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The Sibbo Commune

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Gunnar Damström

Six to seven thousand years ago, the first inhabitants settled in Sibbo. In those days the climate was warmer and the land covered with hardwood forests. Finnish tribes began crossing the Gulf of Finland around the time of the birth of Christ and settled the land, driving the aboriginal tribal people northward. During the Viking Era (800- 1050 BC), Estonians visiting the southern coast on fishing trips competed with the inlanders from Tavastland who came south for fishing and hunting. The Sibbo River was a thoroughfare connecting the inland to the Gulf of Finland where the Tavastlanders were trading with eastbound voyagers.

The year 2002 was a milestone in the history of Sibbo. On September 22, 2002, six-hundred and fifty years had passed since Sibbo was first mentioned in an official document. On that day, King Magnus Eriksson dated a letter in which he records the crown parishes starting with Åland in the west and proceeding east. The year 2002 was also the year the Swedish language was no longer the majority language spoken in Sibbo.

The population growth in Svealand (a part of Sweden) was strong in the 1200s. Kaarina Nazarenko, author of Sibbo Kommuns Historia intill 1868 (Arja Rantanen, Christer Kuvaja), believes this triggered the migratory movement to Southern Finland's sparsely-populated coastlands. Prior to the arrival of the Swedish immigrants, Sibbo had a population of slash-and-burn farmers, ostensibly originating from Tavastland. The Swedish immigrants settled in the vicinity of Nikkilä and along the Sibbo River, which had been left alone by the slash-andburn farmers. According to Nazarenko, the newcomers who plowed the fertile river banks and the Finnish-speaking slash-and-burn farmers got along well together. No documentation relating to conflicts between the Swedish-speaking and the Finnish-speaking have ever been found.

In the 1300s, Tusby, Kerava, and Träskända belonged to Sibbo, as did Vanda and Nurmijärvi. At that time, Helsinki had not yet been founded. Sibbo was strategically located by the King's Road leading from Åbo (Turku) to Viborg (Viipuri) and close to Borgå (Porvoo). Reval (Tallinn) was a major trading center located a short distance across the Gulf of Finland and to the south.

During the 1500s and 1600s, the Sibbo area was dominated by agriculture, with fishing supplementing the sustenance of the farmers' families. There were few large estates. In the mid-1600s, the nobility owned more that 50% of the farms, but during the land reform of the 1680s and 1690s, the nobility lost ownership of a large number of them.

Already in the 1600s Sibbo's inhabitants traded with Helsinki, which had been founded in 1550. When the Czar, on the advice of Gustaf Maruiz Armfelt, moved the Finnish capital to Helsinki in 1812, Sibbo's importance increased.

The numerous wars during the Swedish era brought famine to Sibbo. Taxation was heavy; men were drafted into the army; the Russian army invaded and burned the farms, etc. The parish was also plagued by crop failure, starvation, and disease. During the famine of 1696-1697, one-fourth of Sibbo's population perished. In 1710-1711, a terrible plague ravaged Finland's southern coast, diminishing Helsinki's population by one-third. In 1713, Czar Peter the Great invaded, ravishing and pillaging the South Coast and burning Helsingfors to the ground. This started an eight-year occupation, the “Great Wrath,” during which the Russian army mercilessly taxed the farmers.

In the 1400s, Sibbo's population numbered about 1000; in the middle of the 1600's it had grown to about 1,700; in the year 1750 the population was reportedly 2,500; in 1900, 6,600, 400 of whom were Finnish-speaking; in the year 1965, 10,635 of which 27% were Finnish-speaking; and 1999, 17,000, of which 54% were Finnishspeaking and 45% Swedish-speaking.

Today about 46% of the workforce in Sibbo is employed in the service sector, 18% in commerce and trade, and 16% in manufacturing. Agriculture employs about 3% of the work force, building and construction 9%, and communication 7%.

The Sibbo medieval graystone church is dedicated to St. Sigfrid. It was completed in 1454, according to Markus Hiekkanen, author of The Stone Churches of Medieval Diocese of Turku (Suomen muinaismuistoyhdityksen aikakirja 101, 1994). It is one of four stone churches in Eastern Nyland (the others are in Borgå, Pernå, and Pyttis). These four churches were all built within two decades according to the same plans by an anonymous master builder. The Sibbo Church was built by the King's Road where it intersects the road leading to the coast on the banks of the Sibbo River.

The new Sibbo church was inaugurated in 1885, and the old medieval church was left to deteriorate. In 1915, summer guests started a society to save the old church, and it was inaugurated again in 1935. Numerous artifacts and ornaments that had been deposited at the Borgå Museum were returned to the church. The Sibbo archipelago with its warm polished red granite rocks is a popular destination for Helsingfors’ boaters and sports fishermen. Throughout the summer, tour boats depart daily from the Helsingfors South Harbor for cruises in the Sibbo archipelago.

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