Songs of Siberian Estonians

Singers and musicians

Miina Jansa (1912–2007), a small and slight woman from the VERKHNII SUETUK village, knew cures for many troubles: for instance, she could heal with words and prepare water for casting evil eye. At 80 years of age, her singing voice was still beautiful. Miina’s favourites were the melancholy songs of love and longing. Upon the folklore collector’s request, Miina kept recalling the songs and times of her youth through the entire night: describing how they were driving horse carts to the forest, singing all the way. Even during the war, people used to sing in the village, despite all the famine and deprivation: tai-ritta and tai-ritta were the first and the last things heard up on that church hill.

Miina Pavlov (Turu Miina, née Adamson, born 1927) had a father whose stepfather, as people used to tell in VERKHNII SUETUK, had come from Turku, Finland. So it happened that the young girl’s home language was Finnish, with Miina reading even her bed-time prayers in Finnish. As time passed, the Finnish population of the Verkhnii Suetuk village switched to Estonian. In present day, Miina slipped only a few odd Finnish words into her stories, and used Russian to sing songs and tell fairy tales to her grandchildren. In addition to Estonian songs, Miina was also fond of singing Russian songs with her high resonant voice.

Maali Leer (née Rudaltseva, born 1929) from VERKHNYAIA BULANKA was quite familiar with the songs sung in the neighbouring Verkhnii Suetuk village, but preferred to sing the songs of her own village. Maali was the heart and soul of social gatherings, and her doors were always open to guests.

Emilia Naarits (Miilja, née Kodasma, 1916–2008) from RYZHKOVO was barely out of childhood when some girls invited her to lead their singing. As soon as the girls had attracted boys to play musical instruments, Miilja was deemed too young and sent away. As soon as she had grown up, she went to almost all the village parties, ignoring her mother’s objections. She lived and breathed singing and dancing, which helped her to overcome hardships in life. Performing on stage provided such an immeasurable emotional boost that even at age 88, Miilja was still touring Russian villages, enduring sleeping on the bus and rough rides on bumpy country roads.

Pauliina Kondrova (Polli, née Einbaum, born 1915) and Eliise Näkk (Näki Liisi, née Meri, born 1924) from KOVALEVO were both fine singers, always trying to top each other. For a while, Pauliina was living in Estonia, near Tallinn, but returned to the Siberia which she had grown to love. Eliise was the cornerstone of Estonian patriotism in her home village. When her children tried to start speaking Russian at home, upon their teachers’ suggestion, Eliise had been quick to yell: “I’ll have no Russians in this house!”

Ida Mäetam (née Aunamägi, 1921–1995) from BEREZOVKA could not go a day without singing. The way she put it, she had simply grown into the songs. On hearing her sing, other villagers used to wonder whether Ida had a special holiday or something – singing while doing the laundry! Ida was also the soul of many parties – the number one dance game leader. Of Ida’s eleven children, many have inherited their mother’s beautiful singing voice, but sadly none of them remember her songs.

Eharles Abner (born 1937) from LILIENGOF was characterized as an enterpreneurial gentleman, a jack of all trades. After the dissolution of collective farms, he became the only employer in the village. Eharles was also known as a keen hunter, well-acquainted with all the surrounding forests and the animals within. As a musician and a fine storyteller, he was always welcomed to any party.

Erna Õigus (née Kukk, born 1927) from YURYEVKA was one of seven children born to their loving parents. Reportedly, Erna’s maternal grandfather had been reluctant to give his daughters away in marriage, and so her father had had to steal his wife – he took his true love straight from the song festival in Vambaly to his home in Yuryevka. Erna had inherited her singing talent from her mother, and it was said that everyone could sing in Yuryevka. In summertime, singing in the hayloft used to go on all night, with no time for sleeping. At 22, Erna married into the Vambaly village. From then on she sung the songs of her childhood by herself – the Vambaly songs had different words and tunes.

The talkative and temperamental Juhanna Müller (née Tamm, born 1929) of YURYEVKA used to manage the local club in the 1970s and 1980s. Her light feet could gracefully perform the steps of any dance, even on her home lawn – krakowiak, waltz, polka, schottische, pas d'Espagne, etc. Juhanna was also the leader of the Estonian vocal ensemble; on stage, they performed both Estonian and Russian songs. Juhanna herself preferred to sing newer author songs, but she did remember some songs that had been passed down from her forebears.

Berta Kalamis (née Tater, born 1922) and Berta Hank (née Vool, born 1919) from ORAVKA were both women of strong character. Berta Kalamis was born in the Oravka village and has spent her entire life there. Berta Hank was born in the Nikolayevka village, across the swamps, and had married into Oravka. Both villages had their unique songs, even though often they were just different versions of the same song, and both Bertas believed that the version sung in their home villages was the only correct one.

Alviine Rylskaya (née Tuul, born 1919) from NIKOLAYEVKA possessed a lovely singing voice and had continued to sing despite having lost most of her hearing and eyesight. Since then, she was helped by her steady faith in the Lord and her kind neighbors – in Siberian village communities, people in need are always cared for.

Rosalie Taits (Roosi, née Leib, born 1930) from ZOLOTAYA NIVA was passed the honourable positions of leading the local vocal ensemble and the baptizer and burier of the village by Ida Hõim in the late 1980s, after the latter could no longer perform those duties due to her advanced age. At first, Roosi’s voice would quaver with nervous excitement every time she had to read at the funeral from somebody else’s book. Over time, Roosi compiled her own book of observance procedures, written by hand, because there were no printed copies left available in the village. Roosi also copied funeral songs from song sheets sent and brought from Estonia. In the 1990s, the women’s vocal ensemble no longer performed, but Estonian songs were still sung at social gatherings. The songs sound quite similar to those sung in Estonia.

Elmar Sõrmus (born 1926) from ZOLOTAYA NIVA was interested in musical instruments since his early youth. He had no instrument at home, so the 9-year-old Elmar once walked into the village club, sat on his knees in front of the musician, and watched him play. Soon after, Elmar’s older brother became the club’s manager and he brought home an instrument of the collective farm – but Elmar was not allowed to touch it. So the boy practised in secret while his brother was at work, until one day he stepped in to replace a musician who was too drunk to play at a club dance. From then on, the family stopped hiding the instrument from him, and Elmar has been playing accordions of all shapes and sizes ever since.

Three sisters from the ESTONKA village, Pauliine Talvik (born 1928), Kamilla Vuks (born 1930), and Emmi Juhanson (née Pless, 1922–2003), used to perform often and were very popular in the area. After Pauliine’s husband died in 1993, the sisters never sang again, observing the tradition common among Estonians in Siberia that the death of a close one silenced a singer’s songs forever. Nevertheless, the sisters agreed to make an exception for the folklore collectors from Estonia.

Olga Jänes (born 1928) of LILEYKA was shy and introverted in her youth but had an innate talent for singing. The villagers considered Olga a true singer who could sing from memory for several days and nights in a row. After Olga moved to the Sedelnikovo county centre, the repertoire of Lileyka’s Estonians became increasingly Russian.

Linda Tsirk (née Tsiak, 1923–1997) from TSVETNOPOLYE was born in Estonka beyond Tara District, Omsk Oblast. Before long, she moved to the neighbouring Lileyka village, and from there to the mixed Estonian-German village of Tsvetnopolye, situated in a more favourable location. As the promoter of local cultural life and leader of the Estonian folklore ensemble, Linda could never accept the weakening of the position of her village’s Estonians in a county amidst ethnic Germans. As she was open to anything contemporary and modern, she made efforts to acquire the most recently published songbooks, audio cassettes and records on her trips to Estonia, and even had Estonian songs recorded for her to supplement the repertoire.


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Verkhnii Suetuk
Verkhnyaia Bulanka
Berezovka, Liliengofka
Oravka, Nikolayevka
Zolotaya Niva
Estonka, Lileyka


Songs and dances

Verkhnii Suetuk
Verkhnyaia Bulanka
Zolotaya Niva