The museum champions the lifestyles of people in the years current and previous, and the skills and knowledge linked to this are being upheld, celebrated and rejuvenated. Lišov Múzeum is less a museum about archaeology and artefacts and more a museum about a way of life, and a community. It feels like it preserves less of a specific time period, but looks towards history as more of an template for our modern world, assessing what we can learn from the past to improve what we do today, which on a much broader scale allows us to asses our own identities in the process.
At the cultural centre, we chat with the ladies, who welcome us with evident pride, about the people and stories of Gorsko Slivovo. The gallery space provides powerful juxtaposition: on one wall, dark eyes stare, four mothers dressed in black, four sons sacrificed, partisan scenes of resistance and death. A shrine remembers oppressions past, Soviet, Ottoman, Roman; on the other wall, paintings of traditional dress, costumes of colour and hope, the shepherds practical garb, lively animals and fertile fields. The promise of bounty and celebration of a community, who knew it is only the land, which has always been there, and through commitment sustains them. Like some ongoing conversation across the gallery, these faces of Bulgaria continue to speak.
Estonian runic singing began to decline as European influences took prevalence. When I heard this I was reminded of a passage in a book called ‘Soil and Soul’ by Alastair McIntosh, when he described a ‘loss of cultural self-confidence’ that occurred in Gaelic culture with the advent of television and radio. The singing that used to accompany activities such as weaving, rowing and ploughing gradually fell silent.
This trip has inspired me to finally bite the bullet and sign up to Gaelic classes (a part of my own heritage that was not passed down by my great-grandparents). On the Sandwood estate where I work we are also developing a plan to gather unrecorded Gaelic place names from older members of the community, to see what more they can tell us about the area’s people, history and ecology before they are lost forever. This trip has inspired me to believe this is a project well worth undertaking.
Rapid development is the watchword for Estonia. New infrastructure, new roads, integration of technology and heavy investment – both nationally and from the European Union – speak of a country facing forward. It is heartening to see that this is not to the detriment or exclusion of natural, built and cultural heritage. Tradition runs deep and, for the most part, it is incorporated into Estonian identity along with this rapid progress. Development has been carefully balanced, in the main, with nature. Estonians value nature and their relationship with it in a different way to Scotland, it being more integrated and present in their lives, all around them rather than being something one takes a trip to visit.
Exhibits included 3D site models – making the castle more accessible for visually impaired visitors, and old maps and archaeological site drawings printed on Perspex which could be slid over one another showing how the site changed through time (an idea I’d like to steal for Archaeology Scotland!). My favourite exhibit was the wall of artefacts found during recent excavations. Pot fragments displayed over the outline of the type of pot they came from and bridle parts displayed over a sketch of a horse’s head made it obvious what the artefacts were, and were used for in the past – sketches like this would be a great addition to our Artefact Investigation kits.
The ‘singing revolution’ is the time between 1986 and 1991 when Estonians gathered in large numbers to sing revolutionary songs in a non-violent protest against the soviet occupation. Culturally this was a powerful way of Estonia retaining its identity. 100,000 Estonians gathered for 7 days and nights in the Tallinn song festival grounds.
‘Until now, revolutions have been filled with destruction, burning, killing and hate, but we started our revolution with a smile and a song’
Estonian Activist Heinz Valk who coined the term ‘ singing revolution’
What inspired and impressed me most was the chosen narrative, the acceptance that different idea(l)s of Estonia exist, from the Estonian diaspora, islanders, people from the countryside, from towns or from Tallinn. It wasn’t supporting one national idea of what Estonia is, which too often seems to be propagated by countries even today but showing that there are many and that there is room for all of them. Visitors were also frequently asked to consider “what would you have done?” instead of condemning everything in good or bad. It was the perfect ending, summing up what we all had come to notice – that Estonians are a very resourceful and colourful people, proud of who they are and where they are from.