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!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Ville Haapasalo in Kazan

Ville Haapasalo is a popular actor in Russia. In Finland, he has recently become famous for his TV documentaries about the Silk Road and the states that became independent after the fall of the Soviet Union. Now Finnish television has started to show a new series about the Finno-Ugric minorities in the Russian Federation. Today, I am watching the first episode of "Suomensukuiset 30 päivässä" (The Finnic Relatives in 30 Days - more exactly, the series focuses on the Mari, the Erzya and Moksha, the Komi, the Udmurt, the Khanty and Mansi).

Haapasalo tries very hard to act like an ordinary ignorant guy, but the schedule of the series shows that somebody has been doing some proper research. As the starting point for his journey, he chooses Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, and devotes much time to the special cultural and religious mix of the thousand-year-old city. It is a necessary historical lesson for the Finnish audience who may not know about the role of Islam in Russian history, and the close contacts between the speakers of Finno-Ugric and Turko-Tatar languages. In fact, their fate has often been intertwined - their cultures have mixed with each other as much as with the Slavic-speakers; languages and religions have been switched back and forth. But this is a long story, and in this post, I will only show some entertaining screencaps, which do not reflect the full scope of the first episode.

Ville Haapasalo meets an imam in Kazan, who reminds us of the necessity to teach children not to discriminate people according to race, nationality or religion. This interesting conversation contrasts a conflict-torn Europe with a harmonious Tatarstan - I won't go into much more detail about the complicated reality behind those images, but there are certainly lessons to be learned from the Tatar balancing act.
Talking about the many nationalities living and working in Kazan: "Everyone can do something for their nation." Farid is Ville's guide in Kazan. He is an event organizer and a perfect diplomat, a Tatar in other words ;)

Boys cheering for the football club Rubin Kazan. 

Ville also visits a stable with the "fastest horses of the world". Many of them seem to be gifts to the former premier of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiyev. The horses have their own solarium... 

The akhal-teke Nurik is a gift from Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan. He refuses to do tricks on command...

Random doggy (for Tinet). 

One problem with this programme is that we don't learn the names of a lot of important people whom Haapasalo interviews. Here are two hobby ethnographers who collect folklore among the Mari people and publish their results on their own website, for the interest of the general public, as Ville himself notes. So why not make it available for us?
One of the ethnographers looks a lot like Rudolf Nureyev in profile, only with dark hair. He also skipped the glass of vodka that came with the dinner. I wonder if he is Tatar? Of course, they both could be - many Tatars enjoy vodka, too...
This was only half of the programme, but if you live in Finland you can watch the whole thing here.