Mäetagused vol. 50


Diaspora Estonians and their landscapes

Aivar Jürgenson

Key words: diaspora, adaptation, landscape, migration, Estonians in exile

The article focuses on an Estonian migrant’s view of the landscape, its specificity and change through the migration process. The change of the homeland is analysed as a cultural rapture. Physical relocation also brings along changes in the social and historical-cultural environment. The author investigates how the change of the homeland is expressed in terms of the landscape – which strategies are used in depicting foreign landscapes and how a foreign landscape is turned into a home, and also examines whether and how migrants attempt to compensate for the changes and preserve cultural continuity. The article dwells upon how the landscape reflects the different phases of the migrants’ adaption period, and talks about home landscapes as well as foreign ones and their comparison in the migrants’ stories. It also discusses in what relationship the landscapes of the old and new homelands are for different generations of migrants.

As the Estonian diaspora is geographically wide, comprising almost all the continents, the text excerpts used are also collected in different countries. Most of the material comes from the letters written by the migrants. These letters have been sent from Siberia, Caucasus, South- and North America or Australia and have been published in the press. The letters are complemented by interview texts from the author’s fieldwork trips to Estonian diaspora groups.

Expression of Canadian exile Estonians’ cultural identity in home environment

Jane Kalajärv

Key words: Canada, home interior, domestic culture, cultural identity, migration, Estonians in exile

The article is about the domestic culture of a vanishing generation – Canadian exile-Estonians – and its role in their national identity.

The refugees’ adaptation process and community sustainability are supported and influenced by material culture and visual representations: the familiar objects from earlier times that have a symbolic meaning for them. Even random items, which were brought along accidentally, have developed a deeper meaning. The unique language of these objects helps the refugees to overcome difficult cultural dilemmas and maintain their individual and collective identities. The strategies that helped to design the appropriate domestic and cultural environment were used in order to survive the first years in exile; later on the new environment became self-evident.

The refugees of older generations find it important that their descendants preserve the Estonian cultural identity. The domestic environment is seen as the most important component in preserving culture because home is the centre of our spatial world and home design is significant from the point of view of cultural identity. Social networking with compeers outside the domestic environment is not less important. The ones living apart and communicating less with other Estonians assimilate into the new culture more easily.

Exposing Estonian items in home design is individual – some refugees are proud of their heritage, some are not. Depending on that, it is different how many Estonian items can be found in one’s home. As the informants belonged to the active Estonian community, emphasising Estonian cultural identity was clearly perceivable. In discussions with the informants it appeared that not in all Estonian households the heritage was proudly presented. In domestic environment some refer to their heritage as an important part of their lives, for others, being an Estonian is something marginal and just a part of their past.

Despite the efforts of the older generation to preserve Estonian culture in Canada as it is being remembered from the childhood when they lived in Estonia, the process of acculturation is under way.

This research supports the two-dimensional acculturation model, which says that a human being can belong into two or several cultures, whereas the strengthening of the affiliating one does not weaken other affiliations. The informants have preserved features of Estonian culture in their homes, and Canadian culture is being treated with the same respect.

Canadian-Estonians’ material culture in domestic environment is unique as it is being influenced by a multitude of factors. Estonian features are disappearing or other aspects are becoming more important when presenting the Estonian heritage within every new generation. The main reason for it is selective memory, which shapes the descendants’ cultural identity and exile culture.

Home reflects and shapes cultural identity. From one point of view, we design the environment surrounding us, but from another, the environment surrounding us designs ourselves. The more we live in certain environment conditions, the more the values represented in that environment entrench themselves. For that reason, parents are the designers of Estonian cultural identity, presenting Estonia and Estonian culture to their children and influencing the development of Estonian culture in Canada.

On the adaptation and acculturation of Estonians in Siberia on the basis of folklore material

Anu Korb

Key words: Estonians, adaptation, multiculturalism, traditional lore, Siberia

Migration researchers in different countries have noticed that while first-generation immigrants tend to remain loyal to the culture of their birth country, for the succeeding generations the scales are shifting in favour of the new country of residence. Here, the attitudes of the representatives of the minority culture towards the ethnic culture and the minority policy of the new country of residence play an important role.

The article presents an analysis, based on folklore material collected during the past few decades, of the adaptation and acculturation of the descendants of the Estonians who migrated to Siberia over a century ago, in their new homeland. The analysed material proceeds from the cultural and language contacts of Estonians. In any conflict of cultures, both the individual and the lore group as a whole employ their own cultural insignia in their attempts to conceptualize the other party. Narrative plots, minor forms of folklore, song tunes, and other types of lore easily transcend language and political boundaries; at the same time, folklore remains an important factor of ethnic self-identification in a multicultural environment. Siberian Estonians communicated in their native tongue within their lore group; also, the tradition was initially spread in the Estonian language. Adaptation in a new place of residence is about accepting the new environment in one’s life and, among other things, about encompassing new cultural elements. Transforming a foreign place into one’s own is facilitated by telling stories about the first settlers in the new homeland or explaining the origin of local toponyms. Living within a cross-cultural contact area often results in the construction of multiple national identities or a change in identity, and it has been known to inspire folk tales. Next to Lutheran peoples (Finns, Germans, Latvians), who were regarded as “own”, and Russians, the contacts of Siberian Estonians with other neighbouring peoples gradually intensified. The “others” with their different customs and traditions were noticed and judged according to own established standards. Once the Estonians became better acquainted with these “others”, various proverbial phrases, language-based humour, and other types of folklore began to emerge. As the Estonians had the closest contacts with their Russian-speaking neighbours, the Russian language became the source for the majority of language jokes. The Estonians living in multiethnic villages were quicker to adopt foreign traditions, with mixed marriages being a contributing factor. Quite a telling sign is also the fact that Estonians in Siberia today tend to refer to themselves as siberlane, or ‘Siberian’.

Estonians far in the east – from emigration to assimilation

Ivo Paulus

Key words: adaptation, assimilation, Estonian identity, Far East, resettlement

After incorporating the Ussuri region into Russia, the latter’s primary aim was to colonize the coast of the Sea of Japan to make it not only nominal but also a real property of Russia. In order to find re-settlers for this region, Russian officials started search in the western corner of their empire – on Estonian islands Saaremaa and Muhumaa, where people already worked as fishermen and were also interested in getting some land. They were an exact match to the Russians’ needs for populating the other end of their empire, the land beside the Pacific.

In the second half of the 19th century the grounds for regular ship connection between Odessa and Vladivostok were laid. In 1898 Estonian scouts went to the Ussuri region to see the land they were offered (at the expense of Russia). The scouts were satisfied – the sea was filled with fish and the territory was surrounded with forests.

Every individual settler was granted 15 hectares of land, each family – 100 hectares, and they were freed from taxes for five years; besides, they were supplied with food for 18 months and allocated some money for buying tools. Estonian settlers could also count on getting 1000 roubles for fishing equipment and setup.

However, the land was not totally uninhabited. The Chinese lived there seasonally – they cultivated the land and lived in their shacks, but they had no legal right to the land. As an unpleasant surprise, they found out that the land they had been using was now in the possession of Estonians. Estonians were surprised as well when they realized that the land allocated to them was already partly cultivated and in use; yet, they gained advantage from the situation. As rightful owners, they rented part of their lands to the Chinese.

The conditions for land cultivation and fishing in the Pacific were different from those in Estonia. It took time before people adapted to local climate, landscape, soil and fishing opportunities.

Two villages were settled by Estonians: Liiviküla (founded in 1899) and Linda (founded in 1903).

By the year 1915 there were 141 households with 691 people (236 men and 455 women). 80 of them were fisherman.

Then the revolution and the First World War broke out, and contact with the homeland was lost.

In 1922 the Red Army reached Vladivostok. This started a new phase in the life of Estonians of the Far East. In 1924 the associations of fishermen were established, and in 1929 a kolkhoz named “Liflandets” was founded on the basis of these associations. In 1931, when Juhan Hanslepp was elected the chairman of the kolkhoz, it was renamed to Novõi Mir (New World).

Since the Estonians were hard-working and well organized, the fishing kolkhoz was quite soon one of the most productive collective farms in the region. In the beginning, the Estonian kolkhoz was the only one that was engaged not only in fishing but also shipbuilding. In 1937–38 the villages were subjected to Stalinist repressions. The Second World War sent all the men to the front and women had to take care of the village life. They caught fish, cultivated land and raised children. After the war the community separated – some left for their original homeland and the others stayed in their new homeland – the Far East.

The fishing kolkhoz started to fish out on the ocean. Their work made them a millionaire-kolkhoz, which developed friendly relations with another one of the kind – Kirov (in Estonia). They acted like state within a state – the kolkhoz owned a school, a preschool, a fishing fleet, and fish processing factories. First the captains of the fleet were Estonians, later on Russians.

By now the Estonian community has assimilated. The only reminders of the Estonian settlement are some place- and family names. The assimilation has taken place very rapidly – within one generation. It is partly because of the Stalinist repressive politics towards national minorities, partly because of the distance from the motherland and lack of Estonian cultural life, but mostly because of the conscious choice of the younger generation to lead an easier life. It is true that the generation regrets that they do not know the language of their forefathers, but they blame their parents for not motivating them enough to learn it. Today the Estonian community consists of nearly ten elderly people, who are able to communicate in Estonian, are still interested in their ethnic homeland, and have not fallen victim to the Russian propaganda. The Estonian settlement stood on the coast of the Pacific Ocean for one hundred years. Today there are only eight people in Liiviküla village who can understand Estonian.

To the promised land of Canaan: the first Estonian emigrants in Brazil

Sander Jürisson

Key words: Brazil, diaspora, emigration, adaptation

This article focuses on the formation of the Estonian community in Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century. There were three waves of migration: the first decade of the 20th century, the time between the two world wars and the migration of Estonian refugees after World War II. Allegedly, the first Estonians reached Brazil at the beginning of the 19th century, although this is very unlikely. The first documented case is a sailor named Jüri Jürison, who visited Rio de Janeiro during his voyage from Kronstadt to Vladivostok in 1865. The first Estonian who resided in Brazil was a missionary named Hans Tiismann, who worked as a reverend in Santa Cruz in the years 1875-1884. The first evidence of the permanent Estonian population dates from 1902.

The first larger group of Estonians arrived in Brazil in 1906 and immigration continued in subsequent years. The Brazilian states, especially Sao Paolo, were on constant promotion tours in Europe in order to attract more manpower to Brazil. It is not known how many Estonians reached Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century, but based on an estimate, the number could have been between 500 and 1000. Quite a large number of them were inhabitants of Estonian communes from other parts of the Russian Empire and many of them were Baptists. Due to the difficult conditions over there, several of those who had migrated to Brazil returned to their homeland after a few years.

The article describes the causes of Estonians’ emigration to Brazil, the composition of migrants, group size, and adaptation in their new homeland. Also the article examines the promotional brochure written by Johann Gutmann, which had a strong influence on migrants.

Adaptation narratives on the example of Australian Estonians

Mare Kõiva

Key words: adaptation, Australian Estonians, language, migration

The article is concerned with the adaptation narratives of Estonians, who arrived in Australia after World War II. The adaptation stories reveal that people who arrived at different times had to adapt to all possible settings, make relevant changes in themselves, their beliefs and physical space. Presumably, adaptation depends on the migration policy of the country, presence of personal support network, personal choices, personality traits and people’s learning capacity. Excerpts from longer chains of narratives have been chosen to characterise arrival and modes of adaptation into the new environment; also, language use and single controversial customs have been highlighted.

„When we came to Sweden...” About Estonian Christmas traditions abroad

Mall Hiiemäe

Key words: emigration, folk calendar, identity, integration

The focus of the article is on the cultural adaptation of the Estonian community that left Estonia during World War II and found refuge in Sweden. The important starting point of the article is an interview with a former journalist (born 1937), who settled with her family in Kristinehamn (South Sweden) in the year 1947 and moved to Stockholm later on. The interview took place in 2004 and concentrated on the most important and meaningful days and times in Swedish as well as Estonian folk calendar. In Sweden, the beginning of the Christmas period is calculated from St Lucia’s Day (December 13), yet in the 20th century Estonia, this day had only a marginal meaning. By the middle of the 20th century, it was already a tradition in Sweden to choose a blond Lucia-maiden and have ceremonial processions as an introduction into the Christmas time. In Finland and Norway this tradition was a way to preserve the feeling of national belonging for the local Swedish population. The interviewee, who went to a Swedish school at the age of ten, remembered that she was impressed by the special role of the Lucia-maiden, yet the adult Estonian population consciously ignored the “foreign culture”.

In Estonia as well as in Sweden, the friendly dwarfs were not yet a part of Christmas traditions in the mid-20th century. In Sweden, tomte, who was known as the protecting spirit of home in the older peasant culture, took over this role in the course of the growing urbanisation. Tomte lost its previous position in folk belief, got a red hat and became a member of the Lucia-procession. The attempt to preserve the old identity could be observed in the Christmas time room design, the decorating of the Christmas tree, etc. Taking over the traditions of the new homeland was perceived as surrender to the other culture. In the Lutheran Sweden as well as in Estonia, going to church was an established tradition. The Swedish Estonians also gathered in St Jacob’s Church in Stockholm with the wish to perceive the feeling of togetherness; yet, for homeland Estonians going to the church was rather an act of protest against Soviet ideology. Also, sending Christmas cards helped to preserve the feeling of keeping in touch and belonging.

If we compare the Christmas traditions of the Swedish Estonians to those of the deportees and those in the Estonian villages in Siberia, which were established already in older times, we come to the conclusion that the topic of identity should deserve much more attention than it has been the case so far.

Exile as a laughing matter

Maarja Merivoo-Parro

Key words: Estonians in America, humour, adaptation, immigrants, refugees

Most researchers agree that the essence of humour lies in its social nature. Thus it is only reasonable to assume that there is a link between laughter and success in relationships with other people and circumstances. Indeed, such conclusions have been drawn. Humour is said to develop the capacity to foster a multi-perspective comprehension of life, which can in extreme situations determine the difference between surviving and perishing.

The people who fled Estonia during World War II and did not want to return for fear of being repressed by the Soviet regime, were generally allowed to apply for immigration in Western countries as refugees. This article pertains to some aspects of humour used in the written press by the New York Estonian refugee community in 1949. The character of a young lady called Salme is narrating her family’s first clumsy steps in their new homeland.

The body of the text is in the form of letters addressed to former schoolmates who have not yet immigrated to their new permanent countries of residence, but are presumably still living in a displaced persons’ camp in Germany.

It is argued that Salme’s letters were designed to provide comic relief from tensions common to new immigrants and old refugees. By showcasing the problems, concerns and actions that most (if not all) New York refugee Estonians could relate to, they promoted a light-hearted view of the difficulties of this particular type of existence. This set of texts is also used to make observations regarding the collective identity of the writers and their perceived audience, the intra-group relationships and connections with the outer world, Americans, the City and the array of cultural differences that they entail.

Efforts to construct national religion in Estonia in the 1920s–30s – Taara belief

Triin Vakker

Key words: Taara belief, Hengo Tulnola, Turan idea, religious association Hiis, Kustas Utuste, Maarda Lepp-Utuste

One of the more colourful mediums of the national frame of mind and mentality in pre-occupation Estonia was the Taara movement in the 1920s–1930s. The Taara-believers, who were united in their concern regarding the intellectual confusion brought about by the achievement of national independence, and disturbed by the cultural elite’s excessive receptivity regarding the ideas widespread in Europe, decided to stay true to their forefathers’ intellectual legacy, and lay it as a basis for a religious movement characteristic of and close to the Estonian soul. The principal idea was that a nation’s highest goal should be its intellectual and cultural independence; political freedom was considered to be a significant tool in obtaining and protecting this goal. In order to reach intellectual freedom, the presence of a nation’s own national religion was vital. In other words, the Taara-believers regarded faith as the fundamental basis for culture and spirituality, and intellectual freedom thus unthinkable without a national religion.

During the first years of activity the Taara-movement was relatively small in numbers; the confined circle of activists started to devise the foundations national religion. It is safe to say that the starting period is best characterised by ideological search, expressed, above all, by two different approaches to national religion. On the one hand, there was common consent that the forefathers’ faith had not been preserved in its original form, and therefore only the few existing scraps of knowledge could be used to develop a religion corresponding to the modern world. In the Taara-believers view, the religion had to be in constant development together with the nation, and also keep abreast of the latest scientific achievements. On the other hand, dissenting opinions of how to present the religion arose. Some of the pioneers of the Taara-movement cultivated the idea of establishing the Turan-society instead. But the prevailing image was still an independent religion characteristic of the Estonians, which was not to be organisationally related with associations propagating Turan or any other similar national belief.

In addition to ideological arguments, efforts to design the religious practices and traditions were also made. The primary focus was on the major events in a person’s life and the development of the related rituals. Several traditions regarding the celebration of national holidays, important also in the movement’s latter activities, were initiated as well. The development of the religion’s own practices and holidays saw a significant upturn in the movement’s activity in the 1930s. The rituals were being more and more extensively introduced outside the Taara-believers’ circle. In addition to celebrating the established holidays, several cultural and social events were organised both in and outside the circle. Another significant topic during the first years was the propagation of the idea of creating and developing the genuine culture.

The Taara-believers’ movement reflected the national tendencies rife in Estonia between the two world wars, but it must be said that it is quite an unusual expression of national concepts. Nevertheless, the Taara-believers and their society form an integral part of thought and religion in pre-occupation Estonia, and therefore deserve close attention and analysis.

News, overviews   

International Conference on Charms, Charmers and Charming

Ekaterina Kuznetsova and Andrei Toporkov’s review of the conference “Oral Charms in Structural and Comparative Light”, which took place in Moscow on October 27–29, 2011. Overview of the event is available in English in vol. 50 of Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore (http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol50/news.pdf).

Rituals and Customs as Cultural Heritage through the Eyes of Researchers and Performers

Irina Sedakova and Svetlana Sidneva’s review of the Seventh Annual Conference of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) Ritual Year Working Group held at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana, on November 11–13, 2011. Overview of the event is available in English in vol. 50 of Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore (http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol50/news.pdf).

International Conference “Medical Pluralism in the Era of Digimodernism”

On November 28, 2011, the Department of Folkloristics at the Estonian Literary Museum organised the Medica VIII Interdisciplinary Conference, which focussed on the relations between folk medicine and the digital era. Overview of the event by Ave Tupits is available in English in vol. 50 of Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore (http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol50/news.pdf).

7th Folklorists’ Winter Conference, Ruusmäe-Rogosi 2012

On February 2-3, 2012, the 7th folklorists’ winter conference was held on Rogosi manor.

Overview of the event is available in English in vol. 50 of Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore (http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol50/news.pdf).

Study into narratives in modern Latvian folkloristics

In January 2012, three doctoral theses in folkloristics were defended at the University of Latvia: Ieva-Garda-Rozenberga’s Personal Narratives in Alsunga District in the 21st Century, Sandis Laime’s The Raganas Tradition in North-Eastern Latvia and Sanita Reinsone’s Getting Lost Stories: Notions, Interpretations, Poetics of Narration. Tiiu Jaago gives an overview of the dissertations.


A brief summary of the events and activities of Estonian folklorists from December 2011 to April 2012.

From everyday life into a book: an example of the publication of oral biographical interviews

Anu Korb (compiler, editor). Siberi eestlaste elud ja lood. Eesti asundused V. [Lives and Stories of Siberian Estonians. Estonian Settlements V.] Tartu: EKM Teaduskirjastus. 2010, 358 pp.

Lea Jürgenstein & Liina Rootalu. Peterburi eestlaste lood. [Stories of St Petersburg Estonians.] Tallinn: AS Ajakirjade Kirjastus. 2011, 296 pp.

The books are introduced and compared by Tiiu Jaago.

Biographical film about Livonians

Aizslçgtais krasts [Restricted coast: a story of people and times on the northern coast of Courland.] Läti Rahvuspark, 2009.

Introduction to the DVD is provided by Tiiu Jaago, comments from Mâra Zirnîte, one of the authors of the film.

Video The_livonian_language.avi

Bashkirian folk medicine, charms and charmers

In 2011 Zarya Minnibayeva defended her doctoral thesis on Bashkirs’ folk medicine in Kurgan oblast from the late 19th to the early 21st centuries.

The book is introduced by Mare Kõiva.