”Excuse me for bothering you with my Siberian language”

Game descriptions by Rosalie Ottesson in the Estonian Folklore Archives


Keywords: context, folklore collector, folklore collection, games, Siberian Estonians

This article looks at the descriptions of games written down by Rosalie Ottesson, who lived in the Siberian Estonian community in Russia, mainly in the village of Ülem-Bulanka. The descriptions were sent to the Folklore Department (currently Estonian Folklore Archives) of the Literary Museum in the 1960s and 1970s.

We will approach Ottesson’s descriptions of games and game situations through the concept of vernacular literacy. As a folklore collector, Rosalie Ottesson played a dual role in the village society – on the one hand, she had a traditional background similar to that of the villagers, and on the other, she was a member of the Communist Party who worked as a village council chairperson and as a teacher. Ottesson was a mediator between oral and written heritage, between the old (traditional) and the new (Soviet) ideology. In order to record folklore, Ottesson had to develop a way of both using linguistic tools and situating (oral) village culture in the context of folklore collection.

Archivists used to criticize Ottesson’s collection for overemphasizing an irrelevant and personal point of view: commenting on the text, adding her own assessments. In the past, folklore collectors were required to describe the rules of the game, but also the context, as precisely as possible. Correspondence with the archive shows that Ottesson did not always understand what was expected of her as a folklore collector. Although Ottesson tried to accommodate the requests of the archivists, the nature of her notes and the choice of material remained unique. With the rise of performer-centered research and the expansion of the concept of folklore, Ottesson’s folklore texts have proved increasingly valuable.


Anu Korb (b. 1950), PhD, Estonian Folklore Archives of the Estonian Literary Museum, Senior Researcher (Vanemuise 42, 51003 Tartu), anu.korb@folklore.ee

Astrid Tuisk (b. 1968), Estonian Folklore Archives of the Estonian Literary Museum, Researcher, Education Manager (Vanemuise 42, 51003 Tartu), astrid.tuisk@folklore.ee