Villages in Ostrobothnia home


This article was written by R. Blomqvist during a visit to Munsala in the early 1900s. At that time the population of Munsala parish was 3173 of which 3126 were Swedes. He wrote as follows:

We approach Munsala church village from the south. The wide flat ground lies before us. The bumpy road stretches for about 4 kilometers. In the background we catch a glimpse of the houses, high crowned birch trees and two steeples: the church steeple and the detached bell tower. Next we pass the bridge that crosses Munsala river.

I asked my comrade, who is a native of 55 years: "I see no mill here at the river. Why do they call the place Åkvarnen?" He replied: "There is no mill here presently, but one need not be old to remember the mill that stood by the bridge. During my childhood there was life and movement, in particular a sawmill combined with the mill. That was then. The amount of water these days is so small that it scarcely would be enough for a toy mill."

I then mentioned that I had heard local people talk of the old bridge over the river, and asked where it was. He told me it was approximately where the new bridge was built. It was a high arched bridge so that a man with a row boat could easily travel under it. The bridge was put up each spring to shorten the route to the pastures at Lappängen and Granholmen. But it was also used by people who walked to church from the western villages. Walking over the narrow flexible bridge was exciting and made the journey to the church an adventure.

He then said: "In order to learn more about the village and know a little of what was found here, we’ll wander through the farm groups and refresh your memory."

During the last 50 years the total inhabitants numbered between 400 and 500. The number of farms rose to 125. The biggest change in the residences in the later years came as a result of nyskiftet (redistribution). For many years there was a large settlement along the eastern edge of the woods. Numerous stone remains and cellar cavities can still be seen there. Then a road was built to provide relief work during the year of crop failure, according to my father’s father. "In my childhood the Taknet plateau was still uninhabited. The farm houses were grouped together on a high place where the ground was firmer. The only residence was 2 kilometers away, south of the church."

Here in Söderändan we see two types of farm houses represented: the larger house with a room, front entrance hall and porch; the other cottage with entrance hall, room and a little hall room. Two-story buildings have been rare here. The interior consisted of a high bed, benches fastened to the wall, open fireplace with shelves. Forty years ago many farm houses still had the old style building arrangement with a loft building that divided the yard in half between the inner yard and the animal yard. The inner yard, or courtyard, was flanked by houses and equipment sheds. People entered the animal yard through a gate under the loft. The animal yard had a sheep house, cattle shed, wood shed and a barn.

In a house on the right beyond the apple trees lived Tilda Nyman, the parish supplier of wedding clothing . No farm wedding was held unless she was there for three days, taking care of the bridal crown and supplying the guests with wedding flowers. On the other side of the road lived Wilhelm Munsin, fiddle player, who was also indispensable for bridal clothing supplies at each wedding.

On the west side of the road was a dyer and a tanner. Matts Sundstén, known as Svarvar-Matt, lived there. He supplied Munsala and neighboring areas with spinningwheels. The first post office was on the east side of the road and post mistress Maria Kerrman lived there. Church warden Erik Viklund lived a little farther on. Otherwise there was nothing gloomy and mysterious in the atmosphere at Jåfsbacken in olden times.

At the right of Kraften’s courtyard can be found the rest of the switching post where previously convicts were firmly tied and flogged so that blood was splashed and pieces of flesh flew around. This form of punishment ceased before my time and I never saw it. But many times in the evening I heard the prisoners in prison guard Matts Löv’s courtyard dragging their clanking chains and shackles.

A little farther on toward Ribacken lived a prophet and one could see his face behind the small pane of glass in the door of the entrance hall. He was called Grönlund. In his younger years he had created bitter enemies among the village residents. In order to avoid a surprise attack, he had put a window in the entry door.

Now let’s take a look at the remains of the boat harbor. During my father’s father’s time he sailed many times in and out the Skepparklubb straits. From my childhood I remember Broända’s farm house with its mansard roof and Ohls’ place with its broad colonades. The rest of the other farmhouses were still here. There were four farm houses in red and among them four stately loft buildings with entrance gates. Yes, the loft was a pleasant place where the young people could hold revels. Skol-Fia lived in one of the small cottages. She held a school for small children when I began to spell. In her childhood she had visited Svedborg’s school and became a good teacher.

South of the pastor’s house were houses of a minor sort. No great change has happened here since my childhood. This little house was at one time a school. In the other house lived Newman who treated chest pains. And the police constable also lived here.

Now let’s go to Kyrkbacken (church village). The houses there have changed a lot in recent memory. Along the road east of the church there used to be a red church stable during my childhood. There were also a large number of them on the south side of the cemetery wall, as well as by the autopsy building. South of the slope was a little cottage that was said to have its origin from a picture on the title page of "Star of Bethlehem". Near the church was one of the few two-story buildings in the village. The elementary school when it was new was smaller than the one now here. There was no school for infants. Here at the lending storehouse we stand at the highest point in the village — 2 meters above the sea. The rocks here along the shore were dangerous for sailing even during the time of Christ.

Over there stood the "poor man" by the stone wall by the road and it reminded us of the importance of remembering the needy. Here was where the sheep market day was held each year on Helgomäss Monday. In late autumn the sheep were brought in from the woods so they could be restored to their owners and also

lost sheep that others had driven from the woods were sold It was a strange occasion with noisy people and bleating sheep crowding together. The owners had an extraordinary memory for recognizing the sheep from their clipped ear marks. Experts also came from other parishes to represent village sheep owners.

On the other side of the glen was a farm group known as Ollandt. They have not changed much externally as far back as I can remember. Earlier people here were seen as somewhat strange and perhaps uncivilized. It was frightful when Ollandt-Jonas beat his neighbor to death with a spade. And old man Riska, the old eccentric, could not stand to hear his name because people would ridicule him. One time when he came carrying a bundle of willow twigs, he met district judge Barck who said: "What is Riska doing today?" "I’m dragging bark", shouted the irritated Riska. Barck stopped, looked at the angry old man and laughed at the ingenious reply.

Now we are in front of Damskata, a little group of 4 or 5 houses, as neat and tidy today as it was formerly. Further on we see the creeks, Damviken to the left and Lappnetviken to the right. The tall silver spruce trees at the gate tell us that we are approaching an old manor house. Udden is its name. Established by "Robert Sundius, 1830" it says on a rock. Udden is an unforgetable place. Here the Fria Ord (ray of hope) provided sanctuary for political refugees during the days of the Russian military police force. The Martha-idea took form here for the Munsala district and much culture radiated from district judge Betty Hallstén’s activities. "Welcome, dear one, to Udden’s wife", we read over the door. People with no place to go were heartily received here.

We can no longer go farther by boat. We have to go back to the church and then go by road to the other side. The first house, the municipal building, formerly was Sexmans and was said to the the wealthiest house in the village. During the famine year of 1867 the farmer was one of the few who stored grain and money. He loaned to the needy but also saw that they assigned their homes to him as security. Later he ruthlessly took advantage of his rights and became owner of several of the houses. One woman, who was known for her prophetic ability, shouted to the farmer: "Those who bring injustice shall with sorrow perish. Your property shall dissipate as chaff before the wind, your family shall die out and your name will disappear in three generations." This prophecy has come true. The property has been divided into 10 small lots and sold. Of the one-time large family there are only small splinters left and the name is wiped out.

Farther to the east the road goes between closely placed houses. There is Näsebacken. Just like it was in my childhood. The village veterinarian Anders-Johan lived there. He cured horses of sprains, spavin and the strangles. Here on the road were the only large farm houses, but farther along on the edge of the woods were many small cottages. Old women and crofters who had no profession lived there. Pellas-Lovis the older who could conjure lived there. She took the secret of her magic to the grave when she died at nearly 100 years of age. She mixed a grease that she gave to patients. Many said that it helped with snakebites.

On a hill we see millstones. Forty-five years ago two windmills stood there. They were interesting structures for small boys. The windmills were owned by Wiks-Isak and —Erik who used to see dragonfire.

Now we will take a short-cut back to the main road. Talk quietly for here at Sandbacka one is always sure to see a ghost where Karl Jussila shot the Russian hussar who took his horse during the war in 1808. There is the Lojlax farm group under the large mountain ash and birch trees. If you read Fältskärens tale, you perhaps recall Larsson’s house in Lojlax and the church bell that sank in the sea here. Larsson’s house is gone but the old foundation is still there. It was a typical official’s house built in 1777 and constables, judicial writers, inspectors, customs officers and judges have lived there. One time a court session was held in the house and the notorious hero Isotalon Antti was condemned there. The remaining houses are of a lesser farm house type. The group has a pleasant position with a view over the bay. Now we will go to the north and follow the old road toward Lojlaxviken. Here near the river are two houses situated in nature’s beauty under birch and fir trees. The large house, now a farmer’s house, formerly was the police commissioner Ramberg’s house. The house originally was an office building for Sandnäs glass factory. Here is the parish river to Nykarleby and close to Munsala church village.

Among the people from my childhood who stood in the foreground were: Betty Hällstén of Udden who, even though she lived far away, belonged to the personalities of the community. Also pastor Gustaf von Essen, a reverent character in the old village. Teacher Henrik Wik was clearly a leader among the cultural workers. Anders Westerlund, local government employee and merchant, also long-time chairman and cashier was one of the most prominent people of his generation. It is still a pleasure to read the minutes, purchase documents and contracts that he wrote. When the elementary school came, Westerlund was the leader and driving force; he also designed the building. Previously he had prepared several private school courses for children.

For a long time, senior juryman Matts Back with a nickname Backus was a leading administrator and an advocate for adult education. He sat as chairman of the elementary school board for 12 years.

Lease holder Anders Strandberg must also be considered one of the notable village residents for 90 years. During his younger years he had visited an agricultural school and been a farm bailiff in southern Finland, as well as a tenant farmer at Kiv military residence where he spread knowledge of efficient land use. In the olden days he was an teacher of children and a community cashier. But he never failed to advocate the use of large plows.

People used to say that the good old times had no other pleasures to offer than weddings, auctions and funerals. Life was strenuous and the standard of living was much lower than now. But there were pleasures. The farmers had their festivals each Saturday consisting of a trip to the city. They brought to market in Nykarleby butter, meat, wood and other agricultural products. The older people were always glad to get back home, but we children always remembered the candy so Saturday evening was festive for us.

I remember the lively tar festival which was held several times each summer. People came from the entire village, especially the young people. It was not easy work to carry the tar wood and pile it up in the pit in a circle around the stack. It was a lively party with abundant good food and drinks. The party closed with a dance and later the pile was burned and the tar was drawn off to a cask to be held for a number of horse owners. When ready it was transported to a purchaser in Nykarleby. It was now his duty to stand for entertainment and as a rule he did it generously.

We will not forget the festivals which were a high point for 90 years and were held out in the open air. Often Gånge Rolf worked as a speaker at the festivals and there were college students with brass music and quartet singers. The village rallys held a prominent place. People were inventive when it was necessary to find games and tournaments of a comical nature. One example was the fights with hay sacks while standing on a tall trestle, balancing on the slant, scrambling on the slippery boards, also running with an egg on a spoon. The audience had a turn throwing rings. The serving table offered ice cold drinks as well as the usual beverages. Dance exhibitions were also held. There were lots of people from near and far at these festivals.

Livelihoods other than agriculture were represented in bygone times, especially because the village was bounded by the bay. There were fishermen who had their boathouse at the mouth of the river. There was a smith, carpenter, lathe operator, miller, tailor, dyer, tanner, shoemaker, shopkeeper, photographer and other employees in the village.

I was asked which was more worth living: life in my home village 45 years ago or life during later years. Previously life was harder but happier. It depends on the standard one uses. There is truth in the statement that the toy horse made of wood with ones own hands was equally as valuable as the toy cars of the present time. The old times made small demands, but there were more pleasant feelings of tradition and customs, of romance and myths.

From "Den Österbottniska Byn" by R. Blomqvist

Translated by June Pelo

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DATABASE of IMMIGRANTS from Ostrobothnia, Finland