Hunters' stories in a disappearing language March 29, 2010

Once again we participated in the world premiere of a new Liivo Niglas film. This time Liivo had made his film together with an anthropologist from Alaska, David Koester. The film shows us Pavel and Kosha, two itelmen who together with their dog go to repeat a hunt in the ways of their ancestors.

As the title goes, the film shows us some of the northern stories recalled by the two protagonists, about hunting, about getting drunk, about bears crying. But actually the film is about one story that is told indirectly. The language of this story has almost been lost, and the man who is supposed to tell it has almost forgotten how. It seems that a mother tongue, too, can become a foreign language. To get some Itelment language samples, David and Liivo asked uncle Kosha to tell a story about his first bear hunt, which uncle Kosha did delightfully, and many times. In Russian. To tell this story in his mother tongue, Kosha had to write it down, find all the forgotten words and even practice one difficult word for two days before he was happy with his pronounciation. And the story remained untold in the film.

One can also ask whether language is the most important aspect of a people's identity. For us Estonians, this is rather a problematic subject, though the example of the Livonians can be encouraging. People live on, even when their language falls from everyday use. Though for the Itelmen, the situation is exacerbated by economic difficulties. There's no work, people move to the cities, a small nation disappears in the masses.

But still it could happen – as in one of Pavel and Kosha's stories – that you get so drunk one day that the borders between languages break down, and in that fog everybody suddenly understands everybody else perfectly.

Liivo Niglas takes questions after the premier

Madli Kütt