Love for the old poetry was the lure that drew me to visit Archangel Karelia, during my stay there it was uppermost in my mind, and finally, when later writing my book, it filled my thoughts.
The trip to Archangel Karelia undertaken by Into Konrad Inha (1865-1930) in 1894 is one of the most important in the history of Karelianism. The resulting travelogue, Kalevalan laulumailta (From the Kalevala song country), which appeared in 1911, continues to have a major impact on Finns’ conceptions of the folk song areas of Karelia. The vistas and portraits of Inha’s early but masterful photographs have become permanently etched in the Finnish Kalevalaic consciousness. For many, the world behind the Kalevala is still reflected in the landscapes, persons, and moods immortalised by Inha’s camera.
Karelianism was the ideal which swept through the majority of the intelligentsia at the end of the last century and led many to seek out what they assumed to be the roots of Finnish culture in different parts of Karelia. Inha was one of the core members of the Karelianists, who, like many of its representatives, came from Western Finland.
Inha wanted to retrace Lönnrot’s footsteps to the folk singing villages of Archangel Karelia, the source of most of the folk poems that went into the Kalevala. A more concrete reason for selecting Archangel Karelia was that within the circles of the Finnish Literature Society there had arisen a need to obtain “illustrations which illuminate the Kalevala” for use in publications and exhibitions. Inha was also interested in the possibility of using photographs to supplement Lönnrot’s travel accounts, the publication of which was in the planning phase and which became models for Inha’s own writings.
In February 1894 Inha wrote to the Finnish Literature Society, telling them of the goals of his proposed trip: “Archangel Karelia, its nature, settlements and population have, until now, for some reason remained little described. Each year, more and more foreign influences spread to these areas from the east, south and west, gnawing away at the surroundings in which the Kalevala poems were sung and which are so important to know more intimately if we wish to understand these poems. For this reason there has arisen in my mind a desire that I for my part might try to record some of those surroundings by going with my photographic apparatus to Archangel Karelia. I believe that the use of a photographic device for such a purpose offers several advantages. A photographic machine does its work quickly and precisely, and second, it is what one could call unbiased. Clear photographs are always valuable, so long as their subject is chosen appropriately. They naturally capture all facts, regardless of whether the photographer has noticed them all or not.”
At the end of March 1894 I. K. Inha departed, together with a university student from Kajaani, Kustaa Frederik Karjalainen (1871-1919), for Archangel Karelia. The men returned home together at the beginning of autumn. The journey thus lasted five months altogether, and while it was brief compared with many research trips undertaken to the lands of more distantly related Finno-Ugric peoples, it was nonetheless one of the longest trips ever made in the history of research on Archangel Karelia. Elias Lönnrot’s journeys to Archangel, by contrast, lasted only a few days altogether and many field trips undertaken later have been only brief visits to the folk-singing villages.
The two travellers crossed the Finnish-Russian border at Raate, which would later become famous in Finnish war history. And right away they received their first taste of the world of Archangel, albeit a contradictory one, from the famous rune-singing village of Latvajärvi. Everywhere they encountered grinding poverty, as the previous years had been ones of crop failure. But the travellers pressed onward, as Inha had originally intended, to the village of Jyvöälahti, which is situated at the centre of the rune-singing villages, on the isthmus between the Kuittijärvi Lakes.
At Jyvöälahti Inha and Karjalainen were able to plot out a strategic plan of action. Inha’s work required seeking out good photo opportunities and visiting other villages. Karjalainen’s work, on the other hand, required long periods in the same village, sitting in one place and working with a first-rate linguistic informant. Karjalainen did, in fact, succeed in finding his language teacher in the unique personality of Varahvontta Lesonen from Venehjärvi.
Inha thus undertook solitary trips to nearby villages, but because both men also wanted to record well-known folk poetry singers, they also travelled together. The romantic notion of finding a skilled rune singer who had gone unnoticed by Inha’s predecessors appealed to Inha: “Could not there still be found a lonely pine tree in the wilderness who would not have caught the sharp eye of earlier collectors?”
The travellers to Venehjärvi stayed at Hökkälä, a farmhouse popular with more recent visitors as well, since it is still standing in the village, which has recently sprung back to life. Here Inha immortalised what are perhaps his most beautiful vistas, penetrating portraits and a small series of shots depicting pearl fishing in the Vuoljoki River. Even now, in the vicinity of the river, it is possible to find moss-covered mounds of mussels cached in the forest. Inha bargained away his rifle for an exceptionally large pearl, which he carried about in his pocket for five years so that he could give it to the “girl I fall in love with”.
The great and inconsolable love of Inha’s life was the writer Aino Krohn (later Kallas), who became the owner of the pearl against her wishes on her name day in 1898. The piece of jewellery with its Archangel pearl which Inha had ordered to be specially made seems to have been lost, but one memento of Inha’s and Aino Kallas’ relationship has survived: Inha, hopelessly in love, had asked his friend Jean Sibelius to compose a melody for a poem written by Aino Krohn (under the pen name Aino Suonio) entitled “Kuutamo” (Moonlight), with which the poetess was serenaded, still without success.
At Jyvöälahti Inha was able to carry out his photographic activities in peace, and always strove for naturalistic shots and poses. The only exception to these authentic occasions was a “wedding” organised for Inha’s camera, enthusiastically participated in by the villagers and carefully documented by Inha. Karjalainen, for his part, drew up a detailed account of the elaborate wedding ritual, which he gave to Inha for publication in his book Kalevalan laulumailta. In Venehjärvi Inha also had the opportunity to photograph an authentic religious festival dedicated to St. Nicholas (Miikkula), in which a ram was sacrificed near the village chapel on August 27, toward the end of Inha’s and Karjalainen’s stay.
The trip made by Inha and Karjalainen lasted five months. Upon their return, the travellers worked quickly. As early as November, Karjalainen presented a detailed account of the trip at the Finnish Literature Society’s monthly meeting. In December, Inha’s photographs were presented in an exhibition organised in Helsinki. Thus did Inha’s pictures first appear in periodicals dealing with literature on Kalevalaic themes. In the beginning, drawings of the photographs were made for publication purposes, but soon, reproductions of the photographs began to be published, with varying degrees of success, in numerous different contexts. Inha’s first more extensive article concerning the Archangel trip appeared in 1896 in the calendar of the Society for Popular Education (Kansanvalistusseura) under the title “Homeland of the Travelling Peddlers”.
The book Kalevalan laulumailta(From the Kalevala song country) appeared seventeen years after the trip, in 1911, and received a glowing review from the poet Eino Leino. Inha has understood Archangel better than anyone else, wrote Leino. “He has walked there with open eyes and impressionable soul, has fully lived the people’s customs and psychology, without forgetting himself or his modern worldview. He has loved Karelia, and Karelia has revealed its treasures to him. He leads us to a strange, enchanted fairytale castle and is, at each moment, himself imprisoned within the sacredness of the same magical sphere.”
In his review as well, Professor E. N. Setälä stressed the importance of Inha’s photos, emphasising that in their content and artistic quality they were far superior to all other existing collections. But Setälä was not satisfied with Inha’s thoughts concerning folk poetry research. “The author is not a scholar, his conclusions are not based on scientifically verified facts, but in large part on the impressions made upon him by the poetry.”
A year earlier in 1910, in the 75th Kalevala anniversary edition of the periodical Uusi Suometar,Inha had already criticised with unusual severity Finnish folk poetry research which, under the leadership of Kaarle Krohn, was highly confident of itself and had “begun to walk forward, in closed ranks, along the way indicated by Julius Krohn.” Inha characterised Krohn’s research results as impossibly anachronistic. Krohn never responded to this criticism, but a few years later he gave up his myth-oriented theory and began to explain the folk poetry in historical terms – as Inha had done.
During the Second World War, in autumn 1942, the literary scholar Rafael Koskimies wrote an essay in praise of Inha’s work and of the folk singing villages, for which “the future now dawns after a long night.” Koskimies wished to draw attention not to Inha’s photographs, which by then had been widely published, but to the literary merits of his book. The poet Tuomas Anhava has also emphasised that Inha’s prose makes such an impression because Inha is always concrete, direct, and in earnest: “Perhaps it is good that Inha was in such a hurry, for the sentence had to be a complex record of what had happened, what had been seen, comprehended, which was soon to slip from his grasp. And so it happens that when in the midst of a factual travel narrative, a few phrases express an atmosphere or ideal, the sort which is nowadays easy to classify as National Romanticism, even Art Noveau, they are authenticated within Inha’s immediacy and haste just as are the other facts of his account.”
Only two editions of the book Kalevalan laulumailta(From the Kalevala song country) were ever published, in 1911 and 1921. Now, on the 150th anniversary of the New Kalevala, Inha’s book has appeared in its third edition, in its entirety and resembling as much as possible the first edition. Included are also photographs which Inha was forced to leave out of the first editions. Unlike in previous editions, the photographs appear in this version without cropped edges. The book also contains a brief chronology of Inha’s life, a list of the books he used, indexes of subjects, places, and proper names, as well as a glossary of words in the Karelian language.
Finnish Literature Society
(FFN 17, June 1999: 9-11)