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Kantele


The kantele is a musical instrument from Finland. In canto 40 of the Kalevala, Vainamoinen created the first kantele from the fish bones of a giant pike that their ship had grounded on. The hero Lemminkainen tried to kill the fish with his sword but accidentally fell into the water. Next the smith Ilmarinen tried to kill the pike but his sword broke on its scales and he failed to harm it. Finally, Vainamoinen drew his fiery sword and killed the pike. Then they feasted on the fish, and all that remained of their obstacle was a pile of bones.

Vainamoinen thought that a blacksmith could fashion something wondrous from the remains, but Ilmarinen said that nothing fine could be created from mere bones. Vainamoinen took it upon himself to become a fish bone craftsman, and designed the first kantele. Everyone marveled at the musical intstrument, but no one could play it. Every note from the kantele was discordious and offensive.

Vainamoinen declared that no one on the boat had the necessary skill to play the kantele and they sailed to Pohjola to find a musician of sufficient quality. However, even in the northland, no one could play the kantele, and only harsh and discordious tones emanated from the instrument. Finally, an old blind man told them to stop trying and return the kantele to Kalevala. The harp spoke in response:

Thereupon the harp made answer,
To the blind man sang these measures:
"Shall not fall upon the waters,
Shall not sink within the ocean;
I will play for my creator,
Sing in melody and concord
In the fingers of my master."


The harp was returned to Vainamoinen, and he played it harmoniously. Later in the story the original kantele was lost at sea, but it remains a Finnish instrument of great popularity to this day.

Instrument, Mythology


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