Searching for Kungla


Keywords: folklore, Matthias Johann Eisen, Kalevipoeg, Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, Friedrich Kuhlbars, Kungla, fairytale, mythology, runosong

The place name Kungla has become known in Estonia due to Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald’s (1803–1882) records of folklore and his own folklore-based works. In Kreutzwald’s writings it designates a mysterious ancient land of plenty or a place where people once used to live in peace and happiness. The toponym Kungla can be found in his records of folklore that he forwarded to A. H. Neus, in the epic Kalevipoeg that he created on the basis of runosongs and folktales, and in his literary fairy tales. The name of Kungla as denoting a national romantic homeland has become even more widely known thanks to the popular song “Kungla rahvas” (“The people of Kungla”) by composer K. A. Hermann and poet Friedrich Kuhlbars.

In connection with Kungla the article seeks answers to two questions: (1) Could the concept that has become more widely know thanks to Kreutzwald have been found in popular usage in runosongs and fairytales or is it Kreutzwald’s own creation presented by him as being used by the people? (2) Where could Kungla’s geographical location be situated, be it either a popular concept or one of the author’s own creation?

Although the bulk of Estonian folklore collections derive from a later period than Kreutzwald’s works, it can still be claimed both on the basis of folk tales and runosongs that Kungla would not have been a concept generally known among the ­people and it is highly likely that the notion was coined by Kreutzwald.

In his correspondence with Baltic-German linguist F. A. Schiefner Kreutzwald himself suggested that a possible location for Kungla could be the island of Gotland, described in a chronicle as a prosperous land rich in gold. In addition to this hypothesis, based on the similarities of certain place names, later scholars have suggested some locations within Estonia.

Thus, the notion of Kungla that has become generally known through Kreutz­wald’s works has become folklorised and, as a national romantic neotoponym, it has reached the labels of various products, names of collectives and establishments, as well as the actual geographical map.


Risto Järv (b. 1971), PhD, Estonian Literary Museum, Head of the Estonian Folklore ­Archives; University of Tartu Institute of Cultural Research, Associate Professor (Vanemuise 42, 51003 Tartu), risto.jarv@folklore.ee

Taavi Pae (b. 1976), PhD, University of Tartu Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, Associate Professor of Estonian Geography (Vanemuise 46, 50410 Tartu), taavi.pae@ut.ee

Mari Sarv (b. 1972), PhD, Estonian Literary Museum, Estonian Folklore Archives, Senior Researcher (Vanemuise 42, 51003 Tartu), mari.sarv@folklore.ee