Lithuanian Traditions Newly Listed by UNESCO – II


“Vėtrungė“ – A Beautiful Word for Weathervane

“Burvalčių vėtrungės“ is the name of the second Lithuanian traditional craft newly introduced to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. These are weathervanes used on fishing boats in the Curonian Lagoon. The word “burvaltis“means a boat or skiff (valtis) with a sail (burė).

Many of us are familiar with weathervanes on farmhouses and barns, but did you know that the old Lithuanians had weathervanes on their fishing boats? Beginning in 1844, Fisheries Inspectors of the Prussian kingdom introduced their use for fishermen of the Curonian Lagoon area, as a means of identifying their boats, enforcing assigned fishing areas to prevent poaching.

The first “vėtrungės“ were made of tin or wood, painted with geometric symbols in contrasting colours to represent a fisherman‘s particular village. In about 1890, fishermen began to add more decorative elements, symbols depicting religion, love, hope and nature, such as lighthouses, people, animals, churches, crosses, hearts, anchors or sunsets.

Weathervanes were of a consistent size – 114 to 116 cm, not including flags, and about 40-45 cm high. They would be framed in oak or willow strips, and their cutout plates were made of willow or alder. After World War I, they were not used as much for marking fishing territory, but a demand arose and their production as souvenirs became popular.

Fishing communities saw the weathervanes as indicators of their identity, and often called them calling cards or wooden passports. Weathervane production is currently being encouraged throughout the seaside area of Lithuania as an attractive educational item and souvenir. Today many locals decorate their houses with them, as symbols of the past.

Photo courtesy of the Municipality of Neringa, Gintautas Beržinskas, 2019.

Weathervanes by a fisherman’s authentic homestead in Nida