The Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage has decided to add the smoke sauna tradition in Võrumaa, southern Estonia, to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
“The vitality of Estonian culture is particularly manifested in an intangible cultural heritage that is transmitted from generation to generation. The fact that the smoke sauna tradition of the Võro people was added to the UNESCO Representative List contributes to the continuity of the tradition and attracts international attention,” said Minister of Culture Urve Tiidus. "All people who have maintained the tradition of smoke sauna in their summer cottages – whether in Võrumaa or Saaremaa – may rejoice at UNESCO’s recognition,” the Minister added.
Smoke saunas along with sauna rituals are a part of traditional life and cultural heritage of the Võro people. A smoke sauna is an old-fashioned rural sauna, which has no chimney, so the smoke circulates and warms the room during the heating process. When the sauna reaches the right temperature, the last of the smoke is released through a window, a door or a hole in the wall.
“For the Võro community, the smoke sauna is a place of ritual cleansing of both body and soul. Sauna heating, whisk-making, sweat bathing and health improvement are a natural part of daily life of our rural families. Also, such knowledge and skills as sauna building, firewood-making and meat smoking are related to the sauna tradition,” said Eda Veeroja, from Mooska farm in Haanjamaa, summarizing the nature of the sauna tradition.
Director of the Võro Institute, Rainer Kuuba, said the Võro people are widely known for their language and cultural heritage: "UNESCO recognition helps to enhance the visibility of the culture of our community and maintain the viability of our smoke sauna tradition." The community also considers it important to transmit this tradition to younger generations.
The initiative to prepare the nomination of the smoke sauna tradition to UNESCO Representative List came from the Võro community in 2009. An application to that effect was submitted to UNESCO in March last year. The preparation of the nomination was led by a voluntary representative body of the community – the Võromaa Smoke Sauna Cooperation Council, operating with the support of local organizations.
The purpose of the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is to ensure better visibility of knowledge, skills, traditions and customs that are passed on from one generation to the next and continue to be relevant for the communities today. Other cultural expressions from Estonia inscribed on the Representative List include Kihnu Cultural Space, Seto Leelo, and also the Song and Dance Celebrations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
You can read more about the smoke sauna tradition and activities of the Võro people here.