Kvenskfinsk Tradisjon I Norge – Minner Fra Barndom Og Ungdom
EM59 / 2010
Kven-Finnish Tradition In Norway – Memories From Childhood And Youth
KVENLAND AND THE KVENS
The Norsemen of old were well acquainted with both Kvens and Finns. In Egil’s Saga, written in Iceland in the 1200s we find a geographical description:
To the east of Namdalen valley are Jemtland, and then Helsingland, and then Kvenland, then Finland, then Karelia. But Finnmark lies above all of these lands …
People from “real Finland” were called Finns, while people from Kvenland who spoke the East-Finnish language, were called Kvens. Later it became common for refer to all Finnish-speaking people in northern Norway as “Finns”. Our oldest records mentioning ethnic groups in northern Norway date from the 1500s. At that time, there was already a mixed population of Norwegians, Sámi and Kvens. It is often said that the Kven-Finnish culture in northern Norway is the result of a process that we do not know the start of. Several towns and districts of Troms and Finnmark had Finnish (Kven) as their primary language until World War II. This culture has resulted more than 5,000 place names have in Troms and Finnmark counties. The Kven-Finns had their own name for the northern coastland, namely “Ruija.” This name is found in the Finnish national epic poem, Kalevala, whose roots go back to the time before 1000 AD.
Kvens typically settled in rural areas where other Kvens were living, and in this way they formed their own communities. The Kven-Finnish language became the main language in several rural districts of Troms and Finnmark. Kven communities were knowledge-orientated and readily adopted new impulses. When missionaries came north in the 1700s to teach people to read, they discovered that the Kvens already knew how to read and had their own books. The books were mostly religious, written in Finnish and printed in Sweden. Later on, songbooks, newspapers and literature in Finnish were to be found in almost every Kven home.
LANGUAGE AND ASSIMILATION
When Norwegian schools were established around 1830, authorities exerted pressure for everything to be in the Norwegian language. However, after a dispute, the parties agreed that religious education could be conducted in the Kven and Lapp (Sámi) languages, while the rest of the schooling would be in Norwegian. In this way, Kvens became bilingual. They read and wrote both Norwegian and Finnish (Kven). But from the end of the 1800s and into the 1900s, Norwegian government’s policy was to press the Kven people to go entirely over to Norwegian. This policy, called Norwegianization, can be summed up as nationally organized harassment of the Kven / Finnish population. It included a number of measures, ranging from government decrees to the violation of human dignity and personal privacy. Land Sales Act was amended so that only those who spoke Norwegian had the right to own land. Kvens were subjected to surveillance and excluded from public employment. During the worst phase of Nowegianization, child welfare committees had permission to take children whose parents who did not speak Norwegian. Children were placed in orphanages, in boarding schools and with foster parents, just to remove them from their Kven language environments.
Despite the pressure, Kvens held onto their language and would not give it up. In Norway’s 1930 census there were still 8,000 Finnish-speaking people. The vast majority was bilingual and could read and write both Finnish and Norwegian. However, there was soon to be an end to this bilingualism. In 1936, the Norwegian Parliament passed a law forbidding religious education in the Kven language. The language was to be either Norwegian or Sámi. At the same time, the Parliament amended the Child Welfare Act so that children whose parents did not teach them Norwegian could be placed in boarding schools and/ or foster homes. Faced with this threat most Kven parents gave up and allowed their children to learn Norwegian, primarily to shield them from the harassment. Most Kven children who have grown up after 1936 cannot speak the Kven language. And since the language was no longer used in school and church, the few who continued to speak Finnish did not learn to read and write the language. This lack of reading and writing skills has been a major factor in the decline of the language.
In the 1990s, Norway revised its policy towards the Finnish / Kven speakers, and education in the Finnish language again became available in schools. By this time, Finnish had been banned for more than 60 years. During this period, the number of Finnish-speaking Norwegians had dwindled from 8,000 in 1930 to about 4,000 in 1990, and most of the speakers were over 50 years old. After 1990, the decline has continued, and today there are about 500 elderly people who know Kven Finnish. Most of them live in homes for the elderly.
The Finnish language went more and more out of use in the traditional Kven areas. But the Kven’s song and music traditions have survived. In the 1980s, when we began collecting the material presented in this album much had indeed disappeared, but a good deal was still intact.
Melancholic and full of longing, the music was recourse for Finnish populations when facing the trials of everyday life. In the determination for life and the joy expressed in the music, we glimpse some melancholy and a touch of sadness and emptiness. Harsh conditions and repression have left their mark. The songs and melodies provided consolation and a source of energy that gave strength to endure oppression, stand tall and maintain self-esteem. Finnish songs were sung in the evenings in the barracks, around forest workers’ campfires and in the smoky environment of tar kilns. The Finnish/Kven people were masters at logging and tar production. On long sailing trips to and from the Lofoten and Finnmark fishing areas, Finnish songs helped to fill the void. The songs were on hand when one was lonely and needed inspiration and strength to overcome everyday difficulties, when one wanted to express sorrow at death and funerals, or the joy of being in love, or when rocking a child to sleep. In all intimate life situations one turned to music. And for people with background in the Kven / Finnish language, the melodies were Finnish.
The Finnish music was home music. It was not part of major events at school, church or otherwise in society. In a sense, one pretty much forgot that it existed. In his extensive work about “Norway’s land and people”, Amund Helland stated that Kvens had no music traditions. He also claimed that one characteristic of the Kvens was that they were not musical. Evidently, Kven’s music was hidden from the rest of society.