In our time the "institution of last words" (Dennis Joseph
Enright), which privileges a person's dying utterance as the most
revealing and indeed defining verbal expression has by and large lost its
religious implications. Continuing to contribute to the everyday
mythology we live by (the "folklore of the educated"), it has found
receptive ground in the media; film, advertising, the songs of
pop stars, comics, art shows, cartoons and the newspapers
(obituaries of the famous, "human interest stories", reports on executions,
catastrophes, murders, etc.). Source (in German): Guthke,
Karl S. 1999. Letzte Worte in der Medien-Kultur.
Zeitschrift für Volkskunde 95: II, pp. 197-219.
While in Finland pet cemeteries were common phenomena already in the 1990s, the first pet cemetery in Estonia was established only in 1995.
The article discusses a rather marginal aspect of death culture - the funeral traditions and cemetery culture of pets in the late 20th and early 21st century Estonian society. Native Estonians, who came from the village society, had mostly practical relationships with their domestic animals, whereas local Balto-German estate owners are known to have buried their expensive pedigree dogs and horses.
Urbanised people have estranged from the natural environment, and try to fill the void with caring for pets. In our Postmodernist and technocratic world the relationships with pets are often of anthropomorphic nature - animals are often attributed human characteristics. The first animal cemeteries in the western society were established in the late 20th century. The first charity pet cemetery in Estonia, used mostly for burying cats and dogs, but also various smaller pets, was founded in 1995. The graves of pets are often decorated with crosses and gravestones. And though the semantics of the cross sign has lost its sacral Christian meaning for modern people, and has become to symbolise mourning, the Christians consider the use of the cross symbol in pet cemetery culture as inappropriate.
The burial tradition of pets appears to depend on the ethnic and religious affinity of their owners and largely copies the traditional funeral tradition of the corresponding ethnic group. Various popular beliefs are associated with buried pets, for instance, excessive dedication to a pet may inhibit its owner's chance of having children.
While the Estonian society has largely accepted the practical need for pet cemeteries in urbanised environment, the pet burial traditions are still considered as something alien, perhaps because of their lavishness. The burial traditions and customs largely copy the human funeral traditions. Pet owners also use figurative and euphemistic expressions to talk about the death of their animals.
When a person dies, obituaries are published in daily newspapers. Similar obituaries and condolences are published in specialised magazines for animal owners.
Comparing the Estonian pet cemetery culture with that of
the Finnish, several similarities but also some differences in
tradition and customs can be noticed.
The article deals with death-related beliefs and traditions in the 19th and early 20th century. The author has divided the tradition into four main periods. The first period deals with the person's illness, when the death is definitely approaching. Since the rituals and omens occurring during this period were believed to influence the future destiny of the dying person and the living, the rituals and omens became an inherent part of funeral tradition. The first period therefore prepared the dying person and his or her relatives for the future changes.
Death as a biological transformation marks the beginning of the second period, involving washing and dressing the dead body and the night wakes. This is the period of communicating with the deceased - his or her conciliation with the living and the preparation for the afterlife and the prevention of any harmful effects related to death.
The most detailed period of tradition was the third - the dead person's departure from home. Official church rituals were completed with popular wisdom to help the deceased to settle in the otherworld.
The fourth period includes the funeral festivities, symbolising the dead person's joining the new environment, his or her reaching a new social status. Proper performing of all the mentioned periods was supposed to render the deceased harmless for the living.
In the 20th century the old popular customs have begun to
retreat. The first and the second period rituals are becoming
obsolete, whereas the third and fourth period will be dominated by
the official church ritual.
The Siberian Estonians are the descendents of the deportees from the 18th-19th century and the voluntary emigrants from the last decade of the 19th century and the early 20th century. According to the 1989 census there were 17,000 Estonians living in Siberia. During 1991-2000 the author collected the death and funeral traditions of the Siberian Estonians in rural regions, about 30 Siberian villages from the Omsk Oblast to Krasnoyarsk District.
Compared to other family traditions the funeral customs are considerably more conservative and stable. The Estonians in Siberia wish to be buried with the Word of God, according to the Lutheran tradition, though the social situation has not been favourable (during the 1920s-1930s Lutheran ministers were evicted from the villages, during 1936-1938 most of the religious literature was destroyed). The funeral ceremonies were conducted by amateurs, mostly older women.
Even today the Estonians in Siberia attempt to observe the traditional death and funeral customs - e.g. the deceased is washed and dressed at home and sent to his or her last journey, there is no alternative to corpse burial in the Siberian villages, the traditionally lavish funeral feasts are held at home, death wake is still held and singing is still a part of the funeral tradition.
Due to mixed marriages the Estonians in larger multi-ethnic villages are more prone to foreign traditions. The Estonians in Siberia have borrowed several memorial days from the Russian tradition (e.g. celebrating the passing of the 9th and 40th day from the departure, visit the graves of relatives on Christmas, Victory Day on May 9, and on Easter and Whitsunday). Siberian Estonians also bring food to the graves and the graves of the Estonians resemble more those of the local Russians.
The funeral tradition of the Estonians in Siberia is
considerably more archaic than that in Estonia, and the tradition of the
Estonians from different regions has become more uniform. Changes
in the tradition have occurred mostly in multi-ethnic villages and
the Siberian Estonians still prefer Lutheran funeral ceremonies.
The article analyses the importance of cemeteries among the Estonians in Siberia. The Diaspora of the Siberian Estonians has formed during the past 150 years, comprising the descendents of deportees and voluntary emigrants. The Estonians in Siberia have lived more or less in isolation, having distanced themselves from foreign-language- speaking neighbours: this need for privacy is evident even today. Cemeteries are no exception. In the Diaspora, several cultural elements may have been attributed additional meanings that they lacked in the source country, and, in the isolation, may have begun to symbolise the lost homeland (the language, religion, calendar, etc.). One such symbol of homeland for the Estonians in Siberia is also cemetery.
The cemeteries of the Siberian Estonians are organised according to the territorial principle. If a village has a multi-ethnic population, then the dead are buried to the section belonging to this particular ethnic/religious group. The group, who has formed a community in life, will continue to do so in death. The cemetery is a place where our worldly existence ends, a place which extends to eternity. And since our worldly existence follows certain rules, a cemetery (and its appearance) must follow certain order as well. The Estonians have not been accustomed to the bleak and treeless cemeteries of other ethnic groups and, unlike other Siberian settlers, have tried to mark the graves with trees, steppe or field flowers. The same applied to the appearance of villages - it is characteristic of the Estonians to plant trees around their houses.
The symbol of cemetery as a homeland is reflected also in
the tradition of the settlers in sister colonies to bury their dead to
the cemetery of their mother colony. The Estonians in Siberia
have brought back a handful of soil as a symbol of their homeland;
this custom, however, is not known in Estonia.
The purpose of this article is to give an overview of the more widespread death omens in earlier community and to look for an answer to the question how - in the light of social changes - the changes in the mental world of people have influenced the attitude to death omens. Answering the question whether and why death omens have receded these days, the changing of death culture can be displayed. The source materials for the article were belief records from the Estonian Folklore Archives and the fieldwork material collected by the author. In the treatment of death omens I proceed from the thematic division based on predicting situations.
Speaking of Estonian death omens, a general belief can be noticed that death comes when the time is due. This has also caused the function of Estonian death omens: people tried to anticipate what was awaiting the person and only when the person was dead, they tried to prevent the next death by avoiding contacts or reconciliation with the deceased. People tried to be prepared for death both for ethical and economic reasons. They thought that any death event is preceded by a premonition of any kind. By means of observation they tried to find signs, which would give evidence of the destiny of the sick person. An answer to that was looked for in life experiences and religion. There are a number of popular beliefs related to death omens. Primarily, the person attempted to find a solution in his daily life to the problem how long he was destined to live. Seasons of the year, weather, behaviour of domestic animals and fowl, extraordinary phenomena, etc. were associated with death omens.
While some of the passive death omens are still topical
today, active death omens have retreated. Omens have updated -
supported by literature and the mass media. Nowadays death
omens are not reflexive, they are believed to predict death to
someone else, usually to relatives. Therefore, the development trend of
death omens is directed away from oneself. In the current
rationalistic world the sphere of beliefs is more hidden - believing is not
We will take a look at this part of macrocosm that does not exist
in actual space and which is meaningful only through associations
with human mind, e.g. heaven and hell. We will mainly focus on
the modern British thought of the initial period of
contemporary research (1650-1750). Modern thought draws its ideas largely
from the Middle Ages, which in a sense is even more important
than scientific thought that is only beginning to emerge. At that
time, the macrocosmic and theologian discussions were often based
on exact scientific methods. People believed that human mind is
capable of explaining the essential nature of things, much like Kepler
was able to calculate the position of planets.
The article opens with a quotation from a novel by Lennart Meri, revealing that the Chukchi consider it pointless to visit cemeteries without reason. The article discusses the funeral rites and the fear for death of the Chukchi. The Chukchi believe that the souls of the dead will turn into the henchmen of keltja, and are therefore dangerous. Their fear for the deceased is so overwhelming that when the last member of a family dies, their jaranga is left to decompose in the tundra - no living creature is allowed touch it. The funeral tradition of the Chukchi is based on keeping the dead from harming the living. When somebody died, the Chukchi in the village were bound to silence. At least two people had to hold wake to the dead, because the dead may have overpowered one. The corpse was dressed in white leather clothes, because the dead might not be satisfied with everyday clothes and might come back to haunt the living. Some food is also given along. In order to satisfy the deceased and keep it from coming back, it is "consulted" on everything, for example, whether it "wishes" to be left in the tundra or to be cremated. The corpse is taken out of the jaranga through the back wall and all the traces to the burial site are carefully removed, so that it would not find its way back. During the funeral, one or two reindeers are sacrificed for the deceased. The performers of the funeral ceremony croak like crows three times to keep the evil spirits off the deceased. The dead body is covered with reindeer meat and several magico-protective rites are performed. Often the whole village visits the deceased the next day and sacrifice and share another reindeer.
The living will be also protected by the items that belonged
to the deceased. A belt worn by a dead man or pieces of the fur
collar worn by a dead woman will be distributed among the living.
The main purpose of the funeral ritual is to protect the living and
keep the deceased satisfied, so that he would become a protector of
Richard Viidalepp (Widebaum before Estonianising his name, and later Viidebaum; Jan. 23, 1904 - June 3, 1986), the famous Estonian folklorist, was born in the Jalapuu farm in the village of Nurmsi in Central Estonia. The same farm was the home of Urve Buschmann, the author of the article and R. Viidalepp's niece. On the basis of the 1722 list of inhabitants in the Särgavere estate and the registers of the Järva Peetri congregation, the documented genealogy of Viidalepp's family starts with Jüri Jalapuu and his wife Els (?1730-?1761). In more recent registers their son Jüri (?1771-1843) already appears under the name Widebaum.
The family was a typical Estonian family, including farmers, handicraftsmen, inventive technicians, later also intellectuals and artists. Some emigrated (the Finnish and American branches of the Viidebaums) and some were deported to Siberia. The fate of family members and descriptions of family history are illustrated by Richard Viidalepp's letters and family photographs.
The last Viidalepps born in the Jalapuu farm moved to Tallinn
Vaike Sarv, ethnomusicologist and music teacher, Ph.D. in
musicology, passed away on April 27 in Tallinn. Vaike Sarv was an
expert scholar in the Setu folk music and lectured at the Tallinn
Academy of Music and the Viljandi Culture College. The overview of her
life and work by Kristi Salve.
On February 17, the 3rd Bibliography Day "From the Files to the Data Base" was held at the Academic Library of the Tallinn Pedagogical University.
At the event, initiated by the Estonian Academic Library
and the Estonian Librarian Association (ELA), and held every other
year, the prize was awarded to the best bibliographic list published
during the past two years. Judging committee awarded the prize
to Karin Ribenis "The Bibliography of Estonian Folklore
(1993-2000)" and Ülle Tamm, Valve Jürisson, Anu Mälgand. "Estonian Sheet
Music 1918-1944". The committee also acknowledged Maie
Lõvi-Kalnin's bibliography "Viktor Kalnin. Bibliography 1957-2000"as the best
The monetary President's Folklore Prize (formerly the Head of State Award), established in 1935 by Oskar Loorits, the founder of the Estonian Folklore Archives, which is attributed to the best contributors-collectors, was reinstated in 1994. On February 24, 2004, Anu Soon from Lääne-Viru County and Kail Sarv from Tallinn were rewarded the President's Folklore Prize.
Anu Soon has contributed material to the folklore archives
since 1995. In 2003 she submitted more than 327 pages of
folklore materials from her home parish Viru-Jaagupi. The work
contributed by Kail Sarv, "Viljandi Culture College Folklore 2000-2003"
and "Folklore in Tallinn University of Technology in
2002-2003" provides an overview of modern folklore (jokes, web-humour)
as well as of group lore among the students. The overview by
The autumn school on semiotics was initiated by a group of university students, who organised a brainstorming for determining the role of semiotics in modern society. The event originally intended for semioticians only has grown into a presentation and discussion forum which brings together students of the humanities and social disciplines from different higher education institutions and representatives of other cultural studies. The aim of the fifth autumn school Europe: Old and New (held on Nov. 1-2 in Põltsamaa Gymnasium) was to analyse the conditions of conferring or joining the past and the present Europe through different areas of study.
Presentations were held on the following topics: cyborgs, interpretation, film, music, religion, identity, architecture. Berk Vaher and Anne Kull observed the possibilities of describing human cultural existence through the concept of cyborg, or cybernetic organism. Jaak Rähesoo discussed the source and target relationships in interpreting one category of art to another. Ilmar Raag spoke about founding the trademark of the European film, as opposed to the American film, among other things. Toomas Siitan analysed the semantic relations of music and verbal text and music and non-music in cantata Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit by Johann Sebastian Bach. Ringo Ringvee gave an overview of the spread and the changing role of religions in the European culture area. Mart Kalm observed the significance of architecture on the example of the revival of Functionalism in Rakvere in the 1950s. Raivo Vetik spoke about the Estonian national identity and attitudes towards Europe. Discussions on the presentation topics continued in the following workshops.
The overview of the Autumn School, especially on Raivo
Vetik's presentation Estonian Identity and Europe
by Alo Joosepson and Renata Sõukand.
Before Christmas 2003, Ants Viires Ph.D. celebrated his 85 birthday. Ants Viires is, no doubt, the best-known Estonian ethnologist. He was born on December 23, 1918, in Tartu. Ants Viires was admitted to the University of Tartu in 1937, where he first focused on language studies. During the 1940s he turned his attention to ethnography. Around this time he established contacts and began working at the Estonian National Museum, the central institution studying Estonian ethnology at the time. Because of the war, Ants Viires graduated from the University of Tartu only in 1945. The next year, having reached the position of academic secretary, Ants Viires left the Estonian National Museum and continued his studies in the then Tartu State University postgraduate program. During his three years at the university, Ants Viires delivered numerous lectures on ethnography. In the period of political constraint the Estonian National Museum, the then centre of Estonian ethnology, was marked as the nest of bourgeois nationalists. Some ethnologists were fired; others were transferred to lower positions, yet others, among who was also Ants Viires (then MA), could not find work suitable for their qualifications. Moreover, Viires' record was not spotless enough for the Soviet officials. His employment history from this period includes random supernumerary jobs in various research institutions - as a technician-planner in the Elva trade association, as the teacher of Estonian and foreign languages and the director of studies at the Saku Research Institute of Agriculture during 1952-1956. During these tumultuous years Ants Viires completed a groundbreaking study on the Estonian popular wood industry, which he later presented as his Ph.D. dissertation in history to the University of Tartu in 1955.
The sc. Khruchev's "thaw" loosened the ideological control on the academic work. In the Tallinn Institute of History, Harri Moora, a clearheaded archaeologist had established a research group of ethnographers. Since the year 1956 Ants Viires' name can also be found in the payroll of the Institute of History, where Ants Viires worked at the Institute of History for many decades, starting at the department of archaeology (since 1961 as a senior researcher), where he became the head of the ethnology group in 1968. In 1977 he worked at the independent section of ethnography, where he performed the functions of the head of the section, but was never officially elected as such, because he was not a member of the Communist party. In 1983 the research group of ethnology was founded at the department of cultural history and ethnography of the Institute of History, with Ants Viires as the head of the group. The same year he also became the head of the newly established independent department of ethnology. Ants Viires hold the position until 1988, when he assumed the position of the senior research consultant.
In 1992 the institute underwent structural changes: the department of ethnography was merged with the department of cultural history, which one subunit was the department of ethnology. Again, Ants Viires became the head of the department and held the position up to the beginning of 1997.
He is the author of many monographs: Eesti rahvapärane puutööndus. Ajalooline ülevaade [Estonian Folk Woodwork. A Historical Overview] (1960), Puud ja inimesed [Trees and People] (1975), Talurahva veovahendid [Folk Transport Vehicles] (1980), Meie jõulude lugu [The Story of Our Christmas](2002). With H. Moora, he also co-authored the work Abriss der estnischen Volkskunde (1964). In 1995 the lexicon of Estonian folk culture Eesti rahvakultuuri leksikon, edited by A. Viires, was published, and in 1998 the collection Eesti rahvakultuur [Estonian Folk Culture], compiled by Ants Viires and Elle Vunder, was released. The latter work was awarded the 1998 Estonian National Book Award as the best book on history. Viires has also published numerous articles on Estonian folk culture and cultural studies, the comparative methods of studying the material culture of the European countries, etc. His best articles (Kultuur ja traditsioon [Culture and Tradition]) were published in the series Eesti mõttelugu [History of Estonian Thought] in 2001.
In winter 2003 the great hall of the Institute of History was filled with people from Estonia and abroad, who had gathered there for the conference Kultuur ja traditsioon [Culture and Tradition] dedicated to the 85th birthday of Ants Viires.
Aivar Jürgenson introduces the grand old man of Estonian
ethnology and the conference Kultuur ja
Richard Viidalepp's 100th anniversary was held in January 2004 with a festive seminar of the Academic Folklore Society. The seminar presentations bordered on topics pertinent to a narrative researcher from Central Estonia.
M. Hiiemäe's presentation "Richard Viidalepp in search for his topic" suggested that for Viidalepp the search for the central research topic, i.e. folk tales and narrative tradition, was anything but easy. Viidalepp's personal encounter with the blind narrator Kaarel Jürjenson, must have been a landmark in his professional life. Mari-Ann Remmel's presentation "Following the Footsteps of Viidalepp in the Järva County" compared the material collected by R. Viidalepp in his home county with the material collected during the expedition of the Estonian Folklore Archives in summer 2003. Kärri Toomeos-Orglaan, a recent member of the research group of Märchen, who has also studied the possible literary origin of manuscript texts, focused on an eccentric figure from the past, who has prompted discourse concerning folklore and its use, and folklore and free creation in folkloric form - namely, the 19th century writer Martin Sohberg.
The seminar concluded with the presentation by Urve
Buschmann, Richard Viidalepp's niece. Her presentation brought
together her personal childhood memories, excerpts from archival texts
found during studying R. Viidalepp's geneaology and other different
sources. Overview by Kristi Salve.
On March 1, 2004, interdisciplinary conference "Eesti taevas. Uurimusi ja tõlgendusi" [Estonian Sky. Studies and Interpretation] was held in Tartu.
Astrophysicist Jaan Jaaniste's presentation introduced the sky in March. Theologian Tarmo Kulmar presented an overview of the mythical Estonian sky gods and the formation of God's conception compared to analogous processes and conceptions in different cultures. Psychologist Eve Kikas introduced children's perception of the sky. Academician Jaan Einasto's presentation "Vaatleva astronoomia tulevik" [The Future of Observational Astronomy] discussed the up-to-date observation techniques, results and centres of astronomy, predicting that the focus is shifting on data obtained in perfect observation conditions, which are analysed in the symbiosis of the best technical equipment and universities or research institutions with the best human resources. Philosopher Enn Kasak's presentation "Kõikjal ja ei kuskil" [Everywhere and nowhere] approached mythology and myths by applying theoretical principles used in quantum physics.
Folklorist Mare Kõiva introduced different spatial models used to represent the sky, also the mythological creatures and their behaviour attributed to sky.
Philosopher Roomet Jakapi's presentation "William Whiston, the Deluge and the Great Catastrophe" provided an overview of the scientific views on comets in the lifetime of William Whiston (1667-1752) and Whiston's treatment of comets, combining his filigree science with religion. The central topic of ethno-astronomer Andres Kuperjanov's presentation was pseudomythological stellar maps. The conference concluded with the presentation of Andres Kuperjanov's recent book "Eesti taevas".
Conference overview by Maris Kuperjanov and Liisa Vesik.
From April 7-11, 2004, the 10th British Universities Siberian Studies Seminar was held in the University of Houston (BUSSS). BUSSS is a conference on the Siberian studies which is held at a different location in every fourth year. The conference aims to combine different fields, which either study Siberia or are active in the region. The Houston conference brought together representatives of Siberian oil companies, ecologists, historians, anthropologists, representatives of the indigenous peoples and linguists.
Conference overview by Aimar Ventsel, who participated at
the conference with his presentation "The state's indigenous
policy, the centrally planned cultural revival and native strategies of
The Department of Folkloristics of the Estonian Literary
Museum and the NGO Estonian Folklore Institute held a joint
seminar on May 7-8, 2004 Inimene ja lemmikloomad. Muutused
ja traditsioon. [People and Pets. Changes and Tradition].
Presentations were held by Marju Kõivupuu ("On Pet Cemeteries in
Estonia"), Maarja Villandi ("Almost Human", discussing the
attitude towards pets in spontaneous casual discourse), and Kristi
Salve ("The happy cat in Estonian folklore", refuting the negative
stereotype of cat in folklore) and by co-authors Asta Niinemets
and Viire Villandi ("Media and animal (pet)"). Seminar overview
by Maarja Villandi.
On May 11, 2004 private entrepreneur Jüri Uppin and the
Tartu Cultural Foundation signed a contract for a stipend foundation.
The endowment aims to promote Estonian accordion music and
recognise accordion players. The stipend is appointed once a year, at the
annual accordion player's day in Tartu. Marju Kõivupuu
introduces the new subfoundation.
On March 5, 2004 Tiia Ristolainen defended his doctoral
dissertation Aspekte surmakultuuri muutustest Eestis
[Aspects of the Changes of Death Culture in Estonia]. Supervised by Prof. Ülo
Valk, opponents Paul Hagu and Juha Pentikäinen. Dissertation
overview by Mare Kalda.
The introduction of the book Of Corpse: Death and Humor in
Folklore and Popular Culture compiled by Peter Narvaez (Logan
(Utah): Utah State University Press 2003, 310 p. + comments,
references, authors, word index, paperback) by Liisi Laineste.
Marju Torp-Kõivupuu's monograph Surmakultuuri muutumine ajas: ajaloolise Võrumaa matusekombestiku näitel [The changes in death culture in time: On the example of funeral tradition in the Võru county] (Proceedings of the Tallinn Pedagogical University. Humaniora A 22. Tallinn: Tallinna Pedagoogikaülikool 2003, 154 p.) is introduced by Anu Korb.