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Anna-Leena Siikala

Anna-Leena Siikala (formerly Kuusi, née Aarnisalo)
Born January 1, 1943, Helsinki.
Died February 27, 2016.

Master of Arts (folkloristics), 1968, Licentiate of Philosophy, 1970, Doctor of Philosophy, 1978, University of Helsinki

Academy Professor, Academy of Finland, 1999–2004
Professor of Folkloristics, University of Helsinki, 1995–2007
Professor of the Study of Tradition, 1988–95, University of Eastern Finland
Senior Research Fellow, State Committee for the Humanities, 1986–1988
Acting Professor of Folklore and Comparative Religion, University of Turku, 1979–1982

Publications, research projects and other academic activities

Research interests
Rituals, myths, oral storytelling, poetry written in the Kalevala verse form, regeneration of tradition and its political use in peripheral regions

Awards and Special achievements
Annual Prize for Non-fiction, Federation of Finnish Learned Societies and Finnish Association for Scholarly Publishing, 2014
Academician, 2009
Kalevala Society prize for academic work, 2007
Commander, Order of the Lion of Finland, 2006
Honorary Member, Finnish Literature Society, 2004
Honorary Member, Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, 2008
Honorary Member, The Kalevala Society, 2011
Honorary Doctorate, University of Joensuu (present-day University of Eastern Finland), 2004
Honorary Doctorate, University of Tartu, 2008
Honorary Doctorate, University of Turku, 2009
Honorary Award, Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation, 2004
Doctor Honoris Causa of the Societas Ethnographica Hungarica, 2000
Knight (First Class), Finnish Order of the White Rose, 1999
Honorary Professor, Udmurt State University, 1998
Finnish Literature Society Prize for Scientific Literature, 1979, 1992 & 1994

Photo: Sakari Majantie
Written by Anna-Leena Siikala (Tomas Sjöblom, ed.)
Translated by John Calto

Ethnic Minorities on the March

In seeking to examine the living tradition dependent on human interaction, poring over archived material seemed to be a blind alley. When in the 1970s I requested that I be sent to Siberia to study shamanism, I was told that the shamans are long since dead and I would not be going beyond the Ural Mountains until they built hotels in the tundra. Therefore in the 1980s I went to carry out fieldwork in the Cook islands with Jukka Siikala, who was an expert on Polynesian cultures. I intended to study Cook Islands taunga, a figure comparable to a shaman.

We encountered a vibrant and still ritualised mythic tradition, whose study opened up a new way to explore myths. I asked, what do the traditional stories convey? Together with Jukka Siikala I have written Return to Culture. Oral Tradition and Society in the South Cook Islands (2005), a book that deals with the role of oral myths in strengthening the community and their use in politics. It was at the UNESCO conferences that I noted the propensity of minorities the world over to establish their cultures by reviving their old traditions. This was also evident in the revival of shamanism and the festivals of Finno-Ugric peoples.

Izhma Komi singers in 2004.​
Izhma Komi singers in 2004.​

After the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s I began to carry out fieldwork near the rivers Kama, Vychegda and Ob to study the cultural revivals facilitated by the effective end of the Soviet polity. The fieldwork, which went on until 2007, gave me a whole new perspective on the Finno-Ugric peoples living in Russia as well as allowing me to make many friends at the universities and, above all, in the small villages struggling with their everyday concerns.

The Other Russia. Cultural Multiplicity in Making project (2004-7) and its predecessors, which were funded by the University of Helsinki and the Academy of Finland, sought to cast aside the Moscow-centric image of Russia. We wanted to present the enormous country not only as an administratively hierarchical entity, but also as a multicultural and multilingual whole, where the opportunities for self-representation afforded to minorities at cultural gatherings varied from one region to another.

Three Annas: a Nenet, a Khanty, and a Finn. Picture taken by Valerij Sharapov near Vershina-Voykar in 2000.​
Three Annas: a Nenet, a Khanty, and a Finn. Picture taken by Valerij Sharapov near Vershina-Voykar in 2000.​

These projects produced articles and doctoral dissertations from the participating researchers, but also a monograph compiled by myself and Oleg Uljashev entitled Hidden Rituals and Public Performances. Traditions and Belonging among the Post-Soviet Khanty, Komi and Udmurts (2011). The methods for the renewal of the traditions of the Khants, Komis and Udmurts come down from the traditional culture, but their exploitation for political ends has been regulated in many ways.

The Khanty shamans had their place at the cultural festivals. The Komi women in turn sang songs learned in their youth, as did the Udmurts who still cherished their secret communal rites, which had survived the Soviet hegemony. Cultural display at shared festivities had taken place even during the Soviet Union, but always in a manner appropriate to the political climate. This was evident, for example, in folk songs, whose lyrics were altered by the singers over the years to suit the times. Now pan-Russian has triumphed, with consequences for the various ethnic festivals.

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