Kalevala and Vietnam
I know that the Finnish national epic the Kalevala is read around the world, translated as it is into 61 languages. So I’ve been quite intrigued to read a fascinating story about two Vietnamese women and their involvement with the Kalevala and how it inspired a project to compile a Vietnamese national epic with help from a Finnish foundation. Here are some excerpts:
The home of artist Dang Thu Huong in Hanoi is an austere one-room apartment with nothing unnecessary in it. The eye rapidly focuses on paintings leaning against a wall. They depict Finnish barns and national costumes. Huong has made illustrations for the Kanteletar, the companion work to the national epic poem, the Kalevala, which has been translated into Vietnamese by Bui Viet Hoa. The next effort of the women is to compile and illustrate Vietnam’s first national epic by the end of next year. The two are getting support from the Juminkeko Foundation, which specialises in the Kalevala. It has received development cooperation funding for the project from the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Lönnrot wrote the Kalevala based on folk poetry from the oral tradition that he compiled during travels in Russian Karelia in the 19th century. Hoa translated the epic into Vietnamese in 1994. [Bui Viet Hoa ] has been referred to as “Vietnam’s Elias Lönnrot”. Lönnrot wrote the Kalevala based on folk poetry from the oral tradition that he compiled during travels in Russian Karelia in the 19th century. Hoa translated the epic into Vietnamese in 1994.
Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups with dozens of oral miniature epics. Hoa uses them as a basis for her own work, which is to unite the nation. The most challenging job is to compile a unified story out of very many different epics. Hoa solves the problem by dividing the book into two parts – the world of myths, and the world of heroes. Like the Kalevala, the Vietnamese myths describe the origin of the world. In both epics, everything begins with a bird’s egg. In Hoa’s book, there is a separate story about how water-buffalo and rice came into being.
Like Lönnrot, Hoa has travelled among the people to collect her stories. Accompanying her was the third worker in the project, Hoa’s husband, linguistic researcher Vo Xuan Que. The two have gone into Vietnamese villages and asked men and women of different ages to sing for them.
UPDATE March 14th: Bill’s comment below has prompted me to do another search for an online English translation of the Kalevala. The Finnish Literature Society did have a full translation on their site three years ago when I’d first mentioned the Kalevala on this blog, but now offers only the original Finnish, and a synopsis in English.
Checking out Bill’s leads, I see that Wikipedia has a very good page on the Kalevala, including a short synopsis as well, and links to translations. The translations are all by John Martin Crawford and I am not impressed with this version.
However, there are many translations in print. After some research last year, I found and bought this translation by Eino Friberg. It is excellent, capturing the wonderful oral quality of the Finnish original. I recommend it highly to any interested readers.
On a side note, the Wikipedia entry excites me because of the illustrations of some of the famous paintings based on the Kalevala by my favourite Finnish artist of the late 19th-early 20th century Akseli Gallen-Kallela. But there’s another subject for a very long blog post one day!