Accepted Paper:

Displaced tradition: the making of the last bard  


Lotte Tarkka (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

The paper discusses the value and ownership of oral tradition in times of political conflict and modernization. The case of the “last male bard” in Karelia crystallizes the dilemmas inherent in the shaping of local poetic corpora into items of national heritage.

Paper long abstract:

From the early nineteen-twenties to the early nineteen-forties, the Viena Karelian people on the Finnish-Russian border experienced a series of dramatic historical developments including military campaigns, a civil war, a revolution, the gulag, two occupations by alien forces, and exile. This area, known for its oral poetry in the Kalevala-meter, became an arena for a battle over cultural heritage. Using materials ranging from autobiographical poems to nationalistic propaganda, this paper discusses the processes and tropes of defining the value and ownership of oral tradition. The key figure of the paper, an acclaimed ritual specialist or tietäjä, was hailed as the "last male bard" in Karelia. His collaboration with Finnish nationalistic artists, scholars, and military officers made him a persona non grata in the Soviet Union. It also crystallizes several dilemmas in folklore scholarship and the shaping of poetic corpora into objectified cultural heritage. How does the impact of literacy affect the alleged authenticity of oral poetry in local and elite contexts and how did the elite treat texts tainted by literary influences? Why did the last bard hand over his repertoire for a foreign audience yet refuse to transmit his tradition at home? How did the performer create a holistic representation of his poems and what was the role of such a representation in the local community troubled by political and cultural turmoil? And lastly, who was the last bard known with many names, and why was he recruited as a double agent by Finnish and Soviet authorities alike?

Panel Heri012
Exchanging cultural capital: canons of vernacular tradition in the making