Juha Pentikäinen
On the foundations of a new paradigm


It was 150 years ago when Mathias Alexander Castrén returned home from his second field expedition to Siberia. The expedition began in January 1843 and was concluded in   February 1849. The then 36-year-old scholar came home to start his career as the first professor of Finnish language and literature at the University of Helsinki. When Castrén returned he, however, was a tired man, marked by the symptoms and the pains of the disease in his body and the signs of his forthcoming death.  It was typical of his broad scholarly mind that Castrén as the professor of  the University of Helsinki devoted his lectures to the folklore and mythology of the Northern peoples in a way which allows us to consider him not only as the initiator of Fenno-Ugristics in its broadest meaning, but as one of the founders of the discipline of ethnography as well.
This paper attempts to present the chronology of the main events in this process. My hypothesis is that Castrén with his contemporaries laid the foundation of the fieldwork -based research on Northern Eurasia in the 1840s in such a way that we may speak about a new research paradigm, Northern Ethnography. The concept of paradigm is used in the sense proposed by Thomas S. Kuhn (1977) as a ”disciplinary matrix” of ”exemplars” followed in the choice of research approaches and methods. Three founders of the method are introduced in this paper: M.A. Castrén, A. Reguly and L.L. Laestadius. How their work is related to another area of fieldwork -oriented research called anthropology will be discussed next. A further connecting link between Northern ethnography and cultural anthropology is to be found in the career of Kai Donner, the Finnish disciple of  the first generation of pioneering scholars of British anthropology. Donner’s fieldwork, which took place among Samoyeds in 1911-1914, just at the beginning of World War I extended Castrén’s and Reguly’s Siberian studies.

M.A. Castrén’s fieldwork and the search for Finnish nationalism vs. Finno-Ugric identity

There is a Finnish proverb, ”Siberia teaches”, referring to the Finnish  hostages of the 19th century whose fate as citizens of Czarist Russia since 1809 became obligatory work somewhere in Siberia. Siberia has been the instructor of the present author as well, who during his 21 expeditions since 1989 has seen how doing fieldwork in Siberia is not a picnic even today, let alone during Castrén’s time. The quotation concerns Castrén’s letter to another great  pioneer in Fenno-Ugristics, A.J. Sjögren, an academician in St. Petersburg at that time:

On this two months’ journey I have had to suffer more and to overcome more obstacles than ever on my trips. [...] Obdorsk, however, is for me like London, Paris, and Berlin together.

Castrén was in Obdorsk (today Salekhard) already aware of his terminal illness. After having stated this tragic state of affairs he continued in another letter:

Thus my youth’s spring is already over and the grave will be the goal which I from this time forwards have to keep in of front of my eyes (Cit. Estlander 1929, 117).
Reconsidering Castrén’s work we should keep in mind that he returned from his expedition exactly the same year, 1849, when Elias Lönnrot had completed his longer version of the Kalevala. It was this (New) Kalevala which became the book, recognized as the only proper text of the Finnish epic. It soon replaced the (Old) Kalevala of 1835 which in 1841 had been translated into Swedish by Castrén.  They are two different books in spite of the common name. We should keep in mind what had happened between 1835 and 1849 in Europe and in Finland. This process of Romanticism and Nationalism in the spirit of the French Revolution together came to require not only a new version of the Finnish epic, but a completely new interpretation of the Kalevala.

The Old Kalevala had been compiled by Elias Lönnrot as the mythology of the Finns both in the Enlightenment mood of Henrik Gabriel Porthan and Christfried Ganander in Finland and earlier German Romanticism represented, for example, by Herder and the Grimm brothers in Germany. The New Kalevala was labelled as the sacred history of the Finns following the guidelines of the later Finnicized National Romanticism. The historical interpretation now adopted presupposed a linear conception of time according to the model of Christianity and the Western worldview. The new Kalevala history began with the creation and ended with the voluntary death of the hero, Väinämöinen, after he had been humiliated by the son of  Marjatta, Virgin Mary, whose son, Jesus Christ, was that of the new god brought in to replace the old  hero. The pre-Christian Finnish worldview was, thus, displaced by the faith of the new era. In spite of the consequent linear plot structure of the epic, the shamanistic, cyclic world view of the rune singers – with its circulation of life and death – is still, however, to be seen in the single runes of the Kalevala.
From the historical point of view now adopted, the northern dimension was seen as the frightening Land of Pohjola, the Northern Land, also called Tuonela, the Abode.  
The Preface of the New Kalevala written by Lönnrot canonized the area of runic poetry found in the White Sea Karelian forests. Its plot should have been the war between ”us” – the Finns and the Karelians” – and ”them” in the North, the Lapps’ Pohjola.1 This kind of war between the two related peoples had never taken place – actually there is not a word for “war” in the Sami languages – but it was needed to fulfill the social order for a narrative of the heroic Finnish past, and it clearly followed the model of a Viking Age war epic. Everything was culminated in the Robbery of the Sampo from Pohjola, i.e. from the hands of the evil Lapps. The shamanistic poem of the singing competition between Väinämöinen and Joukahainen was, accordingly,  reinterpreted as the battle between ”our” nojd who, of  course, was mightier than that of ”those,” the Lapps. An opinion was at that time also well established that the Sami had no epic poetry at all – and that Fjellner’s Lappish narrative on The Son of the Sun’s Courting Journey to the Land of the Giants which also appeared the same year of 1849 was unauthentic. This opinion has been reconsidered only as late as the 1990s and shown to be false; there is an epic and shamanistic style of  “juoiggat”.
What caused this profound change in the interpretation? Probably the patriotic, National Romantic ambitions simply got the upper hand in Lönnrot’s work in the 1840s. Lönnrot himself along with his interpretations and the Kalevala on its way from the Old version to the New became a part of  a national “Kalevala process” provoked by the social order, the expectations, and hopes of the young Finnish establishment. The change of attitude was made easier by the fact that Lönnrot’s most immediate circle had also changed. Such persons as Sjögren and Castrén were absent, for example, both of whom had started in the spirit of Romanticism but had subsequently become somewhat cooler in their nationalism. Sjögren had left Helsinki for St. Petersburg and Castrén, again, went to Siberia with the grant arranged by Sjögren through the Russian Czarist Academy in St. Petersburg. 
Castrén and Lönnrot who had thus far been working quite closely in their publication and research of the Finnish folklore and mythology, clearly went into different directions after their joint fieldwork enterprise – partly funded by Lönnrot – which ended at the White Sea in 1842. Lönnrot decided to return to this field to find epics in Onega while Castrén went on his trip over the Mezen tundra to Komi Zyryans. He crossed the Urals – the part of the tour which took two months thereby ruining his health – and went on his fieldwork among the Ob Ugric peoples in northwestern Siberia. We can only conclude that the field became his instructor and opened his view in observing folk customs and religious rituals and in understanding and interpreting what was told to him by his language tutors in the Siberian villages. Castrén’s fieldwork orientation was different from that of Lönnrot, who was mainly looking for the rune singers. Castrén showed much more understanding towards shamans than Dr. Lönnrot, whose attitude towards them was quite negative.
Castrén’s and Lönnrot’s romanticism, often called as Fennomania, also got different representations and manifestations. At the same time when Lönnrot was looking after the heroic Finnish past Castrén went to the Siberian North to trace the “Altaic peoples” -  Castrén’s concept of the Uralic family of languages based on his hypothesis of their home base at the Altaic mountain range. We may conclude that Lönnrot’s epic worked for Finnish nationalism not only among the Finns but also among the Karelians and Estonians (Kalevipoeg) as well. What became manifest in Castrén’s work accompanied by the generations of researchers sent by the Finno-Ugric Society was the emergence of Fenno-Ugristics as a discipline. The search for common Finno-Ugric elements, at first in language and afterwards in other aspects of human life, even in racial and genealogical features, sometimes led to Pan-Finno-Ugric attitudes to be recognized, e.g., in theories on Shamanism as the Uralic Urreligion,2 as expressed in the debate at the IX International Congress of Fenno-Ugristics in Tartu AD 2000.
Castrén´s fieldwork in Siberia was quite thoroughly programmed by Sjögren in his advisory role in St. Petersburg. Castrén was prescribed, i.e., during his tour among the small populations in the huge, rarely populated territory between the Uralic mountains and the southwestern Chinese border, to record local folk songs, proverbs, historical legends and other traditions. Another linguist, Anton Schiefner, from St. Petersburg soon after Castren’s death published them in the magnificent series: ”Nordische Reisen und Forschungen” in 12 volumes between 1853 and 1862. Most of Castrén’s folklore collecting took place among the Samoyed and was published by T. Lehtisalo: ”Samojedische Volksdichtung. Gesammelt von M.A. Castrén.”  Publications on Castrén’s voyages by Aulis J. Joki show how Castrén carried out his fieldwork. The following quotation comes from Castrén’s less known role as the collector of Turkish epics among the Tatars of Minusinsk steppe at Akaban, a Yenisei tributary (1950):

“No rest is possible where several hundred cows, sheep and goats have been gathered, since plenty of music is born” – in Väinämöinen’s words – as ”breaks all the ears and chases sleep away for a week”. It was my luck that the host of the house proved to be kin of the bards, amusing me all the night long with his heroic narratives. Their proper performance should be singing accompanied by a harp with two strings. Because a singer  performing this way can never finish his song in one night - the singer, like a shaman - opens the treasures of his mouth during the nights only. I let this man tell me the contents of his best songs only, in accordance with his wish. (Castrén’s diary, 1857, Nordische Reisen II, pp. 305-306, with an epical song text of  80 folio pages)           

A. Reguly, a Hungarian link between the Scandinavian and Siberian Arctic   

Castrén’s first colleague to enter the territory of  the Ob Ugric Peoples was the Hungarian scholar Antal Reguly, who was doing fieldwork among them in Siberia in 1843-45. These two men with theirfield work initiated the discipline of the Finno-Ugric Studies. Interesting enough, they lived in the same decades and died at the same age of 39 years, Castrén lived 1813-52 and Reguly lived 1819-58. While Castrén could at least lecture on some parts of his collections, Reguly only collected. Castrén’s manuscripts, diaries and letters were published posthumously, 1853-1862, but Reguly’s major collections at the Hungarian Academy of Science and Letters in Budapest, whose editorial work was started by B. Munkácsi and J. Pápay, are still closed because of their processing to publication. 
Interestingly enough, both Castrén and Reguly started their Northern fieldwork career from Scandinavian north. Castrén’s fieldwork was initiated in his home territory in Finnish Lappland in the 1830s, and Reguly in 1839-41 built up a direct Finno-Ugric link from Scandinavian tundra fells, including Castrén’s home base in Tervola, to the Siberian taiga. Reguly spent a couple of years in Scandinavia, Finland and Estonia. In May 1840 he started his tour to the northern parts of Finland and Sweden. His diary includes reports about his experiences with Finnish peasants in the countryside. When entering in to Elias Lönnrot’s home territories in Kainuu, he quotes Schiller’s words: ”I must love this people because of its strength in modesty.” In Nurmes, Reguly was able to record some information about local beliefs and sages. Typically enough, his diary completely lacks runic and other folklore texts in verse. Like Castrén, Reguly was more interested in prose narratives and ethnographical fieldwork. Reguly also tells about Lönnrot’s field work. His report includes a rare contemporary report about what Reguly had heard on Lönnrot’s double role as a medical doctor and as a folklorist:
Lönnrot collected many songs here. Before his arrival, he used to send a word in every direction so that rune singers would come to the vicarage. So they came and Lönnrot wrote down what they sang. Sometimes they brought ill people for whom Lönnrot prescribed medicine and powder. He gave them 40-60 copeecks as their payment, in accordance to their skills in singing the songs. (Tervonen 1944, 19)           

Reguly’s diary shows how dependent even he was on the information given by the local Lutheran ministers on the demography and common state of the communities he visited. When this information included their folk beliefs and sorcery, it was not completely trustworthy, however. Reguly’s final goal was to reach Lapp territories in the North: ”When I fly away like a night owl in the evening, and wake up in another remote area, the whole journey is like a dream.” Before entering Kuusamo where Reguly is finally able, he assumes, to listen to Lappish speech with his own ears, he then decides to cross the border to visit White Sea Karelia. His report on the brief stop in Lonkka, Vuokkiniemi, does not contain any rune, but rather contains observations on the Karelian dialect and lifestyle. Reguly’s aim was also to check the brave, although untrue theory proposed by his countryman Mátyás Bell, according to which Karelia should have been the ancient home base of the Hungarians.
After this short visit in White Sea Karelia Reguly continues with his journey on the Finnish side of the border. But, speakers of Lappish language are neither found in Kuusamo, Kemijärvi nor in Sodankylä yet; rather, plenty of mosquitos can be found instead. It was finally in Kittilä where Reguly had his first contact with the Lapps. He even wrote down a couple of  Lapp songs, but did not consider it proper to record any of the half-barbaric local songs from his Finnish drivers. Reguly was active in writing statistics about the then disappearing Kemi Lapps from ministers and lay officials in Kittilä, also in Swedish. His diary includes folklore, e.g., incantations he heard from local sages in Kittilä. Muonio(nniska) appeared as a less attractive stop to Reguly on his way from Kittilä to Karesuando.
Karesuando which, during the Swedish era used to be a part of Enontekiö parish, was a village community located on both sides of the Swedish-Finnish (Russian) border river. Karesuando became one of the peak moments during Reguly’s journey at the emergence of the new paradigm. In his unpublished diary Reguly relates that he did not learn as much from anyone else during his whole Scandinavian tour as he did from Pastor Laestadius during his stay in Karesuando vicarage. Reguly’s letter to Mr. Kilpinen from Vaasa, November 21st, 1840, gives additional information about the linguistic aspects of the stay:

I lived with Laestadius two weeks learning as much as I could. The result is that I am still in Finland. Lappish comes much nearer to Hungarian than Finnish. I decided to learn it, because it is impossible for me to return to my home country without achieving at least some advantage for my future research, as much as possible.

From the point of view of both linguistic and ethnographical research it was a happy historical accident that Reguly happened to meet Laestadius during the most active period of Laestadius’ ethnographical career. After having concluded his tour as the Lapp guide of ”La Recherche” expedition of the French Academy in 1838-1840 Laestadius had settled down to write Lapp mythology, the dream he had expressed for the first time in 1833. After having just finished Volume I of the manuscript, ”Gudalära”, The Doctrine of Deities, Laestadius let his foreign guest copy extracts of the text after Reguly had promised ”not to publish them before they had been published in French or in another civilized language”. Since Reguly then wrote tens of pages of Laestadius’ text in Swedish its existence became known to the scientific world one century and a half before its in extenso publication: Fragmenter i Lappska Mythologin (1997).
Reguly’s diary with the corpus of Laestadius’ Mythology text are in the library of the Hungarian Academy of Science and Letters. Interestingly enough, it also contains Lapp texts recorded by Brita Kajsa Allstadius, Laestadius’ wife, --  a testimony of her skills in Lappish, questioned by church historians  --  as well as from Anders Fjellner, ”a Lapp-born teacher and minister living in Maunu village in Karesuando”. This paragraph indicates that Laestadius had led Reguly to meet the author of the Lappish epical text.
Besides mythology and lappology, Reguly and Laestadius discussed such topics as botany -- Laestadius’ expertise -- minerology, geology, some aspects of psychology as well as the problematical position of Finland inside Russia. Reguly was active in writing down the bibliographies of lappological texts he learned about from Laestadius’ library, including grammars written by Rask and Stockfleth, extracts on Åbo Tidningar, statistics on Lapp territories, lifestyle, morals, etc. Reguly concludes the significance of his visit in his letter to Mr. Kilpinen:

I have never discussed with anyone else as much as with Laestadius. I learned a lot; his speeches were as treasures I had been longing and seeking for a long time. His every word sometimes solves questions about which I have been uncertain. How foolish may our education at home be! How much have I learned while thinking the other accompanions.

Reguly’s search seemed to turn in to a pilgrimage. The next stop was in Tornio, then Kemi at the vicarage of Mattias Castrén, M.A. Castrén’s uncle; the stop after that was with S.F. van Born, Governor of Oulu. In spite of his particular problems, travelling illegally without a passport in  foreign countries and in continuous lack of money, due to the delay of his grant -- promised by the Learned Society in Hungary -- he now was ready to define the goal of his life in his letter to his family in Hungary from Vaasa ”as his patriotic duty with an advantage to his country” (letter quotation from Tervonen 1944):

After having sent my last letter home I am no more any enthusiast in my present studies. I have set the goal of my life so that it is my duty to deal with them as a scientist. I had doubts about my decision to commit myself to Lappish studies. I could not leave that, however, because of my inner drive, like a woman who does not listen to anything other than that. I have, however, quite often asked why I do – and for what. If one divides his strength between matters it is not possible to achieve any proper results. I have now decided to commit myself wholly to this, to live for it and work for this scientifically serious aim. I am happy after having given this special goal and its own nature to my life, and the aim I clearly foresee, where to put my effort without ever surrendering from that.
    Young Reguly returned to Helsinki in the fall of 1840. He was eager to proceed in his Lappish studies. His new interests included Finnish folk poetry so that he even translated an extract of the Kalevala. Since this seemed to happen exactly at the same time when Castrén was working with his own Swedish translation it again is a clear testimony to the intensive interaction of the two young scholars before their Siberian experiences. Reguly expressed his scholarly devotion to finding reasons for his existence in Finland which were to create the preconditions for his future tasks. The following letter to his friend in Hungary indicates that the source of Reguly’s scholarly enthusiasm also lay in the principles of cultural Darwinism; it was in the primitive mind of the man of the cold North where the origins of culture should be sought:
You know my drive towards the Northern nature, people and everything there. It is for this reason that I have always wanted to travel to the North, not to the civilized South about which I may learn enough from travel reports. What annoyed me was that I could not comprehend Man of Nature, the primitive circumstances described by history, and with how few products of the wild nature someone may be satisfied. I am happy now. This tour has shown the whole history of development  of a country and a people. The Nordic tour is not only interesting for someone who wants to study magnetism and languages but for every civilized man, since it gives a proper picture on the origin of culture. (quotation from Tervonen 1944, 24)    

L.L. Laestadius as Sami mythologist and ethnographer

Lars Levi Laestadius was born in Jäckvik on January 10, 1800, and died in Pajala on February 21, 1861. His life cycle can be divided into four epochs. Each of them are distinguished by various physical, social and cultural environments, special roles and tasks as well as specific foci of interest, realized at different times. Each of these epochs may also be characterized by distinctive personal, social, cultural and religious identities and can be formulated as follows:
1. Laestadius’ childhood was spent at home in Jäckvik, southern Swedish Lappmark in the vicarage of his half-brother Carl Erik Laestadius in Kvikkjokk until Carl Erik’s death (1800-1816); 2. He subsequently studied with another brother Petrus Laestadius – who was later a journalist with great interest in Lappology – in the high school of Härnösand and at the University of Uppsala where he participated in the first joint botanic and ecological expeditions (1816-1824); 3. After his ordination in February 1825 he acted in a clerical capacity -- as the vicar of Karesuando and visitor of northern Swedish parishes and as part of several ecological expeditions – and engaged in scholarly activities as, variously, a botanist, ethnographer, theologian and philosopher (1825-1844); 4. After his conversion – dated 1844 on the basis of his autobiography and correspondence – he functioned as a revivalist minister, campaigner for temperance, organizer of people’s education and as a newspaper editor. In this way he established himself as the founder and leader of the religious movement, which at first was known as a group inside a former movement, called Recallers, but later on was seen carrying his name; Laestadianism, first in Karesuando until 1849, then in the Finnish-speaking parish of Pajala on the Swedish side of the Tornio river valley until his death (1844-1861).
This last period in Lars Levi Laestadius’ life and the role subsequently connected to it has usually obscured his role as an ethnographer. And, yet, this career would only be enough to keep his name in the chronicles.
Apart from being a well-known ecologist and botanist with great expertise in Northern areas he was, indeed,  a remarkable and eminent representative of the early Sami ethnography. Of special importance here is his least known work, written in the role of a Sami3 mythologist and mythographer. His posthumously published work Fragmenter i lappska mythologien (“Fragments on Lapp Mythology”) did not appear at length in Finnish until as late as 1994 and  was finally published by Nordic Institute of Folklore (NIF) in 1997 in the original Swedish version.
    The volume was produced in response to a request from France in the late 1830s. The request came from a Mr Gaimard, who was the leader of the French expedition to the Swedish Lappmarks. Laestadius was one of the five Swedish scholars hired via the King. His particular role was to act as a botanist and as a “Lapp” guide to this expedition. After the expedition team had recognized Laestadius’ huge knowledge of Lappish history and folklore, Gaimard asked him to produce a survey of Lapp mythology.
The first part of Fragmenter, entitled Gudalära, or, the Doctrine on Divinity, was signed by Laestadius on May 8, 1840, and the three other chapters –  including his comments to Fellman – were finally  ready to be sent to Paris on May 1, 1845. Part II dealt with Offer-lära (“sacrifice”), Part III with Spådomslära (“prophesy”, more exactly Lapp Nåjdtro, i.e. shamanism), and Part IV covered valda stycken af Lapparnes Sagohäfder  including a selection of Lapp folk tales.
Although the latter parts were ready by November 1844, Laestadius nevertheless decided to complete the text by appending his comments to another mythology which had been simultaneously worked out by Jacob Fellman. Since Fellman published Laestadius’ comments with his own Anteckningar they became familiar in this form to academic circles long before Laestadius’ own manuscript, which disappeared for more than a century, was ever considered on its own. 
When considering Laestadius’ Fragmenter it is important to remember that his personal religious conversion had taken place in early 1844. To quote the often repeated expression about the rapidly emerging awakenings in his congregation: “It burned in the snow”. Thus, the conversion occurred simultaneously with his work on mythology.
Laestadius was well aware of his Sami roots and proud of them; he considered his profound local orientation as a special strength while doing his fieldwork among the Sami and writing his mythology. He wrote himself:

[I] was born up in Lappmark, was brought up in Lappmark, I now live in Lappmark and I even have, maybe more than anyone else, travelled around all the parishes in all the Lappmarks [...] (Laestadius 1997, 8; see also Pentikäinen 1997, 260-261).

Laestadius’ own field experiences and his own intellectual and spiritual ambitions are manifest especially in the Part III that deals with the Spådomslära or Nåjdtro, i.e., shamanism. In his descriptions of the knowledge and practices of the Lapp Nåjd, Laestadius raises ethical questions about his personal responsibility as a minister who has presumed to write a textbook on Lapp mythology:

The author who is no Trollkarl and who does not have too much desire to acquire such a capacity, must carefully scrutinise the evidence and fairly present even facts which are inexplicable to himself with respect to the traditions associated with the role (Laestadius 1997, 137).
When discussing further the eternal problem of the existence of the spiritual world, he reaffirms his belief in its existence by referring to the French revolution (Chapter 1), according to which thoughts for “the immortality of the soul should have belonged to the madnesses of human kind”. He says that a distinction should be made between the authentic Trollkarlar and the “Charlataner”.
In consideration of these points, Laestadius proceeds to write only about “such people who have been regarded as Trollkarlar by the Lapps (Chapter 2) and who have, through their witchcraft, been able to do something good or bad”. Applying  contemporary psychological insight to his observation of the practices of the Trollkarlar, Laestadius cites Tornaeus (Chapter 3) on the subject, then relates detailed “examples nearer to our time” on the basis of his knowledge of Lapp mythology (Chapters 4-6), even going on to mention Swedenborg of Stockholm (Chapter 7) before concluding that the evidence suggests that  there are things which are “unexplainable in terms of normal human understanding”. At the same time Laestadius’ text is a testimony to his ambitious effort to establish a link between sources on ancient Lapp Nåjdtro – as a regionalist he never uses the more universal concept of shamanism – and its psychological, rational or philosophical interpretations of his era. Ultimately, he deems it appropriate to leave the more thorough explanations of the trance state in the capable hands of psycho- and physiologists.  It is merely his task to “demonstrate historically” that “Spåmannen really did fall asleep, swam, and that in this condition were subject to fantasies, visions and dreams”.
    What was typical of Laestadius’ mythological work was sharp source criticism. This concerned both the scrutiny of  the sources on Scandinavian Lappology and his own ethnographical data. He quotes plenty of stories from his informants letting their voices be heard through their texts which he had heard himself in Lapp kotas (cabins) – all of them he is said to have visited in his “Swedish lappmarks” calling this language kåtalapska (Lappish spoken in cabins). Much information comes from his own family, sometimes from his parents, grandparents and people in the surrounding Sami family lines and neighbors; persons whose names are given, and with whom he had played and talked about the matter. For him Lapp mythology is a reconstruction of folk beliefs, finally gathered together by himself  as an author, hence the Fragments. An important distinction is made between the average knowledge of everybody (today defined as collective tradition) and the esoteric secret wisdom of the experts called “noaidis” (shamans) in Sami language.   

K.R. Donner, a scholar uniting British Anthropology and Northern Ethnography

In the historiography of cultural studies, ethnography is too often labeled as an “old-fashioned descriptive research”. It should have been replaced by “modern anthropology” which finally led cultural research from the archives and museums to “breathe in the air of the fresh anthropological field”. The chapters on Castrén, Reguly and Laestadius above indicate how thoroughly these earlier scholars based their scholarship on fieldwork. Their research was carried out in the 1830-40s in a way which fulfills any criteria of modern fieldwork -based research. The example of Kai (Karl Renhold) Donner’s  (1888-1935) Siberian field research is a case which illustrates the fruitful combination of two research paradigms, those of  British anthropology and Northern ethnography.  
    Born into a Swedish-speaking family, and as the son of Otto Donner, Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Linguistics at the University of Helsinki, Kai Donner was educated into the spirit of religious liberalism and bilingualism prevailing in the atmosphere of the Finnish university circles at the turn of  the 20th century. Finnish nationalism got its expression in the search for Finno-ugric relationships; his father Otto Donner, as the founder of the Finno-Ugric Society in 1883, created the economic and scholarly basis for the strong tradition of research which brought a generation of Finnish linguists to do fieldwork among peoples speaking Finnish-related languages in Russia. This also became the fate of his son Kai Donner. In his case this happened in 1911-14, happily enough,  just before the research possibilities of Finnish scholars among their related peoples became closed for two generations, due to the events of the World War which led into the end of the Czarist Empire, the formation of the Soviet Union, and Finland’s  separation from it as a new independent country.  
After he had concluded his studies in Altaic and Finno-Ugric languages and practical philosophy at the University of Helsinki, the Hungarian language in Budapest in 1908, and anthropology in Cambridge, Kai Donner spent altogether ca. 3,5 years of his life in Siberia -- just at the emergence of World War I, and after Otto Donner’s death in 1909. Following the example of his father, who was a member of the Senate, Kai Donner became involved in Finnish society and political life in several roles which filled his life for its last two decades, 1915-1935.
What became important for Kai Donner’s scholarly initiation were two foreign study periods: in 1908 in Budapest and in 1911 in Cambridge. The latter visit recommended by Edvard Westermarck, the holder of Professor Chair in Anthropology at London School of Economics and that of Philosophy at the University of Helsinki, gave him a good introduction into British anthropology. This stay became particularly significant in the history of Finnish research, since Kai Donner was the first Finnish student to have this opportunity just before his first Siberian expedition started in the fall of 1911. His personal contacts with several distinguished representatives of the main then existing schools of British anthropology, and acquaintance with the huge bibliography written in English about anthropology gave Donner keys to open new doors to an Anglo-American readership which had been closed to Finnish scholarship so far. Most of Finnish scholars at the turn of the 20th century read and wrote mainly in German, and their nearest network of cooperation took place with German- and Russian-speaking universities and their scientific world.
          There were three main schools of thought at the turn of the 20th century which British anthropology named, according to respective universities as their centers. A.C.  Haddon and W.H.R. Rivers acted in Cambridge, S.G. Seligman, Westermarck and later on B. Malinowski in London,  Marrett and later on A.R. Radcliffe-Brown in Oxford. The first field laboratory of British anthropologists in the Commonwealth was the study on the Torres Bay people initiated by Haddon and Rivers in 1898. This project started functionalism before a new British discipline “social anthropology” later on defined it more precisely and in social terms by Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown and others. Westermarck’s position in London opened to his countryman the possibilities to work with prominent British scholars. His correspondence from and to his home country indicates how encounters were arranged and how they succeeded. During his stay in Cambridge, Donner of course became familiar with the Cambridge school and with the problems and the main results of the Torres project, which was considered a classical example of  “an intensive research of  restricted areas”. It was Haddon who introduced him to Malinowski, the founder of British social anthropology. Donner’s satisfaction becomes manifest from his letter to Professor E.N. Setälä in May 1911: “Haddon, Rivers, Frazer and Duckworth give me personal instruction. Otherwise I read literature and study in the museum.”
In Cambridge Donner received both practical training and guidance for his fieldwork. Sir James Frazer even gave his portable grammophone to Donner after having heard about his plans for field research. Later on Donner writes as being thankful for the genealogical and other sociological questionnaires he had been able to become acquainted with during his stay in Cambridge. Donner tells in his memoirs in 1931 how Haddon introduced him to Rivers’ article “The genealogical method as anthropological inquiry” in the journal Sociological Review of 1910:

They have many practical methods to offer. [...] Its contents and meaning was explained in details to me orally by its author. Since both Haddon and Rivers have used this method successfully they advised me to try it in my forthcoming Siberian studies, and so I did. [...] I have had only positive results from its use among the Samoyeds and later on in Finland. Using this method we are able to return our collections to the period already passed and to everything whose forgettance we want to hinder through our gathering. Even here it will be the key to open us the gate to the world already gone. It makes us possible to remember even in a touchable manner the old beliefs and customs, ancestral worship etc.

What Donner learned in Cambridge was the practice of the ethnological fieldwork in the British practice of it. “The Study of Man” by Haddon in 1908 defines ethnology as “a description of a man, a tribe, people in a smaller or larger area” demanding special characteristics from the scholar. Donner’s field data from Siberia were arranged according to the typological and genealogical model he had learned from his British teachers. He assumes that these methods might be useful in Siberia in spite of his doubts that the Samoyeds probably do not remember very much about their ancestors and parents. The genealogical method was the way in which Donner, in 1915, described the inheritance of shamanistic prestige symbols in a Ket river shamanic clan. Another method Donner finds useful from British anthropology is anthropometry to be found in the reports of his Siberian anthropological research.      
Kai Donner’s idea to travel to Siberia to study the Samoyeds probably came at home from his father Otto Donner: Since his father’s dream about a Siberian expedition was never realized, due to his other duties and early death, Kai wanted to fulfill it. The deep appreciation felt by the son for his father’s life’s work becomes manifest from the diary written by Donner  on 1 April 1913, on his 25th birthday, at the end of his first Siberian tour. Donner made two different expeditions to Siberia, the first in 1911-13, the second in 1914. Between them he took part in a research seminar led by Westermarck at the University of Helsinki. After Donner had introduced the results of his fieldwork to his teacher and audience, he was encouraged to write his doctoral thesis on the Samoyed. But in what subject, since there was no chair in history of religions at the University of Helsinki, neither then nor before the foundation of the “science of religion” discipline as late as in 1970? Heikki Paasonen, another contemporary scholar of Fenno-Ugristics, even suggested that Donner should become unfaithful to philology and start to write his dissertation on comparative religion instead.
           Donner thus started his fieldwork at the age of 23 soon after completing his academic year in  Cambridge. What he wanted to do was to follow in Castrén’s footsteps as faithfully as possible but, on  the basis of the new results of Fenno-Ugristics, to check out some of the false hypotheses made by Castrén who in his eagerness had found more relatives to Finnish peoples than there really were, according to the opinions of Fenno-Ugrists at the turn of the 20th century. Donner writes that Castrén’s idea on the “Altaic languages” consisting of Uralic and Mongolian-Turkic peoples with their common home base at  the Altaic mountains was wrong and that their partly common vocabulary was, according to Donner, rather due to their long-lasting contacts in the Siberian territories.
    Donner’s two tours were planned so that they covered the main areas of the Samoyedic peoples whose total number was estimated to be 18000 at that time. His field experiences may be followed from his travel report written on the basis of his fresh memories, first published in 1915, and much later on in 1979 with a preface by his son Jörn Donner. Since Jörn was only 2 years old at the moment of his father’s death in 1935, his memory only manages to reach the “continuous longing for the distant” spirit of his home felt and retold by those who had shared the manifold life with Kai Donner: as a scholar until 1915; as an activist in the learned circles supporting the White troops before and during the Finnish Civil War, culminating Kai Donner’s role as General Mannerheim’s right hand in the concluding moments of the final battle between the White and the Red in Tampere in 1918; in several duties in Finnish society and politics until the last years of the 1930s when Donner returned to his field files without anymore being able to finish their publication, however, due to his illness and forthcoming death at the age of 47.    
    Donner’s field tour started from Helsinki by train to Tomsk in August 1911. Crossing the Eurasian border without even recognizing the Ural Mountains from the window of the Siberian train became the cause of his first dissatisfaction. Second was the rapid Russification process of the Finnish people experienced by Donner during his contacts with the Samoyeds he met during his first Siberian tour from Tomsk to Narym, Tymskoye and in the settlements he visited by the Ob and Tym rivers. In his diary Donner reports his contacts with Russian officials, Orthodox priests and missionaries, encounters with European emigrants, sometimes his own countrymen working as merchants, and ministers as prisoners sent to exile in Siberia. Donner’s account of his first tour is a personal story including experiences eyewitnessed and reported with an ethnological view and mind, which was more typical of British ethnology than that of the more material-culture-oriented fieldwork carried out by Dr. U.T. Sirelius, the first professor of Finno-Ugric ethnology at the University of Helsinki. In Siberia Sirelius was known as “Uuno Davidovich”, whose steps Donner recognized he was following at the river Ob, on the basis of stories told by a couple hosting him after Sirelius in the village of Kargasok.            
    In his fieldwork Donner was following along the lines of Castrén, in trying to find “ a good Samoyed professor”, who as a language authority could guide him to the sources of the vocabulary in the respective languages and, as an ethnographer, to help him understand the meanings words had in different Samoyed languages. After having spent two months with his “master” in Tymskoye Donner understood that “the very best way to learn their language was to live as isolated a life as possible with them in the territories where Russian influence was not yet observable”. As an ethnographer he also found it significant to take part in their wedding, Christmas and other ceremonies and soon found himself to be their “medical doctor” whose help was often needed.  He writes: “After having learned Samoyedic enough I decided to move in with them and started to live in the way they did.” After having done so Donner soon became aware that the ugly stories told about the Ostyaks – meaning the Samoyed – by Russians were untrue ethnic folklore about neighboring peoples. Donner recognized that the new Russian settlers used Samoyeds as their servants and day workers, paying rather in spirits than in money which caused the severe problem of alcoholism he was obliged to observe everywhere. His identification with his field was so strong he was even considered a son of a Samoyed family.
    Although Donner used field technology  (questionnaires, phonography, etc.)  obtained from the British school, Castrén was his main mentor whose working hypotheses and methods were tested throughout Donner’s fieldwork. He fully agrees with Castrén’s opinion about the lifestyle differences between Samoyed populations living in the villages at the Ob and those populations which remained in their chums (cabins covered with reindeer skin) at the tributaries. The fact eyewitnessed by the present author in his fieldwork of the 1990s is that the former had become Russified but the latter had preserved their old lifestyle and even the most esoteric elements of their ethnic religions. Since both Castrén and Donner were observing Siberian lifestyle in Czarist Russia, Christian influence from the side of the Russian Orthodox Church and their missionary stations was greater than during my own fieldwork which took place in post-Soviet atmosphere. I was informed that the secret shamanic knowledge had survived  Soviet exile as a persecuted lifestyle, also due to the lack of religious competition and control practiced by the Church and its priests.

    Donner was particularly happy after having found the isolated Samoyeds at the river Ket who still had shamans as their leaders. He writes:

The most beautiful memories of my journey are related to those wonderful nights when I could take part in the pagan worship services in the dim taiga. I very well recall one such occasion. There were some men sitting at a peninsula of the river. The evening was quiet, the fire almost finished, and the shades of the bodies of the ancient Siberian leaf pine trees  were seen against the bright skies. The ground was covered by snow and all of nature seemed to sleep the dream of wilderness. Men had for a long time told old tales about their heroes long passed away, and the sage had talked to the spirits of the skies and the earth. I had forgotten everything I had left behind as a civilized man. I did not think about Christian and other dogmas. With childish admiration I had fallen into what I saw and heard. I felt as being a child again and  I imagined in the same way as in my childhood that all things had a soul and air and water and were populated by mystical, visible and invisible spirits leading the world and human fates in an unexplainable manner.
Donner’s encounter with the Kamas is told in next chapter. Among the last representatives – eight in number – he was able to meet an elderly woman who in her youth had met  M.A.Castrén. She sang him the following song, a kind of simple lament, on the death of her people:

    Where I used to walk about,
    There the black mountains disappeared.
    A golden grass used to grow where I wandered,
    In my own land.
    The black mountains became invisible.
    I used to be strong,
    Nothing is now left.
    I used to have many children,
    I remained alone.
    Where I used to go fishing,
    There even my lakes disappeared,
    So that I cannot see them anymore.
    The roof logs of my cabin have already rotted off,
    And all the bark on the wood has tangled together.

    Donner tells in his book (1915) that he was able to record this song with his phonograph. Then he let the Kamass listen to the song from his apparatus: “I clearly recall how all who understood the words became very serious. Finally everybody, both men and women, started wiping their eyes. The atmosphere became even more tragic when a small boy explained thta the one who sang was his grandmother who died a long time ago”. (Donner 1915, 253.)
    Kai Donner belongs to those scholars whose destiny became World War I. He survived the war but became engaged with other duties. After his death a posthumous volume “Among the Siberian Samoyeds” was published. I would like to quote the last paragraph of the book because it portrays the ambivalent feelings of the scholar who, though a stranger, has shared all aspects of the life of his subjects in the field:

This was for the second time that I returned from the wilderness to the civilized life. Of course, I felt much happier to be with my nearest ones in my own country, the war probably having also got to do with it. But, in spite of everything, I again had the same feeling that the previous time: my joy got mixed with a deep feeling of missing. I had lived on the big steppes and endless deserts and now came to the market places of civilization. I was longing for everything I had left behind. There I forgot about my problems and worries. The fresh life and the amazing staying with those children of Nature I had already learned to like, were always on my mind.
Whosoever has seen only the civilized sied of life cannot understand the other world. But he who has seen life in its most natural forms, will never forget what he has seen. After he has left the great wilderness, memories grow into a splendid revelation in his mind, into something he can never get rid of. He has become a person living some kind of a dual life. He has left behind some part of his personality. This is what has happened to me as well. (Donner 1915, 262.)

I have quoted Kai Donner extensively because, in my opinion, he succeeded in expressing something very essential about the experiences of a Northern scholar who has spent enough time in the tundra or taiga with “his people” to have learnt not only to describe but also to understand their lifestyle and outlook. What is typical of this kind of relationship between the scholar and the subject? Kai Donner writes: “You will never learn to understand the finest nuances of the life and offer your enthusiasm and love to those you study, if you do not search them out on your own part” (Donner 1915, 212).
    What is typical of this kind of reciprocal “interaction” method in field work? Donner writes: “If you want to search for something basic human, both good and bad, which is often latent in them, it is necessary for you to accept their way of life. Nothing could be more interesting and challenging thatn an in-depth penetration into this ever-changing research field with endless nuances”. (Donner 1915, 212.)
    “Rather deeply than broadly” – this is how my Canadian colleague, Emeritus Professor of folklore, Herbert Halpert (1958) expressed the same ideas as Kai Donner above. It is also one of the main principles I have learnt to follow in my own fieldwork (Pentikäinen 1978, 13-28, 49-76.) You may mentally pose very broad phenomenological questions unless you and your people in the field have enough time and patience to learn about each other so that you are able not only to describe but also to consider the problem, and not only as a research one but also from the point of view of the people you intend to study.

Conclusion: The three Pioneers of Northern Ethnography

Fieldwork carried out by M.A. Castrén and A. Reguly among the Uralic peoples in northwestern Siberia in the 1840s started a new paradigm, “Northern ethnography”. 
This fieldwork -based research activity started half a century before Franz Boas, founder of American anthropology (1858-1942) had made his first expedition to Baffin Island in 1883-84. It was Boas’ great success to train two generations of American anthropologists. It was typical of their historicist approach that each scholar did fieldwork in his/her laboratory producing an indepth study on his/her people or tribe on the basis of a critical historical analysis of the material collected by the anthropologist, sometimes from one informant only. The Culture and Personality School thus became famous for its hypothesis that this gifted person with his biography and repertoire was supposed to represent each culture and personality typical of it.
As told above, the Torres Bay project from 1898 led British anthropology to the field in the spirit taught in 1911 to Kai Donner. During his stay in Cambridge Donner was, among others, introduced to B. Malinowski who had joined the staff of the London School of Economics in 1910 before he went to Australia, New Guinea in 1914 and the Trobriand Islands in 1915-16 and 1917-18. Malinowski became famous for his fieldwork there and with his books which brought functionalism into anthropology. Another contemporary scholar A.R. Radcliffe-Brown started his fieldwork career from Western Australia in 1910-12, continuing on in Tonga in 1916 and in Cape Town 1920-25; his classical work “The Andaman Islanders” was published in 1922.
It was Donner’s great contribution as one of the first disciples of fieldwork -oriented British anthropology to do research among Siberian Samoyeds in 1911-1914 integrating his special training in the traditions of British anthropology into his background as a Finnish scholar along the lines of  Fenno-Ugristics initiated by Castrén.  
Besides Castrén and Reguly, a third contemporary person has been taken into careful  consideration while researching the pioneers of the paradigm in this article: Lars Levi Laestadius (1800-1861), a Sami theologian and multi-scholar. His Fragmenter is a very  important contribution to Sami mythology, worth remembering, indeed, in search of the founders of the paradigm of Northern Ethnography in this colloquium. Two symposia concerning the lesser known roles of Lars Levi Laestadius – Laestadius as linguist, botanist and ethnographer – arranged in  the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in April 1999, and another to celebrate his 200th anniversary on the 10th of January in the facilities of the Royal Academy of Science and Letters in Sweden led to a publication which reveals his unique roles as a Northern scholar who combined his Sami background knowledge into his career as an ecologist, linguist and ethnographer.
M.A. Castrén may be considered as a founding father of the Northern ethnography paradigm. Compared to Elias Lönnrot, he was closer to the research of our time and less motivated by the narrow national-romantic tendencies of his era. He was a man of sound down-to-earth orientation on the one hand, and wide perspectives, on the other. When Lönnrot as the collector of the runes and as the author of the Kalevala was the mythographer of the Finns, Castrén’s fieldwork made him both the founder of Fenno-Ugristics and finally their mythographer. 
Castrén’s definition of ethnography is to be read  in his last lectures in 1851-52 on “the ethnology of the Altaic Peoples” (meaning the Finno-Ugrians):

[Ethnography] is a new name for an old thing. It means the scientific study of the religion, society, customs, way of life, habitations of different peoples, in a word: everything that belongs to their inner and outer life. Ethnography could be regarded as a a part of cultural history, but not all nations possess a history in the textual sense; instead their history consists of ethnography (Castrén 1857, 8).

The religious dimension was central in his field studies as it is in  ethnography in general. Concerning shamanism Castrén stated, in a way that is good to keep in mind also by our generation:

All the religion proper of the Altaic peoples has been called shamanism. Unfortunately far more attention has been paid to the naming and outer features of the phenomenon, not on the inner disposition, the essential nature of it. [...] I would not consider shamanism as a form of religion on its own, but rather as a moment of the folk-religious divine doctrine (Castrén 1853, 1).

Unfortunately the lectures were not finished due to Castrén’s illness and untimely death. They, however, have shown some important lines upon which to proceed in the ethnographical research of contemporary Siberian shamans and shamanhood, detailed in the literature below.


Castrén, Mathias Aleksander
1953Nordiska resor och forskningar II. Föreläsningar I finsk mytologi. Helsingfors.

Nordiska resor och forskningar III. Ethnologiska föreläsningar.
1857                Helsingfors.

Estlander, Bernhard

1929.Mathias Aleksanteri Castrén. Hänen matkansa ja tutkimuksensa. Helsinki.

Fellman, Jacob
1906        Anteckningar under min vistelse i Lappmarken I–IV. Helsingfors.

Joki, A.J.

1950.M.A.Castrén turkkilaisen kansanrunouden kerääjänä. Kalevalaseuran Vuosikirja. Porvoo.

Kuhn, Thomas S.

1970.The Structure of Scientific Revolution. Chicago.

1977.The Essential Tension. Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change. Chicago.
Laestadius, Lars Levi

1996.Fragmenter i lappska mythologin. (NIF:s publikationer 37). Efterord av Reimund Kvideland.och Juha Pentikäinen.  bo.

Louheranta, Olavi
1993    Kai Donnerin tutkijakuva vuoteen 1814 asti. M.A. thesis in  comparative religion, The University of Helsinki.
Pentikäinen, Juha

1986.Kalevala Mythology. Translated and ed. by Ritva Poom. (Folklore Studies in Translation). Bloomington and Indianapolis.
––                    Castrénilainen ’pohjoisen etnografian’ paradigma. In: Kaukaa haettua.
1997                Kirjoituksia antropologisesta kenttätyöstä. Juhlakirja professori Matti                     
                        Sarmelalle. Ed. by Viljanen, Anna Maria and Minna Lahti. (Suomen
                        Antropologinen Seura). Vammala. 

Lars Levi Laestadius Revisited. In: Exploring Ostrobothnia, ed. by Börje

1998.                Vähämäki. ((Special Issue of Journal Of  Finnish Studies, 2/ 1998).            
––                    Lars Levi Laestadius as Sami Mythologist and Mythographer. In: Sami 1999                Folkloristics, ed. by Pentikäinen, Juha & al. Stockholm.

Falkenbüchl, Z.
1999.Antal Reguly. In: Österreiches biographiches Lexikon 1815–1950. IX. Band. Red. Von Eva Obermayer-Marnach. Wien.
Tervonen, Viljo
1944        Antal Reguly Suomessa 1839-41. Heimokansa 1/1944.