Mäetagused vol. 11


Twenty-Two Fish in the Estonian Folk Belief. I

Mall Hiiemäe

The present article is a sequel to the series of articles about the birds and insects in the Estonian fauna (See Hiiemäe 1996, 1997, 1998). In folk tradition the utilitarian attitude towards the fish was much more prevalent than towards the birds or insects. Until today, fishing has been an important source of living for the population in coastal regions, and for centuries the Estonians have shared their fishing waters with the neighbouring peoples: the Latvians, the Livonians, the Swedes, the Finnish and the Russians. Teutonic supremacy established its fishing rights both on the coasts and inland waters already in the 13th century.

As to the subject of fish, Estonian folklore is rich in fishing magic. The disappearance of fish in a certain fishing area was often explained by the conflict between the locals and foreigners, or the leaving or taking the fish by some supernatural means (cf. the Estonian proverb: Envy draws the fish from sea).The bulk of folk tradition introduces generalisations based on long-term observation of nature and experience, also different prophesies and methods of magic to secure fishing luck. A part of the information centres on the aetiology of the fish, focusing on fabulates of uncertain genre about fish with distinctive outward characteristics, unique figure and behaviour. A separately standing group is formed of narratives which originate in the hunter-gatherer culture and have gone through changes influenced by land-tilling culture and Christianity, which regards fish as (somewhat demonised) spiritual creatures of the sea world.

European perch (Perca fluviatilis) is distinguished by its habitat, spawning time and colour. The bright colour of its fins predicts the coming of cold winter. The fall in the number of perch has also been associated with the threat of Latvian fishermen to «take away» the perch if the fishermen were forced to pay for the fishing permits.

Eel (Anguilla anguilla) is believed to have developed from snakes, or they are assumed to have a common origin. Myths of origin emphasise their resemblance with snakes, and associate them with biblical characters, such as the God, the God and the Devil, Jesus Christ, Jesus and the apostles, Peter, Moses, Eve. A second group of stories, or religious reports, introduce snake's transformation into an eel and vice versa (explaining how a snake was found in water, an eel was found in the nettles, how the transformation depends on whether the first spring thunder rains down on the earth or on the sea, etc.). Even during the 19th century the use of eel for food was rather occasional because of religious convictions.

When the fishes of the order of sharks (Selachomorpha) happened to appear near a ship it was considered an omen for shipwreck, accident or the death of a crew member.

Pike (Esox lucius) figures in a number of reports from the area of its habitat, spawning place and time. Reports from East Estonia inform us of a ritual feast with a large pike to celebrate the beginning of the new fishing season on the Annunciation or Lady Day (on March 25). In legends, pike appears more as a head of cattle protected by a guardian spirit, rather a dock-tailed hog (bull, goat) than a spirit itself. On single occasions, pike is also mentioned in myths about the moving of lakes. Bones in the pike's head resembling a cross, a hammer, nails, a knife, a sword or a spear have been connected to the crucifixion of Jesus; the head (teeth, blood, etc.) of pike belongs to the means of fishing and preventive magic.

Offering Stone

Sacred Stones

Andres Tvauri

An overview of the sacred stones in Estonia. In the present research two main problems concerning the offering stones will be discussed: where the stones are, and why. As source material, lists of archaeological sites in the archives of the National Board of Antiquities of Estonia and on the data in the topographical archives of the Department of Archaeology of the Institute of History have been used.

Wedding Dictionary. IV

Ülo Tedre

The key-word based dictionary (T - Ü) introduces Estonian wedding customs and ceremonial characters. To the customs are added their dissemination area and basic names with the references to parishes.

Telling Family Histories in Finland: Interpreting and Imagening the Past

Pauliina Latvala

In this article, I have addressed primarily the production processes underlying family history, its relationship to time and the ways in which finnish people has categorized the past and everyday life. My corpus of source materials, which is in written form, was collected 1997 through a collection competition called «the Great Family History», organized by the Finnish Literature Society Folklore Archives in Helsinki. The purpose of the collection contest was to gather information concerning social processes of change as seen through the experiences of family and kin group as well as to identify what it means to be aware of one's own family history.

Family pictures

Family histories play an important role in creating a picture of recent history. With the year 2000 nearly upon us, the 20th century naturally becomes part of our recent history: narratives are told concerning this century, its events are well-known. Research material contains information received from parents and grandparents which often goes back as far as the 19th century, even though the narration focuses on the nineteen hundreds. The main themes in family history concerning this century in Finland are: mass emigration to America that took place at the beginning of this century, the wars (1918, 1939-1945) and the post-war construction of welfare-state. There is also a great deal of interest in the 19th, 18th and even earlier centuries. A partly fictional reconstruction of everyday life is made with the aid of family history research and can reach back as far as the 16th century.

Persons who produce family histories are most likely aware of the categories of official and unofficial history, each of which contains certain models and rules for narration. Unofficial history is considered to be oral history, and the transfer of oral memoirs to paper in writing is seen to be an interpretation which complements official history. For example emotions and personal experiences belong to the unofficial history. The significance of family history is thus that it ensures that the past is transmitted to future generations from a perspective important to the self.

Each historical period produces and brings forth styles of speech and cultural models through which historical narrative is processed. When Finns write about their pasts or their own lives, the model used is often one of a survival tale, which begins with what could be interpreted as complaints of poverty and toiling from dawn to dusk. One noteworthy features is however, the fact that the narrative does not end here: Finns tell of wretchedness and want and transform it into a source of pride by explaining how their families survived harsh conditions through their rugged resilience and refusal to give up.

Memoirs and oral history are used to produce personal histories of family and kin, to write down one's roots or origins. It can be observed that oral history brings together the actual and recollected past and often presents them as nostalgia and myth. Family histories are told from the perspectives which are seen to best define one's own background and reinforce one's own identity: therefore the protagonist may be the narrator's grandmother of whom she or he has a personal recollection, or a man who lived in the 17th century, who is considered to be the founder of the family line. At issue in the transmission of oral history is not only unconscious forgetting but also power and influence. Narratives are always the results of selection processes and contain the values, attitudes and conceptions of historical events held by their narrators.

These examples suffice to illuminate important areas of this research topic - particularly the significance of narration to persons and the relationship between narrated history and official history.

Conflict, Experience and Nostalgia in Family Heritage: Estonia and Finland

Tiiu Jaago

The need to know one's ancestry has been justified by mythical, legal, as well as scientific explanations. But why do we discuss it and write about it in the modern society?

We must search for the reasons for our interest in family heritage in the common elements of the earlier tradition and new forms of culture. Therefore, there is no need to study merely oral narratives, or separate them strictly from heritage in written form.

Family pictures

The current article centres on the purpose of family heritage at the end of the 20th century, based on the structure of family narratives in two written sources. The manuscripts were taken from the Estonian collection entitled Eesti Elulood (EE), [Estonian Life Stories] available in the Estonian Archives of Cultural History in the Estonian Museum of Literature, and from the Finnish collection Suvun suuri kertomus (SSK) [The Great Family History] available in the Finnish Literature Society Folklore Archives in Helsinki. Nearly 1,500 of the total of 20,000 pages of the first collection (Life stories of the Estonians submitted for the 1996 collection contest «The Fate of Me and My Close Ones in the Course of History») and approximately 1,300 pages of the total of 40,000 of the other (the outcome of the 1997 Finnish national contest for collecting family heritage) were covered for the present article. As to the Estonian manuscripts the selection was based on the contents of heritage (the collection focuses on life stories, and therefore does not contain accounts about ancestry and the life of ancestors); as to the Finnish material I tended to give priority to narratives about peasant ancestries, as it seemed to comply best with the selected Estonian material.

The narrators were mainly from village communities, although nowadays they may be settled in towns. The majority of them were born during the period between the two world wars. Written narratives reflect an opposition between the stability and harmony and the crisis after WW2. The reason for it is objective due to the life of the generation under discussion and ongoing historical events. In the 1920s-1930s, today's narrators-respondents were young children. This period is often characterised as a period of stability and security, followed by a very critical change in society. In Estonia, people's lives were interrupted by war and political reforms, which ran to the extremes with the arrests and deportations in 1941 and 1949. In Finland, life was affected by the war, emigration from Karelia due to the re-establisment of Russian borders; the most significant change was associated with cultural crisis, where the former natural tendencies were set in the opposition with technocracy. Living at the breakpoint has favoured stark contrast between perception and its performance before and after (i.e. now) in narratives based on conflict. Apart from perceiving the difference between the periods, we should remember that narratives based on conflict are already extant in the tradition. In peasant heritage they are associated with the topic of marriage, the relationship between a husband and his wife, a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. Stories of conflict do not result in the fact that some people found themselves amid risky situations more often than others, the reason lies in the narrative traditions hitherto (or, to be more exact, in the structural methods extant in the narrative tradition).

The opposition between the past and the present day is not always presented in the form of a conflict. In this case the narrator does not focus strictly on one axis (the conflict), but regards the events in a wider perspective, which eventually results in the notion 'experience'. 'Stories of experience' may also comprise 'stories of conflict'.

The subject of nostalgia is rarely mentioned in the material discussed, mainly because the narratives are directed to future and addressed to the wider public, whereas nostalgia is directed to the past and addressed to the narrator himself.

Narrative heritage intrigues folklorists mainly due to the established cultural stereotypes, as it does not introduce mere historical facts, but reflects also people's attitudes, tendencies of tradition, cultural differences and different narrative structures (what to tell and how).

The Wisdom and Concepts of our Forefathers: The Memory of Language

Urmas Sutrop

The first part of the article introduces a few basic cases of world view manifest in the Estonian language, the second part provides analysis of some of the most important notions of the mental Weltanschauung of our forefathers: hing [soul], vaim [spirit] and meel [mind]. The author also argues about the need to distinguish foreign influences in further textual analysis, and the significance of differentiating the separate layers of the philosophical concept of our ancestors. Otherwise, the synchronic textual analysis might lead us to false conclusions.

A New Song

Jaan Tätte reminiscanting how the «Friends' Song» version 2 came to be. The song was written on the small island of Vilsandi for the friends that were waited and did not come. The tune is commented by the ethnomusicologist Janika Oras.

2.5 Mb .mp3

Welcome to the AIDS-club

Bengt af Klintberg

The well-known Swedish folklorist, the researcher of modern folklore, introduces the distribution of stories about AIDS in Sweden, he belief in urban legends and the relation of the stories to real life.

Chukchi. I

Ülo Siimets

In 1969, returning from a ski trip to the Hibines in the Kola Peninsula we made a stop at St. Petersburg, then known as Leningrad.

In Leningrad author happened to make an acquaintance with a couple of Chukchi girls who studied at the Institute of Nordic People at the time, and after having successfully graduated from the institute they returned to their homeland and asked me to visit them. At the time I was a student of forest management at the Estonian Agricultural University. Since it was a border zone and therefore a restricted area, we (me and my course mate) decided to travel to Chukotka.

So we took an academic intermission, and in January 1971 left for Vaeg. We stayed in the Chukchi Native District for 10 months.

We started by working at the construction of log houses at the centre of «Put k kommunismu» [The Way to Communism] collective farm, later we worked as sailors on a merchant ship carrying cargo up and down the Anadyr river. Next summer we managed to find work as reindeer herders, and went on a long hike along the Chukchi Peninsula, although in different squads. My squad was considered the worst among the locals. I was not paid much, but the squad followed the ancient traditional ways of living more than others, and this enabled me to participate in several ritual events.

During the tsarist period Russia failed to subdue the Chukchi, who put up a strong resistance against their attackers.

The area west from the rivers Chauna and Anadyr was called «the land of the Chukchi». According to an article in the Russian Code of Laws, the region was officially considered as «a territory not totally subdued by Russia». The population of this region, as all simple Chukchi people, had certain privileges to settle their matters (killing people, among other things) according to their own ancient tradition. Presuming it took place within the area.

The Chukchi people were subdued conclusively in 1949. Up to that time, the reindeer herders lead their habitual lives.

In my opinion too little attention has been paid to the religion of the Chukchi heretofore. The Chukchi are one of the few peoples on the former tsarist Russian and Soviet territory, who were not Christianised.

According to their religion everything, every plant, tree and animal, has a soul. In this sense their religion resembles the revived Taara faith, that we tend to regard as the religion of ancient Estonians, as much as we are able to conclude of the bits and pieces. For we do know very little of the Estonians before they were forced to accept Christianity. Most of the information about this ancient faith has reached us through the Chronicles of Latvian Hendrik. And very little is known from the period before that.

While I was living in Chukchi I kept a diary where I recorded the more important myths and legends. The current article contains two chapters of my adventures.

The first chapter provides an account of life in Leningrad in 1969 and describes the interior of restaurant «Inturist», its customers and the meeting with the Chukchi girls.

The second chapter describes my life in a reindeer herd. Already in Vaeg I became to be called Jelo, which is a Chukchi name, as the Chukchi language is written in Cyrillic and the alphabet has no «Ü» letter.

Bear Hunting

It also includes an account by a Chukchi herder, providing an overview of the ritual Chukchi spear, the strange symbols engraved on its blade, the rituals connected to the bequeathing of the spear, the choice of bequeather and several customs.

One rainy day, while I was driving the herd together, I cast a stone and accidentally hit a bear preying in the bushes. The bear rushed wildly towards me and stopped about 7 metres from me, standing on its hind legs. The situation was crucial, as we had no rifles nor other guns with us. My only weapon was a huge knife. The Chukchi herder solved this critical situation incredibly easily: he told me to drop the knife and reading out bear charms made the bear leave. Hearing the spell, the bear quieted down. Listening to the Chukchi herder, it sat down and then went his way.

The article also presents a brief summary about the evil spirit of the Chukchi called ketja and its different shapes of appearance, who is very similar to kurat, or the Devil, a character in the Estonian mythology.


Japanese Faitytale

Translated into Estonian by Kozue Kuriyama. Illustrations by Triin Summatavet.