Book Reviews

Vaike Sarv
Setu itkukultuur (Setu Lamenting Culture).
Ars Musicae Popularis 14.

In Estonian. Estonian Literary Museum, Department of Ethnomusicology. Tampereen yliopiston kansanperinteen laitos. Tartu-Tampere 2000, 296 pp. Summary in English.

Vaike Sarv, an Estonian ethnomusicologist, has presented an in-depth look into Setu lamenting culture based on material collected primarily in the 19th-20th century Setu region. Setumaa, or the Setu region is located in Southeast Estonia on the Estonian, Russian and Latvian border. It is a small but homogeneous community, culturally distinct from its neighbouring areas.

The author analyses death and bridal dirges as musical-poetical texts and lamenting as a form of funeral- or wedding-related communication. V. Sarv proceeds from the principle of homogeneous heritage, which has enabled her to raise issues about the changing of the function of laments and tradition depending on changes in tradition, lifestyle and worldview in the 20th century.

In the nine chapters of the book the author observes the following aspects of the lamenting culture: historical, cultural and social progress of Setumaa as the context of lamenting culture; lamenting tradition vs. lamenting culture; the national identity of the Setu as a precondition for the changing of lamenting culture; different stages of collecting Setu laments from the aspect of idiosyncrasies of the studied sources and history of folkloristics; definition, popular context and types of laments; lament as a musical-poetic text; lamenting as a form of communication; lament in the context of modern musicology.

Setu lamenting culture, as it is known today, was an inherent part of the village community that with its different language usage (Balto-Finnic language family) stood apart from the Russian population and from its (Greek Catholic) religion stood apart from the Lutheran population of the Estonian villages. The integration of the Setu community in the Republic of Estonia in 1920 brought about abrupt changes in the Setu village culture. The Setu were given family names; form of ownership changed: buying or bequeathing farms in perpetuity changed village structure; improved educational situation brought girls to schools, which began to shape the traditional singing skills of women. The national identity of the Setu is still strong (a clear distinction is made between 'our' and 'their' holidays, which differ due to differences in Lutheran and Greek Catholic calendar) but the cultural homogeneity of traditional village community is gradually vanishing.

The Setu themselves and outside observers have a slightly different understanding of the Setu identity: on the one hand the outsiders began to perceive the early 20th century national costumes and songs of the Setu as the symbol of the Setu identity, but on the other hand the Setu were influenced by the selection of goods in stores and schooling, and sang their songs and made native dresses according to new trends and opportunities.

Since the 1950s lamenting was no longer used at weddings, the tradition of death dirges was kept alive until the 1970s. This was directly connected with cultural and social changes in the 1920s that reverberated in the change of generations: the generation of people born in the 1920s was the last one to have direct contact with representatives of the old generation from whom they inherited their cultural legacy, but who themselves were members of the new society and had only memories to pass on to their children. At the end of the 20th century there are many singers who can lament, but the communication is lost: funeral guests who represent the urbanising society no longer know how to communicate through lamenting or with lamenter, and have assumed the role of an audience.

Setu folk songs have been recorded since the beginning of the 19th century, though then folklorists could distinguish only the recurring refrains of songs. At the next stage only the lyrics of songs were recorded, but the music in its multi-tonality and recitativeness proved far too complicated for musical notation. The first sound recordings date back to 1912. First only fragments of songs were recorded, but progress in technology enabled to use more precise recording techniques (especially since the 1970s). Early Estonian folklore studies concentrated on song texts, at the second half of the 20th century more attention was paid to the performance tradition. During the few centuries under discussion the musical notation of texts, the focus of researcher's attention as well as lamenting culture as a whole have undergone significant changes.

The current study analyses texts of Setu laments as poetical musical texts that form a part of the funeral ritual (death dirges) or the symbolic departure by which an unmarried maiden becomes a bride (wedding or bridal laments). The general purpose of lamenting is to overcome the transitory situation (death, marriage), to balance and secure the continuance of life in the community under changed circumstances. Lament belongs to the repertoire of female singers. In Setu death and funeral tradition men are responsible for setting the event of death in a certain form: they organise the funeral ceremony, divine services, etc. that mark the change in circumstances. The role of women in this turning point is quite opposite: obscuring the boundaries drawn by men, thus enabling to communicate across the line of life and death. Through lamenting they voice their experience and feelings, which helps them to find emotional stability and adapt to the new situation, invigorate their spirit.

To observe the reflection of emotions and experience in laments Vaike Sarv has analysed the glossary of Setu death laments. The first words to stand out among others are binary keywords such as I/you and home/grave. The whole system of interpersonal relationships and circumstances are based on these central words. Analysing words generally used to express feelings (adjectives, presumably) Vaike Sarv discovered that the number of adjectives in lamenting terminology is surprisingly small (modern literary language contains approximately 8.000 adjectives, whereas the terminology of lamenting contains only 30 adjectives). In my opinion this fact forms the grounds for comparing death dirge with a type of old Estonian folk song, the runo song: feelings and attitudes are expressed by using poetic synonymy (in laments Mother is the bearer, nurser, teacher, placer, maker; generic names of different birds are used as well) rather than adjectives. The usage of language in Estonian runo songs has more thoroughly been analysed by Juhan Peegel. According to Juhan Peegel the examples (agent nouns) drawn by Vaike Sarv and mentioned here belong to the early layer of poetic synonymy. Metrically lament differs from the meter of runo song and appears to be more archaic: in laments the number of syllables is larger (9-11 instead of the eight syllables of runo song, divided in 4-5 accent groups); the rules of runo verse do not apply to lament; Setu lament has a predisposition to equal alteration of stressed and unstressed phrases (isochronism), which is not typical of speech.

Vaike Sarv introduces the structure of lament: (1) understanding the essence of death; (2) finding reasons for the cause of death; (3) denial of departure; (4) acceptance of departure; (5) expressing sorrow; (6) attempts to establish contact between the living and the deceased that is possible only at certain times. V. Sarv points out some changes in the verbal part of laments that reflect changes in lifestyle. In earlier laments, for example, place names are never used, since people used to be settled to one locality. But lamenting over a person that travelled around it was necessary to mention the place of his/her home and burial. While earlier laments mention primarily symbols connected to home (house, wall, door, window etc.), newer laments also name places of public sphere (schoolhouse, song festival, etc.), thus indicating the widening of women's range of activities and movement. Verbalisation of lament has also undergone considerable changes: while in old times lamenters lamented over the deceased, now they lament for the deceased. Vaike Sarv explains it through the changing of religious conceptions. Lamenting over someone refers to the belief in a foreign power that resides in the body of the deceased and is associated with death.

Lamenting at weddings required a traditional wedding that involved the interrelation of economical, social and religious factors. In this case the wedding was the external symbol of the girl's changing status, where members of community functioned as registerers and witnesses of the new situation. During lamentation the maiden ascended to the status of a young wife. The bride lamented too: inviting community members to the wedding she performed dozens of dirges that were heard all over the village. Mastering the skill of lamenting indicated the young maiden's maturity and readiness to accept her new status. Lamenting helped to regulate both physical and spiritual transition.

Lament begins with an addressing verse, followed by bowing, lying on the ground, saying traditional lament words; naming the purpose of the lament and commenting on the event. At home the bride asks her closer relatives a question: why are they giving her away; the maiden has been diligent and obedient, her mother will lose a pair of helping hands; she thinks that her father is giving her away because he has too many mouths to feed or he is afraid that the girl will be an old maid; asks for the dowry from her father. From the more distant relatives she asks for gifts and expresses her gratitude; she tells the brother, who traditionally drives the bride, that she hopes he will drive safely. The village boy is told about their earlier relations and the new situation, expressing remorse, sometimes even reproach, that this young man did not propose. Through lamenting the guests are told their roles at the wedding performance. The daughter has no rights to invite guests to her new home, therefore she asks her own family to invite her - visiting the young wife's former home was allowed. Lament imagery is associated with water (tears). Drowning and burning serve as metaphors of inescapable situation. Items of metal are taken along to secure a safe crossing of water. All these are universal pieces of imagery characteristic of the earlier folksong, which are reduced to the syncretism of folklore.

Modern Setu culture has changed to the degree that lamenting in its original homogeneous form is no longer thinkable. At the same time lamenting tradition offers inexhaustible inspiration to modern concert music, creating thus a new form of communication.

Tiiu Jaago