performed during the common works in the Vaiguva area. They were related to the name of God and the hope in his assistance. The purpose of these manners was to protect the future harvest and getting it larger. The talka manners were also often related to the waiting for the work finish party.

If assisting in haymaking is rather rare, the rye reaping used to be done with talka, especially in larger farms. Some assisting workers were repaid by grain, while others used to get hay or money. The main stages of rye reaping in the area of Vaiguva were as follows: initiation, rye cutting and finishing. The Samogitians used to cut rye in pairs: when men work with scythes, and women tie the cut rye into sheaves. Therefore, it was common that the pairs were competing with others. The Christian and ritual customs were typical of the initiation and the finishing. So, the finish of the rye reaping was marked by cutting and binding the last sheaf, then making a garland and presenting it to the farm owner. The customs of the finishing stage had various purposes. Some of them are of entertaining character, when the delight of finishing the work is stressed with a hope of lavish feasting. The other customs are related to the hope of good harvest in the future. Farmers used to organise talka for potato digging and flax pulling in order to get in the harvest as soon as possible. Flax scutching that was being done at night or day contained also some entertainment, especially desirable at night. The talka for thrashing was organised for works done by thresher-machines, which needed assistance of neighbours. These were work-in-returns assisting works, which were repaid by better feed and the work finish feasting.

Due to pig slaughtering specificity, it was necessary to get assistance from a professional butcher and neighbours. This process is related to various believes having a purpose to ensure plenty of meat and its high quality. The day for slaughtering was selected according to week days and, especially, moon phases. The assistance in slaughtering is typical of such customs as bringing some meat to neighbours and entertaining the assisting people at dinner.

Feeding the assisting labourers is related to a traditional life way determined by religious customs and nutrition traditions. Anyway, food was more plentiful and various in the case of assisting works. It depended largely on work length and difficulty. Mid-day dinner used to be lighter; it was followed by a quite lavish supper that often was the work finish feasting as well. The labourers of the assisting works in Vaiguva community used to be treated with traditional occasional Samogitian dishes (kastinis–hand-made mix of butter and sour cream) as well as the new ones (kugelis–potato pudding, cepelinai–potato dumplings stuffed with minced meat, and other mince products) spreading in the first half of the 20th century. However, typical Samogitian porridges and some other everyday courses also used to be served up.

The assisting collective work (talka) as a form of work in peasant communities existed well under the private peasant farming, but largely disappeared after the Soviet collectivisation of the agriculture.