KILKIM ŽAIBU Festival – A Feast of Living History of Medieval Combat and Indigenous Tribes

The primary reason why thousands of visitors gather annually at the Lithuania’s biggest extreme music festival KILKIM ŽAIBU in midsummer undoubtedly lies with the world's most renowned metal music acts. However, attendees are not only treated to a feast of music – an integral part of the KILKIM ŽAIBU experience is living history, featuring medieval warrior combat and unconventional sporting events. 

For us, the festival organizers, KILKIM ŽAIBU is first and foremost a Baltic cultural event. This aspect, the goal of acquainting society with the way of life and thinking of our ancestors, is the strongest driving force behind our efforts. The medieval warrior and crafts town, which sprouts anew at the festival every year, embodies this idea. It wouldn't be possible without individuals dedicated to the patriotic preservation of ancient culture, who gather in clubs and collectively delve into the historical way of life of our ancestral tribes. 

Medieval Spectacles 

Amidst the trees near the main stage of KILKIM ŽAIBU, one can always witness unconventional-looking medieval tents housing warriors of the ancient Baltic Sea tribes such as the Curonians and Yotvingians, along with their families – clothed in linen, leather sandals, armed with swords. They live as their ancestors did – sleeping on furs, crafting everyday necessities in archaic ways, eating from clay and wooden vessels, consuming drinks from horns. 

On Saturdays, just before the festival's main concerts, Baltic Vikings exchange their daily linens for chainmail, grab weapons, and engage in combat in the arena. Swords clash against shields, cheers of admiration from spectators accompany each successful strike, and sometimes, bloodshed ensues, compelling onlookers to hold their breath in anticipation. 

After the battles, even festival attendees can test their strength by participating in medieval games. Among these, Baltic Viking football garners the most interest – the objective being to push a log thrown into the center of the field toward the shield placed in opposing team's area. This becomes a true test of strength and endurance for even the most athletic attendees of KILKIM ŽAIBU, filled with strategy and genuine emotions – pain, laughter, joy, and disappointment. Sometimes, injuries and bloodshed are part of the experience. 

Unveiling the Richness of History 

Benas Šimkus, leader of the Curonian clan's reconstructions, crafts, and combat club PILSOTS, asserts that this pursuit is a means of securing spiritual balance and connecting with his roots. 

"Historical combat, mythology, ancient beliefs allow one to feel that there is no beginning or end, that life is a cycle. And I continue this cycle. Someone will follow after me. You try to live to please your ancestors. Simultaneously, it's a constant search for answers to my questions, which drives me to keep evolving. Thus, this activity fully enriches daily life and is indeed daily life because historical reconstruction isn't just about walking around in linen shirts," he says. 

During leisure time – medieval; during workdays – a modern Lithuanian soldier, he is convinced that anyone can find value in local history reconstruction, be it a historian, collector, athlete, artisan, or culinary history enthusiast. The key is interest in history. 

Although combat reconstruction is the most visible and a significant part of the PILSOTS club's activities, according to Šimkus, the primary focus is somewhat different – utilizing all available historical and archaeological information to accurately recreate the material heritage of the Curonian clan: weapons, jewelry, clothing, household items, tools, and other elements. Attention is paid to all historical aspects of Curonian life. The club unites a significant number of people. Some are more interested in campaigns, others in crafts, mythology, combat, and some contribute a little to all areas of activity. 

"To achieve historical accuracy, our community pays great attention to the details of the reconstruction process, collaborating with Lithuanian and foreign scholars, museums, hiring the best artisans in their fields. Therefore, the result is impressive. However, so is the cost. Club members – representatives of various professions – typically spend years reconstructing the materials of chosen Curonian graves, investing considerable personal funds," the spokesperson shares about their comrades' commitment to historical authenticity. 

According to him, combat is just one of the PILSOTS club's directions, far from the main one. Naturally, those seeking entertainment value in historical reconstruction mostly see the combat arena. But the main direction of PILSOTS is the search for historical truth. 

"For festival visitors more interested in history and archaeology, we invite spending more time in educational discussions at the warrior's camp, where we creatively share our accumulated knowledge about the Viking-era Curonian clan. Each year, we bring the most extensive and impressive collection of weapons, so we invite those appreciating these aspects to come and chat," Šimkus encourages. 

His and other club members' dedication to history laid the foundation for the establishment of the Curonian Clan History Museum in Mosėdis, where visitors can see a reconstructed Viking-era ship, a substantial collection of archaeological artifacts – lavish weapons, jewelry, authentic costumes, providing a different perspective on the Curonian epoch, understanding that the region's inhabitants, although feared by distant lands' residents, were not primitive barbarians. 

For Šimkus, striving to reveal Curonian culture to the modern person, the friendship between KILKIM ŽAIBU and the PILSOTS club is an example of symbiosis. "For us, this is an opportunity to contribute to Daividas' idea through entertainment and education. We hope that both we and the festival give equally to each other. We strive to be part of the event, to contribute as much as possible to making it better – whether diversifying the opening ceremony and ritual combat, or developing and implementing another ideas with the organizers. It's important that the festival remains vibrant, not stuck in repetitive scenarios. We ourselves gain a unique opportunity here to be in an environment where new culture intersects with the old, and people representing both cultures become one tribe," says the medieval and contemporary warrior. 

Participation is Open to Spectators 

Similar ideals drive another group – the SONS OF JOTVA, an ancient Baltic combat companionship – into action. Formed over a decade ago, their aim is to revive and nurture the historical traditions of the Yotvingian clan in the historical territory of Sudovia. 

Although the original members' goal was combat reconstruction, and the collective was initially male-only, it later expanded to include more people. In the daily life of the SONS OF JOTVA, combat was joined by crafts, aiming to reconstruct history not only more broadly but also more accurately. 

"We arrive at the event with an entire field camp and numerous reconstructed household items. Throughout the festival, we invite people to explore our weaponry and armor exhibition, jewelry, and other reconstructed artifacts based on archaeological finds. Those eager to learn more about Yotvingian history are always welcome to approach, converse, listen. Additionally, we always bring several artisans who demonstrate chainmail manufacturing, brewing, belt weaving, ancient clothing tailoring, blacksmithing, jewelry making, pottery. Thus, enthusiasts not only have the opportunity to see but also to acquire these archaic items," explains the leader of the SONS OF JOTVA, Giedrius Navickas-Trakas, presenting the fellowship's activities. 

According to him, historical reconstruction is more than just an additional activity for the fellowship's members, representing a way of life that transcends seasonality and participation in invitation-only events. 

"We ourselves organize reconstruction events, exhibitions, and educational activities, often working as a united team with a common goal. Within our community, members organize ancient processions, celebrate old Baltic festivals, and according to ancient customs, conduct weddings and children's naming ceremonies," says the club's leader. 

It is precisely he who invites participants not only to the battle arena, where experienced fighters engage, but also to the Viking football field, where every festival-goer can test their strength. However, these are far from the only entertainments to which the SONS OF JOTVA extend invitations. 

"We include log-lifting competitions and a multitude of other ancient games and activities in the program, including, if time and circumstances allow, spear throwing and axe throwing," says the leader of the historical reenactors' fellowship. 

During the festival held over three days and three nights on June 21-23, alongside these two historical clubs, various other clubs dedicated to historical reconstruction from neighboring countries such as Latvia, Estonia, and Poland will also be participating. Additionally, the key Lithuanian experimental archaeology club PAJAUTA and other masters of ancient crafts will join the event.  

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