COMMUNICATING ACROSS THE BORDER: WHAT BURIAL LAMENTS CAN TELL US ABOUT OLD BELIEFS

M Arukask
2011 Estonian Journal of Archaeology  
The present article discusses how archaic cultures eliminated their fear of the dead; first and foremost in connection with laments as a folklore genre and lamenting as a ritual practice. Primarily, we examine the relevant Balto-Finnic and North Russian traditions, in which lamenting has retained its original function of balancing the relations between the spheres of the living and the dead, and of establishing borderlines, as well as of restoring the interrupted social cohesion. Lament texts
more » ... ion. Lament texts can be viewed as a multifunctional genre that may even be addressed in various ways, but wherein nevertheless the interests of the community stand foremost, whereas personal psychological problems come only after, and related to them. The lamenter's role and function in the society will be viewed, too. The second part of the article will, in connection with overcoming the fear of the dead, discuss exhumation -a phenomenon that has not been preserved in north European cultures but that can, in the light of treated bones or incomplete skeletons in the graves of Bronze and Iron Ages, be assumed to have at one time existed even in Estonia. In cultures where exhumation has remained a living practice up to the present (the Greek culture, for instance), it has probably also solved problems linked to the fear of the dead, since part of the person's skeleton is posthumously reincorporated into the society of the living, in the shape of an amulet or a talisman. The relevant rituals have been performed to the accompaniment of laments. The final part of the article will take a look at certain textual examples of the Setu laments for the dead, which may have preserved a distant memory of the practices connected with exhumation. with the folklore genres (laments, invocations, folk tales, etc.) that used to ornament, comment upon, and make sense of them, as well as ways of behaving at the turning points of human life (e.g. birth, death, the rituals that accompanied changes in social status), may have dropped to the background, since the understanding of them and of the reality associated with them has transformed. The other approach characteristic of the modern person is to conceive of the archaic or the culturally different through an egocentric, unifying prism based on his or her personal habits and understandings. Probably this commonsensical feature has also found support from an Enlightenment-inspired desire to see human beings of all times as similar in all respects both psychologically and culturally. Still, not everybody is equal to the demand of seeing human beings in their spatial and temporal contextthe project launched by the Annales school and requiring both knowledge and the desire to know. Undoubtedly, death and everything related to it constitutes one of such constantly changing and highly culture-specific areas. The fact that death is a phenomenon that concerns each and every one of us means that cultural questions and answers concerning the essence of death, the position of human beings and communities related to it, and the corresponding views of what happens after death, have always existed. The scientific and/or highly symbolical (and frequently not telling very much) explanations need not bear much resemblance to the religiously concrete and relatively non-mystical views that prevailed or still prevail in traditional (or archaic) cultures. Various conceptions, however, have been employed not only in situations of death, but have also determined and influenced a very broad range of other areas of human life. The present paper focuses on the genre and practice that have accompanied death and a number of liminal rites in general -laments and lamenting. Central to the discussion are examples of the said genre and practice in Balto-Finnic and North Russian cultural areas. The corresponding traditions of other regions will be referred to as useful parallels for delineating and discussing the research hypotheses. In its various manifestations, lamenting offers opportunities for intercultural comparative research, allowing for a hypothetical modelling of death-related views and tenets that have survived till our days only in fragmentary form. From an interdisciplinary point of view, such a discussion allows to combine folkloric, archaeological, anthropological, and also psychological, knowledge. An approach from such an angle is also relevant for the Estonian culture and its more ancient history. On the one hand, lamenting has not survived in the Estonian cultural space as a living practice. On the other hand, there is no doubt that this universal phenomenon has existed here in earlier times. 1 Lamenting has, however, been preserved up to the very recent past or even the present among the Estonians' closest linguistic relatives -the Setu and other eastern Balto-Finnic
doi:10.3176/arch.2011.2.04 fatcat:uljz7e7e2rfy3edvm64s7cdjvq