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Tornedalen

Welcome to Tornedalen, I will write about the Swedish side, Tornedalen is an area on both sides of Torne River which divides Sweden and Finland. This is the road up to Korpilombolo, it’s very bumpy, the state doesn’t invest money in fixing the roads up there. I was always told We live too far away from Stockholm where the money is, they don’t give the fuck about us.

This is the view from my grandparents (fathers side) house. In Winter we used to drive the car across the ice here, always without seatbelts and the hands on the door handles in case the ice would break.

Welcome to Korpilombolo, where my grandparents on mum’s side lived. Korpilombolo belongs to Pajala municipality and this is where the most tornedalingar live. I’m sad most of my memories are from the 1980s and early 1990s when, in my experience, there wasn’t much culture and pride up there. It seems like this has changed a lot and that’s amazing. It says a lot that Korpilombolo only since not too many years has Kulturhuset (the culture centre) and their first pizzeria. The village seems to be so much more alive now than when I spent much of my childhood there. These are my personal experiences, important to keep in mind.

Time to answer your questions, which you sent me on instagram DM. Thank you so much! You gave me the insight that I really don’t know much myself. Therefor there will be pretty short answers and a lot of telling you to find information yourselves (I unfortunately don’t have the possibility to educate myself more on the subject right now).

Do you know where to find resources to educate ourselves on this topic?
This website is filled with information in Swedish, hopefully google translate can translate it OK for those of you who don’t understand Swedish. You can google words as “meänkieli” “tornedalsfinska” “tornedalen” “torne valley”.

Do you think your family has internalised shame (1) or do you think there are mental health effects due to this that are passed on from generations? (2)
I think it has been internalised by not feeling like they had the same right as others in the two countries (Sweden and Finland). They weren’t allowed to speak their own language, which was something they grew to be ashamed of, the “real” Swedes told them In Sweden we speak Swedish (the state even invested money at the end of the 19th century to stop the spreading of Finnish language and culture). Many of my relatives don’t have a very wide vocabulary, myself included which also is a reason for lots of inferiority complex, I remember my dad always told people to stop speaking Greek to him if they used words he didn’t understand.

Is tornedalsfinska offensive? Love the meaning of meänkieli.
If you mean calling the language tornedalsfinska and not meänkieli – no, we always said tornedalsfinska, at least when I was younger. It may have changed, I don’t know. I actually wasn’t familiar with the word meänkieli until just a few years ago.

Could you recommend some books you liked?
Jag for ner till bror trilogy by Karin Smirnoff
Testamente by Nina Wähä
Popular music from Vittula by Mikael Niemi (the only one translated to English so far)
Vårt värde by Katarina Kieri

Would love to hear more about the historical context.
This is something I don’t have knowledge about (we never talked about it).

Are there any more places like this in Sweden? Where Swedish is not the first language?
I only know about Tornedalen where also the Sami people reside (they also reside in other regions and have their own language)

How is the countryside in Sweden? Guess not everything is trendy and white and expensive looking.
I don’t see how this question has to do with the problems tornedalingar have with the rest of the society and their difficult history. It’s interesting to hear though what kind of generalised picture people have of Sweden.

Meänkieli is new term to me but wonder if same as farfar spoke bondska in Morjärv/Forsbyn?
No that’s “bondska” which isn’t related to Finnish language. Morjärv/Forsbyn don’t count as Tornedalen.

Is there more to read about it online?
Read the first question.

Can you give more information about the “measuring heads” part? What was that about?
I don’t have more information about it, but I’m sure there is more information online. Look for “racial biology” “Sami people” “tornedalingar”. Also, watch Sami blood if you have the possibility, they take up the head measuring. It’s a very informative and beautifully made film.

When did this segregation end?
I’d say it hasn’t.

Is the local language still alive?
It is, my dad for example speaks it with our relatives. I am really really sad I never learned it, it made me feel very excluded when my relatives spoke it. I think that’s why I tried to learn as many languages as I could when I became a teenager. These days I have a lot of Greek friends, I can’t speak Greek, but being used to listen and try to understand at least parts of Meänkieli and Greek, I sometimes at least get the context. Maybe I feel safe in these constellations?

How many different “tribes” still exist in Sweden?
I don’t know, but I don’t think there are many.

If anyone with more knowledge is reading this, please feel free to leave a comment – it would be so nice to hear from you. Also correct me if I’m wrong about something.

12 Comments

  • Jenny
    October 27, 2020 at 6:43 pm

    Thank you for all of your answers! That’s great information, and I plan to look into the books and film that you recommended.

    Reply
  • Jenny
    October 27, 2020 at 6:45 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to offer all of that wonderful information! I plan to look into the books and film you recommended.

    Reply
  • Jenny
    October 27, 2020 at 6:46 pm

    It said my first comment didn’t go through, hence the two very similar comments! And now a third!

    Reply
    • Sandra
      October 28, 2020 at 7:53 am

      Haha no worries, hope you’ll find the books/film 🙂

      Reply
  • Julie
    October 27, 2020 at 7:29 pm

    Thank you Sandra! Just some information on the books you’ve mentioned: Nina Wähäs book has been published in Germany and it’s called ‘Vaters Wort und Mutters Liebe’. Karin Smirnoffs first book of the trilogy will be published in Germany in january and it is called ‘Mein Bruder’. Very much looking forward to read both of them.

    Reply
    • Sandra
      October 27, 2020 at 7:40 pm

      Thanks SOOO much for this update! They are both wonderfully written books and I hope the translators have done them justice, hope you’ll enjoy. xo

      Reply
  • Iveth
    October 27, 2020 at 7:30 pm

    Thank you for your insight, Sandra and for sharing this part of your life.

    Reply
    • Sandra
      October 28, 2020 at 7:53 am

      Thanks for reading 🙂

      Reply
  • Caroline
    October 27, 2020 at 10:08 pm

    Awesome!! Thank you for sharing this, Sandra.
    It is actually quite interesting for me, because I had boyfriend some years ago and probably he has a similar background as yours. He was born in Umeå, but his family was originally from the Finish side. He never mentioned anything about Tornedalen, but I remember he said something about the language and his family being “ashamed” about not speaking Swedish
    Maybe he is somehow related to you, because he has a “similar” last name Juth – Juto…maybe I’m completely wrong about that.
    Anyway thanks about sharing this really interesting part of your family history!

    Reply
    • Sandra
      October 28, 2020 at 7:55 am

      Hi there Caroline! You are both right and wrong. People from Finland have been considered to have lower status in Sweden, than Swedes. Such bullshit. I know many Finnish people who came to Sweden and they were really ashamed of not speaking proper Swedish, the languages are so different and you can almost always hear if someone comes from Finland, which was subject in many comedies even in the 1990s. Jutos is a very rare name coming from Tornedalen, only 157 people in Sweden and almost all of us are relatives.
      Thanks for reading 🙂

      Reply
  • Jenna
    October 28, 2020 at 10:39 pm

    Hey Sandra, I love that you’re posting about meänkieli and Tornedalen so much lately. It’s fascinating to read your experiences growing up there. I’m always fascinated by the treatment of Finnish or Finnish-adjacent languages abroad, particularly in Sweden and the States, where I’m from. If anyone’s interested, this documentary, Språkkampen, was very interesting to watch and really provided me with a lot of insight on just how important the recognition and support of minority languages is: https://www.svtplay.se/video/24704726/sprakkampen?start=auto

    Reply
    • Sandra
      November 19, 2020 at 5:24 pm

      Def gonna watch it, thank you Jenna!

      Reply

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