Songlore of Saaremaa islanders in the early 20th century

The CD presents an overview of Saaremaa islanders' songlore of the last century's earlier decades. Of the older alliterative songs, those that were sung to children and had a practical function preserved longer while acquiring some newer features. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the newer songs composed of stanzas with end rhymes had become popular everywhere in Estonia. In Saaremaa all types of the newer folk songs were performed: songs, reflecting historical events and social relations, soldiers' songs, seamen's songs, local village songs, circlegame and dance songs, sentimental love songs and ballads. Some of them were brought there as oral heritage from the mainland or spread by way of books, while others were of local origin.

The most original genre of the newer song tradition was the local village song. These were mostly humorous or satirical songs performed by men. Their subjects touched upon local way of life, various village events and incidences, good and bad in people, relationships of the youth and local expressions on historical events. Lyrical songs about homeland make up a separate group.

Another very popular genre were circlegames, where the main song served as the accompaniment for moving in the circle and with dance songs inserted between stanzas. They accompanied dancing with alternating partners inside the circle. Ballads were often used as main songs.

The revolts of 1905–1907 and the following actions of czarist death squads were often reflected in the songs that depicted historical events. In the early decades of the 20th century World War I became a very popular subject, because many Estonian men were drafted into the army. The reflections of young Estonian soldiers in their final hours, missing their home, loved ones and sweethearts were themes favoured by many singers. Non-wartime history also appeared in songs, for instance life in Kuressaare in the early decades of the 20th century, holidaymakers' train ride from harbour to town and the curative mud of Kuressaare that was famous even outside Estonia.

Seamen's songs tell us about fearless seafarers of Saaremaa, who were not afraid of raging storms and did not even care about sweethearts crying for them at home. However, they were ready to accept harsh destiny, if that was in stall for them. The songs often contain the motifs of shipwreck and death. The old alliterative shipwreck song by Anna Miller, which her mother sung to her as a child while spinning yarn on a spinning wheel, was also a song about life at sea (“Shipwreck”). Among newer songs there are merry accounts of seamen's adventures in harbour taverns. A rare song of a deep-sea sounding team that travel around the Estonian shores describes the happenings in their everyday life on the sea (“Coming to Toila”).



Asva village (Pöide)

Audla village (Pöide)

Haeska village (Valjala)

Kalma village (Pöide)

Kiriku village (Valjala)

Kungla village (Valjala)

Kõiguste village (Pöide)

Kõnnu village (Valjala)

Liiva-Putla village (Püha)

Loona village (Püha)

Mässa village (Jämaja)

Orinõmme village (Pöide)

Oti settlement (Pöide)

Pahavalla village (Pöide)

Ridala village (Pöide)

Soonda village (Muhu)


Turja village (Valjala)

Tõnija village (Valjala)

Veere village (Pöide)

Võhma village (Pöide)

Sound recordings


Online edition

Editors Janika Oras, Kadi Sarv
Translation into English Inna Feldbach, Olga Ivaškevitš
Selection of photos Aivo Põlluäär
Project co-ordinator Risto Järv
Web design Lorem Ipsum
Cover photo Ingrid Rüütel 2007 (private collection)

Sponsors of the web publication

Ensemble Trad.Attack!
Ministry of Education and Research (projekt IUT22-4)
The European Union through the European Regional Development Fund (Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies)
The Cultural Endowment of Estonia


ELM Scholarly Press, 2018
© and ℗ Estonian Literary Museum, 2018
© Ingrid Rüütel
ISBN 978-9949-586-57-8

Online edition is based on

Saaremaa rahvamuusikat ja kombeid /
Traditional Music and Customs of Saaremaa

Collected and compiled by Ingrid Rüütel.
Recordings from the Estonian Folklore Archives 8. Tartu 2014

[CD, DVD and textbook]
Sound production and CD mastering Jaan Tamm
DVD editing and mastering Jaan Kolberg
Editor Janika Oras
Translation into English Inna Feldbach
Design and text book layout Krista Saare
Print Kruuli Trükikoja AS
Replication Baltic Disc AS

Rüütel, Ingrid. Saaremaa laule ja lugusid. Mis on jäänud jälgedesse I
[The Songs and Tales of Saaremaa. What Remains in Our Traces I]

Tartu: ELM Scholarly Press 2015

Editor Asta Niinemets
Music transcription Ingrid Rüütel, Ludmilla Toon, Edna Tuvi
Notation editing Ingrid Rüütel, Edna Tuvi
Sheet music graphics Edna Tuvi
Texts transcription Erna Tampere, Ingrid Rüütel
Dialectic texts editor Ester Kuusik
Translation of summary Inna Feldbach
Layout and design Krista Saare
Print OÜ Greif Trükikoda