Kõnnu Village is located in Põlva County, in Räpina Rural Municipality. At 25.31 km2 Kõnnu Village is, by area, the largest village in Räpina Rural Municipality (covering 9.52 % of the total area of Räpina Rural Municipality). According to the rural municipality register there are 48 people living in the village (as of 1 August 2012). Seventeen households are in use all year round (as of 2006).
‘Kõnd’ is an Estonian word meaning ‘wasteland; distant place’. It is a word that is rarely used today in the daily life of Estonians, but many places in Estonia carry a name deriving from the word. Villages named Kõnnu can be found in such Estonian areas as Saare County, Pärnu County, Ida-Viru County, and Harju County. There is also one Kõnnu near us – in Tartu County, in Võnnu Rural Municipality. The Kõnnu Village in Räpina Rural Municipality is located in the northern part of the rural municipality; its neighbouring villages are: Naha to the east, Linte and Raadama to the south, and Mägiotsa to the west. To the north, Kõnnu is bordered by the Kalsa bog. To the south-west the village also stretches over the Mägiotsa-Rasina Road.
The village was bustling with life in the first half of the last century. Farm production was held in esteem, and the village had its own wind mill which ground the crops from the local fields. The village had its own steam powered boiler and a threshing machine, which were taken from farm to farm and village to village. There were three smithies in the village active in repairing farming equipment and shoeing horses. The cultural and society life of the village was notable. Plays were staged, village parties and dance evenings organised.
There probably aren’t many Estonians who have never sung the song “Sauna taga tiigi ääres” (Behind the Sauna, at the Pond). This is a song that has gone through the folklorisation process and has started to live a life of its own life. Yet, few people know that the author of the song is Hermann Julius Schmalz (1870-1945), and even fewer know that the extremely popular song was inspired by a pond behind a sauna in the Kõnnu Village of Räpina Rural Municipality, the birthplace of the author. Marju Kõivupuu writes in the magazine Mäetagused (1999, No. 10): Jakob, the father of Hermann Julius, was from Peravalla, Võru County, his mother, Marie Matisen, from Paistu. Hermann’s mother, Marie, moved to Räpina Rural Municipality, to Kõnnu Village, from Karksi-Nuia, where her other half, Jakob, worked as an innkeeper. It is believed that the last child of the family, Hermann Julius, was already born in Kõnnu Village, where he was simply called Malzi Härma. Their home is said to have been up on a hill. The children, Hermann and his older brother Arthur, loved to spend their time playing down at the paddock by the pond. Schmalz’s literary output includes the 1894 collection of 33 poems: “Ööpik Võhandu kaldalt ehk Üürikese aja laululind” (Võhandu River Nightingale or Song Bird of a Short While); but he was more successful with his stories and funny songs about the Seto – Schmalz was a great admirer of Seto culture. When the song “Tiigi ääres” was published in 1901, in a song book of 11 quatrains, “Nalja laulikus” (Fun in the Song Book), it went like this:
Sauna taga tiigi ääres (Behind the sauna, at the pond)
mängis Miku Manniga (Miku played with Mann)
Püiavad sääl konnapoegi (catching tadpoles)
ühe poti tükiga… (with a piece of a pot…)
Hermann Julius Schmalzi was brought closer to the people of Räpina in July 2002, when a summer play by Aapo Ilves “Ööpik Võhandu kaldalt” (Nightingale from the banks of the River Võhandu) was staged in Räpina, on the banks of the River Võhandu (producer – Raivo Adlas). This first summer play in Räpina was well received by audiences and the media, and became so popular that it gave birth to the tradition of summer plays in Räpina.
Kõnnu Village is the contact point for three large families in Räpina Rural Municipality, all well known to the people of Räpina: the Kirotars, Konsaps and Peedosks. People famous all over Estonia are Literary Scholar Abel Nagelmaa, member of the Estonian Literary Society, born in the former Kureküla in 1926). In 1998, Abel Nagelmaa and Heli Laanekask were awarded the Science Award of the Republic of Estonia for the monograph “Otto Wilhelm Masingu kirjad Johann Heinrich Rosenplänterile 1814-1832” (The Letters of Otto Wilhelm Masing to Johann Heinrich Rosenplänter, 1814-1832).
Kõnnu is not the kind of village that attracts tourists with its many sights. Yet, dendrologists may find it interesting to visit the territory of Kõnnu Village – at the edge of the village, near the forest line, there is a 24-meter tall Kalsa oak tree, now under conservation. It is known that as late as 1777 there was an enclosed sacrificial area in the village. Anyone who dared to take sacrifices there was given twenty lashes twice over.