Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The birch bark general and his daughter

Hämä-hämähäkki kiipes langalle.
Tuli sade rankka, hämähäkin vei.
Aurinko armas kuivas satehen.
Hämä-hämähäkki kiipes uudelleen

Our mother also played with us the finger game and song your mother played with you. It's Itsy-bitsy (or eency-weency) Spider in Finnish.

[click on photo to enlarge]

Funny you should mention this finger game of childhood, because by chance while I was looking for books on visual culture at the university library a couple of days ago, I spied on the top shelf a book with a Finnish title: Pelit ja Leikit (1981)[Games and Play, edited by Pekka Laaksonen]. It has chapters on "Do you understand Play?", "Will Play End?", "Can Laughter die?", "Dangerous/Risky Games", "Playing Marriage", "The Old Song-dances", "Play and word games in the Roma Culture" (but that last one actually says "mustalaiskuultturissa" [black gypsies' culture] not Roma Culture. The photo above with its caption made me laugh out loud, so laughter can not die, but certainly why we laugh changes. The caption for the photo (which is dated 1878, taken in Oulu) explains this to be a photo of Juho Pietarinpoika Lankila from Kalajoki wearing his handmade suit of birch bark. He was called the Birchbark General and he used to put on his birchbark suit for show around Oulu, to collect small sums of money... that is, until one day his daughter in a fit of temper (literally angry-headedly) burned his unusual one-of-a-kind suit.

I couldn't help but wonder, what made his daughter so mad?

ajaijai....voi, aijaijai....this expression is typically Finnish, at least in the way I grew up with the old Kauhajoen murre [dialect] and ways, and that is something is hurtful, somehow terrible, but can be endearing too, and even funny. It is funny/sobering, as this story of the daughter burning the bread-and-butter of her dad's life. He must've done something unforgivable. Or maybe she felt slighted in some way and had a nasty, angry personality (I met a Finnish Canadian woman like this recently, an elderly woman who's real hell to be around). Whatever the birch bark general did or did not do, something happened to provoke his daughter's terrible rage.

Ajajaja – ajajaja
Kuulin siitä
muilta ihmisiltä,
Kuulin sanottavan…
Aja jai – ja
Ajaija – aja


marja-leena said...

Oh, thanks for the words to the song! I will save it and sing it to my grand-daughters.

The birch bark suit is amazing, as is the story! I have a basket and a pair of shoes woven by a great-uncle. On our last visit to Finland, I met a cousin's husband who was a master birch-bark weaver specializing in hats, the most amazing designs. He taught to groups from countries like Japan, but would not sell his work. He did give me a most delicate birch bark ring, where you cannot even find the joint! I think I must take some photos and do my own post, inspired by you!

northshorewoman said...

Fascinating! I am very interested to see photos of your cousin's husband's birch bark hats. I don't know much about the tradition of birchbark weaving, although I am familiar with the baskets, backpacks, calling horns, shoes, and rings made of birchbark. Mostly here in town it has been male tradition. I know 2 FC men who make birchbark artifacts. My sister, Della, uses a birchbark horn made by Matti here in town to start her cow calling intro of her performance piece on Ancestral Voices.

northshorewoman said...

Also, what's so funny about the Tuohikenraali [the birchbark general] is that he continues to make people laugh. Isn't it funny to think that this long dead clown of a man --you can imagine what humor was provoked from the mix of the 'lowly'/peasant bark with a 'high' general -- jumped off the shelf at a library in Thunder Bay into the hands of a FC woman? Too funny. My mother, sister and I have all had a good chuckle about the tuohikenraali. Especially hooting about don't make a woman mad or else!!! you never know what might happen!