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Exhibition "The peoples of water-bird. Faces of Finno-Ugric people"

03.10.2008 - 31.10.2008

Latvian Academic Library (Rūpniecības Str. 10, Riga)
October, 2008

Supposedly the ancestors of the peoples that are speaking the Uralic languages, namely the Finno-Ugric and the Samoyedic languages have been living in Europe already for ten millenaries. Currently the Uralic and the Samoyedic languages are spoken by approximately 23 million people living in a wide area. These language areas extend from the Scandinavian Peninsula in the West to the Ob in the East and to the lower Danube in the South.

The main unifying factor of the Finno-Ugric peoples is the language. In spite of their similar languages, the Finno-Ugric peoples differ by race, belief, populated area and the type of their culture. The traditional culture of the Finnish peoples of the Volga, Perm and the Baltic Sea is tightly connected to agriculture. The culture of the Ob-Ugrians and the Samoyeds who adapted themselves to the harsh circumstances of Siberia is based on hunting, fishing and deer-rearing.

The political situation of these peoples is also different. Estonians, Finns and Hungarians as typical European peoples and have their own independent republics. The Sami people are living in the territory of four countries, the most successful in their fight for the indigenous inhabitants’ rights are those who are living more to the West, namely in Norway, Sweden and Finland. Together with the Indians and the indigenous inhabitants of Australia these Sami people are leaders of the so called Fourth World Movement in the World Council of Indigenous Peoples. According to the Latvian Constitution the Livonians are given the indigenous inhabitants’ status. The other peoples are living in the Republics of the Russian Federation or the autonomous areas with their own names in which they usually are in a numerical minority.

Most Estonians, Finns and Sami people living in the West are Lutherans, most Hungarians are Catholics and most Finno-Ugrians living in Russia are Orthodox. However in the Udmurt and in the Mari nations, for example, the old belief in nature, and in the Ugric and Samoyedic nations – shamanism is still alive.

Despite the differences, the unifying factor of the Uralic and the Finno-Ugric peoples is considered to be similarities in the language structures and their perception of the world. However the fact that these languages are related to each other doesn’t mean that these peoples have a blood relation too. Often there is doubt about the existence of the common Uralic language and home, but the common thing is a myth of creating the world. This is a myth about the water-fowl that dipped into ancient waters and grabbed a piece of earth, on which the bird later laid an egg.

The Finno-Ugric peoples enrich the world culture with their approach, which is possible only when you are thinking in these languages. Traditionally for the Finno-Ugrians the wildlife and the inanimate nature around them is not only means and material, but a partner as well. These peoples usually are not aggressive. In the course of history they have tried to take into account and to adapt themselves to their new neighbors and at the same time they have been able to maintain their nature.

Because of their deep interest in the culture of the kindred peoples the students of the Estonian Academy of Arts every year (since 1978) organize expeditions among them. The goal of these expeditions is to get to know and to document the life of these peoples as well as their art while doing a practical field work.    


Exhibition "Faces of Finno-Ugric people"

During thirty years the students of the Estonian Academy of Arts (EKA) have gone on expeditions to the all Finno-Ugric peoples – Sami, Komi, Udmurts, Mari, Erzia, Moksha, Khanty, Mansi, Hungarians, Livonians, Votes, Setos, Veps, Karelians. While doing a field work they have documented the architecture, tools, clothes, jewelry, ornaments, way of life and people in ethnographic drawings and pictures.

In the portrait gallery of this exhibition called “Faces of Finno-Ugric people” you can see the people which were encountered during these expeditions. They are their culture-bearers. All these people have been the key persons, “door openers” and guides to their culture. There are elders of villages, teachers, short story writers, folk singers, craftsmen, people who believe in nature and people who are passing on the traditional way of living and also some of the last speakers of native languages. They all are linked to something. Through this exhibition we want you to ask and to notice who the Finno-Ugrians are and what is this something that unites all of them.

The cultural and political frame is also important when talking about this exhibition. The Hungarians’, Finns’ and Estonians’ interest in the Finno-Ugric subjects becomes apparent in a long-term scientific and cultural co-operation. This exhibition was presented in 2007 in the Hungarian Culture Centre in Moscow, in order to mark the 70th anniversary of signing the cultural agreement between Estonia-Hungary and Estonia- Finland as well as the 80th anniversary of the nonprofit association “Fenno-Ugria Asutus”. With the exhibition and a workshop in the European Parliament in Brussels the pictures emphasized that the European Union supports the democratization processes of the indigenous inhabitants of the Russian Federation. The year 2008 has been designated as the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue and its slogan “Together in diversity” reminds us that we have to take into account different cultures, we may not separate them from each other and they have to be able to live and to breathe together. Every year in October (this year it will be the 20th time) the traditional Days of the Kindred nations (Hõimupäevad) are celebrated in Estonia in order to introduce people to the Finno-Ugric culture.  

The exhibition is compiled by Kadri Viires, who is a leader of the Finno-Ugric research program at the Estonian Academy of Arts.
The exhibition is arranged by Tiit Rammul.
The exhibition is prepared by the Estonian Academy of Arts and the nonprofit association "Fenno-Ugria Asutus".

The exhibition in Riga at the Latvian Academic Library is supported by:

The Estonian Embassy in Latvia
The Finnish Embassy in Latvia
The Hungarian Embassy in Latvia
The Hungarian Culture Institute in Tallinn

Thanks to the Latvian Academic Library


© Estonian Embassy in Riga Skolas 13, Riga LV 1010, Latvia tel. (371) 6781 20 20, e-mail: