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According to popular belief the Estonians’ self-appellation, Eesti, comes from the name aesti, a Roman era tribe who lived on the south-eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. The word stem (eesti < [a]est – ost – east), however, suggests that the name has been coined by Estonians’ Germanic neighbours in the west, marking Estonians as the ‘people of the east’. The Finns and the Latvians have names for Estonia based on their respective olden border counties in Estonia – the Finns’ Viro derives from Virumaa in the northeast and the Latvians’ Igaunija from Ugandi in the southeast of Estonia.




The changing silhouette of the capital Tallinn with its bustling harbour in the foreground symbolises the importance of sea trade for the Estonian economy throughout the ages.

Throughout history the Estonians have called themselves maarahvas (lit. ‘people of the land’). The origins of this endonym can be discerned in the landscape of Estonia – scattered farmsteads in a mosaic pattern of fields, meadows and woodland. The Estonian taciturn nature has probably much to do with this recluse way of life.

For Estonians, their country is symbolised by a few emotional and easily understandable visual images that stand for Estonian character, home, family values, and other inherent qualities. Such perceptions can be evoked by the sea, the forest or a well-kept farmstead, or simply one’s own home with an orchard, an old tree in the front yard, stone fence and the surrounding agrarian

landscape. The latter can be the fertile ploughland of central Estonia or the meagre, juniper-filled pastures on the Western Islands – both conjure romantic and sentimental reactions in an Estonian. Other such shared symbols include the outline of Tallinn from the sea and the façade of the classicist main building of the University of Tartu.

The over two-hundred-year-old main building of the University of Tartu has witnessed the activities of the Baltic German Estophiles, and the emergence in the early 19th century of the fi rst ethnic Estonians striving for higher education.



ESTONIAN FLAG The blue shade of the tricolour caused some controversy during the restitution of the national symbols in the 1990s – should it render the blue of the cornflower or the cerulean of the skies? To end the debate an exact tone – No 285C in the Pantone colour chart – was determined by the National Flag Act of 1993.

One of the best cherished national symbols of Estonia is the blue-black-white colour combination, together with its most significant expression in the national flag. The birth of the Estonian tricolour is connected with the rise in the selfawareness of Estonians in the 19th century – the national flag is thus the same age as the political history of of its people. The process concluded with the blue-black-white flag being declared the official state symbol by the Estonian Provisional Government on 21 November 1918.

The Presidential flag features the grand national coat of arms in the centre.

The swallow-tailed naval ensign is adorned with the small coat of arms.

The Estonian tricolour is hoisted every morning on the Tall Hermann tower of Toompea Castle in Tallinn. It is permanently flown on the premises of major government institutions, municipal authority buildings, and border checkpoints. On school days the national flag flies over schools, colleges and universities.

all residential, business and office buildings.

There are 13 Flag Days a year; on Independence Day (24 February), Victory Day (23 June) and the Restoration of Independence Day (20 August), the flag is displayed at

Quite naturally, people have the right to hoist the national tricolour on other days as well. The flag is raised at sunrise, but not earlier than 7 a.m. and lowered at sunset, but not later than 10 p.m. The continuously displayed flag must be illuminated during hours of darkness. On Midsummer Night (23/24 June) the Estonian flag is not lowered at all.


ESTONIAN FLAG The Estonian tricolour was born in the academic and national-romantic atmosphere of the University of Tartu during the last quarter of the 19th century. The blue, black and white flag was consecrated by the members of the Estonian Students’ Society in Otepää on 4 June 1884. Due to the enmity of both the local Baltic German and Russian central authorities, the chances of displaying the Estonian tricolour openly were quite limited. Nevertheless, the flag became a beloved image not only to the Estonian students, but to the

To mark the 120th anniversary of its consecration, the original Estonian flag was again displayed in St Mary’s Church in Otepää.

whole nation. The political meaning of the tricolour strengthened at the demonstrations of the 1905 Russian Revolution and was confirmed during the February Revolution in 1917 when the Estonians managed to unite their ethnic territories in the provinces of Estland and Livland into a single autonomous administrative unit – the Estonian Governorate. The Declaration of Independence in 1918 was, quite naturally, announced under blue, black and white flags. There are several interpretations of the national colours. According to the most popular one, blue represents the reflection of the sky in the lakes and the sea, symbolising endurance – “until the skies last”; black stands for the black greatcoat of an Estonian man or for the earth that feeds its people; white marks an aspiration towards light and purity.

A symbol of resistance: the Estonian flag hidden in the wall of the headmaster’s office of the Kildu Primary School during the Stalinist persecution in the 1940s, found in 2004.

national symbols and promoted their use at every opportunity.

During the occupation, until the end of the 1980s the Soviet authorities prohibited the use of the blue, black and white colour combination in any form.

The return of the national colours in the late 1980s, during the collapse of the Soviet Union, was cautious but spontaneous. The Singing Revolution, starting in earnest in 1988, brought also the national colours back into the public domain, and the tricolour was once again hoisted on top of Tall Hermann tower on 24 February 1989.

The colours, however, lived on in the free world. In early autumn 1944 many Estonians left their country in order to escape persecution and deportation, and established large exile communities in Sweden, Canada, USA and Australia. The expatriates maintained the tricolour and other

In 1991, the then almost centenarian original of the Estonian national flag was brought out from its hiding place underneath a stove in a farm near Jõgeva where it had been concealed since 1943. The Estonian tricolour is thus among the very few surviving original national flags in the world.



Estonians’ usage of national colours lacks neither zeal nor imagination.

In Asia, one of the most noted instances of blue, black and white embellishes the kesho-mawashi, an embroidered silk apron of Baruto – Kaido Höövelson, the fi rst Estonian to reach the top division of the Japanese sumo wrestling.

The three colours on the flag of the major Estonian sports association Kalev.

Besides the national tricolour, the restoration of independence in 1991 again introduced a large number of civic insignia that had been banned for nearly fifty years.

Some of the snappiest examples of the use of national colours can be found with the military. The blue-black-white triangular roundel was adopted as the Estonian aircraft marking in March 1919, during the War of Independence.

Many towns and rural municipalities reinstated their old flags, many more established entirely new banners. The Scandinavian-modelled, nationwide endeavour resulted in the design of flags for all but the smallest of Estonian localities.

Blue, black and white on the flag of Paistu rural municipality.



ESTONIAN COAT OF ARMS The story of the Tallinn coat of arms is connected with the birth of another state symbol. According to legend, the Danish flag called Dannebrog fell from the sky during a battle fought between the crusading Danes and Estonians at the foot of the Lindanise stronghold – today’s Toompea Castle – in 1219. While the truthfulness of the legend remains disputable, the royal Danish ancestry of the coats of arms of both Tallinn and Estonia is factual. It is also likely that the present name of Tallinn derives from the event: garrisoned by the Danes, the stone fortress overlooking the harbour and a trading post became known as castrum Danorum, the Danish castle, or Taani linn (and thereof Tallinn) in Estonian.

National independence achieved in the Estonian War of Independence (1918 – 1920) mainly continued with the local historical heraldic tradition. The central motif of the state coat of arms – three lions on a shield – is among the oldest symbols of Estonia. It originates from the coats of arms of the Knighthood of Harrien-Vironia (roughly modern Harju and Viru Counties) and Tallinn, granted by Valdemar II, King of Denmark, after the founding of the Duchy of Estonia during the Northern Crusades.

The small coat of arms of Tallinn marking the alleged birthplace of the Dannebrog in the Danish King’s Garden in the Old Town of Tallinn.

The state coat of arms in its current design acquired official status in 1925. Even while banned in Estonia during the years of consequent Soviet–German–Soviet occupation, the coat of arms was used in the free world by a number of surviving diplomatic representatives of the Republic of Estonia and by the government in exile. The historic coat of arms was reinstated on 7 August 1990, and regulated by the Coat of Arms Act of 6 April 1993.

The small coat of arms together with another heraldic feline – the lion rampant argent – decorates the azure emblem of the Estonian Police since 1935.


ESTONAN COAT OF ARMS The long and controversial history of the coat of arms, also the fact that its charge motif was used by other nations (Denmark and England) and historical provinces (e.g. Normandy), was the reason it seemed unsuitable for the young Republic of Estonia in the 1920s. Albeit the ‘three lions’ were already utilised in the military and on the currency, several competitions were organised in order to find a new state symbol. The terms prescribed to the artists included a recommendation to show a black eagle – Põhjakotkas (lit. ‘northern eagle´), an image from the national epic Kalevipoeg – on the new coat of arms, or a beacon, or letters EV from the Estonian name of the Republic – Eesti Vabariik. However, due to lack of a general consensus, none of the alternate designs was adopted.

Young Eagles – boys’ corps of the Estonian Defence League, with the Northern Eagle crest of the League in the background.

True to their nature, the Soviets tried to end any continuity in the symbols of Estonia and erase an entire interwar period from the memory of the people. Foremost among the national symbols forbidden was the coat of arms, which was replaced by that of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic.

An attempt to combine the symbols of the two historical provinces of Estonia – Estland and Livland.

The denial of history, however, caused some embarrassment to the Soviets, as the elimination of all sensitive symbols from the historical buildings left a strikingly empty place which in turn symbolised something else...

The restoration of the arms of Tallinn on the Estonian Drama Theatre. Tallinn’s oldest symbol had been plastered over due to its similarity to the coat of arms of the Republic of Estonia.



Estonian historical heraldry goes back to the Middle Ages, when the Estonian ethnic territory was divided between the Bishoprics of Ösel-Wiek and Dorpat, the Livonian Order, and the Danish crown. Additionally, four medieval Estonian towns belonged to the Hanseatic League. As a logical outcome, early local coats of arms relate directly to the North European heraldic tradition. Since the Middle Ages, many Estonian place names have equivalents in German (e.g. Tallinn – Reval, Tartu – Dorpat, or Viljandi – Fellin) and, to a lesser extent, in Russian, Swedish and Latvian. Quite a few of the foreign-language toponyms are rooted in once-used Estonian place names that have become extinct in modern usage. Occasionally, they even can help to ‘decipher’ the heraldic symbols of a particular locality.

The coat of arms of Narva, conferred by the King of Sweden in 1585, features the western sword, the oriental scimitar and the three round shots – all symbolising the war-rich history of the town, with Muscovite Russia across the river.

In the late 1930s a number of coats of arms were designed for towns that were established during the rapid wave of urbanisation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This heyday of heraldry was disrupted by the Soviets in 1940. The majority of the coats of arms of smaller places, including rural and urban municipalities, date from the 1990s. Quite often, the new symbols rely upon prominent local landmarks.

The silver keep on the coat of arms of Paide is directly associated with the Middle Low German name of the town – Wittenstein (‘White Stone’). The connection of Paide’s Estonian name with the limestone (‘paas’, gen. ‘pae’) is far less obvious.

The coat of arms of Kunda, a town on the northern coast of Estonia, draws on the artefacts found at Kunda Lammasmägi, a major archaeological site. The Mesolithic fish spear- and harpoon points of bone have found their way to the coat of arms designed in the late 20th century.


STATE DECORATIONS Estonia’s first state decoration, the Cross of Liberty, was founded on the first anniversary of the declaration of independence, on 24 February 1919. The Cross was awarded for services rendered during the Estonian War of Independence (1918 – 1920). It provided quite a few privileges, e.g. free higher education – about 750 Estonian recipients of the Cross were either schoolboys (and a schoolgirl), or university students.

The 2nd rank of the II division Cross of Liberty awarded to Capt. Eduard Neps, commander of the armoured train No 1, Kapten Irv. Captain Neps was one of the nine Estonians thrice decorated with the most highly regarded state award.

The first award to recognise the services for the Estonian people in the humanitarian field and for the saving of a life – the Memorial Badge of the Estonian Red Cross – was established in 1920 by the Estonian Red Cross Society. The award was re-established as an order and adopted as the state decoration in 1926.

The Order of the White Star is awarded both to Estonian as well as to foreign nationals for services provided to the Republic of Estonia in public service.

Kristiina Šmigun-Vähi, the Olympic gold medalist in cross-country skiing, with the Order of the Estonian Red Cross, 3rd Class.

The Order of the National Coat of Arms – the decoration of the highest class for services rendered to the state that can be bestowed only on Estonian citizens.

13 In the Estonian daily usage, centuriesold images of symbolic merit exist side by side with emblems that emerged during the era of the national awakening, as well as those that originate from the period of independent statehood. Also a few symbols born during the half-century of Soviet occupation are still quite popular.

ANCESTRAL AND MODERN SIGNS Although absent from official usage, several cross motifs are among the most beloved decorative elements in Estonian folk art and are widely recognised. A particularly popular variant of a cross is the octagram, called Muhu mänd (lit. ‘Muhu whorl’), or kaheksakand (‘eight-heeled star’) in Estonian. Another cross motif also combining heathen and Christian connotations, the wheel or Sun cross, is equally in favour

New candidates for national symbols are being created by designers and copywriters, spin doctors of brands and marketing, writers and visionaries.

The web domain identification of Estonia is EE and the denotation of the Estonian language in the European Union is ET. Estonian yachts are marked with EST, civil airplanes with ES, as is the country identification of the callsign of amateur radio.

Kaheksakand sash pattern on the former water tower, present-day gallery in Lasva, South Estonia.

In the late 1980s, the wheel cross was adopted as the symbol of the Estonian national heritage movement.


ESTONIAN MONEY The diversity of currencies has made Estonian numismatics rather varied – marks, shillings, pence, öre, ducats, groschen, crowns, roubles, grivnas, kopecks, etc. have been used on Estonian territory.

Women’s silver necklaces of the orthodox Setu minority often consist of coins that are minted over several centuries and weighing over two kilograms.

It has been suggested that the word raha (‘money’) in the Estonian arose from an ancient Gothic word denoting fur. Another putative explanation connects the original stem of raha with the spoils of war. The oldest coin hoard found in Estonia consist of Late Roman sestertii and solidi. The Viking Age introduced the Arabian dirhams, Russian nogatas and Western European denars and pence. First local mints were probably set up in the 1220s.

Early modern coins from the 16th century Dorpat (Tartu) and Reval (Tallinn).

Similarly to many a nascent nation, the currency issued by the Republic of Estonia has been a means to signal the country’s foreign policy preferences. From 1919 through 1928 the name, mark, was used, as in Germany and Finland; during the monetary reform of 1928 it was replaced with kroon (‘crown’), as in Sweden and Denmark.

The design of pre-war Estonian banknotes relied heavily on national imagery – hardworking men and women, natural monuments and national landscapes.

A Viking longship on a one-kroon related to the reports in Scandinavian sagas about the maritime endeavours of ancient Estonian seafarers.

The newly restored Estonian state reinstalled the Estonian kroon in 1992. Adopting the national currency to replace the despised Soviet rouble boosted the Estonians’ morale to no end. Later, one of the main emotional arguments of Estonian Euro-sceptics was abandoning the national currency in favour of the European common currency.

Several Estonian banknotes are adorned by pictures of writers: the 25-kroon note shows the master of the 20th century Estonian prose, A. H. Tammsaare, and the 100-kroon note depicts the 19th century romantic poet Lydia Koidula.





The Manifesto to All Peoples of Estonia proclaiming Estonian independence in February 1918 ends with the last verse of Johann Voldemar Jannsenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lyrics.

Portraits of Pacius and Jannsen on an Estonian postal souvenir sheet commemorating the 130th anniversary of the National Anthem.

Regardless of the ongoing debate whether or not Estonia belongs among the Nordic countries, the Estonians undeniably have a strong, emotional affiliation at least with one Nordic nation, the linguistically and culturally related Finns.

Swedish lyrics of the national poet of Finland Johan Ludvig Runeberg and published for the student spring festivities in 1848, the song quickly gained popularity and was first sung in Finnish in 1867.

The affinity is further strengthened by the two countriesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; similar national anthems, composed by the Germanborn denizen of Finland, composer Frederik Pacius. Set originally to the

When Johann Voldemar Jannsen, a founding father of the Estonian national movement, began compiling the programme for the first Estonian song festival, his Finnish friends sent him this song. Jannsen provided

The anthem probably occupies the most vulnerable position among the official national symbols of Estonia. Every now and then a discussion erupts about the necessity of a new national song. The main causes of discontent are the foreign author, lack of national spirit and the reluctance to share such a principal symbol with a neighbour. A strong rival to the anthem appeared during the Soviet era â&#x20AC;&#x201C; a choral song by Gustav Ernesaks, My Homeland is My Love, based on a poem by Lydia Koidula. Ernesaks composed the song in 1944 while in forced evacuation in Russia, knowing that the old anthem would be banned. This song indeed became a kind of alternative anthem, which was sung throughout the Soviet occupation at the end of each song festival, with the public standing and singing as one.

Estonian words, and the song titled My Native Land, My Joy, Delight was performed to about 15 000 spectators by male choirs in 1869 at the song festival in Tartu. The song became increasingly popular in Estonia and in 1920 was proclaimed the national anthem. In addition to the lyrics, the Estonian anthem differs from the Finnish by the fact that the last four phrases are not repeated.



Outline of Estonia on the obverse side of the Estonian euro coin.

Suur Munamägi (‘Big Egg Mountain’) is the highest point in Estonia. Although the moraine hill reaches only to 318 meters above sea level, every Estonian is familiar with its sprucecovered summit and the viewing tower on top of it.

Letipea Ehalkivi (‘Letipea Bundling Stone’), the largest of the erratic boulders that glaciers carried to Estonia from Finland.

In addition to official symbols, nations associate themselves with, and are known by stereotypical images that might be called ‘vernacular’ or ‘popular’ symbols. Often, such symbols are shared with neighbours, or even mainly associated with others by the world’s perception, yet considered very much ‘their own’ by the nation in concern. Sauerkraut, vodka and sauna, for instance, are mostly associated with Germany, Russia and Finland, respectively; for an Estonian, though, they are quintessentially Estonian. It is far more difficult to find popular symbols of Estonia that are unique to this land, and appreciated as such both at home and abroad. A possible candidate, the outline of the country, is recognised by every Estonian but hardly by any foreigner.

Many popular symbols of Estonia relate to the self-myth of the nation’s millennia-long past in the land it still inhabits – a belief shared by several archaeologists, geneticists and politicians who hold that the ancestors of Estonians have lived in the current territory since the end of the last Ice Age some 10 000 years ago. Such a tellurian concept of origins connects many forms of nature with the national self-consciousness – iceshaped kames and drumlins, mires and erratic boulders, all have their place in Estonian folklore, and among popular symbols. Also a symbol at its own right: the number of collected folktales per square kilometre in Estonia is among the biggest in the world.




In an attempt to draw attention to the need of protecting endangered birds, the International Council for Bird Preservation recommended, in 1960, the designation of threatened bird species as national birds to its member organisations. The Estonian ornithologists seized the opportunity, appealing to the Soviet constitution which stipulated that the Estonian SSR was a sovereign nation, and thus eligible to participate. Contrary to the Council’s suggestion, the Estonians’ choice of the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), announced in 1962, was based primarily upon patriotic, rather than conservationist grounds – the barn swallow, which nests on the eaves of nearly every farm building in the country, was not endangered in Estonia. Nevertheless, the move was widely welcomed, as it offered a chance to emphasise Estonian national identity, separate from that of the Soviet Union.

The barn swallow became to represent the ‘genuine’, smallholder way of rural life – as opposed to the Soviet-style communal life in a collective farm.

The key graphic element of its logo, the stylised swallow decorates also the airplanes of Estonia Air, the national carrier since 1991.

For the authorities in Moscow, the choice was formally justified by pointing out that the swallow is often referred to in Estonian oral tradition, and it is even associated with class struggle – according to one folktale the swallow was born from a serf girl. What started as a niche undertaking of the naturalists, led to a widely recognised image, which can be seen today on a range of objects, from T-shirts to national currency.

The barn swallow in typical national romantic key – gliding freely above the woods and fields – features on the highest denominated Estonian banknote. More barn swallows appear on the platinum 100-kroon coin commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia.



Symbolising ardour and vitality, the cornflower is one of the most beloved blossoms in floral garlands.

Cornflower with a bumblebee on an Estonian postage stamp. The industrious bee was, by the way, a strong candidate for the national heraldic charge in 1920s.


The campaign of choosing the national flower – a contest organised by several newly founded Estonian nature conservation societies – capitalised on the success story of the national bird. The nation-wide televised opinion poll, conducted in 1967–1968, favoured the cornflower (Centaurea cyanus). The notion that the cornflower is primarily a weed of the main bread grain, rye (hence its Estonian name, rukkilill – ‘rye flower’), probably added to its popularity, especially regarding the fact that rye itself evolved from a weed in the wheat and barley crops of the bronze age communities. Although less conspicuous in the Estonian vernacular tradition than

the barn swallow, the cornflower had several other assets, such as the ‘designer-friendly’, regular shape of its blossom, and an association with the most beautiful time of the year – the mid-summer, full of light and merrymaking. The result of the popular vote might also have been due to the fact that the blue of the cornflower was associated with that of the banned national tricolour. Soviet authorities, in a move that is today quite difficult to believe, responded with acts of bizarre censorship. Thus, at the 100th anniversary of the Estonian Song Festival (1969), all the cornflowers used as decorations were painted over with red and presented as ‘carnations’.



Tenant’s family from on Muhu Island at lunch, in 1913. With the husband of the house either at sea or at work on the mainland, it is the task of his father to cut the bread.

The ritual qualities of bread are evident in what is known as the Yule Boar. This hog-shaped loaf of bread, baked at the winter solstice, could be linked to memories of pagan customs that involved the veneration of the pig’s wild ancestor. The dough boar, kept until spring and fed to the livestock of the farm, was central to rituals that tried to secure enough food for the harsh winter until the new agricultural year arrived.

For Estonians, one of the essential symbols of home and homeland is rye bread, known as must leib (‘black bread’). Bread has become a synonym for food and also for income. Hence the expression leivakõrvane (lit. ‘besidethe-bread’), denoting all other food eaten together with bread. Black bread reached Estonia together with the cultivation of winter rye, approximately one thousand years, or about forty generations ago. For Estonian peasants a large part of the annual agricultural cycle revolved around rye, which, as a winter crop, needs more care than other grains. Rites of both preventive and fertility magic were associated with the ‘life’ of rye – from the ploughing of field to the breaking of bread. No surprise, then, that the sourdough-leavened black bread, the main product made of rye, also became a keystone element in the Estonian world-view.


While the Estonians living abroad are said to miss black bread more than all other things from home, those at home ought not complain about the quality or the selection of bread. The choice extends from the strictly traditional, full-grain sourdough rye breads, via regional variations (such as the extra fragrant and sweet, malt-containing bread typical to the western islands) to a range of experiments with form and content. However, the decline of rye farming in modern Estonia, and the diminishing consumption of black bread are constant worries for healthcare officials, because rye bread is much healthier than other bakery products. As a countermeasure, some kindergartens and primary schools have taken the initiative and offer only rye bread at meals.


The latest addition to the family of national fauna, the Baltic herring has deserved the title of Estonian national fish not so much because of its pretty looks, but mostly because this small fish was the most essential addition to bread for country people for centuries. According to Christian H. J. Schlegel, a German man of letters and an Estophile, Estonian peasant and salted herring were so attached that the former could be recognised

by the smell of the latter from the distance of one hundred paces. A dwarfed form of its Atlantic cousin, the Baltic herring was chosen as the national fish in an internet poll in 2007, just ahead of (or, according to some sources, clearly behind) the pike. The poll evoked quite a few jokes, which showed that an organised search for national animal could be quite a jolly business.



The dusty and hard threshing – separating the grains from the straw – has a significant place in Estonian folklore. As the curing of the cereals took place during the dark autumn period, when various seasonal jobs abounded, it often had to be done during the night, and was therefore covered by a shroud of mystery. One more national stereotype has recently come forth from the novel by Andrus Kivirähk, Rehepapp (‘The Old Barny’). Rehepapp (lit. ‘threshing bailiff’) was a man employed to oversee the threshing, which was one duty of an Estonian peasant to the manor. In folktales he was the intermediary between the peasants and the evil underworld. On dark autumn nights it was not unusual for rehepapp to have contacts with the Old Nick himself.

A barn dwelling, a centrepiece of an Estonian farmstead over the centuries, mirrors the strong impact of bread crops on local rural architecture. Used for both dwelling and curing of grain, this bulky edifice is unique to the Estonians and their neighbouring kindred nations – Votes and Ingrians of northwestern Russia and Livonians of Latvia. The barn dwelling contains a huge chimneyless kiln room where reaped grain can fully mature in heat and smoke, and a room for threshing next to it. The germination quality and storage life of grain dried on the poles under the roof of the kiln room were in fact so good that cereals became

Life in a chimneyless house surely had an impact on how Estonians looked... and smelled.

essential export articles of Estonia in the Middle Ages. It is known, for example, that Estonia provided rye for the navy of the Low Countries.

The character in the novel is an additional go-between for the native peasantry and the loft y lords of the Baltic German manor. At that, he has quite ‘flexible’ ideas about keeping his master’s wealth and his contractual relations. Rehepapp has thus become a synonym of a shrewd but scheming and often selfi sh person, though sometimes he stands also for the enterprising qualities of Estonians.


Kalevipoeg, erected by an extravagant Baltic German Baron Nikolai von Glehn in 1908, perfectly embodies the main characteristics of the folk hero. For the brash townspeople, who called the statue the Devil, von Glehn added an inscription: “Kalevipoeg is my name and merit, only fools call me Devil.”

Kalevipoeg – a culture hero and a trickster giant liable of going berserk now and then – is a key character of the Estonian local vernacular tradition. Inspired by the tales about him and his sworn adversary Vanapagan, and following the model of the Finnish Kalevala, Estonia’s own national epic was composed by physicians and men of letters Friedrich R. Faehlmann and Friedrich R. Kreutzwald in the mid-19th century.

HEROES AND MONUMENTS In Estonian mythology, the struggle between good and evil, as well as the definition of a hero, is not a straightforward matter. Instead of clear-cut black-and-white picture, a gallery of motley creatures emerges – one-time positive characters have acquired negative traits and vice versa. Thus, several pre-Christian deities have turned into pagans, troll-like giants with mixed satyrical and devilish features. Reminiscent of heathen forest spirits, the archetypal Vanapagan (‘Old Heathen’) has a number of earthly qualities; his farm is somewhere nearby, accessible, and a shrewd man finds it quite easy to deceive him. Yet, as a sworn enemy of the imposed German-language church, he has retained an aura of a positive and, albeit simple-minded, even a cool character. Unlike many European nations, Estonians are not very eager to make their history heroic and celebrate its factual or fictional paladins. This is partly due to the fact that despite having survived many devastating wars, Estonians seldom have had much to do with the causes of the conflicts: chief fighters in the country have been alien armies battling between themselves. An exception, and therefore the most significant war for Estonians, was the War of Independence in 1918 – 1920. Those killed in that war are remembered in more than two

Until recently, Estonia had no national war memorial. The role was filled by a monument near the Tallinn Secondary Science School for volunteer schoolboys killed in the War of Independence. These were indeed schoolboys who seized the initiative in 1918 to save their country.

hundred monuments, erected all over the country in the 1920s and 1930s on public initiative. The majority of these memorials were systematically destroyed by the Soviets. People managed to conceal various details of a few, keep them safe for half a century and bring them out again after the restoration of independence. Yet, most of them had to be restored on the basis of old photographs or drawings, in the 1990s. Again, on public initiative.


SONG FESTIVALS The Estonian national movement in the 19th century certainly opposed local Baltic Germans politically but not culturally. One German cultural phenomenon that has taken root in the Estonian culture, is choral singing. The first nationwide celebration of choral singing, the national song festival, was organised in Tartu in 1869. Over fifty male choirs and five brass bands took place in the three-day event, altogether about 900 performers in front of 15 000 spectators. The entire repertory was sung in Estonian. Since this date, song festivals have been organised on a regular basis. In 1928, a special stage was constructed at the Song Festival Grounds, at the foot of a steep Lasnamäe limestone scarp in Tallinn. The stage was rebuilt for the 1960 Festival, and can hold over 20 000 singers. As for the audience, allegedly more than 200 000 people gathered at the Song Festival Grounds for the Eestimaa laul (‘Song of Estonia’), a major event of the Singing Revolution, in September 1988 – about every fifth Estonian. In November 2003, together with similar events in Latvia and Lithuania, the Estonian Song and Dance Festival was included in the list of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Twenty thousand-strong united choirs singing at the XXV Song Festival, in 2009.

The Estonian song festival tradition is essentially a form of the movement of societies. Student, farmers, temperance, cycling or other kinds of societies have had a crucial role in the forging of Estonian nationhood. Until 1905 when the fi rst political party was established, societies preserved the national spirit. Various conservationist and, later on, heritage protection societies also helped preserve people’s self-awareness during the years of Soviet occupation.

Singers of the male choir of Kanepi Choral Society, in 1875.



Wearing and making national costumes is thriving. On Kihnu Island, off the southwestern coast, many women still stick to traditional dress as their daily apparel.

Estonians like to don their national costumes on a range of occasions – the song and dance festivals, school graduations, official receptions, summer solstice celebrations, etc. Historically, with the movement of country people quite restricted until the second half of the 19th century, people of every parish had their own traditional clothes, shaped over the years by a variety of influences from Estonia’s neighbouring nations and from further abroad – via manor and town, peddlers, sailors, soldiers, etc. More archaic forms survived longer inland, whereas coastal areas were more open to world ‘fashions’. In the period of the origin of the majority

of Estonian ‘parochial standard sets’, the late 19th century, the wearing of national costumes was already on the wane. Yet, especially for women’s dress, separate items of clothing and jewellery, their colour and how they were worn, continued to indicate the wearer’s social position, origin, age and marital status. A large majority of costumes was, and still is, made as handicraft, thus preserving the age-old traditions. Today, the traditional costumes are coming back in vogue, also amongst the younger generation. Even politicians occasionally turn up at festive occasions in national attire.

The President of Estonia wears the black greatcoat of the parish of his ancestors, Halliste in Mulgimaa.

Flat stitched floral design on the women’s midriff blouse from Jõelähtme parish.



The North Estonian Klint that skirts most of Estonia’s coastline by the Gulf of Finland was voted Estonia’s most notable natural monument by the readers of the magazine Loodus (‘Nature’) in 1999. The main body of the limestone scarp was probably formed some ten million years ago by erosive activities of the huge Pra-Neva River that emerged in the area of today’s White Sea and drained west of the present-day Danish Straits. Outcropping segments of the klint have been further eroded by the abrasive action of the sea.

Extremely rare fossilised remains of red algae Leveillites hartnageli in the limestone from Kalana quarry.

Estonia’s national stone since 1992, limestone is a sedimentary rock that formed 470–420 million years ago, during the Ordovician and Silurian periods. Then a part of the historical continent Baltica, Estonia was located at the subtropical latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere and was mostly covered by shallow continental seas. It is from the skeletal remains of the inhabitants of these shelf seas that limestone is made up from.

Dull and grey at first glance, limestone is actually quite varied, ranging in colour from white or teal to carmine or chocolate brown, and containing an abundance of fossils, worm burrows and crawling tracks of mud-eaters. Having participated in the creation of Estonia’s national stone, the fauna involved – e.g. bryozoans, corals, trilobites, sea lilies, etc. – have been proposed, in jest, for Estonian national animals.

One of the grandest limestone-built landmarks in Estonia is Tall Hermann, an impressive keep of the Toompea Castle in Tallinn, which has accommodated the Estonian parliament since 1918.

However, the main importance of limestone lies in the cultural sphere – this rock gives a specific look to most historic architecture of northern Estonia. The majority of pivotal edifices – churches, castles, bridges, buildings of manors and farms,, or stone fences by village streets – were traditionally executed in limestone. The heyday of limestone construction associates with the Middle Ages. An excellent example of this is the Old Town of Tallinn, which, being allegedly built on salt (the most profitable commodity for Hanseatic merchants), was certainly built with limestone.



The most remarkable natural monument in Estonia, and a presumable ancient shrine of wide renown around Northern Europe, is the Kaali meteorite crater in Saaremaa. In Kaali, at the end of the Broze Age, some 2500 years ago, a meteorite crashed in the inhabited area with an explosive power of 5–25 kilotons of TNT.

Ribbon offerings on an ancient white elm in the Kiigeoru sacred grove.

Formally, the territory of Estonia was Christianised in the 13th century, but various pre-Christian heathen customs survived for centuries, including veneration of sacred groves (hiis, pl. hiied in Estonian), individual trees, springs and stones. Arguably, it was only the arrival of Lutheran

Pietism and the movement of Moravian Brethren that managed to convert the majority of Estonians to Christianity by the late 19th century. However, a number of natural shrines have been preserved to this day. Upholders of maausk (lit. ‘faith of the

land’), the Estonian indigenous belief system and world view, together with scholars, state and local authorities, work towards the recognition of native sacred sites as an integral part of Estonian natural and cultural heritage, to be protected and left undisturbed.



Kristjan linguist learned German

Jaak Peterson (1801 – 1822), the and poet was perhaps the fi rst Estonian who became neither nor Russian in the process.

Most languages spoken in Europe are Indo-European. Estonian, however, together with Finnish and Hungarian, as well as several smaller kindred languages in Scandinavia, Latvia and the Russian Federation, belongs to an altogether different Finno-Ugric language group. For Estonians, their mother tongue has become a significant, and during the last 150 years, even the most important component of identity. The Estonian national awakening drew heavily on the written word and the high literacy rate among the peasants. Starting in 1766 with the first periodical, a medical weekly offering simple everyday instruction


A token of recognition for regional languages – bilingual signs marking the boundaries of the parishes of Vana Võromaa – the historical range of Võro dialect.

for looking after both people and livestock, Estonian nation-building was guided and heralded by several Estonian language dailies by the end of the 19th century. After Estonia gained independence in 1918, the range of Estonian usage was purposefully expanded. For that purpose, quite extravagant measures were taken. In the 1930s, for example, the linguist Johannes Aavik launched a campaign of coining new words, based on combining the ‘intrinsic qualities’ of Estonian sounds. Johannes Voldemar Veski promoted another approach, equally significant from the point of view of evolvement of the fledgling language, focusing on the development of normative forms and terminology.

Considering its limited range, Estonian language shows a striking variety of vernacular forms. Besides North Estonian, divided into the insular, western, central, eastern and northeast coastal dialects, another tribal root language spoken in prehistoric Estonia was Southern Estonian – the linguistic ancestor of today’s Mulgi, Tartu and VõroSetu dialects. For centuries, these two languages, Northern (Tallinn) and Southern (Tartu) Estonian, competed for the rank of the standard written language. The New Testament was published in the Tartu dialect in 1686. Yet, the first complete Estonian-language Bible was put out, in 1739, in the Northern language, which has since gradually gained a dominant position. Until the 19th century, even so, any form of Estonian was hardy more than a ‘kitchen language’, as successful ‘natives’ mostly spoke German and, to a lesser extent, Russian at home. Even in the mid-19th century, Estonians still called themselves ‘people of the land’. There was no perception of being a politically united nation, instead, Estonians saw themselves as countryfolk or indigenous people. The national elite had to display strong faith and will to oppose the pressures of the two big cultures – German and Russian.



The fi rst known coherent Estonian sentence in writing – “Laula, laula, pappi!” (lit. “Sing, sing, priest!”) – from the 13th century Chronicle of Henry of Livonia.

Karu-aabits (‘Bear ABC-book’) is among the most popular primers in the long line of spelling books that have upheld Estonia’s literacy rate for centuries.

Today, Estonian is the mother tongue to about one million people worldwide, one tenth of them outside Estonia.

stipulates that the state should preserve Estonian culture and language, and names Estonian as the sole official language. The Language Act was passed in 1989, even before Estonia regained its independence.

Either at home or abroad, Estonians are characterised by a strong faith in their language that has a symbolic meaning for people. During the years of the Soviet occupation, protecting and using the native language became a form of self-determination and opposition to alien power. The language issue continues to be topical: the Estonian constitution

Defining oneself via language might seem strange to nations whose self-awareness rests on something else, such as religion or a glorious imperial past. The ‘language faith’ might even seem rather xenophobic. However, for a small nation this is an essential question – how to survive in

Estonian reached its political zenith in 2004 when it became an official language of the European Union. There are now 16.5 million speakers of Finno-Ugric languages in the EU.

a globalising world amidst the powerstruggles of the mighty? The Estonian language has proved itself amazingly resilient – arguably, it is the smallest non-insular language in Europe, perhaps the world, that fulfils all the functions of an official idiom of a modern nation state. Estonian is used in all walks of life – from science to poetry, from legislature to theatre, from computing to military, etc. And, what is of ultimate importance to Estonians, Estonian in the world is on the rise.