Mäetagused vol. 57


The Soviet Period in Life Narratives: ‘Rupture’ or ‘Continuity

Tiiu Jaago

Keywords: cultural continuity, cultural rupture, life writing, oral history, Soviet period, Stalinist prison camps

The article springs from the discussion on the depiction of Estonian history in autobiographical writing, in which researchers have pointed out either the cultural continuity or cultural rupture. The author deals with ‘rupture’ and ‘continuity’ as interrelated, mutually conditioning phenomena, asking how this relation is disclosed in life writing.

For research the author selected autobiographies narrated in the period from 1989 to 1998 from the life writing collection of the Estonian Cultural History Archives. The 18 analysed stories depict life in Stalinist prison camps. It is assumed that in the life narratives that are concerned with prison experiences, the cultural, everyday and political disruptions are particularly clearly outlined.

The thematic analysis of the stories reveals that narrators concentrate on prison experiences related to food, work and death. The axis supporting the narratives comes to the fore through linguistic images: the narrators, former prisoners of the Stalinist camps, perceive themselves as being outside the borders of civilisation, deprived of human treatment. It is significant that the stories do not present much information about the development of the authors’ relationships with their families after the prison camp. How the prison camp period influenced later personal lives was told by only one of the authors of the studied narratives. The stories were narrated at the end of the Soviet period (during Perestroika), or in Estonia after the restitution of independence. By that time, approximately 40 years had passed since the events, and aspects of personal life had been solved and discussed. On the public level, an open discussion on these topics started namely at the end of the 1980s. Then, at the end of the Soviet period, also the rehabilitation of the repressed people started, opening a dialogue between the individual and the state institutions on the topic of repression. The studied life stories also belong to this period: it was the period when my story became our nation’s story.

Ruptures in these stories are primarily associated with political upheavals, which also broke the expected sequence of personal life events. Yet, at the same time, the rupture did not interrupt the historical or cultural process, but rather, by describing self-image and situations, brought out the aspect more meaningfully. As a result of the analysis of the texts, the author came to the conclusion that in these stories the topic of humanity rather than the problem of political and cultural rupture and continuity is in the foreground.

Wheel Crosses – 17th Century Grave Monuments in Northern Estonia

Pille Arnek

Keywords: epitaph, grave markers, language history, wheel crosses, 17th century

The earliest grave markers on the territory of Estonia are trapezium-shaped grave plates from the 13th-14th centuries – they show different symbols but usually no text. Gravestones in churches mostly date back to the 14th-17th centuries, but usually no Estonian names appear on them. The oldest partly preserved grave monuments bearing Estonian names are wheel crosses in churchyards in Northern Estonia, mainly originating from the late 16th century and 17th century. These are masterful monuments with fine finishing, bearing fragments of texts from the early period of written Estonian language. Regarding the frequency of their occurrence, wheel crosses are rather rare grave monuments which could not have been afforded by just any peasant. The texts on them were in German or Estonian, also some in Latin. In addition to names and dates, the text include information about the family, their trade and parentage, village names and other facts. Texts on these crosses gives information how literate were the masters who made them. In order to understand wheel crosses more fully, their art historical, ethnographic and religious background must be considered in addition to their linguistic aspects.

Fish Names in Estonian: Scientific Versus Common

Mari Kendla

Keywords: Estonian dialects, ethnoichthyology, fish names, lexicology

The article gives an overview of the evolution of Estonian fish names, bringing to the fore the principles of naming fish from the point of view of both popular and scientific categorisation, and juxtaposing with the principles of classification of fish names by other peoples. The standard formal Estonian fish names started to be coined in the 1920s, when native-language terminology was created. Name-selection was often based on the example of other languages, especially German terminology. Estonian popular (dialect) names are based on local and popular categorisations, whereas the main emphasis is on the characteristic features of the fish.

Extreme Right Freedom of Speech in Estonian Radical Nationalists’ Online Communication

Mari-Liis Madisson, Andreas Ventsel

Keywords: cultural semiotics, Essex School of discourse theory, extreme right, identification in hypermedia, ratification of ACTA, self-model

The article focuses on the processes of identification in hypermedia, trying to explicate the strategies of self-description that prevail on the websites of the activists of the Estonian extreme rights. The extreme right movements tend to use generally accepted discourses for the purpose of legitimising their own ethnocentric media practices. Extreme nationalist ideas form equivalences with concepts from the discourse of multiculturalism (‘justice’, ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’, ‘freedom of speech’), though at first sight they are incompatible. To explain this paradoxical situation, the authors employ the concepts of the hegemonic logic of signification and the empty signifier, as elaborated by Laclau, as well as the theoretical framework of cultural semiotics. The case-study is based on the extraordinarily forceful public feedback that followed the discussions about ACTA ratification in Estonia. ‘Information-freedom’ became an ambiguous core signifier: it played an important part in public discussions, but it also had a central role in the self-descriptions of Estonian radical nationalists. NO ACTA functioned in this case as an empty signifier, which united into a discursive whole these contradictory signifiers and self-models. The concept of a self-model is useful for explaining why some signifiers have a greater potential to become discursive dominants. It seems that in Estonian extreme-right meaning creation there are certain relations of equivalence between signifiers that are more likely to aggregate the discourse than the others, and these depend on the abstract level of the self-model.

Mumming and Masking at Christmas in Bessermens’ Calendar Customs of Today

Jelena Popova

Keywords: Bessermens, customs related to talsipühad, masking, ritual feasts and foods, traditions and innovations

The article gives an overview of the current customs and masking in the ethnic group of Bessermens at talsipühad (old name for Christmas). The author discusses the changes that have taken place in masking traditions as well as the importance of rituals in today’s village community. Attention is focused on mythological images of talsi spirits, restrictions related to space and time, preferences during holidays, peculiarities of masking, ritual cuisine and etiquette. In recent years the traditional customs and their elements have started to take root in today’s holiday culture; yet, a parallel development of some processes can be observed here: modern culture actively influences the archaic elements and their evolution.

Miracle Maker Stephen: Image of St. Stephen of Perm in Komi Legends

Pavel Limerov

Keywords: Christianisation, Epiphanius the Wise, folklore, Komi legends, miracle maker Stephen, St. Stephen of Perm

The article compares the biography of St. Stephen of Perm, written by Epiphanius the Wise, with the stories about the miracle maker Stephan known in Komi folklore. The author explores the influences of Russian culture on Permian (Komi) culture by mediation of St. Stephen of Perm, and the association of folklore legends with the Christianisation of the Komi. The dialogue between the Russian Christian written tradition and the Komi pagan oral tradition, which was initiated by the Christianisation of the Komi at the end of the 14th century, was based on the philological activity of St. Stephen of Perm. It was him who translated into the Permian Komi language the main principles and concepts of Christian religion, which made the dialogue between Russian and Komi cultures possible. St. Stephen’s mission was complicated because he not only had to provide an accurate translation of Christian texts into another language, but also had to find and create meaning equivalents for Christian images in non-Christian tradition. St. Stephen of Perm became a key figure denoting the contact point of Russian and Komi traditions. In Russian tradition the acceptance of the Permian side was expressed in St. Stephen’s hagiology, which combines the biography of St. Stephen and the story of his journey to the Perm region. In Permian tradition St. Stephen and the events related to him are explained in folkloric texts about Christianisation.

Song Tells about a Singer: Overview of the Runo Song Repertoire of Lüganuse Singer Mai Alasi

Ruth Mirov

Keywords: Lüganuse, Mai Alasi, runo song

The 9th volume of Vana kannel (Old Zither), a serial publication of runo songs, comprises 1320 song lyrics collected and written down from Lüganuse parish. The number of presenters is over a couple of hundred, yet Mai Alasi is the only one whose repertoire includes over a hundred songs. Such a big number of runo songs from one person, written down as late as in the first decades of the 20th century, makes us wonder about her song repertoire. The most relevant approach seems to be the description of her runo song lyrics from a typological aspect. This enables us to point out the register of motifs in the texts and gives us an idea of the applied artistic methods and the language of images. This way we can treat the runo song lyrics as a piece of poetry.

The author was also interested to find out what kind of facts about the personality of the singer and her life her song repertoire, its content and themes reveal. The conclusions are certainly at least partly hypothetical, yet they might help us to revitalise the memory of a remarkable singer.

News, overviews   

President’s Folklore Award and Folklore Collecting in 2013

An overview in English by Astrid Tuisk is available in Vol. 58 of Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore, at http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol58/news.pdf.

Advertising Conference in Lithuania

Anneli Baran speaks about the conference “Advertising quasi Art”, which took place at the Department of Humanities, University of Vilnius, Lithuania, on April 10–11, 2014.

Tiina Sepp Defended Her Doctoral Thesis on Pilgrims and Pilgrimage

On April 28, Tiina Sepp defended her doctoral thesis titled, Pilgrims’ Reflections on the Camino de Santiago and Glastonbury as Expressions of Vernacular Religion: Fieldworker’s Perspective, at the University of Tartu. An overview is given by Madis Arukask.

International Caricature Conference in Tartu

Liisi Laineste dwells upon the international conference “Constructing the Other through the Prism of War: Contested Images in Eastern Europe (1930s–1950s)”, which was organised in Tartu on May 7–9.


A brief summary of the events of Estonian folklorists from April 2014 to July 2014.

Considering Fairy Tales

Kate Wolford (Introduction and Annotations). Beyond the Glass Slipper. Ten Neglected Fairy Tales To Fall In Love With. Kalamazoo, Michigan: World Weaver Press. 2013. 158 pp.
An introduction by Kärri Toomeos-Orglaan.