Symbols and continuity : a study of the Winnipeg Estonian community

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Sults, Taavo A.
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"It is by no means a novel that each culture has certain key elements which, in all ill-defined way, are crucial to its distinctive organization" (Ortner, 1970:93). Recent years have witnessed a growing interest in ethnicity. A trend in social anthropology, associated with this phenomenon, has been the expanding concern with symbol systems and symbolic anthropology. This thesis is an attempt at delineating key elements of Winnipeg Estonian ethnicity; elements that are of a symbolic nature. A difficulty in such an undertaking involves the potential hidden meaning of any given symbol. As a member of the community in question, this predicament was minimized. The more immediate concerns involved historically tracing the group in question, and determining whether or not symbolic continuity actually existed. Secondary documents, often written by Estonians themselves, were utilized for much of the older historical materials. Data for the subsequent sections, involving the presence of Estonians in Canada, was gathered primarily through interviews and participant observation. The research was conducted between 1988 and 1990. It was found that many of the key symbols embraced by Winnipeg Estonians do have their origins in the past. Furthermore, these symbols are primarily drawn from two major periods of independence, and have remained remarkably consistent both in form and meaning. The general conclusion is that Winnipeg Estonians can be considered a tightly-knit ethnic subculture at the core of which lie particular key symbols. These symbols, usually related to sovereignty, serve to not only link Winnipeg Estonians, but displaced Estonians world wide.