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Jussi Huovinen

Jussi Huovinen

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Jussi Huovinen is Karelia’s last living rune-singer. He has committed much of the Kalevala to memory. We first became aware of Jussi from a brief appearance he made in National Geographic’s Beyond the Movie: Lord of the Rings. Jussi lives just outside Hietajärvi, a remote village in Eastern Finland. His house is just a few hundred metres from the Russian border, which divides the Karelian homeland.

Despite this remoteness, Jussi gets visitors from all over the world who, like us, come to hear him sing ancient rune-songs from memory. (On the day we visited, he also hosted a Jungian counsellor from the Netherlands.)

Jussi is a living treasure — an accomplished artisan, sculptor, house builder (in the traditional karelian style), instrument maker, fiddler, farmer, hunter, kantele player, and of course, rune-singer.

Our local guide, Janne Seppänen told us the deal with visiting Jussi: since he’s now crippled with arthritis, he can’t come into town anymore. So we are to take him groceries in return for the interview / performance.

After a quick visit to the supermarket in Kuhmo we set off for Hietajärvi in our hire car. After a few more hours driving through the Finnish forest we arrived at Jussi’s house.

Jussi and his wife Henne were very welcoming, and despite the language problems, we got on very well. Jussi seemed genuinely pleased that we were interested in his tradition. It was a real privilege to share it with him.

After the interview, we had a wonderful feast featuring Karjalanpiirakat (traditional Karelian rice-filled pastries) and tinned elk meat!