by Pentti Virrankoski

This investigation covers a large part of the history concerning the settlement of Österbotten, which is still a dim period. I refer to the the entire area of Österbotten up to the border of Lappland, but I limit myself here to the examination of settlements in the southern and central areas. I began from the Iron Age when Österbotten was inhabited only by Lapps, a Baltic Sea people in the wooded area of Finland who probably were related to the Finns, concerning race and language.

In southern Österbotten a mysterious people lived there from the time around Christ’s birth to the beginning of the Iron Age in the 800s. I call them the ancient Kyro people. Their neighbors are thought to have called them "kainulaiset" or "kainupeople". In Norway they were called "kvenir/kvaens and in Sweden they were called something similar. Today they are called "kväner".


These prehistoric people lived on both sides of the Kyro river’s lower reaches up to Ylistaro, and the large settlements stretched from Malax to Vörå. The history of the ancient Kyro people is well-known. It resembled the southwest Finnish culture, but also showed traces of Scandinavian influence. These people were well-to-do. A great many gold articles have been found in their grave cairns. One can suppose that they acquired this wealth through trade with the Lapps in inland and northern Finland, principally through supplying furs to the European market. Obviously the trading went via central Sweden and through Tröndelag in Norway. The ancient Kyro people cultivated the ground through burn-beating, but it is assumed that burn-beating cannot have been the basis for their wealth.

We have knowledge of the racial characteristics of the ancient Kyro people because of the discovery of about 100 skeletons that were found in the Levähuhta springs in Storkyro and in Keldomäki in Vörå. How the dead ended up in the springs is unclear, but archaeologists think it probably was a normal burial site.

The skeletons of the ancient Kyro people were small young people, thought to be Lapps. Their skulls were long and narrow, which is a deviation from the form of the Lapps’ heads and their physical structure separates them from the larger build of the Finns and Scandinavians.

One who later researched the skeletons of the ancient Kyro people is Tarja Formisto who received a Doctor’s degree at the University of Stockholm in 1993. She completed her research that compares her own results with information of different people who lived within a radius of 100 kilometers. The results showed that the ancient Kyro people greatly resembled the people who lived in central Russia, around the area of the rivers Volga and Oka. They were of the Fatjanovo culture from the Bronze Age.

The linguists Jorma Koivulehto and Asko Parpola, together with archaeologist Christian Carpelan, found that during the Bronze Age people from the Fatjanovo culture moved to the interior of eastern Finland — a people who talked the Finno-Ugric language, but used many words that belonged to the Aryan language group of the Indo-European language. It is thought that some of these Aryans moved, perhaps as a [blow] to their leadership. It is possible that during the Bronze Age a part of this folk group came to southern Österbotten and lived there in the Iron Age without associating much with other people. This should solve the riddle of the origin of the ancient Kyro people. As far as I know, genealogists do not think so.

Another riddle is the fate of the ancient Kyro people after the 800s. Their typical grave cairns from later times have not been found. Some archaeologists think that all the people vanished, that is, either died out or moved away. My own theory is that the southwestern Finns of the 800s took over the fur trade with the northern Lapps, with the result that the ancient Kyro people lost their source of income, their village community split and they abandoned their old customs as well as the grave cairns. They were reduced in number and scattered. I also think that in later times southern Ostrobothnians, to some extent, descended from the ancient Kyro people and that’s why I have written so much about them.

My understanding is that the southwestern Finns, especially the Finnish-speaking people in Egentliga Finland’s western area and in the southwestern parts of Satakunta, or in other words, in the area of Nystad and Raumo, began trade travel over Russia to Byzantium and the lower reaches of the Volga river in the 800s after the time of Christ. As far as is known, at this time the southwestern Finns had tightened trade relations with central Sweden.

Later some of the southwestern Finns, stuck down there by themselves, learned what Österbotten had to offer. This was probably in the 900s, but more likely during the following century when they had, via Sweden, attained a sort of primitive Christianity. It explains why graves that were typical of the pagan Finns have not been found.

I think that the southwestern Finns first settled down on the southern Ostrobothnian coast in the old inhabited area from Malax to Lillkyro and Vörå, also in the Karleby area and especially farther north to the lower regions of the Torneå river where they were lured by the large catches of salmon.

Soon, perhaps in the 1100s, the southwestern Finns met some competition: north of Karelia from Ladoga’s receding shores south to the Tavastians who had also began trading fur from their basic area in the southern part of present Tavastland and Satakunda’s upper region, a territory that stretched from the area of Vammala to Hollola in the east.

The Tavastians also began to settle in southern Österbotten at the beginning of the lower reach of the Kyro river from Lillkyro to Ylistaro, but their trade area stretched only to the Kemi and Torneå rivers. I suppose that the settlement of the southwestern Finns was thin in the Pedersöre area in spite of the very favorable position because the Esse river was the Tavastian’s important route to the north, and they were not willing to allow new settlers along its shores.

South Österbotten’s Finnish population descended mostly from the Tavastians who came there mainly from the upper part of Satakunda and the dialect there is also a branch of the Tavast dialect. There are a great many southwestern Finnish emigrants, and earlier there were many Swediah loan words which showed that some of the Swedish coastal population moved to the interior. To some extent, southern Ostrobothnians also moved to central Österbotten and, for example, the dialect in Kaustby and Vetil is found in some aspect of southern Österbotten’s language.

In this manner two Finnish tribes came during the period of the 1100s to colonize a large part of the Osterbottniska coast and part of the interior along the Kyro river. It was also still a much thinner settlement. I think that, as well as during the time of the ancient Kyro people, the Swedes moved here from the Mälar district and Hälsingland; perhaps also sellers from the western side who were involved in trade travel. In this manner they gradually learned to know the Ostrobothnian coast and could determine that it was a favorable area for settlement, therefore more sparsely populated.

It is thought that the Swedes began to realize during the 1200s, possibly during the later half that, in addition to Åland and the archipelago of Aboland’s western part that earlier was Swedish, southern Finland had its Swedish-speaking population. According to Lars Huldén’s research, the Swedes originally lived in Österbotten mostly in the Närpes-Pedersöre region where the Finnish population was very sparse. Colonists came from areas where people spoke a higher Swedish dialect, for example, from Mälardalen, Gästrikland, Hälsingland and the lower part of Dalarna. An old name in Österbotten indicates a connection with Hälsingland and Dalarna.

The Swedish settlement evidently was spontaneous. The earlier idea that it was a colonization organized by the Crown has been abandoned. In the 1200s the Swedish governing authorities had not been able to organize such a movement. Research has drawn conclusions that in Svealand’s central region of Hälsingland and the lower part of Dalarna, there were more people than the ineffective farming could support and therefore it was tempting to move over to the uninhabited or more sparsely settled coastal area of Finland.

It is probable that the Church and government did not immediately tax the new settlers who moved to Finland. The Swedish settlement is thought to have strengthened and broadened quickly. I think that by the 1300s it stretched to Vasa and the Karleby region. It became more settled farther north because the soil north of Lochteå is fertile and the climae is cooler. The northernmost Swedish village is thought to have been Ingervik which later merged with Maringais in Lochteå, but individual Swedish names were also found farther north. Toward the interior of the country the Swedes moved along from Pedersöre to Lappajärvi, Vindala and Alajärvi, from Karleby to Röringe in Vetil.

Along the southern Osterbottniska coast the Finnish-speaking population evidently became a minority quickly. Old Finnish place names were found mostly in the Närpes and Pedersöre area, so even in the Middle Ages bilingual names were seldom found in this area. On the other side of the river traces of Finnish name-giving were found in Malax, Mustasaari, Vörå and Nykarleby, so this area obviously was bilingual during the Middle Ages and later, until the Swedes took the upper hand. Laihela was long bilingual but became Finnish later as well as in Lillkyro where the Finnish settlement was strong from the beginning.

The Karleby region has always been bilingual and growth changed from village to village. Kronoby and Terjärv (originally Tervajärvi) became Swedish quickly, while Karleby and Nedervetil became Swedish slowly and incompletely, and then Finnish again took over in Vetil and Kelviå and also later in Kaustby. Everyone who descended from the population in the greater Karleby parish has Finnish as well as Swedish-speaking ancestors. When I researched my own family that descended from Torp, I have established that most of my family in middle Österbotten is Swedish-speaking, the minority is Finnish-speaking, yet most of my nearest family is Finnish-speaking.

The last of the old agricultural district settlements is in Österbotten’s southern part from Savolax in the 1500s. There the population that specialized in burn-beating spread out extensively. People came later who spoke the Savolax dialect from Central Finland. Numerous Savolaxers dwelled in the 1500s in the southern Ostrobothnian lake district: in Kortesjärvi, Evijärvi, Vindala and also on the farther islands. Some settled in Perho and Lestijärvi and in the upper part of Kalajoki. Near the coast there were fewer people because less people came there.

In the dialect spoken in central Österbotten’s coastal parishes characteristics of Savolax dialect is found, but according to Paavo Suihkonen’s research, the structure of this dialect is much like the old southwestern Finnish. Some characteristics of the Savolax dialect has come into the language because they have been easy to speak; in the region very few Savolaxers have been found.


I did not deal with the later period of the Osterbottniska settlements. But already it has shown that the old population in central Österbotten’s southern area, that is, Pedersöre and Karleby, first descended from the southwestern Finns and Swedes, while the share of Tavastians and Savolaxers is relatively small except that in the more alienated inland villages where the Savolax people moved it is more evident. Not to be forgotten are the few Lapps who were left in the interior and the possibility that a drop of the mysterious ancient Kyro people is found in us.


translated to English by June Pelo

This article is included in the Caino-Torp-book. In Swedish Huvuddragen i Österbottens äldre bosättningshistoria

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