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Kaval-Ants voted most Estonian folk character

Choosing the most Estonian fairytale character. Illustration by Günther Reindorff.
Choosing the most Estonian fairytale character. Illustration by Günther Reindorff. Source: Tallinn Literature Center

On Estonian Literature Day, the Tallinn Literature Center and Vikerradio invited people to vote for the most Estonian folk character. Kaval-Ants won the close competition with 3,396 votes. See the full list below!

In second place came Rehepapp with 3363 votes, in third place Kalevipoeg (3164 votes) and in fourth place Vanapagan (3054 votes).

A total of 32,195 votes were cast for the fairy tale characters, with up to five votes per voter.

"It's a bit surprising that the first four characters are rather similar. Kaval-Ants, Rehepapp, Kalevipoeg, and Vanapagan – the first two are clever servants, while the other two are giants who are strong but sometimes lack wit," Maarja Vaino, the director of Tallinn Literary Center, said.

"These are the most popular characters: no one seems to be unfamiliar with Kalevipoeg or the Kaval Ants, although the Hobgoblin or the Orphan may be less well known. The stories of Vanapagan and Kaval Ants, Kalevipoeg and Rehepapp are undoubtedly also the best-known in Estonian folklore and literature," Vaino, who initiated the polling, said.

She said that it would be interesting to hear a psychologist's perspective on the self-image that the results reveal, considering that the choice exemplifies the Estonian character.

"It's easy to think of traits that identify these characters and what Estonianness could mean. In any event, it seems that Kivirähk (a contemporary Estonian author – ed.) had a good understanding of the people when he chose Rehepapp as his protagonist, and the work has remained a favorite among readers throughout the years. Estonians must be among the most clever and cunning of all, or at least believe themselves to be so," she said.

The top 20 most Estonian fairy-tale characters, followed by the number of votes cast:

1. Kaval-Ants ("Crafty Hans," trickster, usually a farm hand) 3,396

2. Rehepapp (one of the oldest and most famous personages in Estonian folklore, endowed with both trickster and hero features, often tricking Vanapagan) 3,363.

3. Kalevipoeg (a giant hero) 3,164.

4. Vanapagan ("Old Devil," a cunning demon living on a farm or manor) 3,054.

5. Kilplased (mythological village folk that came from the place called Uppakallo Village, located in the Peetri Parish of Järvamaa) 2,292.

6. Kratt (a golem or demonic construct that stole and brought food, money and other worldly goods to its maker and owner in the form of a whirlwind or meteor-like tail of fire) 2,287.

7. Reinuvader ("Reynard the Fox") 1,936.

8. Vaeslaps ("Orphan") 1,832.

9. Ahjualune ("Hobgoblin") 1,718.

10. Siil (Hedgehog) 1,618.

11. Põhja konn ("The Dragon of the North," or literally "Frog of the North," during the Crusades, Põhja konn is an ally of the Estonians, having helped them to fight against the Christian invaders in the past) 1,178.

12. Libahunt (Estonian name for a werewolf) 1,163.

13. Tark mees taskus ("A wise man in the pocket") 1,139.

14. Pokud (characters resembling or masquerading as tufts of grass living a traditional way of life in the midst of nature) 1,078.

15. Murueide tütred (female characters of perpetual youth, daughters of the moorland, related to "Meadow Maidens") 658.

16. Metsaema ("Forest mother") 645.

17. Näkk (a shapeshifting water spirit, that often appears in a human shape, male or female, but sometimes also as an animal) 539.

18. Sootuluke ("Will o' the Wisp") 234.

19. Majauss (domestic grass-snake, protector spirit) 63.

20. Kotermann (ship spirit) 38.

Edward von Lõngus, "Põhja konn." Street art in Tartu. Source: Ivo Kruusamägi

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Editor: Annika Remmel, Kristina Kersa

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