Sunday, November 27, 2011

Marja Kalaniemi's ryijy

Marja Kalaniemi, renowned Finnish accordionist

The other night when the moon was new, I did a short storytelling performance for a circle of women. My sister, Katja, assisted in the performance and our sister, Della, participated through long distance mentoring and by singing a song (which we played from her CD). I performed a story that my sisters and I collectively wrote for the last issue of New World Finn; we called our story "The Old Woman and the Barefoot Maiden."  It is a Finnish Canadian women's re-visioning of pre-Christian mythic Finnish women as the changing seasons.

When the opportunity came up for me to contribute some creative energy to a women's moon circle, I offered our story, reincarnated through a storytelling performance. So, I set about collecting various props to help me bring the story to life. Some of the things I used in my performance included an upside down sheep skin that stood in for a white reindeer skin; a small deerskin medicine bag that I once bought at the Napapiiri in Finland; inside this small pouch I put small chicken bones that I cleaned and dried, which stood in for bleached ptarmigan bones; a black loopy vest with two black feather boas attached to it which represented the Black Swan who carries the corpse of the Old Woman to Tuonela; a black, white and stone grey Marimekko huivi; old red patterned wool socks knit by our mom; a ball of red yarn; a huge (abandoned) crow's nest I once found down at the waterfront; and a number of other things.

When Katja and I prepared to practise our story last Sunday, I said we need something big to put under the crow's nest; something that I could sit on behind the nest, but that we could then easily pull out of the way. I hunted around my mother's house and found her old brown ryijy rolled up on a top shelf in the laundry room.

"This is perfect!" I said to Katja.

We unrolled the old brown ryijy, put the crow's nest on top of it and began. We went through the whole performance; halfway through, our mother came back from church and came downstairs, wondering what her two daughters were up to. She sat and was our audience as we went through the story one more time. 

Of course, knowing my mom, I left out some of the more "pagan" words so that her Christian radar would not come out screaming. There were a few parts that she looked a bit perplexed or troubled by, but, all in all, she loved our story! Of course, she told us how we needed to change vanha akka to ....I said, mom, it doensn't matter, no one will know 'vanha akka' anyway as we are translating it to "Old Woman."

Our satu, our fairytale performance, passed it's first --and harshest (i.e. most important) critic-- an old Finnish woman who doesn't think she's old.


Now, today I was listening to Finnish songs on YouTube and one of the tunes I clicked on was Marja Kalaniemi (one of my favourite accordion players). I watched the clip above and could not believe it--there is the same old ryijy that my mother brought from Finland hanging on Marja's wall! The same dull brown colours (except Marja's is much brighter than my mother's, which is really muted in colour.) Maybe Marja's is a reproduction? I don't know.

On the night of my storytelling performance, the old brown ryijy onto which the crow's nest sat was first used for the centre of our circle, around which the women sat, candles flickering. So this old ryijy was reincarnated on a darkening November night in northern Ontario. Who was the woman who made it? I will have to ask my mother the story of how she got the ryijy. 

What is a ryijy?

Taika metsȁ [Forest of Magic]

I ryijy is a textile once used for multiple purposes, depending on the historical time. Made by women on a loom, it has been used throughout the years as a covering for a sleigh, for a heavy winter bed cover, for the wedding prayers -- come to think of it, I think I recall an old black and white photo in my mom's archive of photos that shows her old brown ryijy on the ground in front of an old wooden country church as the bride and groom (my mom and dad? her sister and her groom?) step down the stairs, out of the church's front doors -- and more recently, as wall hangings for decoration. 

The ryijy above, The Forest of Magic, was designed by Toini Nyström in 1941. A renowned Finnish textile artist, she designed over 400 patterns between 1918-1950, which are archived at the Friends of Finnish Handcrafts. A prolific and well-loved artist, Toini's unique patterns are visible in many Finnish homes and churches. At her summer home, she became a student of gardening, an initiate of the natural world. Inside her summer cottage, she would sit by the window and look out at the nature around her, carefully studying the natural world to forecast the coming seasons. Her Magic Forest pattern evokes the beauty of the Finnish natural world, which comes alive through her magical hands.