‘Kalevipoeg’: Estonian National Tale

Background: My informant, HS, is a 52-year-old professor at USC. She was born and raised in Estonia and moved to the United States when she was twenty. Her mother and father were both physicians in Soviet Estonia. Even though she no longer lives in Estonia, she still stays connected with Estonian tradition through her involvement with the Los Angeles Estonian House and still speaks the Estonian language with family and friends. She also happens to be my mother.

Context: One lunch, during quarantine, I decided to sit down and interview my mother about interesting Estonian folklore she was aware of and has experienced.

Main Piece: “Our national epic, which is Kalevipoeg, which is this huge -y’know- larger than life, obviously oversized peasant. Um, who -y’know- tilled and toiled the earth so the mountains… or the, the hills, the rolling hills, that are in southern Estonia particularly are, like, his fields that he toiled. He was a simple peasant guy who warded off warriors and alien invaders from other lands, because we were always taken over by Germans, Swedes, Danes, and Russians”.

Interpretation: While my mother did not remember many of the more specific plot details of this  Estonian tale, it was clear to me what the significance of the tale is. Being part Estonian, I am very aware of the fact that Estonia has a long history of being conquered and subjugated by more powerful European nations such as the ones mentioned by my mother. The story of Kalevipoeg served as a symbol and a mascot for the Estonian peasantry who were resisting the rule of invaders. It is important to note that the hero of the story is not some kind of king or royal knight who saves the day, it is a simple farmer who fights to protect his land. It is a reflection of Estonian history and folk culture.

Annotation: For another version of this tale, refer to:

Kreutzwald, Friedrich Reinhold. Kalevipoeg. JiaHu Books, 2013.