Book Reviews

Ingrid Rüütel (ed.)

Pärimus pärijaile (Heritage for Children). In Estonian. Tartu 2000: National Folklore Committee of Estonia & Department of Ethnomusicology of the Estonian Literary Museum. 146 pp. ISBN 9985-9214-9-6.

The collection of articles rich in illustrative colour and black-and-white photos introduces the experience in teaching cultural heritage to children of folklorists, university professors, kindergarten and school teachers, activity and festival coordinators, museum workers. The reader will learn whether and which songs are sung to children in the Estonian homes today, and which songs do children sing themselves. The collection also provides an overview of international experience and a list of recommended sound publications and books.

The Estonian National Folklore Council declared the year 1999 the Year of Children. The topic was inspired by the UNESCO project 'Children's Education in Folklore', also by the program concerning children's activities carried out by the International Organisation for Folklore Festivals and Folk Art.

UNESCO has defined the term folklore as a body of spiritual, materialistic, intellectual and emotional features characteristic to a given society, comprising not only artistic creation, but also ways of life, moral standards, traditions and beliefs (from Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO). The intellectual cultural heritage is far more endangered than any material and natural resource, as it is preserved only through passing it on to the next generation. Today, the general trend appears to be the youth's lack of interest towards their cultural heritage, which is partly the result of the technological progress of mass media and means of transport. The first priorities of UNESCO are therefore raising people's awareness of traditional culture, valuing, preserving and passing it on, and the revival of intellectual cultural heritage in its original and renewed form. The UNESCO documents and CIOFF strategy based on these documents have dictated also the activities of the National Folklore Committee of Estonia.

In order to introduce the native cultural heritage to others the people concerned should learn to understand it themselves. They should also know how to teach it. The conference Child - the Bearer of Heritage held in May 1999 in Tallinn brought together specialists who could share their experience with those who were eager to acquire knowledge in the field. Lectures were held by researchers and also by practitioners: kindergarten teachers, schoolteachers, arrangers of extracurricular activities, museum employees. Children were also given the opportunity to demonstrate what they had learned. The present collection is a compilation of reports delivered in this conference.

«Today's people are typically rootless and individualistic. Next to the established curriculum education should aim to shape the ethical backbone of children. Where else should we find our strength and power if not in our own culture,» contemplates Eha Jakobson in her article Teaching Folk Songs in Schools. «Teaching cultural heritage is like 'emotional food', the revival of something innate in children, which should build the foundation for their cultural identity, so that they wouldn't waver in the wide-open world but could stand on their own two feet, the wisdom of their ancestors at hand. Folklore has undergone a centuries long purgatory, sifting out everything important, and all we have to do is to welcome it and pass it on.» The feeling of national identity, the affinity to the historic home, mother tongue and culture secures stability and support for each individual and nation. National education taught through traditional ethic standards should be a matter of course in the educational system. «Missing the age when the child is most open to everything new, when it still feels at one with the world, is pure negligence. The experience a child acquires in the kindergarten and in the elementary school is crucial, it is the basis on which life is built,» argues Eha Jakobson from her personal practice in a village school.

The most unique phenomenon in the Estonian folklore is the old alliterative folk song (runo song). The continuance of earlier folkloric genres, including the runo song tradition, might find support in «the alluring world of alternative music which differs considerably from today's mass culture, and the promise of easy access to the process of active musical communication,» Janika Oras has observed from her personal experience (Teenager and Runo Songs). «In order to be able to fully enjoy the performance of runosong and the listening/receiving event the audience has to acquire specific knowledge and skills which often remain unattainable. Both the general education and vernacular literature available for all have failed to 'train' skilled audience of this form of art, not to mention professional performers» (J. Oras). Ene Kulasalu and Ülle Podekrat are both experienced in this field and their articles On the Folklore Events Organised for Preschool Children in Valgamaa and On Teaching Folk Songs in Kindergartens and the Folklore Festivals of South-Estonian Preschool Children discuss the introduction of folklore in kindergartens.

Psychologists claim that children acquire their first musical experience in baby- and infanthood, and these experiences play a critical role in their later development. Therefore it is crucial that the tradition of singing folk songs would be kept alive in homes. A study based on a questionnaire by Anu Vissel Songs Sung to Children in the Estonian Homes Today gives an overview of the current situation in the Estonian homes.

In case the education at home remains inadequate, a child might gain experience also in a hobby group. Celia Roose shares her experience in this field in her article Family Club «Veerik» in Vanalinna Music Hall. She writes: «Folklore is not just the songs, patterns, dances, old barn houses. It is a way of life, a worldview, the creative attitude, a unique characteristic of personality.» The game and song group for infants and their mothers-grandmothers for «establishing contacts through singing, playing and dancing», aims to develop children's creative faculties and skills of self-expression.

The hobby groups are important for children of different age. «After the age of ten children reach a stage where they don't know what they want. Everything seems dull and boring. Even those who happen to like something haven't enough courage to profess it due to the negative peer pressure. Relationships and opinions have the strongest effect,» Õie Sarv claims in the article Voluntariness and Obligation at Teaching Folklore. «Many games are played in a circle. The seemingly simple circle is in fact very complex. [--] But very soon they get used to it and begin to understand the circle, our little closed world, where they have to take account of others.»

The circle bears a symbolic meaning in many traditional cultures. It brings people together, secures stability and persistence. It is indispensable for today's people, too. «The information society of today cannot level the folkloric, natural and versatile existence of games,» notes Anu Vissel in her study A Genre of Heritage Defying Lethargy. « Games are the genre of heritage tough enough to adjust to a changing life style and environment, and exist on. The article by Ene Lukka Singing Games: From the Stage to the People introduces the means for modernising old folk games.

The collection also contains articles on museum education in the Estonian Open-air Museum and the Estonian National Museum. Museum education helps people make acquaintance with history and shape their awareness. «The understanding of history is a joining link between the rendition of the past, the comprehension of the present and the prospects of the future» (Triin Siiner, On Museum Education). Virve Tuubel, Marge Värv and Terje Puistaja in their article introduce the activities of the Estonian National Museum in this field.

Collection also provides an overview of the topics discussed in the CIOFF Conference on the Children's Education in Folklore held in Taiwan, CIOFF Children Programs and Recommended publications on the Estonian folk songs and games. The collection ends with the column Authors Briefly.

Ingrid Rüütel, Tartu.