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Vuonninen can well be considered on a par with Latvajärvi in importance as a bardic village in Viena. This status derives from two bards in particular, Ontrei Malinen and Vaassila Kieleväinen.

Ontrei Malinen

When Lönnrot met Ontrei Malinen in the autumn of 1833, the latter was the most accomplished bard he had yet encountered. It was from Ontrei that Lönnrot recorded the Sampo Episode, The Singing Match, Fishing for Vellamo's Fair Maiden, Väinämöinen and Antero Vipunen, The Rivals, The Sailing Expedition Against Pohjola and the Creation of the Kantele, Lemminkäinen's Tale and Väinämöinen's Judgement. These poems comprise a total of 806 lines.

Vaassila Kieleväinen

Ontrei's poems were of course valuable as such to Lönnrot; it was discussions with Vaassila Kieleväinen that provided Lönnrot with an entirely new dimension in poetry collecting - the idea of creating an epic. Lönnrot tells of this insight for the first time in a letter to Dr. Henrik Cajander dated 3 December 1833:

I intend to visit the Archangel District (Viena) again this winter and will not stop collecting poems until I have a collection half as long as Homer. The poems I have are all part of the same whole, at least according to a man I met who both sang to me and told me about Väinämöinen.

When Lönnrot met Vaassila, the latter was already quite old and better known as a shaman and master of spells than as an epic bard. In addition, according to Lönnrot, Kieleväinen's memory had deteriorated a great deal in recent years.

In their interview, Vaassila spoke more than sang about the content of the poems and the order in which they were presented. When Vaassila had forgotten a particular detail that Lönnrot was aware of from his other work, Lönnrot helped him recall it and they went on. In sum, Lönnrot says: "...and so I found out about all of Väinämöinen's deeds in one sitting and have organized the extant poems about him accordingly."

Sjögren (1825) had had an opportunity to listen to Ontrei Malinen before Lönnrot did, but Lönnrot did not have access to Sjögren's notes until he was working on the second edition of the Kalevala.

Lönnrot visited Vuonninen himself once, on his fifth field trip, but only spent a few hours there. In two or three hours, he recorded the poems "some woman had volunteered to sing to me". He also relates that he stopped in to greet Ontrei Malinen before continuing his journey that night by sledge to Jyvöälahti.

On his seventh field trip, Lönnrot visited Vuonninen again, this time accompanied by J.F. Cajan. The two arrived in the village on Saturday 22 October (1836) and continued their journey on the following Monday. Cajan tells us how they spent the Sunday: "...we watched contests between the boys and girls, chatted with the men who had gathered there, sang verses from the Kalevala and then went to bed."

The next poetry collector to visit Vuonninen (1839) was M.A. Castrén, who says that he recorded quite a selection of spells, myths, and folk tales. He also met Vaassila Kieleväinen, who, breaking with the shaman tradition, revealed to Castrén a number of his tricks and the implements he used to perform them.

Other poems from Vuonninen that figured in the second edition of the Kalevala were those recorded by Europaeus in the winter of 1845-46.

The next generation of poetry collectors came to listen to bards who had inherited their craft from Ontrei Malinen and Vaassila Kieleväinen; most were members of the Malinen family that "ruled" Vuonninen. Among those considered to be the best were Ontrei's son Ontreini Jyrki and Homani Ohvo, both of whom Berner captured in the same photograph in 1872.

When Borenius and Berner visited Vuonninen in 1872, they were accompanied by Genetz, who had a bard named Tanila Kieleväinen sing poems for him. It is not known what relation, if any, Tanila was to Vaassila.

Anni Lehtonen

Although unrivalled in their cultural historical significance as bards, Ontrei and Vaassila were surpassed in terms of sheer quantity of folklore provided by Anni Lehtonen. Anni, who lived much later than Ontrei and Vaassila, was the "discovery" of folklorist Samuli Paulaharju. She contributed over 4,500 lines of the poetry recorded in the Ancient Poems of the Finnish People.

Most of the poems Anni provided were spells. These were 250 in number, totalling 2,700 lines. She remembered little epic poetry - a mere three lines of the Sampo cycle, for example. However, she did provide Paulaharju with a large number of lamentations, proverbs and children's songs..

Anni Lehtonen was the product of three of the great bardic families. Her mother Okahvie was the niece of Ontrei Malinen; her maternal grandmother was the daughter of Pietari Kettunen of the village of Tšena; and her father was from the Karjalainen family in the village of Lonkka (the nephew of Martiska Karjalainen).



What to see