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Laments in contemporary Finland

Research group
Finished 01.04.2021 - 31.03.2024
Karelian Institute, Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies


Combining research and arts, Kyynelkanavat*-project observes the continuum of the lamenting tradition and its role in modern Finnish society. Lamenting has its roots in Finnic tradition, in particular the Karelia and Ingria region. Laments were usually performed at rites-of-passage events, funerals or graves, weddings and other life-shaping events, and with laments, lamenters express personal and communal grief. In addition, laments were performed in settings such as get-togethers to express joy and gratitude. In this project, we ask what kind of needs does lamenting fulfill in the contemporary world?

The project consists of three artist–researcher working pairs, who approach the theme through the perspectives of body, experience, religion, communality, emotions and affects. The research employs views of folklore studies, ethnomusicology and cultural studies and these three disciplines are combined with artistic approaches when focusing and adapting lamenting tradition. The project is based at the Karelian Institute at the University of Eastern Finland and is led by Docent Elina Hytönen-Ng (PhD).

In contemporary society, lamenting has been sprouting in many different directions from arts into therapeutic self expression. In our research the main questions are, what kinds of meanings are given to lamenting? What are all the forms and practices that the lamenting and laments are finding in modern society? Through research, we aim to explore the wide field of lamenting tradition in contemporary Finland and to highlight the variety of phenomena it is created from.

Within Kyynelkanavat project, annual events will be organized. At these events, we aim to provide a meeting place for everyone interested in laments. The themes that the artist–researcher pairs are working on will be presented and there will be open space for the researchers, lamenters and all attendees to discuss.

*The name of the project, Kyynelkanavat, has a couple of meanings. Dictionary translation for it is ‘tear ducts’ or ‘lacrimal ducts’, but it is also translated as channels of tears.

Laments lost or alive and well – International Conference of the Lament Tradition (May 15–17, 2023 in Helsinki, Finland)

Photo collage of lament tradition

Lamenting – ritual wailing – is a practice that is known worldwide. The ways of lamenting and the meanings of laments vary from culture to culture and from context to context.

In this conference, we explore the variety of laments, their meanings, and their practices in relation to the world changing all around. The conference aims to reflect on questions and topics inherent to the contemporary field of lament research and to search for some common ground. We invite scholars to discuss the lament, its various representations and interpretations, and related metacultural discourses: the lament saved, kept, revived, revised, appropriated, experienced, sensed, in history, recorded, dug up from archives, reinterpreted, transmitted, and twisted into something new – but not lost.

The conference discussions find their home in the shared ground between folklore, cultural and religious studies, ethnomusicology, ethnology, and anthropology.

Dates and venue
The conference will be held in Helsinki at the Finnish Literature Society as an in-person event on May 15–17, 2023.

Confirmed keynote speakers

Professor Charles L. Briggs (Anthropology, Berkeley University of California)

PhD Eila Stepanova (Folklorist, Executive Director of Karelian Cultural Society)
Eila Stepanova is a Finnish folklorist specializing in Karelian and more broadly in North Finnic lament poetry. She received her doctoral degree at the University of Helsinki in 2014. She is recognized as the foremost active expert on Karelian laments and as an expert in Karelian culture more generally, with a wide range of fieldwork experience. Stepanova is currently an executive director of the Karelian Cultural Society (Karjalan Sivistysseura).

Kyynelkanavat – Laments in the contemporary Finland – project at the University of Eastern Finland founded by Kone Foundation
Karelian Cultural Society
Finnish Literature Society

Photo collage of lament in Karelia and in contemporary Finland. Credits: I.K. Inha 1894 / Finnish Heritage Agency; Screenshot from YouTube-video 2020; P. Virtaranta 1968 / Ahavatuulien armoilla (1999); R. Patrikainen 2021; A.O. Väisänen 1915 / Finnish Heritage Agency; R. Patrikainen 2021; Screenshot from YouTube-video 2020


Post-doctoral Researchers

Doctoral Researchers

Other group members