Mäetagused vol. 12


Twenty-Two Fish in the Estonian Folk Belief. II

Mall Hiiemäe

Ruff (Gymnocephalus cernuus) is a well-known freshwater fish in Estonia. The typology index of P. Kippar (1986: 166) introduces 256 narrative types of Estonian origin known locally, which mention a huge ruff, while M. Kuusi (1976: 311-313) argues that narratives concerning the huge ruff (AT 1960 B) figure only in the Finnish lore.

As sprat (Sprattus sprattus balticus) became an important fishing article only in the late 19th century, it has no significant role in folk belief.


The motif of a golden fish, who brings good fishing luck, is associated not just with the metal fish figures depicted in sacred chapels, but has common features with the pre-Christian fishing god. The embodiment of the golden fish in nature is either Baltic herring or some other fish.

Bream (Abramis brama) is often mentioned in connection with the spawning season in spring, legends focus mainly on fishing (a supernatural protector of fish restrains the fisher; the haul is smaller because of people's greed).

The origin of the name of minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus) (in Estonian: lepamaim, or leppkala) seems to lie in the reddish colour of the fish's lower side (in the archaic linguistic expression lepp carried the meaning of blood). The same name has been used to mark other smaller shoal fish.

The unique shape of European flounder (Platichthys flesus) and turbot (Skophthalmus (Psetta) maximus) is explained in several myths of origin. The most popular explanation is that they originate from half-eaten fish. The reason why its mouth is crooked (it snaps at the God) is explained in the narratives from the western islands of Estonia. AT 250 A versions in the Estonian language are short and also refer to the flounder's outward appearance. The Livonians, who were the main competitors on the fishing waters, are known to have possessed the magic skills of relocating and «sweeping off» the flounders.

Burbot (Lota lota) is caught by ice fishing during the spawning time, therefore it is connected to certain popular calendar days (e.g. the Twelfth Day on January 6, or St. Anthony's Day on January 17) in folk belief.

Salmon (Salmo salar) as a predatory fish has a wide chin which swelling and curving on male fish during the mating season is particularly spectacular. An Estonian-Finnish-Karelian runo song describes the making of a mythic zither kannel (finnish kantele) - a local zithertype stringinstrument out of salmon chinbone.

The Baltic four-horned sculpin (Triglopsis (Oncocottus) quadricornis quadricornis) has very conspicuous four spines on top of its head. Its resemblance to an ox or devil is reflected in the numerous popular terms. The unique appearance of the fish has inspired the negative attitude towards it. Unlike any other fish it has also earned a reputation of a fish created by a witch.

The Wedding Customs of the Sami

Aleksandra Antonova, Jaan Sarv

The material collected and published on the traditional wedding customs of the Sami of the Kola peninsula is relatively scarce. The article introduces folkloric material connected to the Sami wedding tradition. The first part of the article provides a description of a Sami wedding recorded by Aleksandra Antonova, focusing on the description of the wedding customs. Author uses traditional terminology of Sami. The second part of the article includes some notes of unique wedding song recordings with comments written by Jaan Sarv, and the deciphering of song lyrics written by both authors.

Proverbs on Animal Identity: Typological memoirs

Arvo Krikmann

The article focuses on some problems concerning the typology and taxonomy of animal proverbs. The term 'animal proverbs' denotes proverbs containing names of zoological creatures used in metaphorical or literal meaning.

The article begins with a theoretical approach to the clarity/vagueness (discreteness/continuativity) of proverb typology and the phenomenon of "type thickets" on the basis of W. Anderson's law of folkloric feedback. Then follows a general discussion on animal proverbs: presenting source material, pointing out the main problems that have been caught the interest of paremiologists so far, such as 1) the frequency of animals in proverbs and 2) the repertoire structure of animal proverbs.

Animal proverbs as a research subject has been divided in the following semantical-rhetorical categories: A. Proverbs concerning animal identity. B. Proverbs concerning the relationship between people and animals (usually in metaphorical meaning). C. Proverbs concerning the relationships between (metaphorical, as a rule) animals . D. Proverbs concerning the relation of animals (either metaphorical or non-metaphorical) towards non-zoological nature and dimensions. The article provides a brief characterisation of stereotypes belonging to the latter three categories under discussion.

Follows a more detailed overview of material belonging to category A, i.e. proverbs concerning the problem of specific identity of animals, or to be more exact, two subcategories determined by the topics and statements of the literal level of meaning: 1) The animal retains its specific identity ~ it will not ~ cannot be turned into another animal; 2) Son -- parent relationship, transmitting of special characteristics from parents to their offspring.

A few examples of groups extracted from subcategory 1:


'Animal X is X ~ remains an X'

All representatives of species X are identical, similar, alike, there is no significant difference between them

Animal X behaves as animal X ~ persists in its behaviour ~ its nature ~ its character will not change

Animal retains the somatic features of its species (incl. fur, colour) ~ these cannot be eliminated ~ changed

Animal X retains its characteristic way of moving, motor responses, etc.

Animal X retains its characteristic way of making sounds ~ has to make sounds ~ ...

All representatives of species X make similar sounds ~ Animal X always and everywhere makes the same sound

All synonyms of notion X have the same meaning ~ all subcategories of species X are identical

X is X, be it a large or a small individual

X is X, be it of any colour

X is X, be it a young or an old individual

X is X, be it a male or a female individual

The article concludes with a brief outline of other subcategories of identity group, including the sc. zoo-hybrids and zo-absurdities. The point of the article is that nowhere has the author encountered a typological maze so continuative as the "identity category" (category A) of animal proverbs and proverbial expressions.

Man: Comparisons in the Estonian Language

Katre Õim

In the Estonian comparison typology more than 40% of types concern the comparison of something or somebody with a living creature, of which the mere 30% concerns comparisons with a man(possessing the semantic qualities of being alive and human).

In archive records on proverbial expressions, some types of comparisons with human beings make up nearly 8%, of which only 2.5% are known to form comparisons between two individuals.

Comparisons with a human being as such are very rare in the Estonian language. In this case the comparison makes no indication to the actions/qualities, the origin, etc. of the person, but marks it with a proper noun: the person is famous only within a certain area, outside of which s/he is not known, and that limits the use of expression considerably. More often, the comparisons refer to a selection of the person's actions or qualities and focus on that: this method allows to express the idea through a reference as accurately as possible. The reference is inspired mostly by the origin of people. And as one might expect, the peoples who live among the Estonians or are their neighbours, such as the Romany, Jews or Russians, are most frequently mentioned.

In case of human referents in the expressions under discussion, an effective method of word composition is the application of suffix -ja [the English counterpart being -er]. The outcome is often an agent noun for single usage, which for some reason has rooted in the language but is not used outside phraseological expressions, such as justkui roomasikutaja [like someone who pulls hame straps].

To conclude we might say that the comparison with human beings is not very common in the Estonian comparison typology.

«Ambrose is a great fellow...».

On a village song on Christmas theme

Anu Vissel

For the Estonians the word «Christmas carol» denotes an authorial song, primarily a children's song or a hymn. Christmas songs are extremely rare among the old alliterative songs (runosongs). It seems to be typical to the old pre-Christian winter equinoctial customs that they are not very closely associated with calendrical songs. Several Christmas songs might be found among the more recent rhymed folk songs, which describe some local Christmas party or some other events during the Christmas period. Usually, they are long cheerful narratives which mention nothing of the holiday's Christian origin. One of such songs is «Ambroosiuse laul» (The Song of Ambrose) from the vicinity of Torma.

The song was created during the 1860s in Torma, Tartumaa region, and has gone through several stages: first a village song, then a popular song, and for the longest period a student song. The author of the song ingeniously hit the nail on the head using a family name that coincides with a name of the Italian bishop and saint, so, the song is about a generous and altruistic innkeeper called Ambrose. The song was inspired by an event that took place imminently before the Christmas. A tired soldier in rugs, who had just been released from a 25-year military service in the Tsarist Russia, had arrived at the stage of Torma. The innkeeper had given him shelter, food and clothes until the soldier went to search for his sister. The old soldier expressed his gratitude by washing all the inn floors on the morning of Christmas eve, and even brought a fine Christmas tree from the forest. In the evening, a party was held at the inn, where a local singer, violin player and comic Kristjan Kivi sang a song about it. The song describes the Christmas party as seen by the poor old soldier, who could take part of the party among the local crème thanks to the kindness of innkeeper.

The song began to circulate in Estonia from the Christmas of the 1860s on. Soon the song was spread through oral renditions and songbooks all over Estonia (see map 1).The song retained its original melody only in its place of «birth» (note samples 1 and 2, audio sample 1), in further distribution it has been sung to various tunes and with different refrains from its original area (samples 4 and 5) and from other regions of Estonia (sample 7, audio sample 3), but is best known with the tune of a well-known German student song Krambambuli (Krambambuli, das ist der Titel...) (note samples 3 and 6. audio sample 2). Refrains were added to the song mostly in oral performing, while the printed versions, like the first text of the song published in 1878, were mostly without refrains (Table 1).

The folklorisation process of «The Song of Ambrose», its adaptation with the village songs of the northern Tartumaa region, is clearly expressed in the song's association with so many different melodies. E.g. around Laiuse parish people used to sing local village songs to the tune of a certain hymn, adding the bundling songs a touch of parody. Sample 4 has also been sung to a choral tune. Another indication of the folklorisation of the song is its shifting towards the category of game songs. At the end of last century and the beginning of this century game songs were extremely popular among the Estonians and were a tacit part of every dance party, where they were played when the musician took his rest. Commonly played song games with interludes of shifting partners brought the players closer together and helped the young people make acquaintance. With the growth of popularity, several songs which were originally known as ordinary songs were turned round dances simply by adding refrains. Sample 5 represents the most popular melody of song games in northern Tartumaa region after a song game called «Mõisnik ja lambur» [Landlord and the Shepherdess], borrowed from the Germans not only by the Estonians, but also by the Finnish, Latvians and Lithuanians (Rüütel 1980: 430 - 441).

Old Tartu

On the one hand we might consider «The Song of Ambrose» a village song, on the other it is a parody. Although it does not contain the vulgarity or direct ridicule so typical to village songs, the association humour in the Lutheran surroundings is inevitable. Thus we might regard «The Song of Ambrose» as a sort of an intellectual joke, understood only by those who shared the background knowledge. The comic effect makes reference also to the history of music, where the Hymn of Ambrose denotes a choir song with a flowing melody of early Christian music and verse lyrics.

The Making of a Woman

Felix Oinas

The Estonian folk song The Making of a Woman is an extremely grotesque synthesis of the subject of humanity and elements of flora/fauna and lifeless nature. With its sarcastic message it sets out for taunting women with whatever it takes. In the song, the woman is made of rotten tree stump, her head of cabbage head, belly of cow's stomach, eyes of sheep eyes, teeth of old pieces of sawed wood, etc.

The substitutes for women's body parts in the tradition of other nations are nothing better. In Finland, her head is substituted with a pot of tar, belly with old hat, breasts with ram's testicles, etc. And yet these body parts are sarcastically referred to as sacred! In Denmark, the woman's breasts are made of pig's haunch, and her behind is made of calf's loins.

This song type, relatively unique in our tradition, bears resemblance with the European recruit's war song, and its succeeding songs.

Triskele koht

Chukchi. II

Ülo Siimets

In 1971 while author was a reindeer herder and following a herd of reindeer through Tshukotka, he was forced to live and eat in the manner of locals.


The chapter entitled «What's there to eat» describes the eating habits of the Chukchi herders and the peculiarities of their dishes. The main food was underdone or raw meat with no salt, and strong tea without sugar. At times we also ate mutton and bear meat and different fish. Fish was either raw, half-cooked or half-roasted. Underdone meat was eaten to prevent scurvy, while raw eyes and brain were considered a delicacy offered first to the guests and children. Parallels are drawn also between the will-will of the Chukchi and the Swedish sour herring surströmming.

The chapter «Arrival» recalls our arrival at Vaeg and first impressions of local situation. It describes the clothes and customs of native people and revive the Georg Forster's meeting of the Chukchi that took place on August 10, 1778. Local girls tell us stories about the shaman and his strong power, which might even cause disasters.

The chapter entitled «More on shamans and the establishing of Soviet rule» describes the events related to October Revolution and the arrival of its instigators at Tshukotka. The chapter mentions several figures connected to the struggle for power. It also provides a brief overview of the subjugation of the in-land Chukchi in 1949 and describes the horrors of the war. The chapter touches the activities of a combat tank team in a small German town during the seize of Germany.

It is followed by our first meeting with the local shaman.

A Chukchi shipmaster called Innokenti retells his grandfather's story of how in his youth a shaman saved the inhabitant of two villages from hunger by offering them mammoth meat, and gives advice what to do when one comes across mammoth fangs.

The Folk Tales of Bihar

Sarita Sahay

Like other genres the folk tales of any society reflect emotions, needs, conflicts and other aspects of human psyche, that people acquire as a result of growing up in a specific culture. Folk tales is probably the most crystallised and apt expression of human thoughts. Study of folk tales prevalent in a society helps to understand the common universal elements on the one hand and certain characteristic traits specific to that society on the other.

The present article is based on an attempt to analyse some of the popular folk-tales of Bihar.

Komi Legend

Translated into Estonian by Margit Veromann. Illustration by P. Mikushev