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Projects: Jana Romanova. People of the Land

Jana Romanova

Saint-Petersburg

People of the Land

Maav?ci, “Peole of the Land”, one of the names of vaddjalain or vod’, the entire nationality which inhabited the land between lake Chudskoe and the Finnish Gulf. These people are one of the oldest indigenous peoples of Russia and right now there are only 15 old men and women live in two small villages in the district of Ust-Luga. During the World War II they were departured from their own land to Finland, after a year of staying in this
country, they were allowed to come back, but since that moment they had to live in far districts of Russia, instead of Ust-Luga. They came back to their villages only after the death of Stalin.

They were forced to keep secret their origin and language, and almost everybody considered them to be “public enemies”. But vod’ manage to save their culture and at the beginning of the 21 century started to talk, take part in linguist investigations and communicate with ethnographers. Mostly because of the big federal port was going to appear in one kilometre form their houses and a lot of illegal forest coupes started around the village, and the only way to stop it was to make it public. Activists organized two museums of vaddja culture, one after another, with old vaddja houseware things and albums of early 20th century photographs of their mothers, fathers, grandparents and other relatives, people who died many years ago. But both of these museums were burned after the village started to complain and ask for help. Right now these people still afraid to name their nationality, being sure the government can change and they can be departured again. It’s not so far from the truth, but not because of the national question – the port is going to grow and all the village will be send to another district, away from their land in which dozens of generations of vaddja grew up.

On these pictures vaddja people pose on white background like their parents did on portraits destroyed by fire, but also one can see the real background in which they live now. In their hands – last houseware things left from thier parents – special vaddja fishing and agriculture equipment, mittens with unique patterns, portrait of mother and father, – everything that reminds them to whom they belong.

This project has three variants of presentation: the exhibition, the “old book” and the multimedia. The main aim of the exhibition is to present portraits of vaddja people  to ask one very important question: what does the land we live on mean to us today, do we need to stay on our fathers land or it doesn’t matter anymore for urban people?

The “old book” is the only copy of the handmade book made by maav?ci girl to present these portraits with written captions to show one more background of this story – what do vaddja people think about the future of their nationality. And the multimedia project shows this book with special reading made by several maav?ci old men and women – to help the audience feel the language and the culture.

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