Interview with Gói duo (Finland)

“Beautiful are beings of the underground. Mighty is the folk of water”

Gói is a duo project by Rauni Hautamäki and Iida Mäkelä from South Ostrobothnia, Finland. They create music with an ancient touch and enliven the image of Western Finnish history by telling stories and using the South Ostrobothnian dialect. Their music aims to create authentic and intensive soundscapes.

We tell stories about ancient southern Ostrobothnia, which contains two provinces in Western Finland; Ostrobothnia & South Ostrobotnia (back in the days they used to be one common province). Some of our stories have historical factual background or theories, while others are fictitious but date back to ancient Ostrobothnia. The interpretation of our music dates mainly to the Merovingian (years 575-800) and Viking Age (years 800-1050).

Gói duo: Iida Mäkelä on the left, Rauni Hautamäki on the right.Photographer: Valtteri Mäkelä @Gói

There is a lot of beautiful folk music in Finland, but to a large extent they show more or less Karelianism. Few (especially foreigners) know that Eastern and Western cultures in Finland differ quite a lot, also musically. We wanted to highlight Western Finnish cultural history and especially Ostrobothnia, which has received too little attention in our opinion. The cultural boundary between Finland’s east and west is large. Surprisingly, the DNA genome is also higher between the eastern and western parts of Finland than between, for example, the English and the Germans. Ostrobothnia has a western influence.

The history of the Vikings is of widespread interest around the world, but the role of Finns in Viking activities in the East is rarely on display. The maps show that the Vikings were influential in the west, south and east - but Finland is left out on the maps. This is explained by e.g. the fact that the Finnish tribes in the Baltic Sea were important partners when trading in what is now Russia. Often also overlooked is the fact that the Sámi and Finnish tribes inhabited a large part of the areas that are now Scandinavian: there were no nation states yet - not Norway, Sweden or Finland as we know them now. There were different language-speaking tribes whose inhabited areas had nothing to do with the current territorial boundaries.

In the period before the Vikings (during the period of international migration and merovingian years 400-800), an exceptionally prosperous population center could be found in Southern Ostrobothnia. At its core were the Kyrö and Vöyri areas and it was the richest area in Finland with many connections to Gotland and Norrland and thus to central Norway(1). (For more information, see endnotes)

Ostrobothnia is very dear to us. Our roots are deep in that area and we want to honor our ancestors and other ancient folks who used to live there in our own creative way. We cannot know what kind of language they spoke, want kind of music they played or what kind of individuals they were, but perhaps we can enliven the idea of it through music. It may evoke in humans a certain kind of primitive feelings, a kind of longing for the ancestors and the lifestyle of that time. In the end, they were certainly pretty similar to us. They, too, dreamed, they had an equally lively imagination, and they got shivers from a rhythmic drumming.

Since we cannot use any language spoken in the area during Merovingian period or Viking Age, we had to use our own artistic approach and chose South Ostrobothnian dialect, with more or less dialectal words from the direction of Härmä and Kyrö area. There is a small chance they might contain some kind of remnants of an ancient language or dialect.

What Gói means and what meanings the name holds to you? What you want to say with it?

We picked the name from a story that can be found in old Scandinavian sagas: the story of Thórr, King of Finland and Kvenland, who had sons Nórr and Górr and a daughter Gói. This is how we chose to connect the name to our music. It’s not based on factual information, but it doesn’t need to. It’s a fascinating theory and the story is interesting. Nevertheless, the Ostrobothnian region used to have strong connections to Scandinavia in ancient times. That is why a Scandinavian-sounding name suits us pretty well.

The name Gói itself means a light snow cover. More specifically, the name represents the period between February and March, which was considered as so-called Women’s Month. During that period the landscape was often covered with just such a thin layer of snow. Gói is a feminine name and also symbolizes a female character, so Gói could be considered a kind of late winter goddess. We wanted the name of our duo to be feminine, ancient and narrative. That is why the word Gói was a perfect option for us.

Saivo lakes had two bottoms, which were connected by a hole. The noaide (sámi witch) entered his soul journeys to the Underworld through that hole also.

What kind of journey it has been to make this song called “Saivo”?

Extremely interesting. Working on songs like these always requires a certain state of mind to get the results you want. While working on Saivo we basically had to picture ourselves with a drum in front of a saivo lake, making a spiritual journey to the underworld. We wanted to live through the story so we could give a “soul” to the song. It wasn’t that easy, since the environment where we recorded wasn’t close to peaceful nature.

Our source of inspiration came from Levänluhta, which is an ancient relic site in Isokyrö in southern Ostrobothnia. It’s only about 8 kilometers from Rauni’s childhood home. According to the latest theory, Levänluhta has been a freshwater pond or a small lake during the Iron Age. At least a hundred people - mostly women and children - were buried into the depths of Levänluhta during Iron Age, with the practice continuing for at least 400 years. It is a unique discovery since nothing of its kind has been found anywhere else (except for Vöyri, another location in southern Ostrobothnia). It is also pecurial that the water burials in Leväluhta are simultaneous with the mound burials in the area and there are also similar boat cremation burials in the area as e.g. in Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

According to DNA research, the genetic heritage of Levänluhta is reminiscent of today's Sámi. However, one of three DNA samples examined belonged to a Scandinavian. There is also strong evidence that Sámi people once inhabited a much larger area, stretching as far as southern Finland. We can speculate, whether or not the sacred pond of Leväluhta was something more than a mere burial ground. Our theory is that it might have been a Saivo lake.

The recording process itself was slow due to zero budget and long distances. Also, we want to use love and care to all of our songs, we don’t want to rush. On the other hand, precisely because of the distances and busy work schedules on our daily life, we need to keep some sort of schedule for our music project. We are able to record approximately once a month, when we drive about 350 kilometers to our friend’s home studio. In one visit, we have time to record for less than 2 days. So, in 3 months we have less than 6 days to record. Therefore, it easily takes about 4-6 months to publish one song. “Saivo” took us 4 months.

Listen on Youtube: Saivo by Gói, April 2020

In your song, I can hear gentle whispers. Are you singing for Saivo and the beings in there or they to you?

This, of course, has been left a bit open for interpretation. How does the listener himself interpret these whispers? Our music is meant to be ritual-like and everyone experiences it individually. We don’t want to give too precise description of the progress of the story. It would break the individual journey through the song. However, we ourselves feel that these vague, wordless whispers at the beginning come from Saivo and the beings living there. Perhaps some of the voices also come from the blindworm described in the lyrics.

Water is associated with death and life as a liminal element for northern people. The Land of the Dead is typically located under water or accessed through water, such a river. In the Old Poems of Finnish People the River of Tuonela needs to be crossed to access to Tuonela (Land of the Dead). The Sámi of Finnish Lapland sees the Saivo lakes as a place to enter the Underworld. Saivo is also known as a sacred place and its known that “The Lapps claimed to have visited saiwo often, interacted with saiwo-olmah (deities), danced and yoiked (sung) with them” as in the text from Lars Levi Laestadius, that was written in 1838–1845. "Every Lapp was to have in his saiwo three creatures who would be present any time he called for them; first, a bird, which was called saiwo-lodde; second, a fish or a serpent {more likely, an eel; there are no snakes in Lapland} which was called saiwo-guolle or guarms ..., and third, a reindeer called saiwo-sarva.These served their masters by accompanying them when they yoiked (sang magic songs), showed them the way when they traveled and gave them their hunting gear when they were going hunting. They brought them information from far-away regions, and helped them look after their reindeer and other possessions." (11)

The lyrics talks about knowledge. What is the knowledge that people can look from sacred place in nature?

Iida: In certain places sensitive people have always had odd, peaceful, scary or spiritual feelings. Those places are usually therefore called sacred, not forgetting the beauty created by nature. I don’t think there are any false questions to ask. Searched knowledge could be old wisdom hidden by deceased beings or simply a request for assistance in resolving problems. It can be used for personal matter, to help you to improve or clear your thoughts, your way of seeing. One can try to communicate with dead or try to deepen the connection with the underworld and its creatures. The information sought in our song is left to the listener to decide.

Iida Mäkelä on the left front playing Jouhikko - three-stringed Finnish bowed lyre, Rauni Hautamäki on the right.

Photographer: Valtteri Mäkelä. @Gói

You are pictured in a Saivo place, what is the meaning of the place for you personally and what kind of experience it was to relate to it through your song?

Rauni: Saivo is a powerful, sacred place. When I walk near a certain lake or spring, I simply know I mustn’t act in any disrespectful way. Whether it is due to a deep spiritual experience or my ability to sense history and the beliefs of its time so passionately, I respect such sacred places immensely. Water is a fascinating element. Its surface reflects your face, clouds and the trees visible above you, but you can never be sure what’s underneath. I wanted to pass this special feeling of this intriguing place into our song. I think that is what made the recording process so fascinating in the first place. And I personally experience nature as divine, sacred place for me, much more than any building humans have ever created. So, in a way, it was pretty easy to find a certain kind of spiritual approach to the subject.

Saivo

Between the worlds,

A blindworm

In Saivo

The folk of the underworld awaits

In Saivo, the clouds swirling beneath

Tree roots atop the surface

The light circles widdershins

Beautiful are beings of the underground

Mighty is the folk of water

Seeking the knowledge, discerning

It’s drifting toward

It’s caught

Peal calls back to the

roots of the tree on

the surface

Original lyrics in Finnish by Taina Hautamäki,

English translation by Iida Mäkelä

What kind of musical instruments you use?

All our instruments have been used in a form or another here in northern countries. Some of them are very raw and ancient. They are made from natural materials, such as wood, bark, bones and hair. Most of their tunings changes due the humidity, which makes them quite hard to play and record. Avoiding plastic makes our instruments sound primal and raw.

Shamaanirumpu (round) – A shamanistic drum with a wooden frame and reindeer skin stretched as drumhead. This instrument has been used for a shaman entering into a trance state during a ritual.

Jouhikko - A three-stringed Finnish bowed lyre. The strings are horsehair and the core made of wood. It’s played by placing it on the lap, between knees. There is no fingerboard to press the strings against, but the strings are stopped by touching them with the back of the fingers.

Suhistinpuu – A thin, elongated piece of wood with a string tied to the end. It’s swung above the head in a large circle which makes a low and rhythmic humming sound.

Munniharppu - Metallic mouth harp. The mouth acts as a resonator and the harps “tongue” is tapped by a finger.

We also use a rattle made of goat bones, different bigger bones as rhythmic instruments, animal horns, metal objects, sticks and rocks and other natural materials when creating a soundscape. We also have new instruments to use in future songs, for example Hautatorvi, a “grave horn”. It has been played during tar making in the region of Southern Ostrobothnia.

Kiitos, Thank you, Iida and Rauni!

Dalva

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Notes:

One factor in the accumulation of wealth was presumably large-scale fur procurement, which extended in the south to the Kokemäenjoki watershed, in the north at least to Forest Lapland and in the east even to Ladoga (2). Furs were sold to Scandinavian claimants who forwarded them to Central Europe (3). Archaeological finds of the era tell of imported objects that were gifts given between elite interregional networks. They tell about alliances and kinship ties (4). Alliances involved, for example, marriages between the elites of different regions, the organization of feasts, and the giving and receiving of military support. It may be considered possible that the Ostrobothnian upper class also took part in military action in Central Europe (5).

The South Ostrobothnian tomb finds of the Merovingian period (575-800) tell of heavily armed cavalry and warriors. Decorated with Vendel-style animal ornamentation, swords and horse tools are combined with the Scandinavian, warlike cult of Odin. The amount of such artifacts in the tombs indicates that the Ostrobothnian upper class probably adopted elements from the Odin cult (6).

The Scandinavian sagas mention Kvenland, whose inhabitants were named Kvens. Ostrobothnia was formerly called Kainuu and its inhabitants “kainulaiset”. The name “Kven” is considered a Norwegian translation of the name “Kainu”. Several scholars have concluded that Kvenland originally mean the Iron Age settlement of the Southern Ostrobothnia until the beginning of the Viking Age, and possibly the wider area affected by it in the coastal areas of the Gulf of Bothnia (7). The sagas also mention the kings of Finland and Kvenland and their kinship to Scandinavia. The Orkney saga features a birth story called Fundinn Noregr, which seeks to explain the origins of Norway’s mighty clans. Its events take place at the turn of the migration period and Merovingian era, and speaks of Thorr, king of Gotland, Finland and Kvenland, to which the pre-Viking lineage of the Earls of Orkney, the Dukes of Normandy and the kings of England, Sweden and Norway is derived. Finland meant only the current region of Southwest Finland. Whether the story is true or not, it at least tells us that the descent from the kings of Finland and Kainuu at the time of the story was considered worth telling (8).

When the Viking Age came, something happened: the prosperous and warlike settlement of Southern Ostrobothnia disintegrated. It is possible that internal disputes arose or that Ostrobothnia’s position in fur sales was threatened from the outside. Various theories have been presented, for example, about the Viking invasion and, for example, about the Kalevala war expedition to the North described in the Kalevala. The name Kainuu still remained for a long time as a regional name for the coastal region of Ostrobothnia. Today, it means only one northern Finnish province. The people of Finnish origin currently living in the territory of northern Norway, in turn, are known as Kvens.

Several languages that have disappeared today have been spoken in Finland and its surrounding areas, some of which have belonged to the Uralic language family and some to completely unknown ancient European languages. The main languages of the Sámi and Finnish have come from the south and east in the early centuries of the Iron Age and they have merged the old languages into themselves. They, too, began to differentiate into their own regional dialects. The South Sámi language is now spoken in Central Scandinavia, where it has probably come from Ostrobothnia. It contains basic Scandinavian loanwords that can be combined with archaeological material from the 20th to the 6th centuries (9). The South Ostrobothnian dialects contain remnants of Iron Age languages that are foreign to other Finnish dialects. At present it is believed that in the region of southern Ostrobothnia, the ancient Sámi dialect was possibly spoken until the transition to the language of northern Finnish at the end of the Merovingian period. It is also estimated that he South Ostrobothnian dialect began to differ from the northern Finnish language as early as the Viking Age (10).

Saivo has many designations, it refers to a wide variety of spiritual beings, from animal spirits to anthropomorphic ancestors and spirits of nature and places. There is an important distinction between two categories of spirits, the guardian and the helping spirits (Bäckman 1975, 114 ff.). The former are anthropomorphic spirits who call the shaman into service and assist him with their counsel. Their position vis-a-vis the shaman is that of a superior or of an equal. The other category, which Bäckman denominates helping spirits, has a subordinated position. To this belong the saivo bird, the saivo reindeer bull and the saivo fish (or snake). These zoomorphic spirits are at the shaman's disposal. They accompany him on his soul-journeys, or fight for him against the helping spirits of other shamans—in this case the saivo bull is the active partner (Bäckman & Hultkrantz 1978, 43). They are the only spirits about whom it is said that they are reserved solely for the shaman. Bäckman notes that according to some information saivo could be inherited by everybody, not just the shamans, so that any person could have his guardian spirit (Bäckman 1975, 148, 159) (12).

References:

(1) Miettinen, M. 1998. Laihian esihistoria I. p. 119, Holmblad, P. 2013. Luolamiehistä talonpojiksi. p. 179

(2) Raninen, S. & Wessman, A. Muinaisuutemme jäljet. p. 259.

(3) Raninen, S. & Wessman, A. Muinaisuutemme jäljet. p. 178.

(4) Okkonen, J. 2003. Jättiläisen hautoja ja hirveitä kiviröykkiöitä - Pohjanmaan muinaisten kivirakennelmien arkeologiaa. Oulun yliopisto. p. 216-217

(5) Holmblad, P. 2013. Luolamiehistä talonpojiksi. p. 179- 191

(6) Holmblad, P. 2013. Luolamiehistä talonpojiksi. p. 179- 191

(7) Vahtola, J. 1980. Tornionjoki- ja Kemijokilaakson asutuksen synty. Pohjois-Suomen

historiallinen yhdistys, Rovaniemi. s. 465-469. + Salo, U. 2008. Ajan ammoisen oloista. SKS, Helsinki. p. 173-177. + Virrankoski, P. 1978. Kainu - Pohjanmaan rautakautinen kansa? Faravid 2. Oulu. Pohjois-Suomen Historiallinen Yhdistys. p. 121. + Julku, K. 1986. Kvenland - Kainuunmaa. Kustannusosakeyhtiö Pohjoinen, Oulu. p. 123.

(8) Linna, M. & Palmén, E. 1988. Suomen, Liivinmaan ja Kuurinmaan vaiheita - sekä tuntemattoman tekijän Suomen kronikka. Helsinki. SKS. p. 166

(9) Piha, M. 21.2.2020. Suomen esihistorian tuntemattomat kielet.

Kalmistopiiri. https://kalmistopiiri.fi/2020/02/21/suomen-esihistorian-tuntemattomat-kielet/

(10) Mantila, H. & Leiviskä, M. 2017. Onko Etelä-Pohjanmaan murteessa rautakautisia jälkiä? Virittäjä 2017 p. 160–175

(11) Fragments of Lappish Mythology, by Lars Levi Laestadius (Author), Juha Pentikainen (Editor), Borje Vahamaki (Translator). p. 109-113

(12) Hultkrantz, Å. (1987). On beliefs in non-shamanic guardian spirits among Saamis. Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, 12, p.110-123.

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