Kontokki and Kostamus
Kuivajärvi and Hietajärvi

Search Help
- Main page Background Villages Revitalisation Cultural tourism Map
- - - - - - -


Latvajärvi in the 1990s
Audio sample

Latvajärvi is the most important of the bardic villages in Viena. The island of Kalmosaari there is a shrine of Finnish and Karelian culture - the grave of Viena's greatest bard, Arhippa Perttunen.

Lönnrot, who rarely tells anything about the bards he met or even mentions their names, was inspired to describe his meeting with Arhippa thus:

After spending only a short time in this village (Kivijärvi), I went on another ten kilometers to the remote village of Latvajärvi, where everyone praised the bardic gifts of a certain Arhippa. This old man was over eighty but his memory was still amazingly sharp. For two days, and part of a third, in fact, he kept me busy recording poems. He sang them in the proper order, with few serious gaps, and most were items I had not obtained anywhere before; indeed, I wondered if they were to be had anywhere else anymore. I was thus very happy that I had decided to visit him. Who knows whether I would have found him alive had I come later. If he had died before my meeting him, a great deal of our ancient poetry would have gone to the grave with him....Although Arhippa's house was a poor one, it seemed more cheerful than that of many wealthier people. Everyone in the household respected him as they would an ancient patriarch, and this was certainly a status he had in my eyes as well..

Arhippa sang a total of 4,100 lines for Lönnrot; of these, 2,600 were epic poetry, 270 lyric poetry, and 1200 incantations. If one adds to these figures the poetry the bard sang to Cajan and Castrén, his contribution runs to a total of 4,500 lines of poetry.

The figure becomes even more impressive if one compares it to the total number of lines in the Kalevala: some 12,000. One realizes that his contribution accounted for over one-tenth of the material Lönnrot had at his disposal when "composing" the Kalevala.

The village of Latvajärvi is located along the Maaselkä Ridge on the hills forming the eastern shore of the small lake which gives the village its name. The village includes the nearby hill Mantsonvaara, an island in the middle of the lake, the hills Vasonvaara, Nauvunvaara and Hoapavaara, as well as the more distant settlements of Kossi and Lapukka. At the turn of the century, Latvajärvi comprised slightly more than fifty households.

The diverse landscape of the village is characterized by hills and the swampy valleys between them. Many a year the frost has risen from these valleys to claim the crops while still on the stalk, and many of the well-known residents of Latvajärvi have had to resort to "counting chimneys", or begging from house to house, at various times in their lives.

The village's most celebrated resident, Viena's prince of poetry, Arhippa Perttunen, was well aware of his importance. He asked those who wished to remember him to bring stones to his grave, because these would not rot. A pile of stones thus accumulated on his grave, disappearing for a time under the "skirts" of a spruce, not to be rediscovered until 1996. For twenty years or so, people actually paid their respects to Arhippa at the wrong pile of stones; it seems that in the late 1960s - when the village was empty - local cultural officials assembled a pile of stones which was then declared to be Arhippa's grave since the real one could not be found. The reason for this "forgery" was that the officials had been told to place a commemorative plaque presented by The Association of Karelian Writers on the bard's grave, but when they were unable to find a grave fitting the descriptions they had received, they decided to create one. The officials were not afraid of their deed coming to light, however, since the village, being near the border, was a closed area accessible only by special permit.

Epic poetry was not Arhippa Perttunen's only forte. The sequences he sang also provided dozens of the lyric poems in the Kanteletar. Väinö Kaukonen considers him to be a lyric poet on a par with Mateli Kuivalatar, a noted bard from Ilomantsi.

Arhippa himself considered his father "Ivan the Great" to be many times better than himself as a singer and told Lönnrot that he felt his own sons would never become accomplished bards. But he was wrong here, for later collectors have recorded almost 70 poems, nearly 3,500 lines, sung by Arhippa's youngest son, Miihkali.

Miihkali's life was by no means an easy one. He had to support seven children of his own and the children of his two deceased brothers. In addition to farming and fishing as best he could in Karelia, he had to look for work in Finland, where he learned to sew furs and dress sheepskin.

Miihkali lost his sight in 1865 and lived the last 34 years of his life blind. Despite this disability, he did not stop working: he went from village to village working hand mills, crushing and grinding pine bark, making fishing nets, and the like. Sometimes he was forced to beg as well. He was finally spared this indignity, however, when the Finnish Literature Society awarded him a modest annual pension as the last great bard, a distinction for which he most gratefully acknowledged "the powers-that-be in Helsinki."

Miihkali was one of the most sought-after bards. In the 1870s, Borenius and Berner came to record his poems. In the following decade, it was Juvelius and Varonen, and in 1894 he was visited by Kusti Karjalainen and I.K. Inha.

The photographs taken by Inha have made Miihkali the symbol of the Viena bards. This status became all the greater with the erection in Vuokkiniemi in 1991 of a statue of Miihkali by the sculptor Alpo Sailo. The earliest photographs of Miihkali date back to 1872 and were taken by Berner.

The Finnish Literature Society, which had awarded Miihkali a pension while he was alive, chose to honor his memory by erecting a stone monument on his grave; it is a tribute which is unique in the graveyards of Viena.

Latvajärvi in the 1990s
Audio sample