Mäetagused vol. 26


Nation as Religious Category, Nationalism as Ontology. The Serbian Case

Sasa Nedeljković

In Serbian culture two very interesting scientific issues can be found - first, the strong ontological approach to nationalism, i.e. believing that nation is a religious category, and second, the analysis of application of Ernest Renans' conclusion that national sorrow and suffering are more important for national consciousness than success and victory.

A very important factor was the parallel development of Christianity and literacy in Serbia: alphabet and literacy were introduced to the Serbs by Christian missionaries. The acceptance of Christianity gave rise to Serbian literature. Also, Christianization of the country played a major role in the establishment and development of the first Serbian state.

The first truly Christian ideologist in Serbia was St. Sava, the founder of the independent Serbian Orthodox Church in the 13th century. He was, in a very subtle way, a promoter of Old Testament morality. According to a legend St. Sava said that Serbs were "destined" to be "the East on the West and the West on the East" and that they only worship "Holy Jerusalem, and nothing on the Earth". St. Sava also compared Nemanja, his father, with Avraam, and the Serbian people with Israel.

In the period from 1389, following the Battle of Kosovo, after which the Serbs lost their empery and became Turkish vassals and were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, until the 19th century, the popularisation of Christianity was exercised through folk epic poems. These poems were segments of a well-known Kosovo myth. The Kosovo myth constitutes a cultural complex established by the combination of the Old Testament (heroic and ethnic) and the New Testament (universal and personalised) logic. The direct motif for establishing this myth was the Battle of Kosovo. The forming of "the Kosovo pledge", which placed the message of Christianity into nationally historical context and suppressed the New Testament, follows this complex. The basis of Kosovo myth is a Christian intonation of the legend of the Serbs directed to the "heavenly empery" and abandoning direction to "earthly goodness"; this direction to "heavenly empery" became the direction for obtaining eternity through heroic deeds and it is adjusted to the cult of ancestors.

My article deals with the correlation between ethnicity and religiosity, i.e. the influence of ethnicity on religiosity. Ethnicity, as we have seen, is a very strong force, which can assimilate and transmute any ideology. The assimilation of the Christian ideology is a good example. Throughout Serbian history there has been a strong strive after transmutation of the genuine Christian idea. From the very early development of Christian religion in the Serbian culture, there has been a certain kind of misuse of the religious message; universal religion has always been understood as a part of national culture.

"Strange Faith" and Blood Libel

Aleksandr Panchenko

These notes are based on my studies of the folklore, rituals and ideology of two popular Russian religious movements in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Khristovschina (`the Faith of Christ', also known as the Khlysty sect) and Scopchestvo (`the Castrates'). In 1733-1739 and 1745-1756, two commissions were convened in Moscow. Their task was to investigate the Quaker Heresy - this was the name given by the authorities to Khristovschina, which had spread widely in the Moscow and Middle Volga regions. While the first commission had limited itself mainly to flogging during interrogations and confrontations, the majority of confessions recorded by the second commission were obtained through dyba or `fire-burning'. Materials from this trial provide the first record of the motifs that came to be associated with the followers of Khristovschina for the next 150 years, namely, accusations of group sexual intercourse (svalnyi grekh) and the ritual sacrifice of infants. An analysis of these confessions provides evidence to suggest that the following legendary motifs of ritual murder were actually applied to Russian mystical sects: 1) while rejecting marriage, sect leaders encourage free sexual interrelations called `love' which take place after sect gatherings; 2) infants conceived as a result of `love' are intended for ritual sacrifice; 3) those infants intended for sacrifice are baptised according to special rites; 4) the baptised infant is slaughtered, its heart is cut out, and its blood collected; 5) the heart, dried and ground, is mixed with meal and baked as bread; the blood is mixed with water or kvass; and 6) this bread and water is then distributed during the gatherings as communion.

Legends about orgies and bloody sacrifice amongst mystical sects were perpetuated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Russia in both bookish (scholarly and literary) contexts as well as popular oral traditions. Although the first known attestation of the legend in literary traditions was externally motivated, it could just as easily have emerged independently based on peasant rumours about different denominations of schismatics. However, to my knowledge, contemporary Russian peasant legends do not contain the motif of ritual human sacrifice among other sects or the Old Believers. In order to understand the origin and functions of the legends in their connection with Khristovschina and Scoptchestvo, we need to analyse them in broader context. The best-known and widely-studied parallel here is blood libel (also known as `the legend of Jewish ritual murder') mentioned above, which purports that each year Jews sacrifice a Christian child and use its blood in their rituals. In my opinion, the inversion of habitual cultural standards is the dominant adaptive mechanism in the construction of an image of the `alien' social group. It is of special importance when society faces not only other-social, but other-confessional (`strange faith') groups. It seems that the `immediate material' for such a construction of inverted images comes from cultural forms that can cause abnormal feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. Medieval Christian hagiography abounds with stories (the so-called `legends of the Eucharistic miracle') about a pagan or an infidel (most often a Jew or a Saracen) who, wishing to understand the meaning of the Eucharist, comes to a church during liturgy and sees a priest killing an infant, cutting its body apart, and giving the flesh and the blood to the flock. The miracle makes the infidel become Christian. It is likely that such Eucharistic connotations were projected into both the legends of Jewish ritual murder and the stories of the bloody sacrifices amongst Western and Russian sects.

The Religious Situation on the Russian-Sweden Border in the 17th Century

Adrian Selin

The article is based on two data corpora. The first corpus is the so called "Porubezhnye (Borderline) Acts" which is a part of the 17th century Novgorod Ambassador Court Archives held in the Archives of St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Russian History. The second corpus is a part of Kammararkivet, named Baltiska Fogderäkenskaper, and consists of the economic acts and deeds made in Ivangorod, Iam, Koporie, Oreshek (Noteburg), Nevsky Ostrozhek (Nyen), Gdov and on the territories ascribed to the fortresses in 1580-1589 and 1612-1618.

During the Novgorod-Swedish administration 1611-1617 these relations were pliable (there were even parleys about a possible contact between the two Churches), but after the Stolbovo Treaty 1617 interrelations between the churches had become deteriorating. The Swedish government tried to control the Orthodox clergy in the annexed districts, while the Moscow state attempted to leave it under the control of the archbishop of Novgorod. In the mid-17th century new factors in the everyday life in the Russian-Swedish border region revealed. A new wave of Orthodox migrants from Ingermanland and the Kexholm district in Sweden arrived at the Moscow State and at the same time patriarch Nikon's church reform was held. This circumstance has partly shaped the general attitudes towards the migrants: traditionally they were perceived as schismatics. The most important factor was the language barrier between the migrants, Izhorians and Karelians, and the autochthonous Russian population in the borderline area and the inside territories where the migrants had settled (the so called Tver' Karelia).

To sum up, the transition of some Novgorod Orthodox districts to the Lutheran State had created a principally new precedent. As known, the concepts of confession and citizenship were practically identical in the 16th -17th century popular thought, when Orthodoxy automatically meant Moscow citizenship. The transition of a number of Orthodox parishioners to foreign citizenship had significantly troubled both the Moscow Governors and the clergy, and had created an atmosphere of uncertainty, where nobody knew who factually had the right to appoint priests, etc. The possible way out was to appoint a local bishop for the Orthodox parishes in Ingermanland but that, of course, was impossible for the Moscow governors. The result was a paradoxical situation where the church ruling, justice, and administration of the Orthodox parishes were handed over to probsts - special officials appointed by the Swedish Lutheran government.

Sites of Belonging: Recreating Histories

Anna-Leena Siikala


Folklorists have long been aware that place names hold the memory of historically significant people and events. The landscape laden with inherited meanings is marked by names and objects and recreated constantly by narration functions as the map of historical memory in a detailed way for a culture extracting its livelihood from nature. Sacrificial places are not only remembered, but are - at least in Shuryshkar - in active use. They are the meeting points for the human and non-human world. The multiplicity of such mental maps reflects the many-sidedness of human experience. The social world does not only consist of human beings but also of the unseen sphere of the spirits. Udmurt villages retained their ethnic religion with rituals and cult grounds between two world religions Islam and Christianity until the 21st century. The Udmurt traditions and ways of life have been formed by various cultural influences throughout centuries. Despite all the pressures, the villages worshipping Inmar have preserved features of the ancient Finno-Ugric tradition. The so-called "nature religion" of the Udmurts is practised by kin-based cult groups and relies on oral tradition. During seasonal rituals god of the heavens, ancestors, and guardian spirits of fields, earth and forest are addressed in ritual places dedicated to each of these. Formerly, the holy groves of the Udmurts were hidden in forests, and often on a hill. In addition to their religious significance the sacred places, graveyards and holy groves are essential parts of village landscape and sign vehicles of its collective memory. The holy groves are known by all members of the community but are kept secret from outsiders if needed. They are part of the landscape and remain invisible for outsiders. Known only by the insiders, the groves create a border between those who move in the landscape, establish the divide between them and us, and are thus major markers of communal identity. At some places the holy groves are no longer in use; respect and fear of consequences, however, has prevented the places from being destroyed. Abandoned groves have overgrown and transformed into places of landscape occupied by extraordinary beings. Despite the overgrowth, the places still function as sign vehicles of collective memory. They represent the past of the group, tradition that in the present day does not necessarily have the same meaning as before, but nevertheless provides materials for experiencing the continuity of group culture. The importance of the sacred sites is based on their ability to connect a group not only to the supranormal world but also to a world gone by, to the world of ancestors and their life, thus opening up a view to collective past. Rituals not only unite social groups, but also recreate and establish them in practiced ceremonies. It is no wonder that the interest in the sacred sites and their reconstruction is an essential part of the ethnic revival in Russia and elsewhere. The sense of continuity and ethnic history motivates the maintenance and rebuilding of holy groves in several villages in southern Udmurtia. It is interesting to note that people with academic education who have already left the village and have thus distanced themselves from village life are actively involved in reconstructing the groves. The Udmurts have also revived and created new ritual forms that are better adapted to modern life-style.

The Khanty Communal Reindeer Sacrifice: Belief, Subsistence and Cultural Persistence in Contemporary Siberia

Olga Balalaeva, Andrew Wiget

The article provides a detailed description of the structure of communal reindeer sacrifice (myr) among the eastern Khanty of the Surgut region, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, Russia, as witnessed by the authors in March 1992. The paper demonstrates how the event structure of myr articulates with the Khanty belief system in order to enact its general function of ensuring food and prosperity. The authors interpret several features of the sacrifice they witnessed as illustrative of the adaptive nature of Khanty religious practices, especially in the role-definition and activities of cultural specialists. Finally, the authors conclude that, despite a variety of pressures, Khanty communal reindeer sacrifice persists because it continues to dramatize the core relationships, which obtain in the Khanty world, and to solicit from participants a recommitment to those beliefs and the practices they entail.

In March 1992, the co-authors led an international expedition to western Siberia to prepare for extended field research among the eastern Khanty, planned for subsequent years, and to develop a preliminary assessment of the impact of oil development on the eastern Khanty. O. Balalaeva, relying on her four previous expeditions in the area, organized the expedition. On the initiative of her local Khanty host from the village of Russkinskiye, the authors were transported by helicopter to a reindeer camp near the upper Trom-Agan River, at the northernmost limit of the eastern Khanty territory. Several families were gathered together at this location, and more arrived during the afternoon. The authors soon learned that the occasion of this gathering was a communal reindeer sacrifice (Kh., myr) to be held the following day at a sacred site at approximately 6 km distance from the campsite. They were readily invited to participate. However, the circumstance, which made them privileged witnesses to an extraordinarily complex event, also limited the amount of information that could be gathered directly from the host. The authors have returned to the eastern Khanty region for fieldwork every summer since 1994, and have incorporated into the present article information gathered from interviews that directly address the issues of description and interpretation surrounding eastern Khanty reindeer sacrifice.

After establishing the historical and ethnographic context for these observations, the first section of this paper provides a detailed description of the structure of communal reindeer sacrifice or myr as witnessed in March 1992. The second part of the article demonstrates how the event structure of myr articulates with the Khanty belief system in order to enact its general function of ensuring food and prosperity. In the third section of the article, the authors interpret several features of the sacrifice they witnessed, especially in the role-definition and activities of cultural specialists. The authors have concluded that despite the efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church, which in some areas has gained converts of varying degrees of allegiance, despite the suppression of native religion under the Soviets, and despite the pressures associated with petroleum, traditional Khanty beliefs and rituals still flourish, albeit adapted to new circumstances.

Magico-Religious Rites in the Late 20th and Early 21st Century Russia (with the Focus on Siberian Shamanism)

Valentina Kharitonova

Russia in the Post-perestroika period has provided abundant material for studying the transformation of traditional culture and the rise of new forms of tradition, especially in the field of religion and magic. The author analyses the most recent material collected from Southern Siberia. This reconstructed revival may play an important part in the attempts of national intelligentsia to recreate traditional religion, one which is based on shamanism. The development of the Siberian shamanic tradition has brought along various processes that have triggered its revival. If we regard the development of the tradition in the general religious-historic context, then the processes are social, economical, political and religious, etc. The most important aspects are the national and cultural revival. The native cultural and political elite attempt to revive shamanic practices, and, even more importantly, make efforts to give shamanism the official status of traditional religion. This has already been acknowledged in the republics of Buryat, Yakut and Tuva. Shamanism is essentially a mixture of beliefs and practices, and it also has to withstand new trends in magic: it is forced to compete with folk healing, which is a growing practice, where healers combine extensive knowledge and traditions analogous to shamanic wisdom with professional medical skills. The revival of the tradition has been very impetuous. In most regions, several processes have merged the development of traditional shamanic practices and the entire tradition, their natural and reconstructed revival.

A Hungarian Catholic Pilgrimage in Erdély Csíksomlyós: Text, Context and Ritual

Taisto Raudalainen

To pilgrimage

The Chángó-people living in the Moldavian region have suffered heavily under Romanian chauvinism. They have not had the opportunity of receiving elementary education in their mother tongue, nor has the Romanian government supported the attempts to establish Hungarian elementary schools in the area. During the 1990s it became the responsibility of the Hungarian Ministry of Education to finance these projects. Today it is impossible to estimate the total number of Chángós, because local authorities continue to provide conflicting statistics. Rough estimates range anywhere between 50,000 to 150,000.

During Pentecost, or Whitsuntide, a mass, vigil, and a procession - in other words, the `pilgrimage' - takes place in the small town of Csíkszereda. Many Chángós participate in the Pilgrimage procession and the Church Holiday that follows. As we know all too well, the communist government in Romania had succeeded in suppressing all forms of religious traditions. As a result, the pilgrimage of 1990 was the first public one after a 45-year break. Some more religious Chángós undertake the pilgrimage to Somlyó on foot, which might take up to three days. It involves a complex series of rituals and taboos. The journey is usually quite a difficult experience, but only through the suffering it is possible to acquire additional merits and grace. The participants must retain the Lord's passion (via crucis, imitatio Christi) and the passions of the numerous Martyrs. One of the staunchest followers of Christ was St. Francis himself and one of the stained-glass windows in the local cathedral depicts his stigmatised and crossed hands.

Bulgarian Birth-Lore at the Turn of Millennium

Irina Sedakova

Author analyses a fragment of family rites from the corpus of a Slavic tradition, namely, the Bulgarian. There has been a revival of the popular tradition, in spite of the fact that many beliefs and practices have disappeared and have become a part of everyday life. Such practices can be performed many times a day. Interviews have revealed that people often regret having forgotten the practices they have been asked about. Another important thing is that significant aspects of folk beliefs are still known in the cities and in the capital, and not only in rural regions. There are also local differences in ritual practices. In eastern parts of Bulgaria, for example, cutting anything on St. Simeon's day is still strictly prohibited because the cutter's baby may be born with a cut hand or leg. At the same time in western parts of the country, St. Simeon's day is not perceived as a particularly inauspicious one. Another important factor is the stability of the stock-phrases and clichés in the language. Many old beliefs and practices concerning birth-lore have been preserved in language. This is typical of the modern Bulgarian society in general, but of folk speech in particular. Many phrases are a very important part of the communicative code.

Riddle Collection of the Society of the Estonian Literati during 1872-1893

Rein Saukas

The Society of the Estonian Literati (SEL) was established during the apex of the Estonian national movement in 1872 and it was active until its closing by the intervention of Russian authorities in 1893. The main aim of the society became the collection of folklore, which was considered necessary for "studying history and looking deep into the nature of the spirit of the Estonian people", as Jakob Hurt (1839-1907), the first president of SEL, put it.

In the article, collection work has been categorised into two major periods according to the leaders and distribution:

  1.  Collection work under the lead of Jakob Hurt at the peak of the society's activities during 1872-1881, including the establishment of the network of voluntary correspondents and the development of collection work according to the "parish principle", i.e. the recruitment of at least one collector from each parish;
  2.  Collection work under the lead of Mihkel Veske and Jaan Jõgever during the decline of the society's activities in 1882-1893.

The article first provides a general characterisation of the collection work of the period, and then focuses on the contribution of riddles, the characterisation of the more important materials from the aspect of quality and authenticity, and the introduction of collectors based on the scanty biographical information available.

We can say with full confidence that the Society of the Estonian Literati laid the foundation for folklore collection in Estonia. Principles of folklore collection proved effective also for riddle collection:

  1.  Collection work became one of the main lines of activity of a particular organisation;
  2.  Organising collection work became the duty of one particular member of the society;
  3.  Practical collection work was carried out by voluntary correspondents, representing as many parishes as possible, who were well acquainted with the local folkloric environment as well as the transmitters of folklore, the singers and the narrators;
  4.  Local correspondents often formed a circle of collectors (e.g. Carl Allas on the Saaremaa Island, Friido Matson in the Jõelähtme parish);
  5.  Collection work was initiated through public appeals, the results were reported on the meetings of the society and in the newspapers, the contact with collectors was maintained through personal correspondence, collectors were rewarded money and books.

The collection of riddles was not a priority in the SEL, as the focus was on runic songs. Riddles, however, were mentioned in appeals, reports, as well as publication plans.

Riddles were sent to the society by 23 collectors known by name, one was known by a pseudonym and three have remained anonymous. The collectors sent the material generally only once; Villem Mägi was the only one who contributed material more regularly and during a longer period. There were 8 schoolteachers, two peasants, a theology student, an odd-job worker among the collectors; several were members of the SEL.

Riddles were collected from 14 parishes. Most of the riddles were sent from Saaremaa. The influx of riddles by parishes of origin is presented on Maps 1 and 2 in the main article (on the distribution maps riddles are marked as white squares with black borders). The few laconic notices attached to the contributed materials give us some idea of collection work the villages. Several schoolteachers (Aleksander Wahlberg, Carl Allas, Friido Matson, for example) gathered the materials with the aid of their closer colleagues or schoolchildren, and mixed these with their own collected material. Collectors often complained about the lack of time necessary for collection.

The SEL received the 2139 riddles, which are categorised according to the period of collections, as follows: during 1872-1881 - 1443 riddles, during 1882-1893 - 696 riddles.

The sent riddle material is characteristic in that

  1.  The material is quite authentic, and occasionally, very characteristic of a certain region. Only Aleksander Wahlberg, Karl Moks and an anonymous correspondent appear to have used printed sources to some extent;
  2.  Most of the texts have been written in literary language, the marking of dialectal features is random and irregular;
  3.  Many of the sent materials lack adequate personal and, especially, geographic data;
  4.  More recent scholars and publishers have encountered problems with correspondents sending the same material more than once (Jakob Jagomann) as well as with sending the Society draft manuscripts of already contributed material after the collector's death (Aleksander Wahlberg).

Folklore studies and ethnology in Slovenia I

Mare Kõiva, Andres Kuperjanov

Marija Stanonik

The Institute for Slovenian Emigration Studies at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences is concerned with studying the emigration and immigration of Slovenians in the 19th and 20th century. The institute is carrying out several joint projects with research groups of other countries, and issues a periodical Dve Domovini. Razprave o izseljenstvu: Two Homelands. Migration Studies a newsletter, which introduces ongoing projects and events, and a series of monographs. In addition to studying Yugoslavian ethnic policy and demographic research the institute observes contemporary processes in newly independent countries. Researchers have widely different academic backgrounds, and this determines the choice of research topics (such as, for example, the life of Slovenian missionaries, or fiction published in the Slovenian diaspora.)

The Institute of Ethnology of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences is a central research centre and archive of ethnology and folklore, which prepares academic monographs, publishes the volumes of Mythologia Slavica, and issues popular publications. Marija Stanonik, a folklore theoretician, has been active in encouraging local folklore collection. Her work has resulted in an edited publication series of folklore with comments, glossary, maps, and CD-s with traditional lore accompanying newer editions. M. Stanonik has collected and published Christian lore, the lore of Slovenian soldiers in German Army, the local lore of her home village, etc. Her studies and manuscript collection form a part of the work in the Institute of Ethnology.

Children's World in the 21st Century: Changes in Hungarian Traditions

Katalin Lázár

In a traditional society, games have played an important role. A newborn baby is constantly surrounded by games: its grandparents and elder siblings play with the baby, it learns to pay attention to others, to establish personal contacts, thus playing games helps a young child to become socialized. Next to other possible meanings, the word "game" in the Hungarian language - like in many other languages - has the meaning "not serious". Present-day town children have virtually abandoned traditional games. In former times in villages, children groups were formed of children living close to each other: in present-day towns and cities these groups have been replaced by nursery or kindergarten groups or school classes. In nurseries children learn playing as subject matter of instruction, at school even not in that way. Children are often introduced less traditional games (board games, including chess, for example) and they also know various kinds of building bricks and other construction games, card plays, games of logic; these are played first with parents or later with other children. They know quiz programs from television, and many children (and grown-ups) watch them eagerly. Traditional games can be used at school as well. As to folklore, folk culture, which is not officially taught at schools Hungary, traditional games can be used in history, singing, physical education, mathematics or Hungarian literature and grammar classes.

Macrocosm II

Roomet Jakapi, Enn Kasak

The article is about early modern England in 1650-1750. A characteristic feature of this particular period was combining scientific thought with religious (scriptural) thought, to the extent that the importance of scriptures as sources of truth exceeded science. In this sense, Englishman William Whiston was a typical 17th-18th century thinker: a natural scientist, theologian and philosopher combined. In 1717 he published his "Astronomical Principles of Religion, Natural and Reveal'd". What does he mean by natural and revealed religion? Natural religion is a religion that man can reach through a process of reasoning (independent of divine revelation). If man uses the strength of his or her mind in the right way, he~she will, one way or another, reach the understanding that there is only one omnipotent God, who has created this world. Analogously, man reaches the conclusion that his (nonmaterial) soul is immortal and that there is life after death. The author, however, does not specify what this afterlife is like. W. Whiston's book, starting from its title, combines religious truths with scientific reasoning. Whiston uses scientific arguments to explain the doctrines of natural and revealed religion.

In those days it was perfectly normal to believe that sooner or later, in one way or another, life continues after death. Recognising that afterlife does exist poses various intriguing questions about soul and body. For example, if we allow that human soul departs body after death, a question arises - where this soul departs to? Where is the place for departed souls in this universe? This period saw a number of widely different tenets on the issue. Catholics, as expected, still believed that souls departing worldly bodies go to purgatory, for expiation. But in the 17th-18th century England was a dominantly Protestant country. The official position of the Anglican Church was that the concept of purgatory is not biblical, and is therefore relinquished.

Artist Kärt Summatavet and Her Mythological Journeys

Kärt Hellerma

Kärt Summatavet is a specialist in jewellery design, but has also practiced free graphic design and book design, and teaches folk art in the Estonian Academy of Arts. She knows the secret language and the archaic signs of old jewellery, and often uses these in her works. She is currently working on her doctoral thesis on the life cycles of women in traditional culture. Kärt Summatavet, whose jewellery and artwork feed on ancient lore and the life of women in the past, has said: "I have taken a look at the life of girls and women in order to understand who I am and what the world which I have been born to is like. I am inspired by the femininity of women in some cultures. And not in the modern sense of the word, where femininity means frailty, cunningness, spitefulness, or skilful manipulation. This is absurd."

Kärt Summatavet has explained her interest in ancient cultures by saying "I look for a person. Museums and archives hold silent documents, but I enjoy watching how Anne in Setumaa strokes her ethnic brooch or how Roosi on the island of Kihnu carefully holds the handmade mittens she has woven."

Jewellery and graphics form a part of her doctoral thesis. "Doctoral theses in creative arts were introduced in Scandinavia and elsewhere only some 7-8 years ago. An artist, a creative person, can use his or her own media, and get the academic degree while advancing in creative arts," Summatavet explains.

News, overviews   

Reflections on ethnographic photographing


The author will introduce the photos on display on the exhibition "From fieldwork to the Nordic People" in the Estonian National Museum.

The most important thing while judging an ethnographic photograph is determining whether, how, and which (ethnographic) information has been captured in the take, and on which level can the saved information be understood, i.e. the need for and scope of the commenting text. A photo inevitably captures the non-verbal elements of culture, but would it be of value without a context, a wider informational background attached to it? It would be radical to claim that a good photograph speaks for itself and the comment may distort the message. In some cases it may even be true, especially in terms of ethnographic documentaries, where the dynamics of the events provides additional information to the audience. But a photo still is a moment snipped out of real time and requires a background, a context. The photo and the accompanying text must remain in balance and not overshadow each other; they should be the two sides of a whole.

Photos, including those where the ethnographer has been captured on the photo, constitute a separate and important category of fieldwork. I know from personal experience that local people value highly the fixing of activities shared with the ethnographer - sharing meal at a freshly slaughtered reindeer or some other manual work, e.g. fishing with a driftnet. Review by Janno Simm, photo by Liivo Niglas.

Australia through the Eyes of Estonians


In the middle of the Estonian summer but the winter of the 'green continent', Andres Kuperjanov and Mare Kõiva opened their exhibition Talvemaastikud II: Võõraste tähtede all ('Winter Landscapes 2: Under Foreign Stars') in the main hall of the Estonian Literary Museum. The exhibition, consisting of photographs and transcripts of interviews, remained open from July 8 to September 4, and introduced the life of Estonians in Australia. The photographs (taken by Andres Kuperjanov) formed a part of fieldwork and therefore mostly depict domestic situations, but also introduce other local sights.

The choice of photographs and transcripts appears to proceed from the wish to provide the viewers an idea of the life of the Estonians in Australia, and to include intriguing memories in the displayed fragments of transcripts.

The Estonian House is an important national symbol for the Estonians in Australia. However, photographs reveal that this is not the only Estonian national symbol on the green continent, but there is also the Estonian village of Thirlmere, and supermarket Kungla, which sounds very Estonian, the Estonian church and other community buildings. The interiors of homes, or as much as is seen of them in the background of the taken portraits, are very similar to the Estonian taste, suggesting that emigration was forced rather than an opportunity to better life. Review by Maarja Villandi.

Katre Õim defended a doctoral thesis on the structure and figurative semantics of similes

Katre Õim. Võrdluste struktuurist ja kujundisemantikast. [On the Structure and Figurative Semantics of Similes]. Reetor 1. Tartu: Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum, folkloristika osakond, Eesti Kultuuriloo ja Folkloristika Keskus 2004, 211pp.

On April 14, 2004 Katre Õim, scholar of the Estonian Literary Museum, defended a thesis in the field of the Estonian language and linguistics On the Structure and Figurative Semantics of Similes. Thesis supervisor was Arvo Krikmann, professor extraordinary of the University of Tartu, and opponent Ilona Tragel, PhD, scholar at the Chair of General Linguistics at the University of Tartu. Overview by Anneli Baran.

Master's thesis on folk poetry and women's studies

Kristiina Ehin. Eesti vanema ja uuema rahvalaulu tõlgendusvõimalusi naisuurimuslikust aspektist. ['Interpretations of Estonian Archaic Runo Songs and Newer End-Rhymed Folk Song from the Perspective of Women's Studies'] http://www.utlib.ee/ekollekt/diss/mag/2004/b16708660/Ehin.pdf , University of Tartu, Chair of Estonian and Comparative Folklore.

On June, 15, 2004 Kristiina Ehin, young Estonian poet, defended a thesis in the field of Estonian folk songs. Thesis supervisor was Tiiu Jaago, and opponent Leena Kurvet-Käosaar, researcher at the Chair of World Literature at the University of Tartu. Overview by Tiiu Jaago.

Ave Tupits defended an MA thesis on folk medicine 15.06.2004

Ave Tupits. Soolatüügaste ravimisviisid eesti ja iiri rahvameditsiinis Jakob Hurda kogu ja Iiri Folkloori Arhiivi materjalide põhjal ['Treatment of Warts in Estonian and Irish Folk Medicine']. MA thesis. University of Tartu. Chair of Estonian and Comparative Folklore.

On June, 15, 2004 Ave Tupits defended a thesis in the field of comparative folk medicine. Thesis supervisor was supervisors Ülo Valk and Bairbre Ni Fhloinn, and opponent Merili Metsvahi, researcher at the Chair of Estonian and Comparative Folklore at the University of Tartu. Overview by Tiia Ristolainen.

Book reviews

Conspiracies and Teenage Fears in America

Michael Barkun. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press 2003, 243 pp. Lynn Schofield Clark. From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press 2003, 292 pp.

In the era of scientific and technological triumph, people are still attracted to mysterious phenomena, which give rise to wide speculations, especially those which are perceived as frightening or dangerous. These two books discuss two subgroups of attempts of explaining the world around us - conspiracy theories and teen beliefs in contemporary media culture. Lynn Schofield Clark, author of From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural, has clearly outlined the sources to the study and relies on in-depth interviews with 256 Americans - a hundred teenagers and the friends and family of teens.

Michael Barkun, author of A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America, is more ambiguous about his sources. He relies mainly on numerous media products (films, radio programs, Web sites, publications), and less on personal interviews. Explaining his choice of method, Barkun indicates that although the ideas of conspiracy theories mainly circulate orally, society permeated with media and technology opens up new distribution routes. Media provides sufficient information on conspiracy beliefs and on their manifestation and ways of transmission (science fiction genre, for example, has brought elements of conspiracy theories to millions of people, who would not have heard of them otherwise). Book reviews by Reet Hiiemäe.

The Maiden's Death Song & The Great Wedding

Lauri Honko in collaboration with Anneli Honko and Paul Hagu. The Maiden's Death Song & The Great Wedding. Anne Vabarna's Oral Twin Epic written down by A. O.Väisänen. FFC 281, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica 2003, 529 pp.

The academic publication of the famous Setu singer Anne Vabarna's twin epic (The Maiden's Death Song and The Great Wedding), published in the reputable Folklore Fellows' Communication series, became unexpectedly, though quite symbolically, Lauri Honko's final tribute to the Balto-Finnic epic song tradition in Kalevala metre. The publication is particularly important in introducing Setu folklore to the international audience. The occurrence of leelo, the Setu chant, as the most "traditional" component in Anne Vabarna's repertoire is somewhat questionable, but I will not go into it at this point. The word epic is grand enough.

It seems that while we agree that the millennia-long tradition in Kalevala metre, as presented by Lauri Honko, is still alive, we can also agree that Anne Vabarna's epics are curiosities, a Modernist shock which upset the early 20th century village culture. The context of nuances like that will probably remain incomprehensible for foreign readers. In addition to the excellent textualization of Anne Vabarna's creation, the book also symbolises Lauri Honko's monumentally epic passion towards the folklore of small ethnic groups. Book review by Madis Arukask

Power and Culture and Internet Humor about Stalin

Arvo Krikmann & Sirje Olesk. Power and Culture. Tartu: Eesti Kultuuriloo ja Folkloristika Tippkeskus 2003, 543 pp.

Arvo Krikmann. Netinalju Stalinist / Internet - anekdotõ o Staline / Internet Humour about Stalin. Tartu: Eesti Kultuuriloo ja Folkloristika Tippkeskus 2004, 398 pp.

The collection of articles is bound in red covers, symbolising the impact of the Soviet authorities on culture. The collection consists of 14 articles by 13 authors. Some articles deal with literature, others with ethnic culture, some use retrospective autobiographies and memoirs as their sources, others use texts created under the Communist regime, some study people collectively, others individual persons, etc.

Some articles reflected the author's personal view of the well-known topic and some were downright terrifying. But most of them introduced intriguing sources, unexpected viewpoints and striking thoughts by the authors.

The collection of Internet humour about Stalin with preface in Estonian, Russian and English includes anecdotes and jokes in Estonian, Russian and English collected from various Web sites, constituting a selection of the total of 7,380 texts.

The publication includes quotations of 1,232 texts or text fragments, divided into 320 typological units. Most units consist of general anecdotes or jokes and the sc. historical anecdotes, but include also some aphoristic items and chastushkas. Book reviews by Kristi Salve.

A beautiful book about a beautiful time

Kalervo Hovi. Kuld Lõwi ja Kultase ajal: Tallinna restoranikultuuri ajalugu 1918-1940. [At the time of Kuld Lõwi Restaurant and Kultas Café: The history of restaurant culture of Tallinn 1918-1940]. Transl. from Finnish by Piret Saluri. Tallinn: Varrak 2003, 324 pp.

The book is a study of restaurants and cafés in Tallinn, Estonia, during the first period of independence in 1918-1940. It is noteworthy that Kalervo Hovi, the author, is from Finland. In the preface he mentions that he got his inspiration when he visited Tallinn in 1967 and could still sense the remains of the atmosphere of the 1930s, a top period of restaurant and café culture in Tallinn. Apparently it has eluded the attention of the local people, whose former culture was suppressed (though, fortunately, not completely ruined) by the Soviet occupation, as their recollections of the 1930s were different.

The author describes three periods of restaurant and café life in Tallinn during 1918-1940. During the first period (1918-1925), the Estonians started to repossess restaurants and cafés, formerly owned by foreigners, and proved just as successful. In this period the Estonian urban culture, including restaurant and café culture, was just beginning to emerge. During the second period (1926-1933), restaurants and cafeterias suffered financial difficulties, because Estonian economy suffered also under the infamous Wall Street Crash. Fortunately, in 1934 the general situation began to improve and by the third period (1934-1940) restaurant and café culture was at its peak and general prosperity grew.

The book contains impressive original photos and illustrations from 1918-1940. It appears that the designs and menus of the period are not comparable to those in the present day, as they are more luxurious. Chandeliers and white sheets on tables were nothing exceptional in these days. Menus also look exclusive (including dishes of grouse, goose). Live music and dancing were, naturally, included. Book review by Maarja Villandi.

Time and Story. Essays on Estonian Cultural History

Aivar Jürgenson (ed.) 2003. Aeg ja lugu. Esseid eesti kultuuriloost [Time and Story. Essays on Estonian Cultural History]. Scripta ethnologica 5. Department of Ethnology, Institute of History, Tallinn, 159 pp.

This relatively eclectic collection first raises the question whether it belongs to academic writing or to essayistic popular science, because it includes both academic articles as well as philosophising contemplations.

According to the preface by A. Jürgenson, the book aims to dissect the nature of Estonian national identity throughout centuries. The book is intriguing in its overview of research trends and the theoretical basis of Estonian scholars. I was particularly happy to discover certain thematic and theoretical expansion in the Estonian humanities, and a tendency towards interdisciplinarity. In this sense this book is about `time and story', about the many sides of the Estonian people throughout centuries. Book review by Aimar Ventsel.

The Siberian Curse

Fiona Hill, Clifford Gaddy. The Siberian Curse. How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold. Brookings Institution Press: Washington, D.C. 2003, 304 pp.

A highly controversial book on the political geography of Russia. Hill and Gaddy analyse the development of the Tsarist Russia and USSR and convincingly demonstrate why today's Russia will not stand up to comparison with other leading countries.

The authors demonstrate that a modern empire cannot exist according to the 19th century categories. While in the 19th century a huge territory automatically stood for power, then a prerequisite of today's powerful country is a territory small enough to have raw material, industry and markets as close as possible and as low border defence costs as possible. The study explains why Russia, one of the richest countries in natural resources, has a life standard of a third world country. The book by Hill and Gaddy is invaluable for any scholar of different fields discussing the topic of Russia, but also for human geographers, researchers of economic and social studies. Bookreview by Aimar Ventsel.

Red Ties and Residential Schools

Alexia Bloch. Red Ties and Residential Schools. Indigenous Siberians in a Post-Soviet State. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 2003, 264 pp.

Gender issues were introduced in Siberian anthropology by Petra Rethman (2001), who studied the role of women in traditional way of life. Alexia Bloch has taken a step further in her study on residential schools and their role in the formation of modern Evenk identity.

Bloch demonstrates how the Soviet ethnic policy formed the residential school phenomenon into an institution which functions as the creator and transmitter of an indigenous identity. The residential school provided its students a shelter from the prejudices of the racist world outside, and also served as a threshold to higher education, to mention only a few aspects of this study.

This is a book which explicates several myths about the indigenous people of Siberia. It also examines how a state has used its educational system to bind former nomadic people to the state and to a specific region. Alexia Bloch's book should be an interesting reading material for scholars of Siberian studies, people interested in the analysing the process of "making of the nation", as well as to people interested in gender issues. Book review by Aimar Ventsel.