ENM Postal Museum (Rüütli 15, Tartu)
After the Estonian linguist Paul Ariste, whom the older generations of Romas still call by the cognomen “white gypsy“, the study of this small and private community has been arbitrary and chaotic. There are a couple of master theses which unfortunately remain hidden from the wider audience, and from time to time an article is published in the media. But stereotypically these flashes have a negative undertone.
If there are black sheep in a small community, their dirty deeds stigamtize the whole flock. The gypsies are an uncomfortable subject for us because we don’t really know them. Yet gypsies are one of our old and established minorities – they have lived here more or less permanently since the 17th century and the first mention of them dates all the way back to the year 1533.
The community of Romas currently living in Estonia follows three streams – there are Estonian, Latvian and Russian gypsies. The first group, of whom only a few remain, are descendants of the older generation. Hence the Latvian and Russian gypsies now form the core of the Romas living here. The Latvian Romas have gathered in Valga and the Russian Romas mainly in the bedroom suburbs of Tallinn and the peripheral parts of the city.
Curators: Reena Purret, Annika Haas
Photography: Annika Haas
Design: Katri Haarde
Estonian National Museum Exhibition house
Yuri Vella (1948-2013), real name Yuri Ajvaseda , was born into a family of reindeer herders . He grew up in the village of Varjogani under the care of his grandmother Nengi. Fairy tales and legends heard from his grandmother laid the foundation for his knowledge on the Forest Nenets culture and worldview. Yuri began to write poems already at school, but, like many other young people of the village, he left high school and lived the usual life of Soviet indigenous people with his family.
When he was 40 years old and had already published some poems in the local press, he went to study in the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow. This was his first contact with the higher culture of Russia and the world. The experience broadened his worldview and he returned from Moscow with the certainty that the culture of the Forest Nenets is rich and unique and deserves to be seen in both poetry and politics.
In 1990 he fulfilled his long-standing dream: he bought a dozen reindeer and moved with his family to live in an area where his maternal lineage had lived before the forced collectivization. Yuri Vella created a well -functioning social environment for his family and the reindeer: he founded a number of camps with modern conveniences and a private camp in the forest for educating his grandchildren. With his mettlesome and courageous resistance he even managed to curb the oil company Lukoils’ hostile activity towards the local nature.
He left behind a number of literary works. In the beginning he wrote in Russian, but at present a large part of his legacy consists of prose and poetry in the Nenets language, which is also the basis of the Forest Nenets writing and literature.
Yuri Vella has his own voice and sound. After the first writing attempts, different genres blended in his work more and more, which in the end became just literature. The texts of Yuri Vella are either poetic texts or free verse; simple and compact writings which create music in the heart and come close to everyone.The photos of this exhibition reflect moments in Yuri Vellas’ everyday life and his participation in public events. The photos are taken at the writers conferences, but also in his summer camp in western Siberia, and elsewhere. They show Yuri Vella in situations that are characteristic to him.