The Seto people of southern Estonia have elected their ülemsootska, or earthly representative of the folk god Peko, for the next 12 months.
At the one-day Seto Kingdom convention and festival on August 4 - a popular tourist attraction held in Värska this year - close to 600 Setos formed a column in front of Aarne Leima.
Leima, a silver-haired, broad-shouldered man, will replace Ahto Raudoja, a popular, youthful figure who has held the title for the last two years but did not run this time, telling ERR News that the role of local organizer with its divine/regal overtones took much energy.
Before Seto voters and celebrants - the line seemed to be blurry and no ID was requested - placed their right hands on cords held by their respective candidates, the prospective sootskas stood on a stump and made promises to the thousands in attendance.
Leima, from Luhamaa in the southernmost part of the "kingdom," pledged to pay more attention to flying the Seto flag around the region, in particular on a high observation tower in Meremäe.
Õie Sarv, a Seto woman who wore classic silver plate jewelry on her chest and who has served as the ülemsootska in the past, delivered her promises in runic song form. Her column numbered over 300 people.
Dark horse candidate Siim Maaten, who hailed from the Mulgimaa region in Viljandi County hundreds of kilometers away, broke the 200 mark despite not speaking the Seto language.
However, he recited several pledges in Seto from a pocket teleprompter in the form of a phone. One of Maaten's pledges was to start learnng Seto. Another one was to fill the Seto region with children. He vowed to start making good on both pledges on his first day in office. It was not clear whether Setos, known for traditional views, were ready for a union between the Viljandi heartland and the Seto kingdom of the type advocated by Maaten.
Raudoja estimated turnout for the festival at slightly upwards of 6,000 - at least 1,000 more than the population of the Estonian Seto region.
Source: ERR News