daniela silvestri

2015 - Ongoing


In the far southeast of Estonia, looking at the Russian soul from this side of Lake Peipsi, we meet the politically unrecognized region of Setomaa, self-proclaimed in 1994 by the Setos, his native people of Ungro-Finnic origin. Today more than ever, the Setos feel the need to preserve - especially for future generations - an identity that, over the centuries, has seen borders move like pieces of a puzzle, still unsolved today. The element that most distinguishes the Setos is a strongly identity culture linked to ancient traditions and indigenous customs, where women play a fundamental role. Hence the festive occasions, between the sacred and the profane, between the solemnity and the goliardia, become fundamental moments in which the Setos, Estonians and Russians, meet and try to defend their future and their uniqueness, above all trying to involve younger generations.

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  • The kingdom of Setomaa was self-proclaimed in 1994 by the Seto, its native people of Hungarian-Finnish origin. Every year the Seto people gather to elect their own King.

  • Lake of Ciudi, also known as Lake Peipsi or Lake Peipus is a vast lake located on the border between Estonia and Russia. This is the Estonian shore, from the port of Rapina, which faces and meets the Russian waters. The visa requirement with neighboring Russia is one of the main reasons for the dispersion of the Seto.

  • There are currently about 10,000 Seto in the world, 4000 in the Estonian region and 3000 in Russia, about half the estimated population in the 20th century. Recurrences and traditional festivals are important occasions in which the Seto meet and break down the borders. There are many young people, Russians and Estonians, who actively participate in these occasions.

  • The Seto are of Orthodox Christian religion. Every year on the day before Paasapäiv, or the Feast of the Transfiguration, a procession is held to the nearby lake, accompanied by several faithful. Father Viktor, from the Obinitsa church, is waiting to bless the cross in the water of the lake.

  • The day before the Feast of the Transfiguration, a small procession touches some of the most important places of worship and identity in the town of Obinitsa. However, this small procession is very much felt by the inhabitants of the village, even by young people.

  • According to the Orthodox tradition, gathering on the graves of loved ones to share a meal together strengthens the relationship and the bond with one's roots and families. Transfiguration Day is one of those occasions when everyone gathers in the Obinitsa cemetery to celebrate together with deceased loved ones and community members.

  • The relationship with the dead is deeply felt by SETO, even by young people, so the care of the cemeteries and graves of loved ones is always impeccable.

  • The pop-up café day is a day in which the SETO homes open to everyone to share an important moment of conviviality. For the occasion, some of the main dishes of the SETO tradition are prepared and offered to all visitors and young people are the first to get behind the stove.

  • Folk costumes are still held in high regard in Setomaa, these are proudly worn every day of celebration, as well as in numerous events. The main colors of the Seto folk costume are white and red. Seto folk costumes are handcrafted from start to finish, which is why they are particularly popular and, of course, expensive.

  • Today the future of the Seto seems very uncertain. The future will largely depend on the decisions of young people to emigrate or stay, the efforts of local institutions and the possibility that Russia will lift the visa requirement. The development of cultural tourism could help to pass on these traditions and stop the depopulation due to the poverty of the area and the lack of work.

  • The Seto are believed to have been Christianized as early as the 10th century, although most began to adopt the faith after the construction of the Pskov Monastery (now in Russia) in the 15th century. Paasapäiv, or the Feast of the Transfiguration, is one of the most important days of the year for the Seto of Mokornulk, or for those who live in and around Obinitsa.

  • During major religious celebrations, it is traditional to bring and share food offerings.

  • In the Seto culture, religious and popular festivals coexist and are all occasions to revive traditions and pass them on to the youngest. Bonfires are recurring occasions when members from neighboring villages gather and dance around a fire to the rhythm of the leelos, the traditional polyphonic songs of the Seto gods, added by UNESCO to its list of intangible culture since 2009.

  • When the Seto people and their guests gather for Seto Kingdom Day (SETO KUNINGRIIK), it is the climax of the year in Setomaa. It is a great occasion of celebration and meeting for the Seto of each region, it is an opportunity to experience the language, craftsmanship, music, cuisine of Seto and relax with traveling muds and saunas, very fashionable in these areas.

  • The election of the ülemsootska (the representative of the SETO people) does not mean the end of Kingdom Day, which continues with parties, balls and a final parade. This day is very important for the SETO people, who find an opportunity to get together and involve the youngest, who on these occasions always have an important role in organizing activities.

  • The kostipäiv is the most convivial day of the SETO tradition, an opportunity to get to the heart of homes and traditions. Some farms open to the public to host events, SETO food tastings or share one of Estonian passions: the sauna. Such an occasion is much loved especially by the younger ones.

  • Women play a key role in the SETO tradition. The proudest part of the Seto woman's folk costume is her silver jewelry. It is said you can hear a Seto woman arrive before you see her, because her silver chains and dangling coins make so much noise. The emblem of a married woman is a large brooch: it shows that she is of childbearing age and protects the most sensitive place of the woman, her soul, from the evil eye.

  • In ancient times, the spokesman for the Seto was their god Peko, who now rests in the caves of the Pskov monastery. The representative of the Seto or ülemsootska is now the person through whom Peko speaks to the Seto people and others further away. Aare Hõrn is the current King. Here the procession preceding the feast of the Transfiguration closes.