Observations on ways of life

observations on nature
music and poetry
observations on ways of life

Drawing by Giuseppe Acerbi

'' It is very odd, however, that neither the Finns who have settled here nor the nomadic Lapps know anything about poetry, music or instruments. As they are surrounded only by lakes and rivers abundant in fish they tend to care only minimally for agriculture and for their livelihood mainly rely on uncertain fishing or on hunting which is even more uncertain. The physical strength and industriousness are the qualities that like everywhere among primitive people are valued most in men. They enjoy love but they have little experience of the sighs or gentle feelings caused by this passion. People behave in a serious and grave manner; not even the youth among themselves show the least symptoms of the playful gaiety that is so characteristic to this age''. Matka halki Suomen, p. 35.

An honest and serious nation
Acerbi followed with great interest, both with admiration and amazement, the customs and habits of the Ostrobothnian people. He saw how hard-working and cleanliness loving the people were. Seriousness in all their occupations was characteristic of them: play and joy were not part of the socialising ways of even the youth. Sighing and sensitivity do not seem belong to the being of the river valley inhabitants. However, Acerbi is informed of suicides and violent confrontations caused by jealousy. Thefts and other crimes are unknown and not feared of.

The only illness in the region seemed to be a sort of glandular fever. Otherwise the people were healthy and lived long. Spirits were consumed for health reasons only, and women did not drink at all. Mathias Kohlström from Muonio made the only exception in this respect. He thoroughly enjoyed his cognacs. A light-hearted evening, a glass of Swedish punch and music were definitely not part of the locals' habits. When they danced they did it without music and with serious faces, just snapping their fingers for the beat.

The visitor makes a note of the cleanliness of the houses which in his opinion well compares with that in the hotels in continental Europe. Acerbi praises the hospitality in every place where he stops. Communal sauna bathing and the tradition of having washer girls cause amazement in the visitors. Also the unstrained relations between the sexes seem strange and exotic to Acerbi.

The diet of the people is made of fish, game, waterfowl, mersanger eggs and straw bread. The fish is salted and dried. Some people have given the reindeer meant to be eaten later to the Lapps to take care of. Fish, not even salmon, is not regarded as a very desirable food. The most highly regarded occupation is hunting, bear hunting, for the strength and cunning it requires.


''If you go left, I'll go right''
Acerbi was enchanted by the simple way of life of the settlers but found nothing good in the life of the reindeer herding Lapps moving around. Acerbi thinks reindeer herding needs no work or struggle - the reindeer seem to take care of themselves. The ease of fishing and the plentiful catch only prove the Lapps lazy. This way of life is so distant from Acerbi's own world that he could or would like to take real interest in it.

The Lapps, according to Acerbi, are not only lazy but also cunning and above all too addicted to spirits and too comfort-loving. He must agree, however, that the Lapps' superiority when it comes to sharing the carrying of loads equally or knowing the terrain. On water the Lapps are no match to the rapids shooters from Kolari. Acerbi seems to find the Lapps clumsy and dumb; they seem to be in trouble in the smallest of rapids.

On the route Acerbi gets to know the Lappish medical herb, the angelica (Angelica). The plant grows close by the watering places and it is consumed as such or dried. Whenever the Lapps saw these plants they abandoned all their chores and hurried to gather them.

At the market the Lapps change animal pelts and beaked boots for spirits, tobacco, flour and salt. Acerbi describes well how the merchants insolently make the Lapps drunk in order to cheat in business.

The Lapps hunt bears and caribous. Hunting the caribou is a demanding skill and it is a speciality of the Lapps only.

The Lapps move about with their families and when two such family units meet the can speak to each other, in Acerbi's words, as Abraham spoke to Loot


''If you go left, I'll go right, or if you go right, I'll go left''.
Matka halki Suomen, p. 65.

Aberbi thinks the sentence is characteristic of the Lapps' love of freedom, but also of the asocial nature of theirs which knows no law or order.

      The fell lapps
                    Drawing by Giuseppe Acerbi

''If the Lapps on a river bank happened to see a plant called Angelica they rushed to collect it straight away, and when their hands were full of this herb, they would have rather let the ropes of the boat loose or let the boats bash into the rocks than have dropped these delicious plants. At times when we were in boats they blabbered among themselves or were so deep into the pleasures of smoking a pipe that they did not keep an eye for the approaching dangers which is why we ourselves had to be very much on the alert. And even if we alarmed them they would have rather have let the boats crash than interrupted or disturbed the eating of angelica or the pleasure of smoking. "
Matka halki Suomen v. 1799, p. 71

Observations on nature | Music and poetry | Observations on ways of life
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