Accepted Paper:

"Before the final silence": stories about outstanding female performers in the 19th and 20th century's Estonia  


Janika Oras (Estonian Literary Museum)

Paper short abstract:

The paper analyzes age and gender specific performative practices of outstanding Estonian female oral singers, and the changes that occurred in these practices during the period of modernization in the 19th-20th centuries.

Paper long abstract:

The paper is based on memories about the impressive performances of elderly female singers, about their acts, behaviors, verbal utterances and singing in the context of ritual and everyday interaction. The metaphor in the title borrowed from a fieldwork diary refers not only to the performers' age but also to the gradual "silencing" of older vernacular oral traditions in Estonia, in the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

My attempt is to point out the age and gender related aspects of the performative practices of these women who were part of a predominantly oral culture. To discuss the changes in age and gender specific performative strategies connected to the modernization the examples of women representing different generations will be used.

When interpreting the folklore archives' documents, one has to consider that the mediators-narrators and collectors representing a different generation and mentality might not have been able to understand the events the way the women expected. Another problem is the lack of information about the earlier performance practices of the same women. That is why several types of role models have to be considered when observing each individual performance practices: the common roles of elderly women in traditional society, a kind of freedom connected to nonfertile age and the widow status; the role of an outstanding creator or the important actor in a ritual that allow or imply violation of "average norms"; the marginal position in the community - caused also by a changed culture context.

Panel Gend003
Performing identities: age and gender related viewpoints to the poetics of past, present, and future