Russian bast shoes (лапти)

So the Eurovision Song Contest is over for another year. This year, the contest was held in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Who knew that Azerbaijan, which is north of Iran, is part of Europe.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest seems to have attracted more… shall we say… senior contestants, with 76 year-old Engelbert Humperdinck representing the United Kingdom. He finished second from last place. In contrast, a group of grannies called Buranovskiye Babushki representing Russia, came in second place in the Eurovision Song Contest. The name of their group literally means ‘grannies from Buranovo’. Buranovo is a village in Udmurtia, over 1000km east of Moscow. The average age of the grannies is 75 and at Eurovision, they sang while baking bread in an oven on stage.

The Russian grannies wore traditional costumes of homespun fabric with necklaces made of silver coins. Did anyone notice their footwear? They wore handmade socks made by one of their group and bast shoes. Bast shoes are traditional Russian peasant shoes made of birchbark. Bast shoes are also called lapti. These shoes are made by weaving fibre of the birch tree. The shoes are held onto the foot by string. Bast shoes have an ancient origin and have been worn for centuries in Europe, with evidence of them dating from prehistoric times. Bast shoes are found in Northern and Eastern Europe and are worn in Russia, Finland, Poland and former countries of the Soviet Union.

Members of Branovskiye Babushki putting on their bast shoes before rehearsals. Photo from http://m.sknvibes.com/news/newsdetails.cfm/55761

In the past, bast shoes were common footwear in Russian villages. Bast shoes don’t last long; they wear out quickly and are not waterproof, but they are cheap to make. So in the past, they were worn by peasants and the poorest people who could not afford other footwear. Nowadays, similar to other traditional footwear like Chinese clogs, bast shoes are mostly just tourist souvenirs and are not common footwear. They are now more commonly worn by folk performers or folk dancers, like the Buranovskiye Babushki.

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