Cemeteries are full of stories explaining Estonian culture

Cemetery. Source: ERR

If you want to understand a people's culture then you should visit markets and graveyards, cultural historian Marju Kõivupuu believes. So what do Estonia's cemeteries tell us about Estonian culture?

In Estonia, death and the dead and rarely mentioned and the places where people are buried can often seem desolate or remote. However, there are a number of graves that express pain through art and creativity.

Cultural historian Marju Kõivupuu said Estonians' burial customs are generally modest. Gravestones mostly feature candles, wreaths, or an eternal flame. While the final resting places of people of Russian origin are often decorated with portraits or meaningful objects connected to hobbies.

"We can find expensive drinks, trendy cigarettes, cars, tractors, right down to boxing gloves. In short, all the things that mourners think would best characterize that person," Kõivupuu told "Aktuaalne kaamera.Nadal".

Several Estonian cemeteries will celebrate their 250th anniversary this year, although those in Tallinn were created much later. For example, Rahumäe is 120 years old, Metsakalmistu 90, and Pärnamäe 60.

The first funeral held in Metsakalmistu in 1933 was that of writer Eduard Vilde. His funeral did not include any religious elements at all, which was seen as scandalous at the time.

"In the 1930s, however, it was very difficult to imagine that there would be no cross, no wreaths on the grave of the deceased and that all this would be done according to the so-called secular rites," Kõivupuu explained.

While so-called cemetery tourism is common in other parts of the world, it is rare in Estonia.

"If you want to know something about a people's culture, go to the market and visit a cemetery. That will give you some insight. /.../ What I see there gives me some kind of insight or understanding of how people in that corner [of the world] commemorate their dead and what is important to them," Kõivupuu said.

While cemeteries used to be well-known gathering places, they are less frequently visited today. This can be both a blessing and a curse.

Throughout the ages, cemeteries have been a source of inspiration to expectant parents looking for historical names for their children. But thieves also steal scrap metal, candles, or flowers to resell.


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Editor: Merili Nael, Helen Wright

Source: Aktuaalne kaamera

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