Mäetagused vol. 74


Distinctive children at the beginning of the 18th century

Pia Schmid
Professor Emeritus Faculty of Philosophy, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany

Keywords: children’s agency, children’s culture, historical childhood studies

The article compares the activities of child witches and pious children as a behaviour distinct from everyday customary conduct, which fulfilled certain goals and was memorized in the form of numerous written records and oral accounts. The author exemplifies in the light of some cases of religious awakening of the children from the 18th century to what extent it is justified to talk about child agency and a culture of pious children and where this culture is located in the discourse of research on children’s culture.

Spirits, aliens, and Slenderman: Supernatural experiences in today’s school lore

Reet Hiiemäe
Senior Research Fellow Department of Folkloristics, Estonian Literary Museum

Keywords: belief creatures, children’s folklore, fears, folk belief, modern folklore

The article concentrates on mapping continuities and changes in the contemporary Estonian school lore about experiences with supernatural beings: main characters, fears, and emotions connected with such supernatural beliefs as well as supernatural protective mechanisms are highlighted. One of the central topics of the article is cultural and linguistic loans (e.g. international newcomers like the Slenderman) and their sources (e.g. films, computer games, narrative folklore). I also investigate the interactions of fantasy and real life, believing and non-believing in schoolchildren’s memorates. The article is mainly based on materials that have been collected from schoolchildren since 1992, but I also draw parallels with traditional older folklore.

Memories of dolls and playing with dolls in Estonia in the 1940s–1950s

Astrid Tuisk
Research Fellow, Estonian Folklore Archives, Estonian Literary Museum

Keywords: children’s folklore, children’s games, dolls, folklore archives, folklore collection, thematic narrative, thematising, the 1940s, the 1950s, toys

This paper is based on the contributions submitted to the 2013 competition of folklore collection organised by the Estonian Folklore Archives of the Estonian Literary Museum, in which people born in the 1940s reminisced about the dolls of their childhood.

The contributions to this competition were essentially childhood memories of a specific overarching topic, i.e., the topic of playing and games. In folklore studies, such single-topic descriptions are known as thematic narratives. Thematic narratives are written submissions to a competition or written responses to a survey. I call the thematic narratives collected within this particular competition play memories.

The contributions highlight the dialogicity of memories: the personal perspective is intertwined with the perspective of the folklore collector; imagined readers are presented with childhood emotions and biographical information. To analyse the contributions, I thematised the data by looking for similar content elements across the texts and used these to form more general categories.

One of the distinctive features of the material collected for the folklore archives in this way is precisely that it conveys personal experiences. The analysis revealed that even though childhood memories are affected by the conceptions of the adult rememberer who has written them down, they can nevertheless shed light on the child’s perspective in the form of vivid memories. Many of the recounted occurrences with dolls can be interpreted as vivid memories that convey some first-time or otherwise significant experiences and the related emotions.

The contributions include descriptions of dolls and provide insight into their origins or makers. Much importance is placed on the experiences with one’s own doll or the absence thereof. During the lifetime of those born in the 1940s, the phenomenon of toy ownership began to change. Self-made rag dolls began to be supplemented by store-bought dolls. The toy industry started using plastics, and dolls became cheaper and more readily available. The memories submitted to the competition feature descriptions of receiving a doll, but also stories of yearning for one. The contributors occasionally associate poverty and lack of toys with injustice and wrongdoing. Then again, not all the girls loved to play with dolls or felt a need for them.

The contributors also introduce the circumstances of their childhood and tell their imagined readers about their past, thus stepping into the role of a folklorist or a collaborator. In addition to relating personal experiences and personal past, the writers also aim to convey and promote their own “truth”, to further their own “agenda”. The contributions of play memories also discuss the scarcity of toys, often attributing a positive significance to it. The contributors depict themselves as vigorous go-getters who were able to overcome their rough circumstances by creating full-fledged play-worlds from whatever means available.

Many find the topic of dolls and doll games important, for memories of one’s dolls constitute an essential part of one’s play memories.

Approaching children’s experiences of mobility using the storycrafting method

Pihla Maria Siim
Junior Research Fellow Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore University of Tartu

Keywords: children, drawing, emotions, fantasy, storycrafting, migration

The article focuses on the storycrafting method and the experiences gained while using it with Estonian children living in the Helsinki metropolitan area, Finland. In 2018, 66 children aged from 3 to 14 years took part in storycrafting and drawing sessions we organized in kindergartens and schools together with ethnologist Keiu Telve. On the one hand, the aim of the article is to estimate the usefulness of the storycrafting method in studying children’s experiences of migration, and on the other hand, to give an overview of the recurrent motives, stylistic devices, and ways of expression children used in the stories created during these sessions.

When applying the storycrafting method, the child is asked to tell a story, the researcher writes it down, word by word, and reads it aloud to the child, after which the child may correct the story until he or she is content with the outcome. We have modified the method to a certain extent, i.e., we have worked with small groups, mostly 2–4 children, and given children a certain broad theme for the story, so that the stories told are to some extent related to mobility or transnational way of life.

Although the stories are rich in fantasy and created in collaboration with researchers, they essentially draw on the children’s own experiences and observations. The stories combine personal experiences and fantasy in a fascinating way, revealing the kind of situations children consider imaginable. Fictional storytelling may provide an easier way for the children to tell about their personal experiences, wishes, fears, and other emotions. Working in group makes it also possible for children to negotiate their experiences with each other.

During the fieldwork, children received us extremely well both in kindergartens and at schools. Schoolchildren were especially active and keen to participate in the storycrafting and drawing sessions. Presumably the sessions were somewhat similar to children’s spontaneous, everyday storytelling situations. Children felt themselves more relaxed than they usually do in interview situations, when the researcher is asking questions and they feel stronger pressure to answer and to do it ‘correctly’. Children were also motivated to participate, since they were aware of our plan to publish a children’s book. This book contains 27 stories written down during storycrafting sessions, short citations from our field diaries, and drawings made by children. The book is directed to a wider audience, for example, to families with children considering relocation.

Luck and misfortune of my childhood: Students’ memory talks about school

Kadri Soo
Assistant in Social Policy Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu

Dagmar Kutsar
Associate Professor in Social Policy Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu

Keywords: autobiographical memories, luck, misfortune, narrative inquiry, schooltime, subjective wellbeing

This article focuses on young adults’ autobiographical memories of childhood. The aim was to explore which lucky and unlucky events students recollected concerning school attendance, how they presented themselves and other important persons and which meanings these memories had for narrators. The data consisted of 70 memories. In 2015–2017, the undergraduate students, who participated in the course “Children and Childhoods”, were asked to write two recollections about lucky and unlucky experiences concerning education and learning, with the aim to re-connect them with their own childhood experiences. This cognitive exercise tried to overcome the childhood amnesia of young adults who are struggling with the creation of their own life career, leaving childhood behind (also called as quarter-life crisis by Arnett, 2007). We applied the method of thematic qualitative analysis. The following categories were revealed in the narratives: event considered as ‘happy’ or ‘unhappy’, self-description, description of others, emotions, assessment of the experiences, meanings of the experiences for the present life.

In the ‘happy’ memories, the students mainly described supportive, encouraging, and motivating teachers and parents who were able to raise their interest in learning and attending school. Another source of happiness was getting good grades, participating in competitions, and gaining recognition by teachers and parents. Positive social relationships at school, including well-integrated classmates, understanding and caring teachers, and exciting school events, played an important role in ‘happy’ memories. Emotions and effects described in the ‘happy’ memories consisted of pride, high self-esteem, success, and desire to learn and have high academic achievement.

Experience of school bullying was the prevailing topic memorised as ‘unhappy’. The narrators told stories from the positions of both the victim and the bystander. They mentioned the reasons of bullying, such as good grades and success in schoolwork, different appearance and ethnic background, and poor material conditions of the family. The bullies were mostly classmates and older pupils, in one case a teacher. The students narrated that bullying caused social isolation, feeling of hopelessness, and decline of self-esteem. Most of the stories about bullying came to positive solutions, but the teachers, as written by the students, were seldom the persons who provided help or even noticed the victim.

The ‘unhappy’ memories included experiences with the teachers who depreciated pupils, treated them unfairly or were too strict and demanding. The unprofessional teachers caused disappointment and loss of confidence. The students wrote in the ‘unhappy’ stories that they were afraid of answering at the blackboard and disclosing a bad grade to their parents. The narrators described how they tried to hide the bad grade from their parents by falsifying it or parent’s signature in the school report. Parents’ supportive reaction to their wrong behaviour astonished the students.

In the identity talks, they were studious, conscientious and active children. In the memories of ‘unlucky’ experiences, the students represented themselves as sufferers who, thanks to personal strengths or someone’s assistance, were able to resolve the unpleasant situation and achieve the desired goal (e.g., to finish school, to enter university). In sum, childhood autobiographical memories of school attendance were related to social relationships and important persons in children’s lives. Moreover, the cognitive exercise of re-connecting young adults with their childhoods opened a way to lively discussions in the course “Children and Childhoods”, and prepared students for in-depth understanding of children’s subjective worlds.

Aspects of Estonian schoolchildren’s vulnerability as based on 6th-graders’ focus groups

Andrus Tins
Postgraduate student Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu

Keywords: children’s vulnerability, insecurity, security, thematic analysis, wellbeing

In this paper the author examines the self-reported aspects of vulnerability of children in Estonia. The study is based on the data of four focus groups with 12-year-old children, conducted in Estonian schools in 2018–2019. The author gives an overview of the most important findings and compares those to a broader framework and understanding of vulnerability in childhood research. For example, the article describes the importance of secure relations between a child and the family or a child and other close persons. The article exemplifies that material resources are important to children but not more important than a secure home, good relations, and free-time activities. According to the opinions of the respondents, too many duties, poor online security, global environmental problems, international conflicts, hierarchical relations with teachers and negative messages of the mass media are the most worrying aspects.

Reflecting school life in the self-made memes of primary school students in the Tartu region

Mare Kalda
Senior Research Fellow Department of Folkloristics, Estonian Literary Museum

Astrid Tuisk
Research Fellow, Estonian Folklore Archives, Estonian Literary Museum

Keywords: children’s culture, children’s folklore, internet memes, virtual culture, youth culture

Internet memes represent a new vernacular genre, items of which are created and also distributed digitally. Every day, ever new information keeps flowing through the feeds of social media sites. Internet memes, unlike traditional folklore, are not meant to be conveyed from generation to generation, and rarely would one expect a recurrence of a meme that has already been seen and passed forward. New memes are being created constantly, representing every conceivable aspect of physical as well as virtual reality. The external world is represented through a seemingly anything-goes game of combining shapes and forms. Already in the current stage of development of the genre, we can notice that memes correspond to their users’ subcultural and other group-related preferences. Age-group specific meme use is also discernible.

This paper focuses on the meme repertoire of schoolchildren in the Tartu region, which is published on special Facebook or Instagram pages. The empirical work consisted in observing the meme sites and interviewing those generating the memes. School memes are presented as depiction of the life in a particular school and used for generating a feeling of belonging within that school.

By memeing, schoolchildren apply a certain kind of cultural knowledge, a memetic code, which is not necessarily accessible to adults – indeed, they might not even have encountered it. William Corsaro characterises peer group culture with keywords such as autonomy, control, conflict, and differentiation; the challenge is to make fun of the authority of adults. In school memes, we are witnessing not only a peer group counterculture, but also an endeavour by the group to create a certain distinct world of its own. The novel and youthful memetic form suits well for this project.

Are there any reasonable grounds for speaking about national subcultures?

Aimar Ventsel
Senior Research Fellow Department of Ethnology, University of Tartu

Keywords: glocalisation, hip-hop, identity, punk, skinhead, subculture, working class

General interpretation of youth subcultures often largely ignores the national element, and in case it is included at all, then only in the framework of local changes in global music or style or cultural and social conflicts. However, my focus in this article lies on studying Germanness in the abovementioned subcultures. I argue that punk and skinhead culture is suited for the working class rebellion because it largely overlaps with the notion of local patriotism in Germany. When looking at the cult of locality in German punk music or loyalty to local and regional beer, this is something that one can also observe among non-subculture individuals. The article exemplifies how the multitude of subcultural styles supports certain anti-glocalisation trends, and how music, style, and alcohol are used to express genuine working class values, political views, and identity concepts.

Swearing: Dissolution into nothingness

Saša Babič
Research Fellow Department of Folkloristics, Estonian Literary Museum

Piret Voolaid
Senior Research Fellow Executive Manager of the Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies Department of Folkloristics, Estonian Literary Museum

Keywords: incantation, folklore, linguistic anthropology, swearing, taboo words

This study comparatively analyses swearing material in the Slovenian and Estonian languages in order to show the lexical and structural similarities/differences between swearing and incantations present in the material and to argue that swearing is not only a way to give voice to taboos, but is similar to incantations. The basic premise underlying the analysis is the existence of the “go to X” formula found both in the material and in the two genres analysed. Place X is the place of origin, non-existence or chaos to which the unwanted is sent. There are more than 50 different variants of the formula “go to X” that we can detect in both Estonian and Slovenian languages; in addition, we consider the phrases which carry the idea to fend off someone or send them somewhere, but they are in a different formulation.

The adverbial slot in the phrase ‘go to X’ may be filled by a variety of expressions, all of which have had different connotations throughout time, although they are connected with chaos, in which nothing living exists, or the place of origin to send the evil back to from where it came (spells are also expelled by counting back, but it does not reveal in swearwords). In swearing we can specify three major groups of mentioned places to which one expels another person: 1) places linked with religion and the supernatural; 2) sexual and reproductive organs as a place of extinction; 3) places signified by non-taboo expressions that connote taboo words.

The analysis of Slovenian and Estonian swearing expressions with the formula “go to X” showed not only that this material has preserved some pagan gods and concepts of sacred places (Svarun, Perun, concept of forest, swamp mountains, etc.), which are not alive in religious contexts anymore, but also the concepts of places in which a human does not live, and places of chaos and emptiness, which can also be linked with incantations. These swearing formulas are similar to incantations, i.e., words and rituals to expel the evil, including curses. Incantations send the curse into emptiness or back to its origin. Similarly, swearwords with the formula “go to X” send another person into his or her origin (inherent in the physical conception), or into chaos, which is the conceptually fitting hell or devil’s place. At the same time, it reveals a different concept of human origin and existence: when religion and god were on a pedestal and higher forces gave life to the human being, the worst violation was mentioning god and devil in swearing. When someone was sent to hell, he or she vanished into chaos and destruction. By accepting that a human being originates in a human body as a result of sexual intercourse, and by accepting the world of intimacy as an important part of human existence, swearing gained lexis from the field of reproductive and intimate organs and sexual intercourse. Sending the person back into mother’s uterus or even further, into the penis (which would be pre-conception period, pre-existence), can show us the sender’s aim to negate the existence of that person. In both cases utterances with the formula “go to X” deal with the person’s origin, birth, and existence, trying to negate him or her or to fend them off, as if the “persecuted person” were the evil, a curse which has been brought upon someone and needs to be expelled; we exorcise the person, trying to negate him or her. With his or her death, all the headaches and illnesses originating from them would vanish; our life would become nicer and calmer. With these swearwords a person can be expelled either to the place where no (religious/Christian) soul exists, like hell, or into their point of origin, with the idea that if they had not been born, if they returned to cunt or dick, wherever they came from, life would gain colours again (Nežmah 1997: 131). Therefore, these places – either places of non-existence or places of origin – have the function of places of dissolution. Both concepts of these places send one into nothingness, non-existence, where nothing living exists. What becomes obvious is the fact that in both concepts – religious or physical – places of dissolution are directly connected with the concept of our existence and socialisation. Swearwords with the formula “go to X” try to negate our existence either way.

About us   

Mythology offers good arguments for solving the puzzle of migration

Henri Zeigo’s interview with Mexican mythologist Martín Cuitzeo Domínguez Núñez is available in English in Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore, Vol. 76 (www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol76).

News, overviews   

In memoriam

Peter Grzybek
2 November 1957 – 29 May 2019

Mare Kõiva reminisces about the linguist, semiotician, and Slavist.

Researchers contemplated Estonian multinational cultural identity and heritage in Berlin

On 22–24 March, a symposium under the heading “At home and abroad: On the cultural identity and heritage of multinational Estonia” was held in Berlin. The aim of the meeting was to contemplate the role of intangible heritage and cultural memory on different levels of identity and integration policies and in fostering the dialogue between cultures. An overview of the symposium is given by ethnologist Kristi Grünberg.


A brief summary on the events of Estonian folklorists from March to July 2019.