The anthem of students of technology
Yö kuin sielu neekerin
Takajoukko nukkuu wain
Tarhapöllön ääni kimiä
kuuluu pappilasta päin
ja yks, kaks, kolme, neljä, viis
My own translation:
Night like the soul of a negro
People in the back just sleep
A garden owl's shrill voice
reaches from the rectory
and one, two, three, four, five
The anthem of students of technology (Finnish: teekkari) is sung at parties, three times in a row. The moment is at midnight, in total darkness, and standing on the highest place possible, like on a chair or a table. The tune is final, ghostly and slow. It is intended to create an atmosphere of total darkness. The white teekkari cap with the black tassel is held above the head when singing this. The cap is allowed only on 1.5.-30.9., so if this is the midnight before May Day, the cap is worn after this, and conversely, on 30.9., it is set aside. This song is shared by all the students in Espoo, Tampere, Lappeenranta, Vaasa and Oulu.
There are three or four odd things you might notice. First, the letter w is used instead of v. This obsolete spelling that was used only before the 20th century. Second, there is a reference to a "garden owl". This is an obsolete word, which would be "pearl owl" in modern Finnish, "Tengmalm's owl" in English and "boreal owl" in American. Third, the dialect-like spelling "pimiä", instead of the modern "pimeä". Fourth, there is the liberal use of the word "neekeri", which fell into disuse as racist somewhere between the 1950's and the 1990's. These things confirm the age of the song: it's written in the 1880's. Thus, it actually predates Finland's University of Technology (est. 1903), making this song one of the oldest teekkari traditions.
As for the "like the soul of a negro" line, note that Finland was, and still is, the whitest country in the word. Using the word "negro" to create the atmosphere of darkness was a non-issue, because there were no "negros" around. The only way they entered the consciousness was in the stories written by missionaries to Africa. Missionaries simply repeated the racism by European colonists, and saying "negroes are unreliable, cruel and childlike" was the official opinion at the time. This was written in schoolbooks until the second half of the 20th century!
Changing that bit has been under a discussion for some time. The first black African teekkaris came in the 1950's, as Emperor Haile Selassie's stipendiates. In the 1990's and 2000's, there has been pressures to change that to the politically correct form. Mostly it's non-teekkaris concerned of what kind of a image does it send about the teekkari community, which is traditionally fond of questionable humor with no meaningful message (hacker humor of sorts).
The song is found in the song books published by the Student Union. The last time they were edited for print, the editor considered changing "neekeri" to either "teekkari" or "kylteri" (student of economics) - as a joke, and in hopes it would eventually be adopted. However, he decided not the change the traditional lyrics. After all, how much sense does the whole ritual make? Standing on a chair, in the dark, singing nonsensical lines isn't one of the most coherent activities around.
The song is in Finnish, so it's irrelevant for the foreign students who can't understand Finnish. The number of black Finns is also very small (I know only one). If this was changed, it would be only to boost the PR of the community. Helsinki Univ. of Tech. has taken the position that because its official programme never includes this song, it can't dictate what the Student Unions should do about it, but states that it's clearly racist. The song has even been shown to various important sources, with equally negative responses. Yet, it hasn't been officially changed.
- The tabulature, lyrics and a midi file at Lappeenranta Univ. of Tech. Student Union: http://www.ltky.lut.fi/org/teekkarilaulajat/teekkarihymni.html
- Polyteekkari/Jaakko Häme: Teekkarihymni – pyhä perinne vai tarpeetonta rasismia? http://www.polyteekkari.fi/pt.pl?juttu=13
- The mentioned schoolbook page: http://www.riemurasia.net/jylppy/displayimage.php?album=5&pos=45
Of course when I had to introduce this school to the database, I'd start from the ass end.