Siberian Seto Visiting Setomaa

September 1, 2015

On the 1st of August, in Obinitsa, the world’s centre of Finno-Ugric culture located in Estonia, hosted a big holiday, Seto Kingdom Day. The 2015 Kingdom Day was remarkable, among other things, for that it turned out to be the brightest Seto cultural event of the year. The holiday gathered many people: Votsk, Izhora, Pskov, Ingermanland, and Erzyan folk ensembles, delegations from Udmurtia, mountain Maris from Mari-El, guests from Finland and Hungary. The most anticipated arrival was the Lill Seto Folk Group from Haidak Village, Krasnoyarsk Region, Russia. This ensemble has been performing for about twenty years. Unfortunately, not all the ensemble participants had enough strength to go to their far-away beloved fatherland Estonia. The ensemble consists of old, to middle-aged Setos, Olga Ivanova, Anna Kucherenko, Tatyana Medetskaya, Lidia Ponamarchuk, Marina Andreyeva, and Galina Yevseyeva. Younger Victoria Ledo and Leonid Yarv have recently joined the folk group. These two listened, when children, to their grandmothers’ singing Seto songs. Seto runic singing style is different from both Russian and Estonian styles in that runic songs have no fixed form and inspire a singer to improvise.

In the past, Siberian Setos could get information about Seto Kingdom Day in Estonia only from films and newspapers, and they dreamt to participate in it. At last, their dream has come true. In late July of 2015, they had a six day trip to their native land.

In Tallinn Airport, the folk group from Siberia was met and welcomed by Setos Jaan Sarv and Anneli Ahven. The Siberian Setos were settled in a typical Setomaa homestead.

The ensemble was introduced to other representatives of the Finno-Ugric world. At that time, World Finno-Ugric Young People’s Congress was being held in Tartu, Estonia, and the guests of Seto Kingdom Day attended the flag raising ceremony and met the delegates of 25 million Finno-Ugric people from around the world. Annela Laaneots, the acting Vicar of King Peko on Earth, gave a speech in front of the kinsmen.

August 1st was SETO KINDOM DAY. Many Seto songs could be heard during this holiday. The Seto singing tradition leelo is in UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Lill Folk Group sang on both the big and small stages and took part in the election of the King of Setomaa.

The Siberian folk group had special protection of Aare Hõrn and his family. This man is the Cultural Adviser for Seto Areas.

The next day, Siberian guests had a trip in Setomaa that covered different places of interest and sites worth seeing. Siberian Setos visited orthodox churches and chapels, homesteads and villages and talked with local people. It was very important to them to see how Setos live in their native land.

A trip to the capital of Estonia was organized for Siberian Setos. It was an unforgettable visit, during which they shook hands with people of the Tallinn Seto Society, walked medieval Tallinn, drank coffee in small and comfortable coffee bars, bought things for memory in souvenir shops. At the Rocca al Mare outdoor Estonian Museum of Ethnography, Siberian visitors talked hear-to-heart with Seto ethnographers and folklorists, listened to a male Seto ensemble, and looked at the museum pieces. They had an excursion to the sea and visited a Seto farmstead. The guide was the Museum Deputy Director Elvi Nassar, a well-known singer of Seto songs.

Participating in Seto Kingdom Day was very important for us because it had been the first time in 100 years that we felt involved in the life of our people living in their native land, felt happy being spiritually unified with the Seto world. During this trip, we observed how Setomaa lives today and compared Seto traditions still in practice there and in Siberia. This was an excellent opportunity to gain new insight and apply it in Siberia. Most importantly, we took part in the biggest Seto cultural event, Seto Kingdom Day. This holiday still exists, though on a much lesser scale, in Haidak Village in the Krasnoyarsk Region, and it, among other things, shows that Setos living in Siberia have not forgotten their native language and ancient culture.

It is invaluable for us to keep and develop cultural contacts with our native land. Over the past 100 years, the Seto population has decreased drastically in Siberia, Setos have begun to forget their language and culture, which may threaten full assimilation of Siberian Setos with Russians in the future. The visit to Setomaa inspired us to organize Seto Kingdom Day in Siberia.

We are Estonians, we are Setos. We are not just Estonians, we are Estonians living in Siberia. We will be happy, therefore, to contribute to the multinational cultural history of this land.

A Seto holiday called Michael’s Day, or Harvest Day (Mihklipäev) took place in our village on 3 October. It was organized by the EESTI Cultural Autonomy of the Krasnoyarsk Region. This visit to Setomaa was beneficial. We understand that, though we cannot change our past, our future depends on us. We will try hard to improve our village life, to make it culturally brighter. We have ideas to share and we will readily cooperate and develop new contacts.

The visit was supported by Mikhail Prokhorov’s Foundation for Cultural Initiatives.

Vera Oinets
Visit Manager, Head of EESTI Cultural Autonomy of Krasnoyarsk Region