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Folk culture in Finland is clearly divided between the east and west of the country. At the core of each is prehistoric habitiation: in the east and south-west, Finnish (Roman Catholic in the medieval period) and in the west, Karelian (Orthodox in the medieval period).

Western south Finland is now known as industrial Finland. Half of the entire population of the country lives in this region, and the standard of living here is higher than elsewhere. This region was prosperous from an early period and the social environment consisted of aristocratic manor hones and official residences for officers and the clergy. The influence of central Sweden was felt via the Åland archipelago because the inhabitants of the Finnish coastal strip were Swedish-speaking. Old traditions found are rye bread, fermented milk, mould cheeses, and mämmi, a pudding eaten at Easter.

Southern Ostrobothnia is one of the main regions of western Finnish folk culture. The population of the interior is Finnish-speaking, having arrived from the east after the year 1000 AD. The inhabitants of the coastal area came from Sweden in the 13th and 14th centuries. The center of the province is the city of Vasa, which was founded in 1606.

The population of southern Ostrobothnia was made up largely of peasants. Manor houses were not built here. There were few vicarages, and ironworks or other industries were rare. Ostrobothnia has had close links with the coastal towns of northern Sweden and directly with Stockholm and in the past, through trade with Denmark, Germany and England. The crown wedding tradition, which used to be a tradition of all western Finland, has now become exclusively Ostrobothnian.

The folk culture of central Ostrobothnia is marked by immigration in the 17th century from eastern Finland with the Gamlakarleby-Jakobstad area as the cultural gateway to the west. Because of the extensive natural meadows, the basis of livelihood lies in cattle-farming, particularly in the south. This area has a preference for sweet cheeses which require a great deal of milk.

The flourishing peasant culture of Ostrobothnia continued until the end of the 19th century. At the turn of the 19th century the growing population began to emigrate to America. Modernization of farming here began later than in the southwest part of the country.

The core of the eastern Finnish region consists of cultural characteristics of the ancient Karelian population who lived on the shores of Lake Ladoga in the late prehistoric period. Some of the population emigrated from the northern shore of Lake Ladoga to northern Karelia. Their descendants form the oldest core of the current Orthodox population of Finland. The main source of livelihood until the second half of the 19th century was burn-beat farming. Old burn-beat land can be identified by its fine birch groves. After the famine years of the 1860s cattle farming became important, partly because of the trade in exporting butter to St. Petersburg.

The eastern chimney-less cabin with its high stove originally was an old Karelian tradition. This tradition also includes soft loaf-like rye bread, a non-sour thin barley bread, primitive shoes woven from birch bark and animal figures embroidered in red.

Innovations such as ribbon braiding from Estonia were absorbed through the city of Viborg. After the foundation of St. Petersburg in 1703, eastern influences increased. Among them were drinking tea every day, using mushrooms and saurkraut, baking bagels and the use of the accordion at dances. The opening of the Saima Canal after the Crimean War of 1856 marked a boom in agriculture: sawmills and factories were founded in southern Finland.

Northern Finland belongs to the eastern Finnish cultural region. At the beginning of the 18th century almost all of Kainuu was still inhabited by Lapps. Cultural influences were absorbed via the coastal towns: Oulu, founded in 1606, and Tornio, founded in 1621. The basis of the economy was salmon-fishing, cattle-raising and tar-burning. Smoking tar-burning pits can still be seen in northeast Finland.

The folk culture of the southern Tornio valley shows western features such as the pedestal barn, hard bread, cheeses and fermented milk. Also, the lengthwise pedestal cradle and high-backed sofas with painted decorations.

In the second half of the 19th century agriculture began to lose importance, compared to industry. The excess population of the countryside moved to factory locations and towns. Working-class culture is still based on the old culture, for the roots of the bearers are in the countryside. The Second World War was followed by a second phase of industrialization.

By Teppo Korhonen, Professor of Ethnology, University of Turku%%% Extracted from "Finland - A Cultural Encyclopedia"

June Pelo


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