Go Back

Martti Haavio

Martti Henrikki Haavio (writing under the nom de plume P. Mustapää)
Born 22 January, 1899, Temmes. Died 4 February, 1973, Helsinki.

Master of Arts, 1923, Licentiate of Philosophy 1930, Doctor of Philosophy, 1932, University of Helsinki

Docent, Finnish and comparative folklore studies, 1932, University of Helsinki
Poet and folklore researcher.
Archivist, Finnish folklore collection, 1931–34, Director, 1934–48, Manager, 1948, Finnish Literature Society.
Clerk, literary division, 1924–31, 1941–46, Director of Literature 1946–51, WSOY publishing house.
Acting Professor of Finnish and Comparative Folklore Studies, 1947–49, and Professor 1949–56, University of Helsinki.

Member, Academy of Finland, 1956–69
President, Student ‘nation’ for Finland Proper, 1923–24, 1927–28, Inspector, 1951–56 and honorary member, 1966
Member, Kalevala Society, 1933, working member, 1941, and Honorary Member, 1969
Deputy-member, Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, 1933, and Member, 1947–49
Chairman, Finnish Society for the Study of Religion, 1963–69
Correspondent member, Ôpetatud Eesti Seltsi–The Learned Estonian Society, 1938
Member, Litterarum Societas Esthonica, 1938
Member, Kungl. Gustav Adolfs Akademien för svensk folkkultur (‘King Gustaf Adolf’s academy for Swedish folk culture’), Uppsala, 1953
Involvement on boards of various learned societies and foundations.

Photo: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura
Written by Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta
Translated by John Calton

The Long Road to a Professorship

Martti Haavio was born in Temmes in 1899. While still a schoolboy, he developed an interest in folk poetry and writing. In the autumn of 1918, Haavio began his studies in the Finnish language, literature and folklore at the Imperial Alexander University. He wrote descriptions of his university years in diaries, letters, as well as in his autobiography, Nuoruusvuodet: kronikka vuosilta 1906–1924 (‘Early Years: A Chronicle of the Years 1906-24’, 1972). Haavio was actively involved in student organizations, and wrote regularly for Ylioppilaslehti, the student newspaper.

Among the scholars who inspired Haavio were Professors Kaarle Krohn and E.N. Setälä. After receiving his BA and MA degrees, Haavio decided to pursue doctoral studies. His thesis dissertation focused on cumulative tales, which he collected in archives in Berlin, Copenhagen, Tartu, and Stockholm. The dissertation was published in two parts, Kettenmärchenstudien I - II (1929, 1932).

Haavio wrote his dissertation while busy with other projects.  From 1924-31, he worked as an editor at WSOY, one of the big Finnish publishing houses. In the 1920s he also published several poems and short stories under the pen name P. Mustapää. It was only after moving to the folklore archives of the Finnish Literature Society that he turned his attention to his academic career. However, Haavio continued to publish a number of children’s books under his pen name during the 1930s and 40s.

After earning his doctoral degree in 1932, Haavio became active in social affairs. He objected to political coercion and fanaticism, whilst supporting broad-minded European humanism and Finnish nationalist culture. Haavio counted among his friends people who were building Finland’s cultural heritage. Urho Kekkonen and Kustaa Vilkuna, for example, were the godfathers of his only son.

Haavio was part of an unofficial brotherhood which called itself the kesäyliopisto, or “Summer University.” On Thursdays they met at a restaurant in the Stockmann department store to talk about current affairs. In addition to Kekkonen and Vilkuna, the group included other influential academics and politicians.

The meetings went beyond conversation: for example, members contributed to the newspaper Suomalainen Suomi, later called Kanava, which became influential in culture and politics. From 1933-45, Haavio served as its editor-in-chief. Other important cultural organisations are also said to have originated in meetings of the Summer University, including the Finnish Cultural Foundation, Talonpoikaiskulttuurisäätiö, the Finnish Local Heritage Foundation, and Kansatieteellinen Filmi Oy, which committed Finnish folk traditions to celluloid.

During the Winter War and Continuation War, Martti Haavio served as a battlefield correspondent and chief of military communication. Together with other war correspondents, he wrote a book about the war years called Me marssimme Aunuksen teitä: sotapäiväkirja vuosilta 19411942 (‘We marched on the roads of Aunus: A wartime diary, 1941-42’), which did not come out, however, until 1969.

After the Winter War, Haavio worked for both WSOY and the Finnish Literature Society. He also wrote folkloristic poetry and researched folk poetry and mythology. While at the Finnish Literature Society, Haavio worked to establish a modern research archive. Together with Lauri Hakulinen and Aarni Penttilä, he founded the Studia Fennica series of books. In addition, he created a public network for collecting traditional source material and went on four trips to the Karelian areas around Lake Ladoga, Aunus (now Olonets) and Ingria to collect folk poetry.

Haavio was able to creatively combine his artistic and scholarly sides, which can be seen in his unique way of doing research. Haavio became a docent of Finnish and comparative folk poetry at the University of Helsinki in 1932, but it was not until 1947 that he became an acting professor. He was appointed to a permanent professorship in 1949.

And it was as a professor that Martti Haavio achieved international stature. He was a member of several foreign societies in the field of folk traditions and folkoristics. He was also the editor of the prominent international series Folklore Fellows’ Communications. In addition to Finnish and comparative folk poetry, Haavio was also a notable scholar in Religious Studies and was instrumental in establishing it as an academic discipline in Finland. Haavio himself was not interested in teaching, and upon becoming a member of the Academy of Finland in 1956, he was able to focus fully on his research.

Martti Haavio in his study. Photo: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.​


Go Back