Monday 12th August at 17:52, the train to Moscow left from Helsinki Railway Station. It took a couple of hours before we reached the Russian border. At the border, there was a passport control during the time of which we were asked to stay in the cabin until the officers finished their duty. There was no problem with our passport and visa, so we went to sleep happily.
The following day we arrived in Moscow around 8 am. Having exited Leningradskiy train station, we crossed the road to leave our luggage at Kazanskiy station from which the continuing train would depart to Saransk in the evening. We spent nearly ten hours exploring Moscow before continuing our journey to Mordovia. At 21:35, the train to Saransk departed.
We arrived in Saransk in the early morning. During the day, we visited many significant places in the city. First, we visited the library and donated to them the books on Finnish and Finno-Ugric studies. The staffs of the library were very delightful of our generousness as our trip organiser, Jack Rueter, has continuously delivered many valuable books from Finland to Mordovia during the past decade.
The following place we visited was the Cultural Centre of Finno-Ugric Nations. The chief of the office was presenting to us activities they have organised for Finno-Ugric nations, above all, conferences, language revitalising programs, etc. At the end of the visit, we had a chance to watch young Mordovian people practising their contemporary genre of folk music and dance. It was an interesting to see how young people interpret and present their identity to the audience through fine arts.
The last destination we visited in Saransk was Ogarev Mordovia State Univesity. There, we visited the Department of Folklore and Culture in which there was an exhibition on the regional history, traditional Mordovian art and handicrafts. From the university, we got more accompanies, namely teachers and students who would join us during the whole fieldtrip in Dubyonskiy Raion. Around 3:30, we left Saransk by heading to our main destination, Dubinka.
At the border of the Raion, the local staff organised a traditional reception for us with bread and homemade beer. Then we moved on to our accommodation which was during the normal semester a dormitory for students. The place was not so clean and the water had a rusty smell so that we could not even brush our teeth with it. We ended the day having dinner in the restaurant that was serving us during the whole stay in Dubinka.
The following day, we visited significant places in Dubinka. First, we went to the museum in which there were exhibitions about the town from different perspectives from history to geography. Then, the staffs of the administrative office demonstrated a brief wedding ceremony for us to see. It was too brief and lack of many details that we later saw in the other villages.
At lunch, the local staff organised some performances for us. At the same time, they also asked us to perform something, so it was a first time our chorus team got on the stage.
In the afternoon, there was no other official program for us, so it was time to start doing the fieldwork. At that point, we did not concentrate on language yet, as we would like to take some light exercises by interviewing people in the village about their lifestyles, family and well-being. Unexpectedly, we collected a lot of interesting stories and information about these people.
The second village we visited was Morga. There, we got a very warm reception by the chief of the village and local people. They prepared for us some performances and a lot of food and drinks.
After the reception, the chief took us to several houses the owners of which we could interview and do some linguistic experiment. The Ethnography team continued collecting interesting stories about the place. On the other hand, the Grammar team started doing a test for Erzyan about spatiality by using LEGO. The feedback from the informants was good as they agreed that by posing questions through a toy, the interference from Russian was reduced compared to the traditional way to ask informants to drily translate expressions from Russian to Erzyan.
After working for a couple of hours, the chief took us to a bath place where fresh water was running through. At the end, we did not achieve much this day due to a long official program the local staff prepared for us. Despite, we got to start with the linguistic side, though.
The visit to Ardatovo started in a school in which there was even a classroom exclusively for Erzyan language and literature. We also watched a video about the wedding ceremony – this time in more details. After the school, we visited an orthodox church in which the priest offered to demonstrate a 20-minute-long mass.
At lunch, the local staff organised performances for us, again. After, it was a time to work. We did not have to leave the leisure time house where we had had lunch because there were already many informants waiting for us. Both Ethnography and Grammar team continued their works and have achieved a lot of results this day. The highlight was a village senior who said he had been working in the village as a teacher for more than 40 years! He also used to live in Tatarstan, so we asked him if he could also speak it for us. Unfortunately, he could not speak Tatar but did, instead, for us sing in Tatar.
This village seemed to us less russified compared to other villages as every local person we met could more or less speak Erzyan. We first went to the museum where the local students came to tell us about the brave stories of local soldiers participating in the wars.
In this village, we found one girl who could speak Finnish. She said she learnt it in Saransk in connection to a Finno-Ugric language revitalisation program. She was also a good informant for us to do the interview about Erzyan language.
In the afternoon, we hung out with the kids who were fluent both in Erzyan and Russian. They provided us many comparative examples between the languages, for example, animal and geographical terms. Our fellows in this trip seemed to like this village the most partly because of the kids and a strong Erzyan identity.
Not far from Dubinka is the village of Pomodimovo. There, we visited the museum and school. The local staff also prepared a demonstration of the traditional wedding ceremony for us, once again. After having watched this for many times, we probably already became experts in organising Erzyan wedding, I guess.
In the afternoon, we started hunting for our informants from the village. Some of us received a very warm reception and help from a babushka who was both a good hostess and informant. The others of us went on with the ethnographical and grammatical tasks. Since the morning reception was not long, we had plenty of time to collect more material this day.
The following day, we were still moving around the same village. The first informants we got were picking up there potatoes in their yard, so we used this opportunity to interview them in both Erzyan and Russian.
After, those who had not been to the babushka the previous day visited her house and again got a lot of good material from both ethnographical and grammatical side. In the afternoon, a five-people-group of us moved on to another village, Antonovka, in order to see the fortune teller!
First, we visited a babushka who happened to be a neighbour of the sister of Jack’s wife. She kindly prepared a full course lunch for us and showed us the area. She herself did bee farming for her life, so we got a chance to see the real bee farm. The babushka also gave us a jar of organic honey that she produced in her backyard as a present for our visit. It tasted very mild and natural. In another backyard, she also grew many kinds of plants. The highlight was a giant pumpkin that was even bigger than human’s head!
She kindly walked us to the place of a famous fortune teller. We had a conversation with her for a couple of hours before the time was up. She predicted the fortune for us, but her predictions did not sound accurate and consistent because once she started drinking alcohol, the predictions began to randomly go into other directions.
At first, she did not understand why we would publish the information that she provided only in the academic journal and not in the television. So, it took us almost 20 minutes to explain to her what we were actually doing and asked for her permission to publish the material we collected from her interview.
Besides the story we listened from her, we also noticed another interesting factor. Namely, in her Russian variant there are many features, both phonology and grammar, which differed from a standard language. For example, vowel qualities, ignorance of gender opposition, syntactic pattern transfer between Erzyan and Russian, and so forth.
In Kende village, we saw a demonstration of the wedding ceremony again. After a routine reception, we visited the orthodox church of the village. That was a program for the morning.
In the afternoon, we were taken by the bus to the skirt of the forest without having been told anything. Then, we started our adventure in the forest. We were looking for an abandoned fortress which has been buried under the forest. Along the way, the local ladies also kept telling us about the story of the location. Some of us even did an archaeological excavation and found some interesting objects.
After walking in the forest, we went back to the bath before being served a late lunch. The food this day was very good and different from other villages as they cooked in a forestry style with a real flame. After the meal, we had no choice but started our linguistic fieldwork with the local people being there with us in the forest. While interviewing, some local people started singing and dancing for us, which was nice but at the same time interrupting our work progress. In our opinion, we did not use our time smartly as we got stuck in the forest a half day and could not go to do the fieldwork in the village properly.
This was the last village in which we spent two days exploring the place. A half of the first day was gone with a routine reception. After the lunch, most of us were taken to a library which was situated on the other side of the town and which the local people were very proud of.
Before reaching the library, we stopped by the middle of the field to have a walk to a famous hill. According to the legend, single women should go to the cliff and ask for life partners. Many of us – married and unmarried, male and female – tried this ritual so we expected to see the results soon or later.
Having reached the library, we spent half an hour seeing the place which was, however, not as big library as one would imagine. Anyway, they did have a good collection of books on Erzyan language, culture and history.
Then, it was already 4 pm so we hurried back to the centre of the village to at least collect some useful material. Riho was contacted by a local person that he could meet some Chuvash people. The main reason was due to his research interest about bilingualism, which was expected to be reflected through his Russian-Erzyan translation test.
The following day, which was the last day for doing fieldwork in Dubyonskiy Raion, we came back to Kabayevo again. This day we really concentrated on the centre of the village. The record of the day was made by Ksenia who tested 130 translation sentences with an Erzyan girl. The girl was very helpful to us as she participated in all of our grammatical tests and even took us to find more informants in the village.
The ethnography team rapidly achieved a lot during the last days after the arrival of Janne. Most of the place names in the map seemed to be more or less completely filled after having asked from local informants.
11. Annual Festival in Dubinka
This day was the annual celebration of Dubyonski Raion. We were also invited to take part in the festival. In the morning, we visited many boots, mostly from the villages. We tasted traditional food from different villages. We agreed that this was to be regarded as a sum-up round through all the villages we had been visiting during the past week, which was actually very pleasant as we could see the people who had helped us again.
After the round of tasting food, we moved on to the stage. There was a series of performances by the local people. At the end, our chorus team performed – besides Finnish folk song – one Erzyan folk song “Kavto cyorat” or ‘Two Boys’ which they also translated to Finnish “Kaksi paikaa”. The feedback from Erzyan people on the Finnish version was not such a boom but not either bad.
The last routine reception for us was a banquet lunch with the leaders of Raion. And that was our last toast in Mordivia before leaving for Saransk via Moscow back to Helsinki.