Extracted from an article by Heikki Ylikangas from “Exploring Ostrobothnia” June Pelo submitted to "Leading Star Ledstjarnan" (Order of Runeberg's quarterly newspaper), July 2001
OSTROBOTHNIA Historically, Ostrobothnia extends from just north of the city of Pori deep into the far north of Finland. In the west the Gulf of Bothnia serves as its border, and in the east it extends to the Suomenselkä ridge. But we confer special status to the southern part, called South Ostrobothnia. It covers an area along the coast from Kristinestad to Pedersöre and extends about 150 km (100 miles) to the east. The inhabitants speak Swedish, and east of the area Finnish is spoken. The Finnish speakers in South Ostrobothnia are divided into two areas. In the west people speak a South Ostrobothnian dialect, and farther east – in the Lake Region – the people speak a Savo-based eastern dialect. The Peasant Revolt of 1597-97, called the “Club War”, was fought in South Ostrobothnia. All adult males were recruited to form an army of club-bearing peasants. They were defeated by the cavalry in Ilmajoki on 24 Feb. 1597. During the 1600’s, witch-hunts raged in the area. About half of the 500 known witch trials in the 17th century were held in Ostrobothnia. During that time there was a dispute about tax collection. Fief holders wanted to pay the tax in goods, especially tar, but the peasants wanted to pay in money. During the Great Northern War (1700-1721), also known as Stora Ofreden, or The Great Wrath, South Ostrobothnian peasants joined, in greater numbers than elsewhere, the Swedish Army fighting in Finland in order to protect their province from the Russians. When they were put farthest behind the front troops, the Russian cavalry managed a surprise attack on the rear of the Swedes in the Battle of Napue in Isokyrö in 1714. The losses were horrible – some parishes, such as Isokyrö, appear to have lost every able-bodied adult male. The South Ostrobothnian peasants participated in the people’s resistance in the War of Finland (1808-09) when the Russians conquered Finland. During the 19th century religious revival movements, so-called ‘Early Pietism’ gained a foothold in South Ostrobothnia. During the 19th century Ostrobothnia became a haven for revival movements, and at the same time violent crime reached enormous levels. During 1790-1890 about 2,000 South Ostrobothnians lost their lives to violent crime. Although the province held only 1/10 of the country’s population, at least 1/3 of criminal homicides were committed there. Around 1885 emigration to North America took off. About 2,000 people from the area emigrated across the ocean. By 1930 about 120,000 people had emigrated from South Ostrobothnia to North America. Nowhere else did emigration have such an impact on a region. Ostrobothnia played a notable role in the process by which Finland gained independence. The region sent proportionately the largest number of people to Jäger training in Germany. The German Empire agreed in 1915-16 to train Finnish activists who could be used against the Russian government. The German trained Jäger corps of 2,000 men decided the outcome of the Civil War of Finland of 1918. The Jägers were recruited almost exclusively for the White side. The Whites were superior to the Reds in education and training. The role of South Ostrobothnia in 1917 and 1918 is accentuated by the fact that it served as the most important stronghold of the White side. The Senate fled there from Helsinki and South Ostrobothnian volunteers delayed the Reds long enough to allow the conscription army from the north to get organized. It has been popular to cite the Ostrobothnian mentality. South Ostrobothnians are described as a people controlled by strong social ties; said to display ‘herd mentality.’ Their genes are thought to contain violence-causing elements. The South Ostrobothnian is quick to pull his knife and attack, especially when drunk. Another characteristic is a strong hereditary trait of a love of freedom. Reference is made to studies that inhabitants of South Ostrobothnia are the most ‘dark-blooded’ in the country. There are also indications that the mysterious Kainuu people had originally inhabited the area of South Ostrobothnia. A rich iron-age culture flourished, but findings do not continue past the first half of the 9th century. It is apparent that these people were called Kainuu people. In the ‘world history’ of Alfred the Great from the end of the 9th century, the Kainuu people are placed in the same area. It is certain that the majority of ancestors of the current population came from Satakunta and Tavastland (Häme). Witch hunts flourished mostly in areas where a primitive barter economy had begun to emerge. This excerpt is from my Warg family history: ‘Erik's son Matts, complained in 1678 when he was master of Dunkar, that in recent years his horses had been wandering from the farm and he blamed that on a witch. Many witches, nearly all women, had been beheaded and burned, for they were believed to be in league with the devil. The worst kind of witch was active in Upper Karleby and aroused fear especially in Kaustby before she was brought to justice in 1678. She was Kreeta Prott from Pedersöre, in her 50's, who was believed to have caused much illness and death, also injury to farm animals, and she also burned buildings. She had treated Matts Eriksson Warg badly because she was not adequately entertained at his home. One time she had gone to Dunkar hoping to get some wine, but the mistress gave her bread and milk instead. The witch was angered and put a curse on the livestock. At first the Dunkar cat twisted its leg and then two heifers died and sheep's tongues rotted in their mouths. The horses became so wild that every summer they wandered far from home. When Matts Warg complained to officials about Kreeta's witchcraft, she vowed to take revenge on his grandchildren. Matts denounced her to the pastor and the sheriff and she tried to escape the clutches of a merciless government. At court she was sentenced to be beheaded and burned. She was put into irons pending the decision of the appellate court, and kept in prison in Karleby for 8 months. Results of her imprisonment are not known because pertinent documents are missing. After she was sentenced to death, the church and courts ceased to persecute witches. But the farmers still believed in the power of witches in the 20th century.’ Ostrobothnia first exported furs and pelts, animal food stuffs and tar. This was an early form of capitalistic economy in the 1500s which attracted rural peasant traders to the coastal regions and riverbanks. In the 17th century, the tar burning industry became more important for Ostrobothnia. Colonization and colonial wars demanded larger sailing fleets, which created an endless demand for tar. When Sweden’s eastern border was moved westward to the River Kymi in 1743, access to transportation from the forests of eastern Finland to the coast was denied. The easily navigated rivers and the long coast of Ostrobothnia made transportation inexpensive. This led to Ostrobothnia’s rise to the most significant storehouse of tar in all of Sweden and eventually all of Europe. The tar towns on the coast invested their money in large-scale shipbuilding. With the gradual depletion of the pine forests, the tar industry was pushed northward and inland. The region found compensation for the fading tar industry. These circumstances were the reason pastor Anders Chydenius, d. 1803, became a champion of a free market economy. His writings expressed thoughts similar to those of Adam Smith. Chydenius’ writings were in response to the social conditions caused by the struggle against the patronage of Stockholm on the coastal cities of Ostrobothnia which had achieved wealth from the tar industry. In the latter half of the 1700s the population growth exceeded the rate in other parts of the country. A large number of children of farm owners were left without a farm of their own. The younger sons were first offered crofter’s positions, then they became cottagers, and finally had to make a living as day-wage-workers in the homes of their former peers who were successful. The farmer’s son who had been left without a farm felt guilty and inferior. So he turned to alcohol and fighting. Emigration to North America guided the development of South Ostrobothnia into new directions. North America appealed to Ostrobothnians who were ready to move when the opportunity presented itself. The lack of money in southern and eastern Finland was an obstacle to emigration for the people who were poor. In South Ostrobothnia the property was sold, the wife and children were put in rented quarters and the man went to America to earn the money for tickets for the family to travel to America. The great emigration wave improved conditions for those who were too poor to emigrate. The decline in the supply of workers led to higher wages and the price of land went down.