Academic journal article Western Folklore

Editing Johan Turi: Making Turi's Muitalus Make Sense

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Editing Johan Turi: Making Turi's Muitalus Make Sense

Article excerpt

As a folklorist who also researches medieval topics, I often sense that-like many in my home discipline-I have a far more lax attitude toward questions of editing and translation than would a medievalist who also researches folkloristic topics. I remember feeling surprised and a little bewildered when a senior medievalist colleague at the University of Washington-Seattle remarked to me once that although she enjoyed reading scholarly monographs, the research she respected was that which resulted in scholarly editions. "Those are the things that advance the field," she said; "they deserve to be read with great care and attention." I recall, too, how respectfully medievalists spoke of translations they liked-the deference with which they mentioned translators and the pleasure they reported in reading a truly fine rendering of a particularly knotty passage of Old English or Old Norse verse, or (perhaps hardest of all) Old Irish. I realize in comparison how naive folkorists have been in many cases. Aside from the important work of scholars in the vein of ethnopoetics (see below), scholarly editions of folklore have often largely submerged their critical apparatus, obscuring the editorial work of selection, regularization, or even translation that went into producing a collection of tales or songs or other items of folklore. It is telling, I think, that other folklorists than myself writing in this special issue of Western Folklore are hybrid medievalists: I suspect that they acquired their respect for editorial work in good measure from their medievalist experiences, as have I. In this paper then, I hope to relate how I ended up adapting a medievalist mindset to my approach to a work of modem folklore, the remarkable text entitled Muitalus sámiid birra {An Account of the Sámi). I will discuss the work's re-editing in the year 2010 and my own efforts as the work's translator into English. I believe that folklorists can learn a great deal from considering the issues that arise in editing and translating-processes which, I believe, can stand for many of the ideals and tasks of the folklorist in general, even if folklorists may not realize this fact.

Johan Turi's Muitalus sámiid birra holds a unique place in Sámi (Lapp) cultural and literary history. First published in 1910, Muitalus was the first book ever written in a Sámi language (Turi 1910). Its author, Johan Turi (1854-1936), was a seasoned wolf hunter and trapper who had grown up within the reindeer herding economy of Norway and Sweden. He had strong opinions concerning the threatened situation of Sámi in their ancestral lands, given longstanding habitat encroachment from agriculturalists, border closings that interfered with traditional migration routes, and government policies aimed at assimilating the Sámi into the majority society and its cultural norms. In Muitalus, Turi set out to educate the outside world about Sámi ways. At the same time, he wished to make readers aware of the injustices facing Sámi at the time and to advocate for new policies of respect and support for Sámi culture, livelihoods, and land use norms. Working with the young Danish artist/ethnographer Emilie Demant Hatt (1873-1958),Turi prepared a manuscript in his native language. In the 1910 edition, it was published in the original language, accompanied by Demant Hatt's close translation into Danish. This remarkable work, now a century old, remains a favorite topic in the field of Sámi studies (Gaski 1998; Storfjell 2001 ; Svonni 2004; Kuutma 2006; Cocq 2008) although it is scarcely known in the broader fields of indigenous literary studies or postcolonial studies. Mikael Svonni edited a new edition of the work that appeared in 2010, in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of its début (Turi 2010).

In connection with that same anniversary year, I set out to edit a set of essays regarding Turi written by leading scholars of today. These articles eventually came out in a special issue of Scandinavian Studies that aimed at making Turi better known in North America, where his work offers interesting points of comparison with early works by Native American authors. …

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