The Estonians or Esti, that is perhaps the “oriental people” for their Germanic neighbors, constitute the numerically stronger people, after the Finns, of the Western Finnish group. There are almost 1,000,000 individuals in Estonia and another 154,500 (1920) scattered in small groups in the Russian territory, up to the Caucasus. It is uncertain whether the name has any relationship with that of the Aestii (Aestui) mentioned by Tacitus (Germ., 45): but certain mentions of the Estonians are already found in the German chroniclers of the 9th-11th centuries. The ancient national name is Maarahwas: while the Russians give them, like all Finns, the name of Ciudi and the Finns that of Virolaiset “neighbors”. In the physical type, with the tall stature, the blond hair, the blue or gray eyes, the features, have a strong prevalence of the characters of the Nordic European race. And also in the forms of culture the ancient and continuous Germanic influences, also attested by archaeological finds and historical events, have considerably modified the indigenous background constituted by the original Finnish culture. The traces of this are to be found today especially in the popular manifestations and traditions of the spiritual life, while the forms of material life have rather affinities with those of the Bed-Lithuanians and of the North Germanic populations, due to the aforementioned cultural currents, to which the Estonians must also introduce the agricultural-pastoral economy which has brought the original occupations of hunting and fishing to the last level. The rural house is generally made of wood, with beamed walls. In the past the roof, high, was made of thatch. Sometimes you still come across houses of the old type where, among the living quarters, the kitchen-dining room with the large stove was of great importance in the long winter. Then sometimes, especially in the islands, one encounters a separate building where the kitchen was located in the summer; it is a conical-shaped construction, made of poles, which seems to derive from the conical hut still used as a dwelling among nomads throughout northern Eurasia. In the past, wood provided the almost exclusive material for the construction of all tools, tools and objects of common use, and also for the large beer glasses that presented Nordic-type shapes and decorations. Presently, rural dwellings tend towards the type of rural houses.

Of the national clothing, which had many regional variations, few elements remain. Swedish influences prevail in it, except in Setukesia, the south-eastern corner of Estonia, where the costume has been influenced by Russia. Shirts with wide sleeves and decorated, like belts and socks, in bright colors with geometric designs, are disappearing. Among the jewels are characteristic heavy silver works, especially necklaces and breastplates, worn by women, in which large old silver coins are gladly used and which sometimes also include a very large concave disc of the same metal that covers the chest.

Traces of primitive paganism have not completely disappeared: the rich mythological pantheon, which is known from old records and traditions, accompanied by complicated magical practices, had forms very similar to that preserved by the East Finns. The memory of the sacred places to which the offerings for indigenous divinities were brought still exists: the festive solemnities are not all of Christian origin. And the mentality of the people, which has remained superstitious, betrays the persistence of many links with disused religious beliefs. National tales and songs also play a notable role in the festivities, accompanied by the zither, and the dances to the sound of the bagpipes. In popular literature, very rich, the epic songs revolve around a mythical hero, Kalevipoeg, and contain Finnish and Nordic, pagan and Christian elements.

Estonia Ethnography

Estonia Ethnography and Folklore
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