Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Ville Haapasalo in Mari-El

Last Sunday, I discovered this charming TV series by Ville Haapasalo, a Finnish actor who has become quite a celebrity in Russia. "Suomensukuiset 30 päivässä" (The Finnic Relatives in 30 Days) documents his travels along the Volga and around the Ural Mountains in search for the Finno-Ugric minorities in this area of the Russian Federation. The first episode started in Kazan, the Republic of Tatarstan, and continued to a village in Mari El, also a federal republic but with considerably less cultural power for the minority people whose name it bears.

Visiting the holy grove - moving stories and memorable faces of the Mari people.
The Mari identity builds on the Mari language and the unique, syncretist Mari religion. 43.9 % of the Mari El population identifies as Mari, but only 6 % of the population practices the traditional religion. Ville Haapasalo is invited to witness and participate in Mari rituals - the baptism of a baby and a visit to a holy grove. Trees are the spiritual bridge between deities of the Earth and the Sky for the Mari. They convey prayers and energy to the worshiper. For Finnish-speakers, it is interesting to note that the Mari word for deity is jumo - related to the Finnish word jumala.

 A fuzzy doggy joins Ville's spontaneous breakfast in a park in Yoshkar-Ola.

Filming was only allowed at the market in the presence of this handsome guard and a friendly guide.

I don't know if this dried apricot merchant is a local or a Central Asian, but he looks cute. Ville was ecstatic about the apricots but was embarrassed when the guide insisted on paying. "We come from a capitalist country!" Nice try, Ville.
Young men at the market. There were a lot of striking smiles in this programme.
More sweet smiles. In the park, Ville discussed the future of the Mari language with the theater director Vasily. Do the young people speak Mari? With theater productions and folk dance at the university, Mari cultural workers try to revitalize interest in their cultural heritage.    
A dance troupe at the university.
Those smiles again!
The Mari dances were interesting - while the music often reminds of Tatar folk music, the steps look completely different in my eyes (and the costumes of course). It also seems that while dancing in pairs, the dancers do not hesitate to wrap their arm around the partner's waist ;) But of course there are many local differences and I suggest to look around on YouTube for a better idea of Mari folk dances. Like here or here... (with some modern music too)

The archers' dance was fascinating.
Marij, marij, kuš kajet? Mari, Mari, where are you going? I was honestly moved to tears many times during this programme. Ville will be continuing his travel, too - in the next episode he will visit Udmurtia and meet the famous grannies, Buranovskiye Babushki, who put up a tough but heartwarming fight against the overproduced pop starlets of the Eurovision Song Contest in Baku last year. Better have your hankies ready!

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