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The figure of Leiger in the narrative tradition of Hiiumaa

A merry joker or a witty wizard?



The article discusses the tradition about Leiger, the central figure of the giant and hero legends of Hiiumaa, covering the history of collecting, studying and publishing of the relevant folklore, as well as the historical, cultural, ethnic and mythological factors behind this popular figure and his specific local traits. Since 1890, seventy six legends or shorter tradition records of giants’ activities on the Isle of Hiiumaa have arrived in the Estonian Folklore Archives at the Estonian Literary Museum. A comparison of the giant stories collected from the parishes of Emmaste, Käina, Pühalepa and Reigi with those from other regions reveals some parallels of Leiger with Suur Tõll of Saaremaa and the Devil as well as with some heroes of local legends such as the Hiiu Witch, the Kõpu Man, and the Wizard Mats. Also, the points of interest include some local specifics and community problems reflected in the local plots, such as, for example, the story of Leiger liberating Hiiumaa from wolves. Attention should also be paid to the Swedish etymology läkare ‘doctor’ of the local Swedish version of the name Leiger. In addition, the article points out historical data available on the first farmers of the name Leiger, who were either of Finnish or Swedish origin, as well as on the folk healers and sorcerers known to have lived on the lands of Leigri village. In summary, Leiger is an integrated cross-genre central figure of the narrative tradition of Hiiumaa, combining various historical and cultural layers and incorporating the wider Estonian narrative tradition of giants and heroes, some local Estonian and coastal Swedish legends of place or origin, as well as stories of remarkable persons told through the ages.