Spring living tradition “Swinging”
This article is based on an article “Swing culture of the Estonians in the past and today” written by Anu Vissel in 2003 and published in the journal Mäetagused.
Swing culture and swinging has a magical meaning. There is a belief that swinging in springtime facilitates the growing of crops and good health of cattle and people. People of all ages have been swinging and being part of the swinging tradition and in the 20th century it was still customary for people of marriageable age to meet on the swing. The swing symbolizes fertility and swinging has had a magical meaning. The fertility rituals include singing games and dances in farmyards or barns, swinging or similar activities.
Singing is an important part of the swinging tradition. Swing songs are a special part of Estonian runo songs, for their specific singing techniques like using strong chest voice, adding extra syllables, melismas and twirls. Important part of singing swinging songs is following the movements of the swing and its tempo. The lyrics of the swinging songs are rich with poetics.
There are considerable differences between North Estonian and South Estonian swinging traditions. The differences are reflected in the swinging time period, swing size, songs sung on a swing. The songs differ in Southern and Northern Estonia. In Northern Estonia, the swinging tradition was stronger and this can also be seen in the number of Northern Estonian swing songs. In many Southern Estonian swinging songs there is an added chorus (kiigele, kiigäle etc). Like in runo singing tradition the swinging songs were sung by a lead singer and a choir.
The swings were built of spruce or birch. The North Estonian swings were larger, stronger and more complex in construction. There have been many various swing types in Estonia. Such as seesaws, swings of rope and wood, rotating swings, hammocks, rocking chairs, spring seesaws etc. The location of the swing is also significant : built on the public land or the border of the village, fields and forest, often on higher ground. The young men’s roles were to make swings and swung the girls. The girls came to the swing dressed up, brought gifts to the swing masters and sang for swinging. In the 19th century, people went swinging during holidays and weekends: on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, i.e. during the so-called half-holidays and rest days. The people put on their formal clothes and usual jewelry because it was important to look good on the swing. Besides swinging and singing, various games, singing games, round games, dances and also mutual communication belong to the swing culture.