esmaspäev, august 27, 2007

Setomaa Hämmätüs

For Estonians, the border region of Setumaa is of deep cultural importance. It is viewed as a region of dislocated Finno-Ugric-ness, perhaps on par with the Finnish reverence for Karelia as something more Finnish than Finland proper. Setumaa plays this role in the Estonian mindset, a region populated by Setu -- who speak their own variety of Baltic-Finnish -- that is in someways more Estonian than just plain old Estonian.

Setu are considered people that have kept true to their roots more than the people of Tallinn of Tartu, and it is for this reason that people from these cities, as well as others in Estonia, got into their cars and traveled south to the village of Lüübnitsa this week to celebrate the Setu and to load up on onions.

We were among the many that went to Lüübnitsa. First we traveled south to Räpina, which is a pleasantly Estonian town, dominated by a Selver and a bus station, and then onwards through Võõpsu to the gravel road to Lüübnitsa. For Estonian roads, this one was crowded, and as we got near we could see why. Cars were parked on both sides of the road straight up to the little village which actually overlooks the waters of Lake Pskov, a section of Lake Peipsi.

Sibulla Paradiis

As we discovered during an earlier trip to the Old Believer's villages north of Lüübnitsa -- Kasepää and Kolkja -- this week, the cash crop of the Peipsi region is onions. The Setu festival at Lüübnitsa proved no exception. People walked through the streets with baby strollers brimming with freshly bought onions. The dominance of onions in the marketplace is such that you really can't decide who's got the best, so you just randomly pick a seller and buy from them. In our case in Kasepää, the seller happened to be an attractive young woman. What luck!

The Old Believer's villages on Peipsi and the Setu villages have some things in common. They share the Orthodox religion and all its peculiarities -- babushkas, priests with long, dark beards and robes, and the Slavic habbit of building villages in tight groups of buildings, as opposed to the spread-out 'villages' you will find in Western Estonia of one homeowner per kilometer.

The greatest difference, of course, is the language. In Kasepää they speak Russian as they have been doing since they first arrived in Estonia in the 18th century to escape Orthodox Church reform. They also know Estonian, as my experience with the seller proved. But they speak Russian, with a slight accent, or even perhaps their own dialect. Where the urban Russian-speaker of Narva has a very straightforward "Da" for "yes", the old ladies of Kasepää said theirs with more 'ä', as in 'Dää'.

The Setu language, sometimes considered an off-shoot or sub-group of Estonian, is actually its own tongue. The linguistic similarities are such among Baltic Finnic language groups that even I can watch Finnish TV and understand what they are saying, or hear a Karelian song and know what it's about. Rather than having distinct border lines, the languages flow into one another, from Estonian to Ingrian to Karelian, or from Estonian to South Estonian to Võro to Seto.

Despite these similarities I still needed a translator when I tried to order food at the Setomaa Farm Museum in Värska, a Setomaa town right on the border with Russia, where we visited after we had enough folk music and onions at Lüübnitsa.

The top of the menu was dominated by a strange substance called suulliim, which I roughly translated to "suu" (mouth) and "liim" (glue). "Hmm, mouth-glue," I thought. "Not sure if I want to try that." Then there was oa-liha hämmätüs, which was total gibberish to me. 'Hammastas' in Estonian translates roughly as 'he bit', as in Andres hammastas mind (Andres bit me).

I was later informed that suulliim is 'külm supi' (cold soup) while 'hämmastüs' is 'kaste' (sauce). So much for Estonian helping me out there! They also sold sõir, the famous south Estonian cheese, which, quite telling, is also the Russian word for cheese.

Piiri Probleemid

One interesting factor that comes into play in Setomaa is the nearness of Venemaa, the mighty Russian bear, whose land stretches from Lake Peipsi to the Bering Straights. In fact, part of Setomaa lies on the Russian side of the border. In the years 1920 to 1945, a good chunk of what is known as Setomaa was in Petserimaa, which was later added to the Russian SFSR in 1945.

During the Soviet era this division of land meant relatively little. But since 1991, and the restoration of independence this arbitrary line through the heart of Setomaa marks the boundary between the European Union and the Russian Federation, making it difficult for Setus from Petseri Rajon to travel up to places like Lüübnitsa to sell their onions on special occasions.

During the run-up to the signing of the border treaty with Russia in 2005, then President Arnold Rüütel addressed those concerned about signing over Setomaa to Venemaa forever by saying that Setu from the Russian side of the border could be 'repatriated' to Estonia. However, like a lot of things that came out of Rüütel's mouth, I am not sure if that ever happened.

22 kommentaari:

LPR ütles ...

Nice photo. Very eclectic. I'm sure there's an hidden message here somewhere. Could it be political?

LPR ütles ...

Maybe 'hämmastüs' means 'wonder' or 'surprise'? What was it?

kassandra ütles ...

Nothing to do with Setomaa (which is a great place), but just read your exchange with that Russian idiot on Edward Lucas' blog. Giustino, your arguments were wonderfully precise and to the point, and you exposed that Rusak for the bigoted illiterate that he obviously is. You defense of Estonia was unparalelled. The Estonian Välisministeerium should hire you!

LPR ütles ...

That rusak is an interesting specimen. He has a good command of English which means that he should be able to gain access to all sorts of independent information other than what Putin feeds him, and yet he manages to filter whatever he reads through a sovok mindset and the result is what is simply dumbfounding - a disgusting bile russo-fascist BS.

It may be his job to debunk the Economist. We may be witnessing a Russian disinformation warrior in action. He seems to be paid for this.

That being said, I think Justin has proved that he too deserves to be paid for his efforts. Wink-wink.

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

This I've found on

'But what makes the Setus a special people is not so much their religion but their ancient oral cultural heritage. The Setus remember their ancient customs, folk songs, tales, dances and rituals remarkably better than all other regions in Estonia. A subsistantial amount of folk song texts in the Estonian Literature Museum have been recorded in Setumaa. The remarkable aspect here is that the songs sung by some illiterate Setu singers have been estimated to be over 5000 years old and several experts claim the Setu people to be the oldest settled people in Europe – they have not participated in any migrations.'

antyx ütles ...

The important thing about the Setu in Russia is that as descendants of citizens of the First Republic, they are entitled to birthright citizenship of Estonia. That helps.

And pride aside, Estonia doesn't really want to have another Russianized region to have to bootstrap up to the general living standard.

Giustino ütles ...

Setumaa is pretty isolated, even today. One can imagine farming near Värska for an eternity and having little interest in the outside world.

As for Rusak, his argument is that Estonia is an apartheid state because no minister has ever had a Russian surname, except Effendiev, but he has Azeri blood and was minister of ethnic affairs which "doesn't count".


Ain Kendra ütles ...

well, even savisaar actually could bear another name, russian. as well as velliste. a lot of russians in estonia have changed their names to local. fully legally btw.

*** ütles ...

Estonian and Finnish aren't really that similar. I, as a native speaker of Southern Estonian language variants (including Seto) cannot really understand Finnish (I honestly do speak proper Estonian too, so that can't be the case). I pick up some words and if I know the context, I understood something, but it is maybe just slightly more than what I understand of German or Norwegian, which I do not speak. Understanding comes from intense listening and some linguistic background. So I wouldn't be brave enough to say that these languages flow into each other. It may be easier to learn Finnish, but one still needs to learn it. The reason why so many Estonians understand Finnish or even speak and claim that they haven't learnt it, is that for a long time in 80s Northern Estonia was covered with Finnish television. And people watched it a lot and after a while they really became passive speakers of Finnish.

Ain Kendra ütles ...

yes and no.
ca 1979 took my grandma from Haanja to Tallinn (first time in life) and she understood finnish tv much more than my mom, who has watched it since 67. It seems more individual, that may be right. But one is clear even for scientists - north-estonian language dialect has changed in time more than south, thus the south dialect is closer to roots as well as finnish language is closer to roots. Question remains, which were the roots.

Wahur ütles ...

In fact I wrote about it couple of months ago here. Differences between Southern and Northern dialect are not about changing, but about roots.

Approx. 2000 years ago Finnish languages formed three or four distinct groups. Northern group is current Häme dialect of Finnish, Southern is dead (Liivi).

Eastern group was located behind Peipsi and migrated also to North from there, forming a basis of Karelian, Inkeri and some other smaller languages. It also heavily influenced Estonian South-East dialects (Seto, Võro).

Western group is nowadays Estonian Northern dialect/official Estonian. Around year 800 there was a strong migration across Finnish gulf to north, therefore Southern Finnish dialects, especially Helsinki dialect is much more similar to Estonian, compared to official Finnish.

Official Finnish formed as a somewhat artificial entity, as a result of works of 18-19. century Finnish intellectuals (Lönnrot comes to mind) who mixed Southern Finnish with Karelian and Häme dialects (some of them actually had Karelian roots themselves).

So people from Tallinn and Virumaa will recognise one part of Finnish, and often say that Seto/Võro dialects reminds them Finnish exactly because both Finnish and Seto/Võro have roots in both ancient Western and Eastern dialect groups.

And finally, trivia question to those interested in languages. Author of "Lord of the Rings" Tolkien actually worked out grammars of the languages of the different races in his works. High elven language was heavily based on a real-world language that Tolkien considered most beautiful language in the world. Which language? Winner gets a beer :)

Unknown ütles ...

Concerning finnish I also have to agree with Nipi. I´m from Pärnu myself and had no experience with finnish at all till age of 14 and then moved near Tallinn and I understood finnish right away pretty well, like I had learned it or smth. I had only some problems with words which are very similar to estonian but mean in fact something totally diff, like "halpa- cheap" in finnish- in estonian halb- bad.

plasma-jack ütles ...

Another trivia question back to Wahur - how do you say "grave" in elven tongue?

antyx ütles ...

High elven language was heavily based on a real-world language that Tolkien considered most beautiful language in the world. Which language?

I know it was Finno-Ugric, but don't remember which exactly. Probably a dialect of Finnish?

Ain Kendra ütles ...

Sami language?

plasma-jack ütles ...

welsh and finnish.

Katherine ütles ...

Quenya was based on Finnish afaik.
Also on few other languages if you trust wiki:
Grave is hahta or something like that...?
Sorry for straying from the original topic. :)

plasma-jack ütles ...

the word is haudh, pronounced as "haud"

Helen ütles ...

I just want to make clear for those who don't know: Lüübnitsa is located in Setomaa, but is not a Seto village. Lüübnitsa a Russian village, and not Old-Believers' either. It's just a Russian village on the coast of Lake Peipsi.
And "hämmastüs" is really "hämmätüs" - the souce:))

Giustino ütles ...

you mean the "sauce"

Wahur ütles ...

Finnish is almost right answer, but not entirely. Language that fascinated and inspired Tolkien was Karelian. Whether we call it a dialect or separate language is a bit different question.

Bryce Wesley Merkl ütles ...

Interesting comments on the Võro language. You might find this website to be interesting:

Võro wiki browser