Unelma Konkka

The first Kalevala Society Award was granted to Unelma Konkka, who is one of the foremost authorities on Baltic-Finnic culture among Russian-speaking readers. In Finland, her extensive fieldwork in Viena, Olonets and Tver as well as her research on Karelian ritual laments have significantly increased our understanding of the Karelian culture and way of life.

Photo Pirjo Mäkilä

Photo Pirjo Mäkilä

Unelma Konkka (1921–2011), of Ingrian extraction, worked for 20 years as a researcher at the Petrozavodsk Science Academy, at the Institute of Language, Literature and History. Konkka has made several collection trips to the villages of Viena, Olonets and Tver from 1945 onward. Her research has covered a broad range of oral folklore, particularly fairytales, stories and laments. Unelma Konkka published on Karelian mocking fairytales in 1965. She has edited two important scientific folk fairytale collection (1963 and 1967), including over 170 fairytales as both Russian translations and in the storytellers’ own dialects, so her works are also important corpuses for scholars of the Karelian language. The detailed introductions to these collections contain valuable information on the nature of Karelian fairytales, on how the stories were collected and on the storytellers.

Konkka was the main force behind a 1980 Russian study on the mental folk culture of Seesjärvi Karelia, writing extensive sections on family rituals and different types of oral folklore. The published material is based on recorded interviews from 1972-1976, and has been published in the study without modifications. Consequently, this work is also significant for understanding the dialect of the Seesjärvi region.

Konkka started to work with laments in the late 1960s. She has recorded dirges and studied performances in many Karelian villages. The Finnish Literature Society in 1985 published Forever Mournful. Karelian Laments, Konkka’s remarkable work on the contexts and stylistic features of Karelian laments. Unelma Konkka is also the driving force behind Russian translations of a series of Lönnrot’s diaries and letters, as well as a selection of translations from the Kanteletar, writing introductions for both works. Her proposal led to the Russian translation of a selection of Eero Salmelainen’s fairytales.

Unelma Konkka is also an accomplished poet. Her first collection, I Listen to the Voice of the Times, was published in 1977 under the name Katri Korvela. She has since then published Sleeping Hills (1983) and Reflections (1999). Her poems have also been published, e.g., in cultural magazine Carelia.