Tuesday, March 25, 2014

History Mystery:The Kalevala Epic

Old Kalevala published in 1935

Kalevala 1
The old Kalevala, the first version was published in 1835 compiled and edited by Elias Lonnrot on the basis of the epic folk poems collected in Finland and Karelia. This poetic song tradition which was sung in an unusual archaic trochaic tetrameter had been part of the oral tradition among Balto Finnic language for around two thousand years and when the Kalevala finally appeared in print for the first time, Finland it was said to be an Autonomous Grand Duchy for quarter of a century. Earlier to this, till 1809, Finland was a part of the Swedish empire. The Kalavala was an important turning point for Finnish language culture which caused chaos abroad as well, drawing the attention of other Europeans to a small unknown people who bolstered the Finn’s faith and self confidence in the Finnish language and culture. The Kalevala was then called the Finnish national epic.

Kalevala – National Epic of Karelia and Finland

Lonnrot together with his colleagues carried on their efforts in the collection of folk poetry adding new collection to it and the version commonly known today was published in 1849 consisting of 22,795 verses which are divided into fifty songs, the titles of which can be interpreted as `The land of Kaleva’, or `Kalevia’. Kalevala is considered as the national epic of Karelia and Finland and one of the most significant forms of Finnish literature. It also played an important role in the development of the Finnish national identity intensifying the Finland’s language strife together with the growing sense of nationality which finally led to the independence of Finland from Russia in the year 1917.

Finnish Poetry in Oral Tradition

Kalevala 3
Prior to the 18th century, the Kalevala poetry was quite common in Finland and Karelia but began to disappear first in western Finland since the European rhymed poetry became common more in Finland and the Finnish folk poetry was written down in the 17th century which was collected by scholars and hobbyist all through the centuries but the major part of the Finnish poetry only remained in the oral tradition. Kaarle Akseli Gottulund, (1796-1875), a Finnish born nationalist and linguist expressed his concern for a Finnish epic similar to The Iliad, Beowulf and the Nibelungenlied which was compiled from various poems and songs from most of Finland. He thought that such an endeavor would bring about a sense of independence and nationality to the Finnish people.

Turku Weekly News

Kalevala 4
It was toward 1820, that Reinhold von Becker who founded the journal Turun Wiikko-Sanomat – Turku Weekly News, published three of his articles entitled Vainamoisesta and his works were a source of inspiration to Elias Lonnrot in his master’s thesis at Turku University. It is believed that during the Finnish reformation towards the 16th  century, the clergy had prohibited relating and singing of pagan rites and stories due to the introduction of the European poetry and music causing a considerable reduction in the traditional folk songs together with their singers. This could have resulted in the somewhat fading away of the tradition though not completely forgotten.

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