Kalevala, Land of Heroes

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Kalevala - The Myth - the Symbol - The National Epic of Finland

Why did Kalevala become such an important symbol to the Finnish people?

To really understand it, one must be aware of Finland's history of foreign rule.

At the end of the 18th and the first half of the 19th century, Swedish was the principal language of government and education in Finland, after almost 600 years of Swedish ruling.

In 1809 Finland became a Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire. In the early years of the Grand Duchy the imperial authorities in St Petersburg tolerated and even supported arising Finnish national consciousness as a sure way of weakening age old and potentially dangerous links with Sweden.

Finding a national identity became very important for many educated Finns, despite the fact that most of them barely understood Finnish at all.

Elias Lönnrot

Elias Lönnrot was born on April 9th 1802 in Sammatti, Finland. He learnt to read and write at the age of five. Despite his family being very poor, he managed to earn enough money to start studying at the Academy of Turku in 1822, where he became interested in Finnish mythology.

In 1827 Turku, the capital of Finland, was destroyed by a fire, and no teaching took place during the years 1827-1828. Elias Lönnrot spent the summer of 1828 travelling around to gather runos; Kalevala-metric songs, handed down as an oral tradition.

After having finished his studies and becoming a doctor, Elias Lönnrot continued to gather runos, myths and magic formulas.

What is Kalevala about?

The story tells about men and women with superhuman powers, often using singing for help.

If Väinämöinen needs a boat he sings to produce it.

If Lemminkäinen needs a horse he creates it out of his adversities.

The powerful woman Louhi can easily turn herself into a majestic eagle.

The story in short:
It begins with the creation of the world, and ends with an equivalence to the birth of Christ.

Ilmatar, goddess of the air, gives birth to Väinämöinen, a hero and one of the main personas along with Joukahainen and Lemminkäinen.

They travel far, between Kalevala and Pohjola, a country in the north. During these travels they experience adventures out of the ordinary.

A most important part is played by the luck-bringing mill Sampo, forged by the smith Ilmarinen.

The slave Kullervo is a very tragical character.

In the last song of Kalevala the virgin Marjatta becomes pregnant from/of/by? a lingonberry and gives birth to a son.

Kalevala runo

Construction of a past

Mieleni minun tekevi,

Aivoni ajattelevi

Lähteäni laulamahan,

Saa'ani sanelemahan,

Sukuvirttä suoltamahan,

Lajivirttä laulamahan;

Sanat suussani sulavat,

Puhe'et putoelevat,

Kielelleni kerkiävät,

Hampahilleni hajoovat....

I am driven by my longing,

And my understanding urges

That I should commence my singing,

And begin my recitation.

I will sing the people's legends,

And the ballads of the nation.

To my mouth the words are flowing,

And the words are gently falling,

Quickly as my tongue can shape them,

And between my teeth emerging…

Lyökämme käsi kätehen,

Sormet sormien lomahan,

Lauloaksemme hyviä,

Parahia pannaksemme,

Kuulla noien kultaisien,

Tietä mielitehtoisien,

Nuorisossa kasuavassa,

Kansassa nousevassa,

Noita saamia sanoja,

Virsiä virittämiä

Vyöltä vanhan Väinämöisen,

Alta ahjon Ilmarisen,

Päästä kalvan Kaukomielen,

Joukahaisen jousen tiestä,

Pohjan peltojen periltä,

Kalevalan kankahilta.

Let us clasp our hands together,

Let us interlock our fingers;

Let us sing a cheerful measure,

Let us use our best endeavours,

While our dear ones hearken to us,

And our loved ones are instructed,

While the young ones are standing round us,

Of the rising generation,

Let them learn the words of magic,

And recall our songs and legends,

Of the belt of Väinämöinen,

Of the forge of Ilmarinen,

And of Kaukomieli's swordpoint,

And of Joukahainen's crossbow:

Of the utmost bounds of Pohja,

And of Kalevala's wide heathlands

Kalevala 1:110, 2136

English translation W.F. Kirby (1907)

Kalevala - quotings


[Painting by Akseli Gallen-Kalela: "Lemminkäinen's Mother"]

Lemminkäinen is killed and cut into pieces in a fight at Tuoni, the river of death, because of trying to woo a virgin. His mother collects the parts of his body and puts them together. She then brings him back to life with a divine salve.

Another great painting by Gallen-Kallela portraying Väinämöinen fighting Louhi

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