FINLAND
Three kanteles, local history and culture in the library

Ilomantsi is the municipality of three kanteles (the national instrument, close to zither). The town’s coat of arms, which contains the colours of Karelia, red and black, symbolizes the Kalevala-Karelian culture. The people of Ilomantsi say that the kanteles on the coat of arms play the tunes of joy, sorrow and destiny. The rich culture between East and West, Orthodox and Evangelical Lutheran represent joy. The divided Karelia represents sorrow. The border folk played the tunes of our destiny during the wars. The border has changed its place several times throughout the centuries, with the exception of the EU’s current, eastern-most point in Virmajärvi in the north; this part of Finland’s easternmost border has remained constant since the Treaty of Stolbovo in 1617. Ilomantsi is the municipality of three kanteles (the national instrument, close to zither). The town’s coat of arms, which contains the colours of Karelia, red and black, symbolizes the Kalevala-Karelian culture. The people of Ilomantsi say that the kanteles on the coat of arms play the tunes of joy, sorrow and destiny. The rich culture between East and West, Orthodox and Evangelical Lutheran represent joy. The divided Karelia represents sorrow. The border folk played the tunes of our destiny during the wars. The border has changed its place several times throughout the centuries, with the exception of the EU’s current, eastern-most point in Virmajärvi in the north; this part of Finland’s easternmost border has remained constant since the Treaty of Stolbovo in 1617.

I moved to Ilomantsi in 1982 to take up the position as cultural secretary. The municipality was familiar to me from my childhood days; both of my parents are from here. I knew about the rune singers because one of them, Mateli Kuivalatar (1771–1846), is my ancestress. I knew about the Winter War because my father had fought on the Ilomantsi front. Still, the cultural and historical wealth in the region has astonished me.

National heritage days: My work began with an immense project. I was assigned to the position of head secretary for the national heritage days of the Kalevala jubilee year in 1985. It was then that I began to familiarize myself with the culture and history of Ilomantsi.

There was no written history. During my first day at work members of the Ilomantsi association brought me the Pogostan Pakinat from the years 1952–67, which has now been bound into a book. That was a good start. Still, I worked almost night and day looking for sources and reading them. The library did not have computers back then. Unfortunately, the index had very few references for local culture. Usually I found what I needed by accident, or someone was able to tell me where to look. During those years I established lasting relationships with actors in the cultural sector and heritage association, of which I am still a member. The association’s more significant achievements include museum department and the preservation of Kesonsuo.

Religions: Ilomantsi is Finland’s only district for ecclesiastical administration, which once fell under the authority of the Novgorod bishop. The Western culture, Evangelical Lutheran, reached Ilomantsi after the signing of the Treaty of Stolbovo. A number of influential people belonged to the Lutheran parish in Ilomantsi: Henrik Renqvist (1789–1866), leader of Karelian Pietism and Pietari Kurvinen, the first missionary in Ovamboland.

We performed a play about Henrik Renqvist at Ilomantsi’s summer theatre in 1985–88.When doing research for the play, I noticed that rune singer Mateli lived during Renqvist’s time. I realized that the runes of our national epoch and its associated piece of work, Kanteletar, were gathered just in time; the people who knew the runes were aging and soon would be going to their last place of rest.

Karelianism: There were numerous people in Karelia who gathered runes, having hundreds of rune singers sing for them so they could write them down on paper. More than 100 people from Ilomantsi have had their name archived in the Finnish anthology of runes; Eino Leino, the famous poet, met the love of his youth in Ilomantsi, and another well-known author, Katri Vala, lived here when she was a child and later worked here as a school teacher.

Some people laugh at our hobby of the Kalevala tradition. It is, however, a question of ancestry, family roots, such as that of the Sissonens and the Puruskainens. Simana Sissonen has been the most influential rune singer in Finland’s Karelia. His homestead is the only home of a rune singer that still stands in its original place. Today, it is a museum under the care of the Mekrijärvi research centre affiliated with the University of Joensuu.

When the rune singer’s cabin was built on the Parppeinvaara fell in the 1960s, Ilomantsi became some- what of a pilgrimage destination for displaced people. The guides working in the cabin wore peasant costumes, the feresi, typically worn by Karelian women. It became the symbol of the identity of Karelian women throughout the country. Ilomantsi became an exotic travel destination with its village festivals, Karelian cuisine, dialects and songs.

I refer to the above-mentioned as ‘neo- Karelianism’, and I respect those who created it. Heikki and Paula Klemola have made a tremendous contribution to the establishment of the rune singer’s cabin. Their daughter Raija Klemola is organizing an archive, which has interested researchers for many years.

I was confronted with our history of war at the end of the 1980s when a newly established project group requested my help. It was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration; I was able to get the journals kept during the Ilomantsi battles to put in the heritage archives and we created a website about Ilomantsi’s war history, which is read by people in the USA and Russia. Ilomantsi is the only place within the present borders of Finland where there are battlefields from both the Winter War and the Continuation War. Both former president of Finland, Mauno Koivisto, and internationally known soldier Lauri Törni (Larry Thorne), have connections to the Ilomantsi battles.

One-third of the area of Ilomantsi remained outside Finnish borders as a result of the wars. The aim of the project team is to preserve the memories of the evacuation and reconstruction of the area devastated by war. Möhkö village also has connections to the war history; Finland’s largest refinery for lake ore operated there at the end of the 1800s. It is now an ironworks museum, which was established by the Ilomantsi association in the 1970s. Our most acute problem concerns saving the numerous interviews and narrow-gauge films, the condition of which is deteriorating.

The Three kanteles collection

I studied to become a librarian at the University of Oulu in 1994-96. During my studies, I thought of how I could combine the library and culture because I was still responsible for cultural affairs. It was then that I devised the ‘heritage databases’. They could be used to utilize the local culture for tourism, occupations involving handicrafts and in schools. The basic idea behind the Three kanteles is to make it possible for 100 keywords per piece of work to be entered into the database. All of the works are connected in one way or another to Karelia as related to the ‘kanteles of joy, sorrow and destiny’. A person looking for information can find it using almost any related work, such as place name, battle unit, or event. It doesn’t matter where you live in Finland; when you look for information in this database and you find the piece of work you want, you can look for the work at your local library. The departments of history and ethnology at the University of Joensuu utilize the collection to find detailed information.

Heritage archives: At the beginning of the 1990s, the Finnish Federation for Local Heritage encouraged municipalities to establish heritage archives. I made a proposal and the archives were established. People began requesting information from the heritage archives at the library during my summer vacation. The museum department also has just one employee. I realized that the wisest thing to do would be to transform the material into a digital format and make it a part of the library collection. School library online: Tuuli Santakari came to work for me in 2006 after training. She wrote a thesis about how children use the Internet and a digital school library. Her innovation of an online school library contains more than 500 links for teachers and learners to use.

Lastly, I am a qualified sociologist. I have a broad-minded approach to things, like different issues between different groups of people, situations of interaction and temporal courses of development. I believe this has an effect on my job motivation. Moreover, I have the opportunity to meet people who have the information and skills I am lacking. One of my more significant cooperating partners is Tapio Pärepalo.Without his knowledge and skills in computers, my ideas would never have manifested.

The magnificence of Ilomantsi’s history has made me feel I am just a small link in the chain of the generations. Our sense of community is based on the mutual world of values we all share and the desire to preserve the extensive and valuable information for generations to come.

Riitta Kurvinen
Library Director
Ilomantsi

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

Library Director Ilomantsi