ACADEMIC FOLKLORE SOCIETY (AFS)
BOARD OF AFS IN 2003: Risto Järv (e-mail: email@example.com, phone: +3727 376 214),
Liina Saarlo (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone: +3727 377 736), Kristi Salve (e-mail: email@example.com, phone: +3727 377 746)
Academic Folklore Society was on November 28, 1925 at Tartu University. The
initiator of the idea for such a society was the then Tartu University's professor of
folkloristics Matthias Johann Eisen, who hoped to increase the students' interest in
the not very popular folkloristics. The Society was mainly aimed at students, but
renowned folklorists of that time (Walter Anderson, Oskar Loorits) took part in its
work, too. Many enthusiasts kept in touch with the society even after graduating from
the university. The society's work was at its liveliest in the beginning of the 1930s
(1930–1933) when its membership reached 80.
At the foundation meeting of the AFS, Matthias Johann Eisen assured that the aim of
the Society was to promote the interest in collecting and studying of Estonian folklore
among students. A further perspective was to educate a new generation of
researchers, who would further Estonian folklore studies which were relatively poor if
compared to neighbouring countries, for example Finland. The main work form the
Society was speech-meetings, where lecturers, workers of the AFS, schoolteachers
or students presented their studies in folklore. The most frequent performer was the
chairman of the Society – Matthias Johann Eisen. The range of all topics was
unbelievably wide: besides introductions, surveys and studies on folklore, there were
papers by representatives of neighbouring disciplines (ethnographics – I.
Manninen, G. Ränk, medicine – V. Kuriks, etc.), or interdisciplinary
themes (folk botanics, folk astronomy, folk medicine) were discussed. The majority of
contributions were about folk belief and folksongs. Folk belief was one of the
favourite subjects of Prof. M. J. Eisen. His presentations introduced students to
several interesting beliefs or customs (lucky coin, horseshoe as luckbringer, rooster
on the church spire, masking, marriage proposal, wedding, the werbride, where do
children come from). O. Loorits, Richard Viidalepp, W. Anderson and others gave
speeches on themes of folk belief. The themes in question were in most cases
discussed on the basis of archive materials, but there was interest in contemporary
folklore as well. For example, in his paper The collision of Earth and Mars
Prof. W. Anderson followed the creation and dissemination of a rumour coined
by the Tartu intelligentsia (the catastrophe should have soon taken place), or O.
Loorits's insight into ways of contemporary prophesying in his paper Superstition
in the Railway Wagon. In the presentations on folksongs, the general problems
of both the runo song (E. Päss: Comparison of Estonian and Finnish
Calendar Songs; Common Subjects in the Runo Songs of Estonia and the Nordic
Countries) and the end-rhyme folksongs (M. Kampmaa: On the Relationship
between the Newer Folk Song and the Runo Song), and concrete song types
were studied. There began also the study of Setumaa which is the storehouse of
Estonian folk songs (P. Voolaine: The Tradition of the Setu Folksong Today),
as well as introducing the repertoire of its famous singers, for example Miko Ode and
Anne Vabarna (including the setu epic Pekolanõ composed by the
A few good papers were delivered also on the subject of folk music and folk dance.
In these years the collecting and studying of these genres on the required level was
problematic (the necessity and opportunity to preserve folk music on records, the
lack of dance specialists, etc.). Among the few researches made on folk music H.
Tampere's The Rhythm Problem of the Estonian Folksong is appreciated
even today. First serious research was attempted in Estonian folk choreography
(which until then had mostly provided dance publications): R. Viidalepp
"The Grainsthreshing Room of the Wise One" as a Wedding
Joke and Folk Dance, R. Põldmäe Folk Entertainments and
Dances in Setumaa.
Naturally, many meetings were dedicated to collecting folklore as students gave
surveys of their summertime fieldwork. The Academic Folklore Society founded its
own folklore archives which include 1656 pages and 1508 items of folklore. This is
not the exact amount of material collected by the members because soon it was
found reasonable to unite the collected material with the Estonian Folklore
Naturally, the themes discussed included also the history of Estonian folkoristics.
The anniversaries of Estonian folklore celebrities (Jakob Hurt, Heinrich Neus, Oskar
Kallas, etc.) and several gifted folksingers (e.g., Miko Ode) were eagerly celebrated.
At the same time, the relationship between literature and folklore was analysed,
including the relationship between the epic "Kalevipoeg« by Kreutzwald
and folklore, translations of the epic into other languages (Hungarian, Latvian,
Russian, Jewish, Finnish, Polish).
Quite a lot of attention was paid to Finno-Ugric folklore. From amongst the folklorists
of our kindred peoples, the Finns and Hungarians were the most frequent to present
their tradition research: Kaarle Krohn (Folksingers of "Kalevala«),
Erik Nestor Setälä (The Golden Woman), Viljo J. Mansikka (folk
medicine), Ilmari Manninen, J. Fazekas (Hungarian folk music and folksongs). Ilmari
Manninen and Eduard Päss treated the relationships of Estonian and Finnish
folksongs. Several papers dealt with folklore of the Balto-Finnic nations: Paul Ariste
introduced Votian mythology, Eduard Päss – the christening traditions
of the Votians and Izhorians. In March 1936, a Livonian evening was organized,
where Karl Stalte performed with a speech in Livonian Livonian History and
Customs, Oskar Loorits spoke about Livonian folksongs. Paulo-Priit Voolaine
stated studying the traditions of the Estonian settlements in Latvia.
The Academic Folklore Society did not by far have only Finno-Ugric contacts, but
tried to communicate with and learn from near and distant neighbours, to be familiar
with European folkloristics. Professional communication became especially lively
during the years in which the chairman was W. Anderson. On his recommendation
O. Loorits acquainted himself with several European folklore archives and gave
several speeches on the theme (e.g. 1927 The Latvian Folklore Archives,
1937 Baltic and Estonian Folklore Archives) and used the optained
knowledge in working out the structure of the Estonian Folklore Archives. Dr. E.
Harms and Prof. Ziesmer from Germany, H. Helminen, S. Haltonen and others from
Finland adressed in the Society. The Society members shared their impressions of
international scientific conferences (Folk Art Conference in Prague in 1928, jubilee
festivities marking the first publication of Kalevala in 1935, folklore congress
in Edinburgh in 1937, etc.).
The Academic Folklore Society was the first society strictly oriented on folklore in
Estonia. During its first period of activities the AFS significantly broadened the
horizon for the students of folklore and their knowledge of folklore in Estonia, and to
some extent also in more distant countries. During the AFS meetings themes from
very different fields were discussed and studied for the first time. The majority of this
material were published and thus the later researchers did not have to start from
scratch again, but to continue. The Society markedly stimulated the folklorists
actively participating in it, giving them an opportunity for regular scholarly dialogues.
The AFS played a major role in bringing up a new generation of folklorists. In spite of
the following years of war and the mass flight to exile among the Estonian
intelligentsia from amongst the former members of the Society rose such renowned
scholars as academician Paul Ariste, folklorists Eduard Laugaste, Herbert Tampere,
Rudolf Põldmäe, Erna Normann, Paulo-Priit Voolaine, slavist Villem
Ernits and many others.