Kalevala is an important epos to all Finns, and Kuhmo has a special connection to it. But what is the historical background of Kalevala, and what makes the epos so significant to our literary culture and heritage?

Kuvassa on vanhoja kirjoja mustalla pöydällä.

People have had an interest towards their roots and past throughout the history. In the 19th century interest towards folk tradition reached new heights. This century is known as an era of great change when revolutions, accelerating industrial developement and clashing ideologies resulted in gmany changes in society. On the other hand this era is known as the age of romanticism, when nationalism and interest towards cultural history became some of the leading ideologies in Europe. In addition to these developements civil rights, democracy, local education & culture related work took great steps forward. When it came to the different fields of art, all these influences had a great affect to it.

In Finland the 19th century gave birth to the Finnish National museum and the first public libraries. This century was also an era of growing interest towards the idea of a Finnish nation, Finnish language and the old folklore. Especially for the higher social classes these concepts were somewhat new ideas – until the 1809 Finland was a part of Sweden, and the for the latter part of the century it belonged to Russia. As apart of this development artists created works that included mythological elements. Many of the famous artworks of this era show signs of a drive to seek out what makes Finns different from other people of the world. University students collected historical artifacts for museums, and the literary field experienced a rising interest towards th Finnish language and folklore.

One of the writers inspired by these various influences was Elias Lönnrot, who was born in 1802. He developed an interest towards cultural heritage right in his youth, and read about this topic while studying in the university. Lönnrot even wrote his thesis about the mythical figure of Väinämöinen. Young Elias started collecting old poetry in 1828, when he made his first trip to Kainuu. Yet most of his poems were collected when he worked as Kajaanis district phycisian. According to the officially approved estimation Lönnrot made nine trips in total to collect these runosongs. Oftentimes his trips took Lönnrot to Kainuu, and it is said that he has used Kuhmos old vicarag as his lodgings. The locals tell that Lönnrot even signed the last third of his manusript for the Kalevala while staying in the vicarage. (Nieminen, Dobrinin 1999, p. 7.).

Although most of the source material for the Kalevala epos comes from the Karelia of the White Sea, Lönnrot collected some of these poems from Kainuu – from Kuhmo also. Kalevalas influence to Kuhmo is undeniable. Culture, arts and the city feed each other – and the landscapes of Kuhmo have given inspiration to both writers and artists. Akseli Gallen-Kallela, the first artist to experiment with the style of Karelianism, painted the scene of lake Lentua into his famous Aino triptych. He also immortalized Eljas Ahtonen, the famous patriarch of Rimminkylä, into this painting. Ahtonen was his model for the figure of Väinämöinen.

Nowadays Kalevalas influence to Kuhmo can be seen in many ways. Juminkeoko Center for Kalevala and Karelian culture works to preserve the Kalevala tradition and culture. From the Kuhmo city library you can find many Kalevala related books, comics and other kinds of materials. In addition to this there are many events and festivals that, such as the Arhippa Perttunen symposium, the Sommelo ethno music festival and the Joutsentanssi Kuhmo Dance Festival, use Kalevala and runosinging as a source for inspiration. From the ”Events” section you an learn more about these and other events in Kuhmo City of Literature.

Sources:
http://www.juminkeko.fi/lonnrot/index.html
Nieminen, Markku & Dobrinin, Vitali (1999): Elias Lönnrotin matkat Kainuussa. Pohjoinen.

Kuhmo Cithe piy of Literature's visual element.