is the fabled heart of Karelia, and the single richest source of
the folk poetry which Elias Lönnrot used when he compiled the
Geographically, Viena is the northernmost part of Russian Karelia.
Its borders are easy to define: it is that part of the czarist government
of Archangel west of the White Sea, an area constituting the district
of Kemi at the time. Today the same area comprises the districts
of Kalevala, Louhi, Kemi and Belomorsk, as well as the city of Kostomuksha.
Finland also has villages which are part of the Viena cultural
heritage; all three are located in the immediate vicinity of the
border: Hietajärvi and Kuivajärvi in the municipality
of Suomussalmi and Rimpi in the municipality of Kuhmo. These seemingly
minor Viena villages have played a significant role in Finnish cultural
history, for it was a poem recorded by Daniel Europaeus in Hietajärvi
that prompted Elias Lönnrot to change the structure of the
Kalevala. Rimpi, for its part, contributed significantly to the
birth of Karelianism, an artistic movement that exerted a profound
influence in many spheres of artistic endeavor in Finland in the
late 1800s and early 1900s.
periods have witnessed numerous disputes - some quite vehement -
about the ultimate origin of the "Kalevala poems". Settling
this issue is perhaps a secondary concern, however, for the fact
is that most of the poetry from which Elias Lönnrot created
the Kalevala came from Viena.
There are a number of reasons why the tradition of singing poems
endured so long in Viena. Perhaps the principal factor was that
literacy came to the region relatively late; it was not common until
the 1920s. Before the introduction of a school system, libraries
and communications, the oral tradition was a uniquely effective
means of transmitting the cultural heritage and wisdom gained through
experience from one generation to the next. Poem-singing, proverbs,
fables and fairy-tales, or starinas, were the means by which that
life experience was passed on.
A second significant reason for the preservation of poem-singing
in Viena was the remoteness of the villages. The region was on the
periphery of Russia and was separated from Finland by a rather abrupt
cultural divide. The first highway in the region, a road from Uhtua
to Kemi in Viena, was not completed until 1929. Travel to the border
villages in particular tended to be strenuous and complicated.
oral tradition abided under such circumstances, especially since
it was also part of the daily routine: it lived on in the old men
and women telling bedtime stories, in the lullabies, in the fishing
and hunting incantations, and in the cures for the sick; it flourished
at the ceremonies and celebrations - weddings, funerals and praznikas
(village festivals); and it drew vitality from the praise which
communities lavished on their most esteemed bards.
It is thus no accident that the best bardic villages are near the
border, far from "development" but by no means strangers
Today the bardic villages are defined as those villages in Viena
which still exist or are scheduled for revitalization, and which
have been sources of the poetry in the Kalevala and the Kanteletar
or contributed to the birth of Karelianism.
There are three such villages in modern Finland: Hietajärvi
and Kuivajärvi in the municipality of Suomussalmi, and
Rimpi, administratively a part of the city of Kuhmo. The
bardic villages in Russian Karelia comprise Vuokkiniemi,
Latvajärvi, Venehjärvi, Ponkalahti,
Pirttilahti, Tena, Tollonjoki, Akonlahti,
Kontokki and Vuokinsalmi, all of which belong to the
city of Kostomuksha; Uhtua, Vuonninen, Lonkka,
Jyvöälahti, Haikola, Jyskyjärvi
and Pistojärvi, located in the district of Kalevala;
and Paanajärvi, situated in the district of Kemi.