Korva and many versions of the last name are quite common in Lapland and many have the name because of their house/farm was called Korva. Korva means “an ear”. It also has other meanings. E.g. you could say that you live by the river -“asun joen korvalla”. Or you can say “tavataan siinä 12.00 korvalla” = “Let’s meet around 12.00”. It is difficult to translate Finnish sometimes. At this point of my research I haven’t got any hard evidence of my family’s connections to other Korva families in Lapland. But there are interesting connections in Kuusamo still to talk about.
I continued to research the name more. At first, I was finding more Finnish settlers coming and taking land. But then I stumbled upon another family: The Pitkä family. The family originates from a kind of a tribal chief or the elder of the tribe (again a bad translation of lappalaislautamies) of the Kitka siida, Marttinin Antti, who lived approx. 1624-1693. The family summer camps were in the Ala-Kitka area of the Lake Kitkajärvi. The family would travel according to seasons between the winter camp and their summer camp. There are court records from Lapland and Ostrobothnia of the family complaining about Finnish men coming to their hunting grounds and fishing waters. A little ice age occurs in 1695-1697 in Nordic countries, the winter starts as early as August, many trees freeze and split – this age is called the Great Famine of 1695-1697 – half of the Sámi in Kuusamo die. Marttinin Antti had few sons of which two died in 1697 while they were begging on the Russian side of the border, two sons survived in Karelian region around the White Sea, under the protection of a local Sámi man – it must have been bad times for the whole tribe.
Around the same time, the invading Finnish farmers – who are mostly single men – have started pouring in. The Pitkä family starts also to build houses on sites that used to be their summer camps. The threats of not surviving and loosing control over their lands forces the family to adopt a way of life by sticking to one place, building their home on the land that they have inhabited possibly for generations. On paper, they become Finnish citizens, because they now have a house, koti in Finnish and not a traditional Sámi kota. It’s a question of survival.
All together the Swedish crown in the Southwest and the tax people and Karelians from East aren’t very kind to the Sámi. The Swedish crown sends pastors to spread the gospel and to take down the Sámi traditions and beliefs – by force, if necessary. I read about the Sámi in Kuusamo going to war against the evil people and obviously the war didn’t go that well. On the Lake Kitkajärvi, a Sámi family is killed by the taxmen from the East. We visit the place with Pia. Small fish jump on the lake, it is sunny and there is a sense of mercy and calm. There are a lot of log cabins for people to spend their vacation on the historical murder site.
After settling the family Pitkä has to hide many of their traditions . The Sámi language is considered of the devil by the church; Pitkä family traditions and behavior are now under the watchful eye of the church, the Finnish public and other Sámi, desperately wanting to be Finnish. It must be difficult to not know which of your words and doings that you have always used are now considered to be evil, but some words and doings are ok – like place names – but then again, you can’t sing your song. There is a constant threat of being caught of sinful behavior. I’ve read about priests whipping these new Finns because they were speaking Finnish with a Sámi accent. There are witch-hunts and apparently there are witches – surprisingly some survive until the end of 19th century: like the family whose house is now in the Homestead museum of Kuusamo (Kotiseutumuseo). The museum also displays items with pagan symbols. In a book about the history of Kuusamo I found a photograph of a wooden fish god taken in 1960’s next to a lake in Kuusamo. The excavated remains of a 16th century shaman from Kitka siida are now held at the collections of Northern Ostrobothnia Museum In Oulu. There is a discussion to move all the Sámi items of the museum to the Sámi museum in Inari. The heritage of Kitka siida might be traveling far to foreign lands and peoples.
I talk to local anthropologist Tiina Laine, she tells that many Sámi, Karelian and Finnish pagan traditions that were considered to be wrong by the church survived in the remote villages in Kuusamo until the 20th century. This is because the pastor could visit there only rarely and when ever a pastor visited everything “wrong” would be hidden. The isolation could have meant that people might have had the opportunity to keep their traditions and culture for longer, but there are not that many obvious signs of this, except some items in the collection of the Homestead Museum in Kuusamo, national archives and in books related to Kuusamo history. Most of the items have been lost in the 2nd World War when Kuusamo was burned down. Curious enough, the cupping days of my great great aunt, that I mentioned earlier in this text, came to an end when the family had to evacuate their village during the war – and the cupping equipment was left behind. All of it was burnt and lost during the war and she never continued the possibly long tradition of the family. The history has been wiped off by the war yet again.
But back to family Pitkä. The Pitkäs are now talking Finnish with an accent whenever outsiders are present. In the public eye they are somewhat Finnish. They most likely spoke Sámi language among themselves. They try to behave as required by the state and the church but are under the surveillance of the society. Because of a bit more stable source of food – thanks to farming – the family starts to grow and move to new locations around the Ala-Kitka. They take on new names when they establish new houses: Kallunki, Kajava and Korva.
This Korva is the family of my earlier mentioned ancestral mother. Later, I would find out that since the name of the family has changed during these last centuries, it seems that we have the offspring of Pitkä family on many of the branches of our family tree. They are present in both of my mother’s parents and their parents and their parents and so on.
I earlier mentioned that many of the settlers were single men. These men were forced to leave their homes because of a ruling by the Swedish king. He limited the amount of men that could live in one household. Many men would establish their households in the wilderness of Kuusamo alone. There were not that many unmarried women around so they would marry the Sámi women. It was maybe also a great trade for the Sámi women to be able to pass as Finnish. There are also cases around the metsäsaami area of Finnish men becoming Sámi after marrying to a Sámi woman.
When I look at my family tree from my mother’s side, it seems that there are in fact several women with Sámi heritage that married Finnish men. It seems that the mothers are the strongest connection to the lost tribe of Kitka siida. I recently talked to a person who is doing Sámi genealogy in Kuusamo, he wanted to see my matrilineal family tree as it is apparently easiest way to see my Sámi ancestry in Kuusamo. It seems that the Sámi blood has survived in the mixed marriages of Finnish settlers and Sámi women. Sounds very much like the story of Pocahontas.
But what does this blood mean to me or the present day? Of course I could speculate on the amount of Sámi DNA in my DNA, but that is redundant. But what my family may have inherited from this blood is the intolerance to many farm products: many in my family can’t handle milk or gluten. I personally trace this to the fact that many of our ancestors changed their diet only few centuries ago and it might be that our bodies are still struggling with these kind of new foods. Kuusamo is genetically very different from surrounding areas, some say it is because of generations of inbreeding, but this might be hearsay. There are a lot of inherited diseases.
What other signs of Sámi past do I see in the present? The first time I mentioned to my family that we have Sámi ancestors brought on strong objections from many members of my family. As if there was still something to hide and be ashamed of. That it was something that was not supposed to be talked about. As I talked with my family their objections felt like a wave of past shame and trauma still strong after centuries. I have heard about similar reactions from other people in Kuusamo. For other members of my family it has just been another interesting trivia of the family past, but some are feeling great relief and interest, as they too have wondered is there some Sámi past.
I have started to think about this possibility of inherited trauma in Kuusamo and for me, it has become visible there. The way the Sámi people were forced to give up on their culture and land, the wars and how they must have been constantly aware of their behavior in order to avoid punishment, is still in the minds and bodies of the people in Kuusamo – and this has been handed down from generation to generation. There seems to be a kind of paranoia among people about how other people see them. I can’t say much more about this at the moment since I’m also one of the affected peoples and still trying to figure out what does this mean in my life, how to fix it or is there something to be fixed. But I guess inherited traumas are something very common in populations with indigenous backgrounds. But at the same time I also have a feeling that a great wound going across centuries and generations is starting to heal. A therapist friend of mine told me that in many cases a whole family can’t escape this kind of inherited trauma related to fate of indigenous peoples, but some members can survive it once they become aware of it.
I’m not sure I can call myself a Sámi. At this point, I think I cannot, but it doesn’t take away the fact I have ancestors that were. I’m also part Ostrobothnian and Livvi-Karelian from my father’s side. And from my mom’s side I have this history that I’m writing about. At the moment, I’m not sure what do these Sámi ancestors mean for my identity, but I feel it is a new aspect of me and my family that needs to be addressed. What does it mean to be the remains of a nation that was thought to be lost? Maybe this is a new identity among the others I already have.
There are a lot of arguments and disagreements about who can be regarded as Sámi, especially in regards to the distinction between the offspring of Forest Sámi and the Sámi who have the official indigenous peoples status in Finland. At this point, I wish not take part in the argument about who can have the status of indigenous peoples in Finland. I wish only to be allowed to explore my own family past and identity – to see if this past means something in the present. And maybe bring forth this fact that there are many of us with mixed blood, a group that is not much spoken of in Finland.
I will end this report of my findings at the Research days of Chill Survive with a small finding. At the end of my stay in Kuusamo this summer I was thinking about what places and situations might have remained the same from generation to generation. Cultural moments or actions that none of the pastors, kings, taxmen or settlers could access or control. At first I felt that there aren’t that many situations that law and order doesn’t want to control. But then I remembered how my grandmother cradled my nephew to sleep in our family log cabin. She was sitting in front of the fireplace, gently rocking the baby and singing quietly. The song was the very common lullaby in Finland “Tuu tuu tupakkarulla”. She would sing many verses of the song that I had never heard before. I wasn’t sure if she was making them up as she sang or what. She was very persistent with her singing even though my nephew was fighting to fall asleep. But she kept singing and rocking. The baby eventually gave up and fell asleep. This must have been a situation that has remained the same since forever. Putting a baby to sleep. Of course the present day is way different, there must be a gazillion of rules and methods of how to put baby to sleep the right way.
A few years later, I was putting to sleep the same nephew who was now a toddler. He asked if I could rub the tips of my finger nails together next to his ear just like my grandmother had done while singing the song. I didn’t know how to do it. He showed me how to rub the tip of my index fingernail to the corner of my thumbnail together. I couldn’t remember my grandmother doing that to me, but it might be that she did it when I was just too little to remember. I started to rub my nails next to his ear gently while singing the same song. He fell asleep and I was left wondering what is the magic behind the rubbing. I rubbed my fingernails next to my ear and heard a not so pleasant sound but it wasn’t irritating at all. Just a constant small sound next to your ear, which had a beat, a beat that reminded a bit like the beat of the heart.