Where did it originate? Mostly with one man — a scholar called Elias Lonnrot who, during a period of national fervor and identity promotion, rushed around seeking and recording poems, ballads, folk takes and all the material he could gather at many gatherings without the benefit of a tape recorder.
Elias took it upon himself to finalize it in verse as a grand gripping saga to rival Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Only it is in Finnish so no doubt much gets lost in translation. Even so, Longfellow nicked the rhyming style for ‘Hiawatha’. And Sibelius used it as a basis for many of his compositions.
The KALEVALA did not get published until 1835, with 12,000 verses, but by 1849 a revised version had grown to 22,800 verses. It has been going strong ever since, although Elias himself died in 1884. You can even download a translation from the net if you have enough paper and patience.
The KALEVALA is taken by many as ‘The Be-All and End-All’ of Finnish Mythology, but this is not quite the case. There was a lot going on before 1835, by which time Christianity was well established. Shaman’s drums were being destroyed and former forms of worship eradicated.
But much lingers on in the more remote area now known as Lapland, where the Saami (or Samer) reside. The Gods still keep a low but powerful profile...