Mäetagused vol. 44


Folk Aesthetics – Ideas and Experience Made Tangible

Kärt Summatavet

Key words: Ants Laikmaa, Estonian National Museum, folk aesthetics, folk art, folklore, fieldwork, heritage technologies, Kristjan Raud, professional art

The article raises a question as to how to implement the imagination of a researcher in the study of tangible cultural heritage, using the example of Kristjan Raud and Ants Laikmaa, artists who worked at the beginning of the 20th century, and their art theory related and pedagogical standpoints. The observation focuses on how the texts, written by these artists a hundred years ago, attempt to understand folk aesthetics, folk art practice, oral and tangible folklore, and identify these with the experience of creative process of professional art. The article highlights the viewpoints and opinions which affected the creative work of K. Raud, and were used by the artist to learn and study the mindset of the authors of tangible heritage. A closer look is taken at the specific problems encountered by the artist upon the interpretation of cultural heritage.

Folk aesthetics comprises individual fantasy and creativity, expressed by way of oral and visual poetry, which is based on the creative process taking place as an outcome of the synthesis of the hierarchical stratifications of shared experience within the surrounding environment and the community. When attempting to treat folk aesthetics in the light of the professional knowledge and skills of an artist, we can investigate the creative process launched by individual fantasy and creativity, expressed by way of oral and visual poetry; as an outcome of such creative process, new ideas and artefacts with idiosyncratic details may be generated within the traditional community, upon the individual interpretation of shared knowledge and experience.

An artist, when looking for reciprocal relations between heritage technologies, oral folklore and human creative fantasy, would not come across an artefact but instead, the mindset of the author thereof, and the nuances concerning the process of making the artefact. The hardest task of a creative professional is to learn to see the worldview and the empirical experience of the creator of the artefact, individual fantasies expressed by way of the process of creation, and collectively shared ethical and aesthetical values. Indeed, from an artist’s and practitioner’s viewpoint, this remains to be one of the most problematic aspects in the study of contemporary creative work, as it is extremely difficult to research experiential knowledge and tacit knowledge of tradition bearers.

The study of the variability of the relationships, regarding individual creative experience and Estonian tangible heritage, reveals an opportunity to understand the relevance of empirical fieldwork and experiential knowledge of an art professional, by way of the written works and opinions expressed by Kristjan Raud, a thinker and awakener at the beginning of the 20th century, in noticing and interpreting these relationships.

Kristjan Raud, in his process of creating tangible works of art for Kalevipoeg was convinced, relying on his personal experience, that the creative pursuit of artists, in getting to the core of the people’s mental world, is a long-term process which demands delving into the matter. In addition to the practical value of the artefacts, the artist paid a lot of attention to the understanding of the mental experience of the relevant creators, and to the description of the creative process. He associated folk aesthetics with the professional creative process, and compared the opinions and observations, generated on the basis of folk art, with his education in fine arts, obtained in different places of the world, his personal convictions and creative experience. His method of fieldwork, elevated interest towards the creative work with regard to folk aesthetics, and also his experience obtained by way of living in the traditional environment helped him in discerning connections between folk aesthetics and professional art practice, which, in turn, enabled him to analyse, from an artist’s standpoint, the processes launching human fantasy and creativity. As an initiator of the artefact collection in the Estonian National Museum, and an art teacher, he founded a base for an effective study method the aim of which was to gather creative inspiration within a fieldwork situation, and to find relevant subject matters from within folk aesthetics in order to rely on these in professional art creation.

Thus, relying on K. Raud’s written works and artistic pursuits, it is possible to state that similarly to a professional artist and his/her individual creative process, the tools for the author of folk art also comprise his or her body and personal space – feelings, reminiscence, experience, emotions, generated by the external environment by way of different senses (olfaction, hearing, tactile perception, vision, etc.) and the idiosyncratic norms and experiential examples intrinsic of a culture. Relying on my fieldwork experience, I can state that the feelings and experience, which are difficult to be put into words, are transferred within a community by way of certain commonly accepted non-verbal creative practices and means of expression, which are significantly more easily noticeable and understandable for a researcher with a professional art education background as non-verbal self-expression and the transmission of tacit knowledge with artistic devices is one of the most important tools for a creative art practitioner.

Thus, the study method devised by Kristjan Raud and Ants Laikmaa provides several new opportunities for learning the living tradition in fieldwork situation, and, upon the interpretation of folk aesthetics, the method helps to re-appreciate and render value to the messages expressed by way of related heritage technologies, oral heritage, human creative fantasy, and the creative process. Rather than only assuming effective details from folk aesthetics, stylise them and combine them with the different elements of cultural heritage and contemporary art practice, it would be expedient to delve into the matter and work at the idea level of folk aesthetics, with the base texts of oral and tangible folklore.

Sakha (Yakut) Identity and Institutionalised Shamanism

Aimar Ventsel

Key words: ethnic identity, Sakha religion, shamanism

In this article I discuss the ambivalent position of institutionalised shamanism in the Republic of Sakha, in the Russian Far East. Concurrently with the declaration of sovereignty in 1991, there was an upswing in the ethnic consciousness of the Sakha, the relevant process being manifested in increased interest in Sakha traditions and history.

Shamanism, as one of the core features of Sakha culture, soon became an important ethnic symbol. After the establishment of the Association of Folk Medicine, the institution became politicised, being informally embedded in state structures, although formally, it was primarily engaged in healing people.

I show that the state needed the Association to complete its nation building project, and the Association leaned on the state to increase its significance.

What language do we use with pets?

Mare Kõiva

Key words: animal stories, human-animal communication, pet culture, zoofolklore

Changes in the socio-cultural and economic sphere are reflected in folklore by the rise of certain stereotypes, beliefs, prejudices and types of narratives. The increase in the number of pet animals gives us reason to view the defining features of human-pet communication as well as language use. The article considers these aspects based on archival folklore material and questionnaire results. In addition to usual or slightly simplified talk, pet-owners also employ kid-speech and even a change of code. The change of code conveys attitudes and helps attain a desired specific effect (praise, condemnation, subjugation). Non-verbal communication also has an important role, both on its own and in combination with other modes of communication.

Folklore genres, reflecting the communicating situation, include universal paraverbal signals (calling by whistling and warding, imitating voices) and simple calls, such as instrumental, whistled and voice signals. Complex poetic texts (natural sounds, herdsman’s cries and calls; verbal magic aliases, incantations) have, over time, become part of the institutionalised folklore movement or professionals’ repertoire. Folklore genres increasingly include personal experience narratives – narratives of a simple form that carry culturally significant messages.

These narratives also exhibit beliefs of the animals’ capability of understanding human speech and acting with reason. The functions of these stories include creating a sense of local stability. The importance of verbal communication within a society has formed together with rules of conduct – limits on emotional standards and positions. Communication with a pet gives us more freedom to use emotions and determine our role. Contemporary pet culture includes technological translation devices and a developing profession – telepathic translators – illustrating the need to understand the messages the other side is sending.

Folksy Music as a Part of Estonian Folk Culture

Guldžahon Jussufi

Key words: circle song, folksy music, folksy song, player

In this text I have attempted to mark the characteristics of the Estonian folksy music style and to outline the sequence connecting this style to the earlier folk music that is no longer in use. Reaching an undisputable result was not my goal, mostly due to the fact that I had to start from almost nothing. Musicologists work with folk music, while folksy music has been left for practitioners – artists and producers. In the context of culture in general, the lack of systematic overview of folksy music is a considerable gap. However, based on musicological methods alone, it is not possible to understand the impulses that have influenced the Estonians’ preferred music style to develop exactly into what we hear nowadays. Researches by scientists of music, society and literature, carried out according to a unified research program, could fill this gap.

It can be stated that in the broad sense the Estonian folksy music is a result of extensive cultural influences. At the same time the loans, still happening today, do not change the basic principles of folksy music. Foreign elements intertwine with elements already present and start to look familiar in the process. This asserts that nations do not create their culture in a vacuum; instead it is an uncontrollable process in which many temporary ties emerge between different nations and whose interim results can considerably change a nation’s culture. Thus it happened that music of various origins blended into a folksy music style that is a mixture of mock songs, children’s songs, game songs, patriotic songs, dance songs and schlagers from before the Second World War, folk music from all parts of Europe, country music, works by classical composers and Estonian composers. This colourful assemblage constitutes an inseparable and organic part of folk culture. Spontaneous circles of influence have been functioning always and everywhere, but nowadays the changes in culture come about with greater intensity and they are easier to recognise and to observe.

The Greeting-Song “Viru regi” for the 90th Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia

Kanni Labi

Key words: cultural events, amateur poetry, regilaul, archaisms, verse metre

In 2007, Estonians were asked to write a song, “Viru regi”, in the style of the old Estonian folksong regilaul as a gift for the 90th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia. 6,500 verses from nearly 650 authors were received, formed into a 373-verse greeting-song by a group of folklorists. This paper analyzes the verse structure, poetic devices and language of the verses people sent to “Viru regi”, comparing them to old folksongs and folksong-imitating epos Kalevipoeg (1853–1862). While the 8-syllabic trochaic rhythm of the regilaul was followed quite regularly (though in a simplified form prevalent also in Kalevipoeg), the main poetic devices thereof, alliteration and parallelism, are less familiar to modern Estonians. The present-day is indeed revealed in the language of the verses: the frequent archaic word forms of regilaul are used quite seldom and inaccurately, the dialectal features act rather as archaisms, the content frequently reflects the modern world, conveyed by contemporary concepts and foreign words. Still the old regilaul and its poetic codes associate with the ethnic originality and cultural heritage of Estonians, being one of the ethnic markers which are also used in the national self-representation of Estonia.

Migration and Autobiography. On the Migration and Adaptation of a Voluntary Migrant in Argentina in the 1920s–1930s

Aivar Jürgenson

Key words: adaptation, Argentina, autobiography, emigration

Approximately 16,000 people left Estonia during 1924–1938. Among the new destinations, the most important ones were South American countries, especially Argentina and Brazil. At the time, Argentina was an attractive destination for immigrants. In the first half of the 20th century, Argentina surpassed the majority of European countries with regard to the income per capita, health care and education.

The first larger group of Estonians (30–50 people) arrived in Argentina in 1924. In each following year, the number of Estonian immigrants fluctuated between 40 and 60, so that by 1930, about 300–350 Estonians lived in Argentina, mostly in the capital Buenos Aires.

The current article examines, on one hand, the relationship between (external) environmental conditions of migration and (internal) personal migration related decisions. On the other hand, the micro level of migration is analysed through a biographical narrative, particularly focusing on the impact of personal migration and the adaptation story on the retrospective autobiography. The micro level of migration is observed mainly on the basis of an autobiographical novel by Raimund Põdder. His earlier written travelogue, and the letters and surveys of other Estonian settlers in Argentina offer opportunities for substantial comparisons. Text examples from the writings of R. Põdder, presented in this article, are inclined to give evidence of a typical voluntary labour migrant: young, unmarried man, whose first phases of adaptation pass without obstacles. However, some background information allows the conclusion that the orientation phase of the adaptation was not without conflicting moments which could leave a nostalgic stamp on the retrospective analysis of his personal life.

Deportation as an Ancient Tradition in the Neo-Assyrian Empire during 9th–7th Centuries BC

Vladimir Sazonov

Key words: Assyria, Babylon, deportation, early totalitarian society, nasahu-politics, Tiglath-pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib

The current paper focuses on the complicated issue of a very widespread political method, deportation, in the Neo-Assyrian Empire since the middle of the 9th century up until 612 BC. Naturally, the idea is much older – some Sumerian and Old Akkadian kings in Mesopotamia (e.g. Rimush of Akkad, etc.) had already deported certain groups of peoples of conquered territories in the 3rd millennium BC, though, this was not a common political practice at the time. Later, in the 1st millennium BC, Assyrians began to practice deportation as a regular political means in order to establish their hegemony over the Near East space, the “oikoumene” in the understanding of ancient Mesopotamians. Thus, all or nearly all of the Neo-Assyrian kings had actively incorporated this policy in the political system of their state, and frequently deported the conquered peoples of the Near East for intimidating purposes and to suppress any separatist action, as, e.g., revolts. Such politics had indeed a certain effect on the imperial stability, keeping the empire from collapse, yet also entailed a very negative concurrent impact on the Assyrian population, economy of the state and demography – all this contributed to the downfall and degeneration of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and the imperial system, ending in a complete destruction of the Assyrian capital cities – Nineveh and Ashur – by Babylonians, Scythians and Medes who conquered the weakened Assyria, demolished its power and killed the majority of native Assyrians at the end of the 7th century BC.

News, overviews   

In Memoriam Ezekiel Alembi 12. XII 1960 – 17. I 2010

Mare Kõiva’s eulogy on Kenyan folklorist Ezekiel Alembi, friend and colleague, who passed away unexpectedly in January 2010.

Tiiu Jaago 50

Tiiu Jaago, assistant professor of Estonian and comparative folklore at the Institute of Cultural Research and Fine Arts, celebrated her 50th birthday on March 16. A review by Jaago’s colleague, Ülo Valk.

Liisi Laineste defended her PhD thesis on post-socialist humour

Arvo Krikmann, member of the Academy of Sciences, presents Liisi Laineste’s PhD thesis, Post-Socialist Jokes in Estonia: Continuity and Change, defended in December 2008.

Liisi Laineste defended her PhD thesis on post-socialist humour

Renata Sõukand gives an overview regarding the first meeting of the European group of the Society for Economic Botany held in Ghent (Belgium) during March 4 to 15, 2009. The participants introduced the current directions of work activities and sought opportunities for further cooperation.


A brief synopsis of the events having taken place in the Academic Folklore Society, Estonian Folklore Archives, Department of Folkloristics at the Estonian Literary Museum and in the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore at the University of Tartu.

An insight in the world of bards

Eve Annuk analyses Janika Oras’s book published in 2008, titled Viie 20. sajandi naise regilaulumaailm. Arhiivitekstid, kogemused ja mälestused (The Realm of Regilaul of Five Women of the 20th Century. Archival Texts, Experience and Memories) published by Teaduskirjastus of the Estonian Literary Museum. Janika Oras’s Doctoral thesis is a thorough analysis presenting novel standpoints with regard to the Estonian regilaul (Kalevala-metric folk song), the bearers of the tradition – concrete folk singers – and the research on regilaul tradition, relying on the state-of-the-art viewpoints and research methodology of the speciality.

A substantial research on regilaul

Ingrid Rüütel presents Mari Sarv’s book Loomiseks loodud: regivärsimõõt traditsiooniprotsessis (Created for Creation: Regivärss Prosody in the Tradition Process), published by Teaduskirjastus of the Estonian Literary Museum in 2008. The book by Mari Sarv gives an overview of the prosody of Estonian Kalevala-metric folk song, its structure and evolvement, presenting, for the first time, an analysis of the versification of regilaul, encompassing the entire relevant distribution area in Estonia. The results allow for the author to distinct between three prosodic areas, describe the regional prosodic features and metric dialects of the regilaul.