Translations of Estonian literature into Udmurt

by Nadezda Pchelovodova

Translations of Estonian literature into Udmurt

Nadezda Pchelovodova

    The kinship between the Finno-Ugric languages was discovered in the 19th century, and translating one another’s literatures developed differently in various Finno-Ugric areas. In his monograph, Péter Domokos wrote about the interest of Estonian academics in Finno-Ugric literatures: “...these were the Estonian academics in particular who wrote the first articles about the literature of kindred peoples, and the first comprehensive overview, which also compared Mordvin, Mari, Udmurt and Komi literatures.” 

The first literary text translated from Udmurt into Estonian was a poem by Kuzebai Gerd. It appeared in Julius Mark’s article in the magazine Estonian Literature in 1925. The next translation from Udmurt into Estonian was in 1965, in the newspaper Edasi (Forward), which celebrated the 45th anniversary of Udmurt autonomy. We could say that Estonian-Udmurt literary contacts developed in a similar vein. Rare translations appeared in newspapers and magazines, and nearly all were translations via the Russian language.
The anniversaries of the Soviet Union offered opportunities for translating and publishing Estonian literature into Udmurt. Thus, in 1972 and 1982, various magazines printed poems by August Alle, Ralf Parve, Arvi Sijg, Minni Nurme, Juhan Smuul and Paul-Erik Rummo. Another favourable factor involved personal contacts. Estonian and Udmurt writers met at Soviet Writers’ Union conferences in Moscow and elsewhere. In 1964, for instance, the Udmurt writer Semjon Samsonov, the Mari writers Valentin Kosorotov and Aleksandr Juzõkain, and the Estonian writer Arvo Valton met at a conference of young writers. A little while later, Valton translated short stories by Mari and Udmurt writers; short stories by Arvo Valton and Mart Raud appeared in Udmurt, and were translated by Samsonov. In the early 1980s, the translations of two Udmurt poets were published in Estonian. In the late 1980s, two Udmurt PhD students at Tartu University, Bibinur Zaguljajeva and Tatjana Peevozšikova, translated Estonian literature. A selection of Udmurt poetry and a short story appeared in the newspaper Edasi. An Estonian fairy-tale and Kalle Muuli’s three children’s poems were published in an Udmurt children’s magazine. In 1988 an Udmurt newspaper mentioned that a delegation of Udmurt writers had been invited to Estonia for a visit. However, after that only one poem, by Juhan Liiv, was translated into Udmurt.
The 1990s were breakthrough years for Estonian-Udmurt literary relations. Various institutions and ideologies uniting Finno-Ugric writers were established. The first world congresses of Finno-Ugric peoples took place, and the Fenno-Ugria Foundation in Estonia was restored. Seventy years after Julius Mark first introduced Kuzebai Gerdi, the latter’s work was once again presented to Estonian readers. Twenty-two poems in Arvo Valton’s translation were published in the magazine Looming (Creation), as were fifteen poems by Ašaltši Okii. The French academic Eva Toulouze wrote articles in Estonian about Nenets and Udmurt writers. On the initiative of the Mari writer Miklaj Rõbakov, the first meeting of Finno-Ugric writers was organised in Mari El in1989. After that, the Finno-Ugric Association of Literatures (registered in Hungary) and the M.A. Castren Society in Finland were established. The meetings became regular, e.g. between 1991 and 2008 they took place in Finland, Hungary, Estonia, Mordvinia, the Komi Republic, the Udmurt Republic, the Khanty Autonomous Area and Karelia.
A conference dedicated to ethnofuturism took place in May 1994 in Estonia, and this encouraged subsequent seminars. Magazines dedicated to ethnofuturism appeared in Finland and Udmurtia, and a homepage was set up in Estonia ( The Udmurt magazine for young adults Invožo started publishing the work of Estonian and Võru poets. In 2005, the anthology The Maiden and the Bear appeared, gathering translations done at ethnofuturist seminars in Estonia. Estonian poets were represented by Kristina Ehin, Aapo Ilves, Jaan Kaplinski, Kivisildnik, Olavi Ruitlane and Kauksi Ülle; and about thirty Udmurt poems and a short story were translated into Estonian and Võru.
The 1996 Finno-Ugric Association of Literatures took place in Estonia and was dedicated to translating fiction. Fragments of the Estonian epic, a poem by Ellen Niit and a short story by Arvo Valton appeared in Udmurt the same year.
A book series of Finno-Ugric poetry classics in Estonian was started, offering an overview of the development of Finno-Ugric poetry. Four anthologies in this series have appeared so far.
Since 1998 a series of poetry by Finno-Ugric female authors has been coming out, including the book titled Four Udmurt Women, translated by Valeeria Villandi, Ellen Niit and Arvo Valton.
In the early 2000s these series were continued.
In 2005 a new series came out, Big Literature of Small Nations. The Udmurt poetry anthology Silver Boat appeared in that series, and it contained 152 poems by Udmurt authors in the original language and in Estonian translation. The same series also presented Ašaltši Okii’s book. Estonian readers can now read all the poems by Okii. Poetry books by contemporary ethnofuturists have appeared as well, e.g. books by Peter Zahharov, Shiban Viktor, Vjatšeslav Ar-Serg, Sergei Matveev and Rafit Min.
In 2006 another series was started in Estonia, the poetry of young Finno-Ugric authors, and so far 12 collections of Mari, Erzya, Moksha and Komi poems have been issued, six of them by Udmurt poets. This series presents poems in the original languages and Estonian, and in literal translations in English and Russian. The series is meant for translators who are interested in Udmurt, Komi, Mari and Mordvin literature.
Estonians can today read poems by a total of 154 Udmurt authors, and 16 separate books introduce the work of Udmurt poets. The most important of them seems to be Kuzebaj Gerd: one of his poems is included in textbooks of Estonian literature. In 2008 a new award was established in Estonia – that of the Kindred People’s Programme and the Association of Finno-Ugric Literatures. It is given every year in five categories. The winner is announced every year on 1 November to commemorate Kuzebai Gerdi, who was executed on that day. In addition, an Udmurt cultural day in Estonia took place this year on 14 January, on Gerdi’s birthday.

In Udmurtia a book series dedicated to Estonian literature was started in 2003. On the initiative of Arvo Valton, this was undertaken by the Udmurt ethnofuturist Petr Zahharov, through his publishing house Invozho. The Kindred People’s programme supported my studies in Estonia and the publication of my translations in Udmurtia. I am also grateful to the Estonian Cultural Endowment for additional support.  
The print run of the books in this series is 500, and most (300 books) are given free to Udmurt schools and libraries. The books are all bilingual. The list of published books so far follows:
Валтон Арво. Тынад нимыд вошъяськылэ: Веросъёс, новеллаос, диалогъёс, кылбуръёс, лэчыт веранъёс. – Ижкар, 2003.
Ristikivi, Karl. Inimese teekond = Адямилэн улон сюресэз: Кылбуръёс. – Ижкар, 2004.
Peterson, Kristian Jaak. Selle maa keel = Та музъемлэн кылыз: Кылбуръёс но дневникысь чуръёс. – Ижкар, 2005.
Alver, Betti. Tähetund = Инвис усьтиськон вакыт: Кылбуръёс. – Ижкар, 2005.
Enno, Ernst. Rändaja õhtulaul = Сюресчилэн ж:ыт кырз:анэз: Кылбуръёс. – Ижкар, 2005.
Валтон Арво. Веросъёс / Берыктизы Н.Пчеловодова, В. Ар-Серги, С. Матвеев, С. Самсонов, С. Любимова, В. Шибанов, П. Захаров. – Ижкар, 2005.
Liiv, Juhan. Sinuga ja sinuta =Тонэн но тонтэк: Кылбуръёс. – Ижкар, 2006.
Under, Marie. Mu süda laulab = Сюлэмы кырза: Кылбуръёс. – Ижкар, 2006.
Haava, Anna. Mul on tare taeva all = Коркае инбам улын: Кылбуръёс. – Ижкар, 2006.
Runnel, Hando. Ilus maa = Чебер музъем. - Ижкар, 2007.
Koidula, Lydia. Mu isamaa on minu arm = Атай музъем — яратонэ. - Ижкар, 2008.

Another series, published since 2008 in Udmurtia, is Estonian children’s literature in Udmurt. Two books have appeared:

Эно Рауд. Зэмос учыр. - Ижевск, 2008.
Эллен Ниит. Мидри музъем. - Ижевск, 2008.

Is Estonian literature read in Udmurt and who reads it? I have to be honest here: the Udmurt poetry books published in Estonia are better received in Udmurtia. For example, the anthology Silver Boat was very enthusiastically welcomed. An important role is played by the quality of the books, as the books published in Estonia are very beautiful. We owe thanks to the Kirjastuskeskus, Riho Rajand and the book designer Piret Räni. Also, every text by an Udmurt author that is published abroad is a source of great pride for us and good for our prestige. 
Every text translated from a foreign language contributes to the development of the Udmurt language and its readers. On the whole, Udmurt children mostly learn world literatures in Russian translations at school.
Speaking of Estonian and Udmurt cultures, it is impossible to ignore the topics of history and the political future. In the words of Kari Sallamaa: “Writing in a minority language is a conscious and risky choice, and the reasons are ethical and political.” Estonian literature certainly interests Udmurt readers. After the first book by Arvo Valton was published, two short stories were read on the radio and some were published again in newspapers and magazines. Then some Udmurt writers suggested some more Valton should be published, especially his work that was not translated into Russian. And another example – after a book by Karl Ristikivi appeared, a magazine for young adults published a selection of his poems. The first reader of my translations is my mother. She once admitted that, hearing church bells ringing, she had inadvertently quoted a poem by Betti Alver. I keep finding parallels and quotations from Estonian poetry in contemporary Udmurt poetry. Estonian-born ethnofuturism is now the strongest trend in Udmurt culture.
The relations between the two cultures are developing further. The series of young Finno-Ugric poets currently being published in Estonia has become a role model and a similar series will be published in Hungary, in Hungarian, French and German.
Young people are hopefully learning a lot from people who are contributing a lot now: Peter Domokos, Janos Pusztay and Katalin Nady in Hungary; Raija Bartens, Leena Laulaiainen, Arto Moisio and Kari Sallamaa in Finland; Eva Toulouze and Jean Luc Moreau in France; and Arvo Valton and Ülle Kauksi in Estonia.
You are welcome to come to the next congress of the Association of Finno-Ugric Literatures in 2010 in Finland, which is dedicated to the problems of translating literature.