Monday, 25 June 2012

Ilomantsi: Kokonniemi cemetery walk

I push open the white wooden gate to Kokonniemi kalmisto, or cemetery, at Ilomantsi, Karelia. Which way to go? I choose the path turning to the left and step on the solitary path; there is nobody else walking here among the dead. Kokonniemi has served the local Orthodox community as a cemetery for centuries. However, these days there are rarely burials here anymore because the local parish has another cemetery nearby.
The traditional wooden Orthodox cross with  the simple yet beautiful carvings is the very first thing I notice. Someone has tied a linen cloth, tuulipaikka, on the horizontal crossbeam, for remembrance.  
On this cemetery you can see lots of variations of graves. Some families have reserved a very large area for there use...
...whereas most graves, especially the older ones, are usually marked with a simple cross or stone only. Mr Sallijeff, a local merchant has lain here for over 100 years.
Iivar Surakka (died in 1917) has had to do with a plain wooden cross which is half rotten already.
There are also some more regular looking granite gravestones that you can see on any graveyard in Finland. However, here even they look more at home with their surroundings than they do at the typical large graveyards which are managed... Well, more efficiently. Over here, the nature is closer in a more natural way, with fewer rules telling which way the grass or the trees can grow. 
As I walk on the path which meanders towards the end of the Kokonniemi cape, bordered by blueberry bushes, I feel this is the first time I am walking on a graveyard that seems a perfect final resting place.
At the tip of Kokonniemi there are more different looking grave stones.  Maria (born) Laadikain (1835-68) has only a very simple gravestone but the local bard Irinja Arhipoff (1864-1934) has been honoured with a newish granite monument.
The waves sing their own songs, the wind blows restful thoughts in the air. If you want to stop, sit down and look through the trees to lake Ilomantsinjärvi and listen to the world around you.
The treetops and branches stretch protectively above the path. I really don't miss the regular cemeteries with their neat and straight walkways and gardening made as easy as possible, with the (often) identical flowers that decorate the graves. Kokonniemi cemetery was established at a time when there were fewer rules and luckily it has stayed that way. Here you may find your way to the family grave by remembering the right turn of the path and that certain tall tree.
Oh well, there are of course some family graves that you can find even more easily: there is a wooden fence that you can't miss. This one looks a bit worn out but it is still erect, unlike another one which is partly fallen down on the ground. Nothing lasts forever.
The most traditional grave monument is very close to the gate of the cemetery. Grobu is a Karelian word for this log "house" that was not just a monument but also protected the body of the deceased. They have been known mostly in Karelia and northern parts of Russia. This one is dedicated to famous local bard Simana Sissonen (1786-1848) who contributed to Finnish national epic Kalevala with many ancient songs. Apparently Sissonen was originally buried in Kukonniemi cemetery, but this is not an original grobu from his time.
A walk in Kokonniemi is simply enchanting, and makes you feel that here life and death meet in peace. I don't think I've ever been to a more beautiful cemetery.


  1. What an interesting walk and such a contrast to current day managed/manicured cemeteries. Very nice.