Tag Archives: independence

The Valge Laev (The White Ship) Of Estonia

Informant’s Background:

The informant, in this case, is my mother, M, who was a first generation immigrant born to an Estonian family in the North-East of Canada. Her family had escaped from occupied Estonia, and had settled in Canada before she was born. She moved with my father to Los Angeles, in the United States, to take a job as a university professor. My brother and I were born a few years after.


I mentioned collecting folklore to my mother, who I regularly call on the phone now that I have moved out of our house, and she told me that she wanted to help. I told her yes, and she emailed me the following.

Performance (Written Over Email):

M: “This myth dates back to 1860 when a peasant preacher declared himself a prophet and called on his followers to leave Estonia to resettle in the Crimea in southern Russia. He went on ahead and promised that a white ship – the “Valge Laev” — would come to take them to this Promised Land. Several hundred families gathered on the beach to wait for the white ship, but it never came. Most Estonians were serfs, living under extremely harsh conditions, basically slavery, until 1811. Even after serfdom was abolished, life for the peasants was very hard, and there were several unsuccessful revolts against the German nobility who still owned most of the land. The White Ship was a symbol of hope, of escape to freedom and a better life.”

Informant’s Thoughts (Written Over Email):

M: “My mother was a young girl in Estonia during World War II, surviving two occupations, the first by the Red Army in 1940, the second by Nazi Germany, from 1941 to 1944. In the late summer of 1944, as Germany was losing the war and German troops were leaving Estonia, the “Soome Poisid” (“Finnish boys” – Estonians who had volunteered to fight with the Finns during the Winter War with the Soviet Union) came back to Estonia, ready to make a last stand for Estonian independence. My mother’s brother Rein was one of them. The situation was hopeless; the Red Army was closing in. But Estonians remembered that the British had come to their aid during the War of Independence (1918-1920). And so the myth of the White Ship returned.”


I think this myth makes total sense given Estonia’s troubled history. The frequent invasions and occupations by foreign forces throughout Estonian history have no doubt led to many myths and tales created with the intention of spreading hope of freedom for the Estonian people. The fact that this myth was able to survive and be retold a century later speaks to Estonia’s dependence on folklore as a means of maintaining its cultural identity, and to the need for hope and resilience during it’s many occupations.

Throwing Eggs and Flour — Japanese High School Graduation

In Japan, there is a custom whereby the graduating students of a high school, after the graduation ceremony is over, run into the main courtyard and throw eggs and flour at each other.

My informant spent most of her life in the city of Naha in Okinawa, Japan, and participated in this custom at the end of her three years at Shuri School. She said that all except the dullest of students participated, and that there were always a few students assigned each year to buy the eggs and flour for the entire graduating class. They’d throw indiscriminately until everyone was covered in doughy gunk. Friends would oftentimes chase each other around. My informant said that it must have been the freest time of her life, and a time she couldn’t look back to without nostalgia. There was all the anticipation and excitement for the future, she said, and she remembered how freely everyone was laughing, so incredibly happy if only because, deep down inside, they knew they’d be leaving each other soon. In a way, this custom would be the last ritual of high school they would be able to exercise.

But how had this custom come about? My informant said that it was probably because the graduates wanted to celebrate their new-found freedom from the school system. Japanese schools are traditionally very strict about their dress codes, requiring uniforms from pre-school on to the end of high school. The uniforms come to define the students by the school they go to, and are symbolic of their obedience and compliance to the educational systems of Japanese society. Many students, even back in the seventies when my informant when to high school, must have felt some frustration for these rules, and for the lack of freedom that this allowed their individuality. In most schools, my informant said, there were and still are, rules about the length of girls’ hair, and the color of students’ socks. Therefore, throwing eggs and flour after the graduation ceremony and ruining (if only temporarily) the uniforms that had defined them for three years is a form of modest, socially acceptable rebellion–all in good fun, the students’ way of saying to their teachers and to the school, we don’t need to listen to you anymore! Since there’s probably nothing that causes more of a mess and is as easily obtained as eggs and flour, this exact custom had come about.

Strangely enough, when I was telling one of my Korean friends about this custom, he told me that his friends in a Korean high school had done the exact same thing upon their graduation. It seems, then, to be a custom in some or all parts of Korea as well. Perhaps this custom is something that runs as a common thread between Asian countries because of the widespread use of school uniforms, and strict school policies. Similar to the way that American high school graduates throw their caps in the air after their graduation as a small form of rebellion and show of their independence, Japanese and Korean students throw eggs and flour at each other to mark their freedom from the uniforms that had defined them for most of their youth.