Võro Literature? What’s That?
Võro literature is the literature and folklore of the people inhabiting the southeastern part of Estonia. Võro literature is that part of Estonian literature which has been called South-Estonian (Oskar Kruus, Kronberg) or Oandi (Kaplinski) literature. So-called South Estonian literature is divided into Mulgi (Adamson, Baturin), Tarto (Suits), Võro (Adson, Jaik, Lattik, Koik) and Seto (Haavaoks) literature.
The basis for this kind of division of South Estonian literature is the division of South Estonian dialects offered by linguists. In fact, the opinions of linguists differ in many respects, but the most important idea is that the dialects spoken nowadays in South Estonia are the vernacular of a people who have not advertised themselves as a nation but have preserved their language.
Origin and ethnic homeland
Our ancestors reached their present ethnic homeland soon after the end of the last Ice Age, which is about 7 – 8 thousand years ago. Some of our ancestors came from the other Baltic States, some from the original home of the Finno-Ugric peoples. Here they stayed and intermarried. In the 13th century our ancestors inhabited Uandi County, which is part of Sakala, the surroundings of Petseri and parts of northern Latvia. Later the area they inhabited was mostly within the bounds of Livonia province, as well as in Tartu County, where the Governor General of Riga Count George Brown founded, by order of Russian Empress Catharine II, a separate county – Võromaa. Today we call this historical Võromaa and these historical borders are the basis for the self-determination of the Võro people. During the Soviet period historical Võromaa was divided into Valga, Võru and Põlva districts, and during the new Estonian Republic the word ‘district’ was replaced with ‘county’. The lands of the Seto branch are both in Võro and Põlva counties as well as on the territory of Petseri County; the representatives of the Mulgi branch occupy regions both in Viljandi and Valga counties as well as Tartomaa in Tarto County.
A History of South Estonian Literature in Seven Parts
I. Old Uandi Folklore
Old Uandi folklore belongs to the golden age of South Estonian or Uandi literature. We are greatly indebted to Jakob Hurt for the fact that we know so many Old Uandi songs, stories, etc., because he called upon both common people and intellectuals to collect folklore. Due to him we can enjoy such jewels as Hanõdõ kaomine (“The Loss of Geese”) by Kadri Kukk, a prominent folk singer from Mulgimaa, or the long folk songs of Seto songsters which demonstrate knowledge of old traditions and are refined in their form.
Books which give further information concerning that period:
Jakob Hurt, The Songs of the Seto People I – III
Vaike Sarv, Kristi Salve, Seto Fairy-tales together with Songs
part of the Anthology of the Võro People, where one can find Marju Kõivupuu’s ideas on our traditions, and a small selection of songs.
II. Written Texts in Church Uandi
The term ‘written texts in Church Uandi’ was adopted because in the 18th century the people who wrote in the South Estonian language were clergymen of German origin who had learnt the local language because of Protestantism, which advocated preaching in the local language.
- In 1868 New Testament was published in the South Estonian language (in Tartu dialect).
- Käsu Hansu’s lamentation Oh, I’m poor Tarto Town in the Tarto dialect also deserves to be mentioned here.
- The so-called Movement of the United Brethern was very popular in South Estonia and their written texts spread here as well.
- Oldekop and Roth. They published a newspaper in the South Estonian language (in the Võro dialect) and Oldekop became a well-known poet and songwriter.
Written texts in Church Uandi formed a strong foundation for South Estonian literature, and at first South Estonia was ahead of North Estonia as far as the written language was regarded. But North Estonia overtook when the whole Bible was translated into the North Estonian language. There was a church council where Swedes were asked which language should be preferred. They left the decision to be made by the Estonians themselves. The leaders of that time thought that such a small nation should not have two written languages and chose the North Estonian language as the written language for the whole country. The pastors of South Estonia were still defending the South Estonian language at the turn of the 19th century. This can be witnessed in the book of memoirs written by Jaan Vahtra: he considers the period of Church Uandi based on the Tarto dialect to be important, and believes that people in South Estonia have it deep in their minds because in every generation, up to the present day, we can detect a poet from South Estonia who writes in the Mulgi, Võro or Tarto dialect.
III. Uandi Literature in the Period of Awakening
The fact that South Estonian writers wrote mostly in the North Estonian language or in the so-called standard written language was symptomatic of the period. The important man who had the things created during our golden age collected and recorded was Jakob Hurt, and he thus saved our memory from sinking into oblivion. He also translated peasant laws into the South Estonian language, wrote a hexametric poem Buckwheat Porridge and a poem A Herdsboy is A King.
Marie Heiberg also collected folklore, although her poems were written in the standard written language.
Jaan Vahtra immortalized the spirit of South Estonia in his memoirs and used the South Estonian language in the speech of his characters.
Jaan Lattik wrote many stories for children where he used the Karula dialect of the Võro language. The stories written in the Karula dialect about local characters, which were published during the first republic, remain the peak of his literary activities. Lattik considered himself a Võro writer, although Karula Parish later became a part of Valga County. Lattik was a pastor by profession and in this way continued the traditions of the Church Uandi written language and the disposition of pastors who were in favour of the South Estonian approach.
IV. South Estonian Literature in the Republic of Estonia
There are all branches of South Estonian literature in the literature of the Estonian Republic. Gustav Suits’s Kerkokell (The Churchbell) and regilaulud (special folk songs) from the branch of the Tartu dialect. Hendrik Adamson, a poet from Mulgimaa, became a classic through his writings. Artur Adson, who wrote in the Võro dialect, is, together with Siuru (a group of writers and artists), at the centre of the Estonian literature of that period. Juhan Jaik wrote a laudatory song Võromaa; Karl Ast-Rumor, Richard Roht and Bernard Kangro used the language spoken in Võromaa and its subject matter.
Discrimination of Seto Literature
Seto literature also developed during the period of the first Republic of Estonia, and the Setos were recognized as a separate nation. Palopriit Voolaine’s work on creating a Seto reader and preparing a Seto epic Peko together with a prominent Seto folk singer Anne Vabarna is considered very important. Miko Ode, Martina Iro and Hilana Taarka were incorporated into the official history of Estonian literature.
V. Uandi Literature During the Periods of Occupations
The writers of the Võro branch of South Estonian literature Artur Adson, Jaan Lattik, Peeter Lindsaar, Karl Ast Rumor, Bernard Kangro and others fled abroad. Young Raimond Kolk also emigrated and became a Võro poet in Sweden. Of the older writers, only Peeter Lindsaar wrote more in the Võro language in exile.
Nikolai Baturin and Eha Lättemäe roused the slumbering literature of South Estonia during the period of occupation. Jaan Kaplinski and Ain Kaalep produced both provocative texts and also texts in the Võro language. Ain Kaalep learned the Võro language and translated ancient Egyptian love songs into it, as well as expanding a two-line thanksgiving to thunder into a longer piece of writing. He also wrote a whole book of poems in the Võro language, Songs of Haukamaa (Haukamaa Laulud, Võro Selts VKKF 1999). Ain Kaalep also edited a book of poems by Rihhard Iher, who writes in the Võro language. Mats Traat from the Tarto branch began to write prose and poetry; of the Võru branch, Aivo Lõhmus and Vallo Patrasson, who died young, wrote poetry. Paul Haavaoks from the Seto branch became well-known. Kalle Istvan Eller’s poetry was published in almanacs. During the period of the Soviet occupation the literary works of South Estonian writers were carefully eliminated from school readers and actually ceased to exist for ordinary people because several of the writers had been pastors (Lattik), participated in the War of Independence (Jaik), etc.
VI. New Awakening and Võro-Seto Movement
The Võro branch of South Estonian literature was actually reborn at the end of the Soviet occupation. The following books were published: In the Middle of One’s Own Hill (Kesk umma mäke), a collection of poems by Kauksi Ülle; Drought and Rain in Põlva Parish in the Summer of 1914 (Põud ja vihm Põlva kihlkonnan 14dä aasta suvõl), a play written by Madis Kõiv and Aivo Lõhmus.
Aivo Lõhmus, who comes from Varbusõ, Jaan Kaplinski, whose mother was of Võro origin, Ülo Tonts, who is from Karula, Hando Runnel, whose parents were of Räpina origin but who had left Võromaa for Järvamaa and Ain Kaalep and Kauksi Ülle from Rõuge Parish spoke of Võro literature in the House of Tartu Writers. Madis Kõiv summoned a Society of Võro-Minded People of Tartu, which began to compile A Reader for Võro People, which was to contain the texts of all of the important writers from the point of view of Võro literature. The Seto Society and the Fund for the Võro Language and Culture(VKKF) were founded. New writers in the Võro language cropped up in connection with the Võro Movement: e.g. Jüvä Sullõv, Kalle Eller, Pulga Jaan and Saarõ Evar, who were so-called calendar-writers and who were published in Võro-Seto almanac-calendars. The Võro branch received an enormous impetus. At the peak of the Võro Movement collections by new poets Jan Rahman (Copper of copper EK$ 1997) and Olavi Ruitlanõ (The Contents of a Man EK$ 1998) were published.
A collection of works by our schoolchildren in the Võro language My Võromaa (Mino Võromaa) began to be published annually. Heino Sikk began to publish a newspaper called Viruskundra where some pieces of Võro literature in the Võro language were always published. The Mulgi Society published Mulgi Almanacs, and very quickly published the biographies of Mulgi writers and their forgotten works. Except for Milvi Piir, no other younger writers appeared, and even her collection was left unpublished.
From the Seto branch, Madis-Mats Kuningas managed to publish his collection of poems Words Full of Time (Sõna täus aiga 1996, Tallinn Eesti Raamat).
VII. The Rebirth of Võro Literature in Võromaa
After the golden age of Uandi, pieces of Võro literature were written outside of Võromaa, but after the rebirth Võro writers increasingly often create their works in Võromaa.
Several new poets have emerged, like Contra who is considered to be something like a folk poet. He lives in Urvaste and writes poems mostly in Estonian full of Võru stems although there are some in the Võro language as well. Another poet of Räpina origin, Aapo Ilves has so far written in Estonian, although he speaks the local Räpina vernacular. Pulga Jaan, who lives in Oe village, is a present-day Võro writer whose stories are available on a cassette called The Price of a Dog (Pini hind). Prose writing has also become very popular. The novellas Bed (Säng) and novel Boat (Paat) written by Kauksi Ülle are quite sought-after by readers. The literary works by Kauksi Ülle, Olavi Ruitlanõ, Aapo Ilves, Jan Rahman and Contra are available via the Internet. Thus we can say that Võro literature has become transformed from a mostly oral tradition into published literature and further into audio-visual literature. And from a time of newspapers and poetry into a period of prose and textbooks.
An ABC book in the Võro language has been completed, and in it the writings of present schoolchildren have been published in addition to those of the classic writers -both dead and living – of Võromaa.
Who Are Võro Writers?
There have been different answers to this question. One suggestion seems to be that a writer who comes from Võromaa may consider himself/herself a Võro writer or others may refer to him/her as such. For instance, Jaan Lattik considered himself a Võro writer. At that time the basis for self-determination was also most likely one’s home parish (Lattik as a writer who comes from Karula) or even one’s home village (Adson as Sänna’s Troubadour).
But if we consider the fact that the writer was born in Võromaa as being of greatest importance, then we must exclude the Võro poet Oldekop as well as Schmaltz, who wrote in the Seto language, and even Ain Kaalep, who learned the Võru language because of the respect he felt towards the people amidst who he had found his wife, as he himself had said.
A map dating back to the socialist period and hanging on the wall of the study of the Tallinn Writers’ Union, shows two writers where Võrumaa is situated: those writers are Debora Vaarandi and Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald. Vaarandi with her Saaremaa background happened to be born here, and Kreutzwald wrote the Estonian national epic here. The attitude that a Võro writer is one who lives in Võromaa was quite common until fairly recently. According to this view, modern writers like Artur Pihlapuu, who writes in Estonian and Contra who mostly writes in Estonian (although he has also published some texts in the Võro language), are also Võro writers.
Another idea is that a Võro writer is a writer who writes in the Võro language. The language is, of course, a highly important factor as far as Võro literature is concerned, but Rumor and Uibopuu have spoken of themselves as Võro writers. They have used the Võro language only a little in their books, but have depicted Võromaa or the atmosphere and spirit of Võromaa in their novels. They may even have written about things far away from Võrumaa, as is the case with Rumor’s “Crucifix”. As Madis Kõiv has said, it feels as if men from Antsla are managing their affairs in this novel, although the characters are of an altogether different race.
Self-determination may be another basis for deciding who qualifies as a Võro writer. Yet Vahtra, who was fighting for a common Estonian language, or Hurt, who officially gave up defending the Võro language, are still Võro writers, since some of their texts are in the Võro language or they depict Võromaa in their memoirs. Because of the above mess, and considering the difficulties and things I have heard and read, I would like to offer a five-fold division of Võro writers, also including Seto writers. It may indeed be that the list of writers mentioned is still far from perfect.
I. Writers who have written in the Võro and Seto languages, who have published books or parts of books in the Võro language or whose works have provided an opportunity to compile a book in the Võro language:
Gustav Adolph Oldekop, Johann Christian Quandt, Johann Schwelle, Hermann Julius Schmaltz, Jaan Lattik, Artur Adson, Juhan Jaik, Paulopriit Voolaine, Raimond Kolk, Kalju Ahven, Rihhard Iher, Madis Kõiv, Aivo Lõhmus, Voldemar Raidaru, Enno Piir, Milvi Panga, Kauksi Ülle, Jaan Pulk, Jan Rahman, Madis Mats Kuningas, Olavi Ruitlane.
We could also add to this list Meinhard Aleksa (Enn Tuuling), whose collection is still in manuscript form, as well as Vallo Patrason and Jüvä Sullev, whose collections have not yet been published. Pulga Jaan’s stories are only available on cassette.
This list will certainly be expanded, e.g. with Evar Saar, who has published his poems in the Võro-Seto Tähtraamat (Võro-Seto Almanac-Calendar) and has published some literary criticism in the Võro language, or with Aivar Sulaoja. Marju Kõivupuu, who has published her writings in the Võro ABC-book and calendars, may also be added to this list.
II. Writers who have grown up in Võromaa or who have Võro (Seto) roots. Although they are known as Estonian writers, their literary works include poems or speech by characters in the Võro language, or they have studied Võro writers and literature:
Jakob Hurt, Jaan Vahtra, Jaan Räppo, Bernard Kangro, Karl Ast-Rumor, Rihhard Roht, Paul Haavaoks, Ilmar Vananurm, Peeter Lindsaar, Hando Runnel, Jaan Kaplinski, Heino Sikk, Lembit Kurvits, Juhan Viiding, Merca, Contra.
III. Writers who have not openly used the Võro language in their written texts but in whose writings we may detect a Võro spirit on a psychological level:
Marie Heiberg, Elise Aun, Valev Uibopuu, Elmo Ellor, Nasta Pino, Artur Pihlapuu, Herta Laipaik, Vaino Vahing, Rein Põder, Aapo Ilves.
IV. Writers who were born, have lived and worked in Võrumaa but in whose works ties with Võromaa can hardly be perceived:
Barbara Juliane von Krüdner, F.R.Kreutzwald, Debora Vaarandi, Rannar Susi.
V. Researchers of literature or the Estonian language, translators, writers on war and humorists or writers and their spouses, etc. who were born and went to school in Võromaa This section requires separate study and research.