The present article explores Estonian swing culture - the types of swings, temporal-spatial relationships and customs related to swinging, swing songs, dances and games, innovations brought to swing culture in the 20th and 21st centuries. The observations are based on the archive materials of the Estonian Folklore Archives, and partly on those of Estonian National Museum.
Originally swinging had a magical meaning. The belief that swinging in springtime facilitates the growing of crop and good health of cattle and people was widely spread among Finno-Ugric, Slavic and other peoples, and naturally also among Estonians. Although the Estonian territory is small, there were considerable differences between South and North Estonian traditions. In the 19th century, swinging in Southern Estonia was performed in a specific time frame (only during the Easter), swings were lightly constructed (rope swings or lighter wood swings), both young and older people were expected to participate in swinging and it served more of a ritual function. In Northern Estonia, where swinging was not practiced until the Whitsuntide, i.e. during the Summer season, but for a longer period (until Midsummer Day), heavy village swings were common. During festivities and weekends virtually all of the adult community gathered around these, although swinging performed by the young and single.
The large swing of Northern Estonia is Swedish in origin. The swing tradition of Northern Estonia bears remarkable resemblance with the village swing tradition of Western Finland.
Village swings helped young people to communicate with each other and offered opportunity of social interaction to all village inhabitants regardless of their age. Swings were built on the public land of the village by single young men, and people who came swinging brought presents to swing makers. Young girls were expected to sing special songs, because singing was an important part of Estonian swing culture.
Swing songs make up a popular and distinct song group in Northern Estonia (see sound and note examples) that differ from the rest of the runo songs in terms of their specific singing techniques (strong chest voice, many melismata, twirls, extra syllables), slow rhythm controlled by the movements of the swing and slow tempo. In addition, texts of these songs are outstanding in their rich poetics. The oldest layer of swing melodies are made up of North-Estonian single-line melodies that are characterised by long end sound and range up to fourth; these are likely to belong to the oldest Finno-Ugric melody layer. Swing melodies as a peculiar and representative group of melodies have influenced both other song types of North Estonia and these of adjacent nations (Izhorians and Votians). There were specific swing songs in Southern and Northern Estonia.
During the last three centuries various swing types have appeared in Estonia: rõhtkiiged (seesaws), püstkiiged (swings of rope and wood), pöörkiiged (rotating swings or primitive carousels), ripp- ja võrkkiiged (hammocks), jalaskiiged (rockers - rocking horses, rocking chairs, cradles), vedrukiiged (spring seesaws, springboards). Each kind of swing contains several subtypes. The constructions and building materials have changed over time; also the safety of swings has become an important aspect. For each swing type, the article outlines its users as well as its connections with calendar customs, games typically played around it, etc.
Swinging is also popular in present days. All kinds of rope
swings or lighter wooden swings and comfortable suspension swings
are common in playground environment. Although in the 20th
century swings were regularly bought from shops, they are still often
made by people themselves. From catalogues one can order adapted
and modernised versions of old swing types. Large North
Estonian swings can be found on open-air stages, fire making places
where festivities are held during the Midsummer Days, swing hills,
parks and tourist farms. There are no restrictions on the time of
swinging and it can be practiced any time. Children and young
people prevail among swingers, but there are no restrictions in terms
of age or social belonging. Swing is used as a symbol by many
social and hobby groups or clubs, different movements and regional
societies (folk culture, new-shamanism, ethno-futurism, village
societies, etc.). Despite the dominant assimilation process in
swing-related customs, they are far from being monotonous and
homogenous, since under the shade of superficial homogeneity, different
social strata modify and shape these customs, revive old
traditions, and create and develop new activities related to swinging. The
recent example of the latter is kiiking, extreme sport activity
that originates from daring to make the swing go 360 degrees.
Matthias Johann Eisen (1857-1934), the grand old man of folklore collecting in Estonia, published five books. While compiling the first of these, named Eesti rahva mõistatused [The Riddles of Estonian Folk] (1890), during the years 1887-1888, M. J. Eisen organised an interesting collection campaign, which the present article explores in more detail.
By the year 1887 M. J. Eisen had come through two principally different periods in his interest in riddles - as a schoolboy he became acquainted with authentic folk repertoire that he recorded in manuscripts; and since 1876 he published his and his friends' self-made riddles in print.
While collecting riddles during the period 1887-1888 (in total for 16 months), M. J. Eisen resorted to locals, as had been previously done in Estonia. In the lofty style characteristic of the contemporary time he communicated with contributors through the press by publishing two appeals and in total 16 reports on the progress of the collection campaign, where he gave the names of the contributors who had sent riddles, estimated the amount of the material, highlighted parishes where the collection work had been the most successful and encouraged people to write the riddles down .
Altogether 67 contributors from 45 parishes participated in the collection campaign, and sent 5647 riddles in 78 postings. One letter contained 72 entries on average, more substantial ones had as much as 300. The riddles are written down in literary language, although a few dialect forms or words are present; for some unknown words an explanation is given.
Collected manuscripts are stored in the Estonian Folklore Archives in a 495-page quarto-format volume of SKS, Eisen.
Cover letters of the contributors provide valuable information about people from whom the riddles were collected, estimations to what extent riddles are still known in oral tradition (`a genre in decay'), etc.
The most active contributors were schoolteachers (in total 20) and farmers (7); some have later become well-known figures in Estonian cultural history.
The material sent to M. J. Eisen was relatively authentic; however, 10,6% (ca 600 texts) have been copied from printed sources or regarded later as self-made creation; this amounts to remarkably less than the total average of riddle collections (33%).
On the basis of the riddles collected in 1887-1888, M. J. Eisen compiled Eesti rahva mõistatused that contained 1770 riddles and 10 riddle songs. Together with the improved edition in 1913, it remained the most comprehensive publication of Estonian riddles until recently an academic publication Eesti mõistatused [Estonian Riddles] (2001-2002) was published.
M. J. Eisen's book was introduced to the international audience by Andres Dido, a literary scholar working in Paris, who in 1894 published under the heading Devinettes Estiniennes a short summary based on the book's foreword and French translations of 50 riddles in the journal Revue des traditions populaires.
In evaluating M. J. Eisen's contribution, one should take into consideration that folklore collection (with the help of locals) was only as a sideline to his regular profession and complicated personal life during this period. The goal he had set to himself - to publish a collection of Estonian riddles that would at least equal in size to E. Lönnrot's Suomen Kansan Arvoituksia ynnä 135 Viron Arvoituksen kanssa [Finnish Folk Riddles with 135 Estonian Riddles] (Helsinki, 1844) - he fulfilled.
The presently discussed collection campaign was an actual
start to Eisen's later collection work; everything preceding appears
random and marginal.
The opposition of `self vs. the other' known from social psychology manifests itself vividly in ethnic group relations. Folklore, when associated with historical sources, enables us to look back and helps understand tensions discernible still present day.
Historical names of tribes and counties no longer in use can either be lacking altogether from the collected folk tradition (e.g. Sakala, Rävala) or present themselves in toponyms (e.g. Uandimägi), runo songs (Ugala people as enemies, alutagune) and historical legends (Alutaguse people as wartime looters). Disappearing ethnonyms cannot be found from jokes, but they are related to certain folklore genres (various legends, runo songs). In contrast, ethnonyms/toponyms currently in use (incl. inhabitants of the ancient counties Virumaa, Harjumaa, Läänemaa and Saaremaa) occur frequently in genres that focus on humour. Historical legends tell about inter-tribal forays; short forms and nicknames can refer to hostile relationships. Sources of this kind regularly date back to the last decades of the 19th century when the folklore collection was started and disappear as Estonian patriotism (national self-determination) grew stronger.
Traditional humorous folklore (various jokes and short forms) has been applied most actively by the inhabitants of Setumaa, Mulgimaa (former Sakala), Hiiumaa, Saaremaa and coastal regions - thus, the periphery. These areas provide many vivid descriptions of the nagging that takes place between boys or men from different smaller communities/dialect groups: parishes, townships and villages. This is present in various genres, fairly well represented also in the folklore of Võrumaa, Tartumaa, Harjumaa and Virumaa. The Central part of Estonia, Järvamaa, gives a somewhat lesser contribution. Neighbour humour with its classifications or subdivisions of ethnic groups or village inhabitants and explanations of these is characteristic to Western parts of Estonia, but lacking in the records of Võrumaa, Setumaa, Northern parts of Tartumaa, and Järvamaa. The best knowns today are the subdivisions of Hiiumaa inhabitants. This tradition is fairly similar to more archaic, alliterative and assonantal mockery listings that fall somewhere in between songs and figures of speech. Runo song has been one of the most ancient and influential forms of the `self vs. the other' opposition. The same function is performed by rhymed poems and songs. The present article discusses songs only briefly; the main analysis is devoted to other folklore genres. General impression is likely to be affected by the irregular and episodic collection practises; moreover, the earlier collection of folklore was based on genre divisions.
The attitudes towards strangers are also reflected in beliefs: the inclusion of an individual among strangers creates the assumption that s/he is frightening (children threats) or possesses supernatural powers (e.g. the role of Setu or Hiiumaa people in some legends).
Neighbour humour can exhibit several different factors, such as national stereotypes of temperament, regional variations in the concepts of the material and spiritual culture, dialectical differences between ethnic groups, religious conflicts, social stratification and economic development of the community, divisions of gender roles, etc. Attitudes reflected in neighbour mockeries shed light on how the opposing pair self vs. the other influences cultural contacts.
The survival of local differences relates to the inflexibility of group borders, collective conservatism that is in conflict with the need to change and its inevitability.
Ethnonymic folklore is rooted in the same ground as
toponymic place folklore - both reveal the relation between proper names
and nicknames and the development of the former into the latter,
both contain serious as well as humorous aspects. Place folklore
gives more prevalence to the serious side, but many explanations of
place names can have entertaining or amusing effects. Both
ethnonyms and toponyms provide grounds for folkloric etymological
explanations. Names and their explanations-interpretations disclose
changes in the mentalities of the people as times change. Ethnic
folklore belongs to the periphery both in life and in science.
The present article analyses folklore from the perspective of an activity that is clearly in the central media spotlight today - the sports. This statement is confirmed by media research on Estonians' preferences of television viewing, where sports competitions always rank close to the top. The broad definition of the term `sports' is considered together with the development of physical shape and mental well-being also facilitating social interactions as a function of sports, which enables us to regard expressions of sports and sports-related activities (especially folkloric) as one form of culture.
The article attempts to define sports as a means by which folklore is created, maintained in tradition, developed and transmitted. Folklore bearers can thus be divided into three groups: sportsmen, those who are interested in sports, including fans, and the so-called sports ignoramus.
The sports world and sports topics are represented in all classic folklore genres and have created numerous new ones. Also the contrary is the truth. Sportsmen, coaches, and sports fans have their own specific group folklore, which is waiting to be explored in more detail. The present article views how mental, emotional, cultural and folkloric manifestations of sports are represented in traditional folklore genres: in songs, tales, short forms, beliefs and customs.
Sample material mainly comes from the Estonian media (the Internet, the press, television, radio, etc.). In addition, the author's informants include a closer circle of people - sports folklore, when instinctively recognized, has been noted down from the interaction with them. The Estonian Folklore Archives contains only very little relevant material and even these few sources have been collected from media, mostly from the Internet.
Sports folklore can be conceived as a means of
self-determination. Or what else can the budding fan clubs of Estonia and
folkloric subject created by them be, but a search for self-identification
and strive for assimilation namely through folklore.
Paul Ariste initially visited Votia in the summer of war in 1942 and found there a vigorous generation who knew well the peasant-centred world where their ancestors had been living for long times. After World War II, Paul Ariste and his students explored Votia for many summers between 1947 and the end of the 1970s.
Paul Ariste's postwar research on the Votic language and folklore was at the same time a testimony of a perishing nation. That the already empathic approach in his fieldwork diaries became nostalgia is therefore comprehensible. The epithet `primeval Votianism' was used by him during the last decades specifically to characterise the worldview and tradition of three older female informants - Maria Boranova, Olga Ivanova (Mati village) and Oudekki Figurova (Rajo village).
Primeval Votianism was not merely an idea for Ariste - it was embodied in a certain social character or role. Oudekki Figurova remained his favourite mainly because of her peculiar habits, her status as a healer and a singer, and her somewhat tragic opposition to the contemporary worldview.
Oudekki Figurova was born on March 14, 1891 in Jõgõperä village, Kunikvalla. Paul Ariste did not meet her until 1964. Ever since he visited her during all of his later expeditions. In sum, Ariste's concept of primeval Votianism could be conceived as follows:
Ülo Siimets's travel diary of Chukchia comes from the nights
with no electric light, when men told old legends among
themselves. Siimets recites many legends that he heard from Chukchies
personally - i.e legends still in active circulation in 1977 -
concerning incestuous marriage and marriage prohibitions. He also
translated legends of the same topics from a Russian book "Chukchies"
published in Leningrad (Saint-Petersburg) 1934 and written by
Vladimir Bogoraz-Tan, a well-known Russian ethnologist. The material, where
one can recognise international motifs and folktale types, should
be of interest especially to tale researchers.
On October 23.-26, 2002 the international conference
Traditional Culture as a Part of Cultural heritage of Europe. Presence and
perspective of Folklore and Folkloristics, was held in Bratislava,
Slovakia. Interdisciplinary questions on folklore and folklorism brought
together folklorists from Slovakia, Norway, Estonia, Hungary,
Slovenia, Bulgaria, Chekhia, Austria, etc.
On March 31, 2002 Ell Vahtramäe defended her MA thesis The folktale type "The Name of the Helper" (AT 500) found from the Estonian Folklore Archives, at the University of Tartu.