Cartographic research of traditional clothing in the 19th-century villages carried out by Marija Miliuvienė and Vida Kulikauskienė shows that, based on the cloth cutting, materials and layout of decorative elements, Dzūkians’ costumes very much resembled those prevalent in Aukštaitija, Suvalkija and central Lithuania. The region’s part by the Neris River and the surroundings of Dieveniškės could be singled out as more resembling attire of eastern Aukštaitians. The traditional Dzūkian clothing is characteristic for its colour diversity, with purple, cherry red and green being the dominant ones. Some of the most extraordinary details of attire were chequered aprons and overlay-pattern sashes of panemunių Dzūkians (which were also well-known in Suvalkija).
Traditional Dzūkian dishes included potato and mushroom meals. Dzūkians used to bake sourdough bread, pies, buckwheat babka (a type of pie) and grated potato banda (a type of pancake). They also salted bacon and meat, dried sausages and smoked kindziulis (a type of matured sausage).
Linguists have noticed that Dzūkians are especially keen on calling each other names. Moreover, Dzūkija is considered the most musical region – its songs are very melodious, gentle and melancholic, while the oldest ones were homophonic. The tradition of singing laments has also survived in this region for the longest time, being unique not only in their variety, but also composition and melody. Dzūkians also have their peculiar holiday customs: in the 20th century, on Easter Sunday, young men called lalautojai would walk through villages in groups and sing. In the village of Margionys, starting on All Saints’ Day, there would be bonfires set in the graveyards for eight consecutive days. As for the wedding rites, Dzūkians had a custom of “kidnapping the bride” (in some parts of the region better known as “hiding the bride”), dressing up in various costumes, whereas the tradition of “hanging the matchmaker” only emerged during the interwar period, yet soon became very popular.
The Dzūkian genome is also very distinctive. Research on whether modern‑day Lithuanians from different ethnolinguistic groups possess genes of different Baltic tribes in their gene pool showed that southern Aukštaitians-Dzūkians are clearly distinguished from the rest. Prof. Vaidutis Kučinskas believes that the southern Aukštaitian gene pool still possesses traits of Yotvingian genes.
Dzūkija is also unique not only for its forested surroundings, the Dainava Forest, but also Lithuania’s highest point discovered in the 20th century – the Aukštojas Hill located in the Medininkai Highlands, resort towns Birštonas and Druskininkai, and its peculiar landscape which is protected at Žuvintas and Čepkeliai natural reserves, Dzūkija National Park and other regional parks. There are old Tatar settlements that have survived to this day in Raižiai (Alytus district), villages of Keturiasdešimt Totorių and Nemėžis (Vilnius district), as well as the Karaite settlement in Trakai.
Dzūkija is also sometimes called Dainava – the region of Dainuviai. The name Dainava was first popularised in the written works by Vincas Krėvė. The Dainava district was also the name of a Lithuanian partisan group that fought the Soviet occupants in 1946–1952. It should be mentioned that in the second half of the 13th century, this territory, inhabited by Lithuanians, saw an influx of Bartians and Yotvingians that moved there after their lands had been conquered by the Teutonic Order. According to Zigmas Zinkevičius, the villages of Yotvingians adopted the name of Dainava, which was one of the names of their tribe that used to be called Jatviažins by Russian-origin residents. Another tribe, the Sudovians, did not take this name. It is still subject to discussion how all the neighbouring tribes – Sudovians, Yotvingians, Dainuvians and Pollexiani – were called collectively: Yotvingians or Sudovians. The borders of Dainava are also unclear, but they definitely do not coincide with the ethnographic ones. In order to preserve the historical memory of these names, the Council for the Safeguarding of Ethnic Culture gave legal status to both of them and the Lithuanian Heraldry Commission approved the project of the coat of arms of Dzūkija (Dainava).
Dr Irma Šidiškienė