Estonian Smoked Sauna added to UNESCO List

The Estonian smoked sauna Photo: Toomas Kalve

The smoke sauna tradition in Võromaa was added to UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity last week

It was decided at the ninth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Paris to add smoke sauna tradition in Võromaa to UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Estonia submitted an application to that effect to UNESCO in March last year.

“The vitality of Estonian culture is particularly manifested in intangible cultural heritage that is transmitted from generation to generation. The fact that the smoke sauna tradition of the Võro people was added to the UNESCO Representative List contributes to the continuity of the tradition and attracts international attention,” Minister of Culture Urve Tiidus said. “All people who have maintained the tradition of smoke sauna in their summer cottages – whether in Võrumaa or Saaremaa – may rejoice at UNESCO’s recognition,” the Minister added.

Smoke saunas along with sauna rituals are a part of traditional life and cultural heritage of the Võro people. The community also considers it important to safeguard this tradition and to transmit it to younger generations.

“For the Võro community, smoke sauna is a place of ritual cleansing of both body and soul. Sauna heating, whisk-making, sweat bathing and health improvement are a natural part of daily life of our rural families. Also such knowledge and skills as sauna building, firewood-making and meat smoking are related to the sauna tradition,” Eda Veeroja from Mooska farm in Haanjamaa summarised the nature of the sauna tradition.

The Estonian smoked sauna Photo: Toomas Kalve

The Võro community considers the inclusion of the tradition in the UNESCO Representative List to be a great honour. Director of Võro Institute Rainer Kuuba said that the Võro people are widely known for, their language and cultural heritage: “UNESCO recognition helps to enhance the visibility of the culture of our community and maintain the viability of our smoke sauna tradition.”

The initiative to nominate the smoke sauna tradition to the UNESCO Representative List came from the Võro community in 2009. The preparation of the nomination was led by a voluntary representative body of the community – Võromaa Smoke Sauna Cooperation Council, operating with the support of local organisations. Over three years of preparatory work, local people, universities and research institutions, as well as local municipalities and the government served as excellent partners for the Cooperation Council. The initiative of the Võro community has also been recognised by the International Sauna Society. President of the organisation Risto Elomaa has noted that the inscription of the smoke sauna tradition of the Võro people on the UNESCO Representative List will also attract attention to other sauna traditions in the world.

The purpose of the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is to ensure better visibility of knowledge, skills, traditions and customs that are passed on from one generation to the next and continue to be relevant for the communities today. Other cultural expressions from Estonia inscribed on the Representative List include Kihnu Cultural Space, Seto Leelo, and also the Song and Dance Celebrations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The smoke sauna tradition and activities of the Võro people are described on the following home page:

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