A tale from another time



The meaning of homestead and roots in the course of human life

A picture i.e. a photograph of more than 100 years old with a view over the central sights
of the Petalax village. What thoughts come to the mind of a person in modern times with
loads of factual data packed in the quarters of his brain. No today living person has in reality
with own eyes seen what the picture describes for us. But each of us can, based on our
imagination and fantasy, figure out how the village and its people lived both during the days
of holy and work. Research of history tells us that the coastal areas of Ostrobothnia came to
into being and were populated during the 13th century. What was thereafter built-up during the
ensuing five to six centuries until the beginning of the 20th century was torn up and split as
the result of the Great Land Division during the first five to six years of the 20th century. The
first settlers came both from east and west, although no specific data as to in what respective
proportions is available. Majority language of the population has been, and continues to be
Swedish, which to some degree may have been caused by the fact that the administrative
language until 18th century has been Swedish.

It is plausible to assume that genes of some of the early settlers still can be traced down to
many of today's villagers. Roots of many of the siblings are here even if people have moved
on. With the help of increasingly popular family research the structures of families are brought
into light and the mist around our roots disappear.

What does our domicile mean to us, from the cradle and further through the development
from childhood through younghood, adolescence and senior life?

Place of birth used to be the place where the kinsfolk had lived and had their home through
many generations. In the countryside the oldest names of families were often based names
of villages and later on sites where churches were located. Address of a person could well
into the 20th century read e.g. Mr N.N. Petalax, Vasa, Finland. During the cause of time
denominations have changed and today a person's address is getting so detailed, that practically
only things within one’s own walls, are not included. A person residing abroad for some tens of
years will, never the less, face difficulties in finding his/her way, get oriented and revisit well
remembered playgrounds and meeting places, due to changed roads, demolished and newly
constructed buildings, and the like. Unforgotten sites from one's childhood and younghood
can thus be difficult to find even in the vicinity of one's old home.

The first memories refer usually to events in childhood home, some memories are familiar
and happy, others more dramatic, depending on how family relationships and situations in
life have developed and maintained.

First impressions of a baby are absorbed by seeing and hearing. Mother figure and sounds
give the first contacts with family home and homesite. The gift of speech and mother tongue
become then the first important means through which an outsider can in a superficial contact
determine a person's domicile. Language reveals in most cases from which country a person
comes from, while the clue determining his national domicile is the dialect he speaks.
Differences between dialects can be subtle and be further complicated if a number of other
like sounding dialects are blended in the discussion. A well describing sample of such a
situation is, when two authentic and original Petalax persons talk about "veälidre" and
"veägräinen", while a person of another generation, due to mixed marriage between persons
from Petalax and Malax, with no knowledge of risk of confusion, often would say "vedalidre"
and "vegagräinen".

Choice of profession or vocation and opportunity to study are matters, which by and large
earlier - actually until the first half of the 20th century - were determined by where the person
lived. In the countryside vocational knowledge and skills were acquired by practice. Youngsters
started for example as bricklayers' trainees in order to after a few years advance to work under
the guidance of a master and then move on as an independent bricklayer. In the same way
acquired those in basic trades like agriculture or forestry, fishing or coastal navigation their
professional skills necessary to make a living on the occupation of their choice. Well until
1930-ies in any midsize or larger village there were self-trained professional lumbermen,
carpenters, brick layers, painters, tailors, shoemakers, butchers, horse traders/swindlers and
shopkeepers as well as other professional specialists. These professionals were by and large men,
with some exceptions. There were a few women working as shopkeepers, butchers dealing with
smaller animals, seamstresses, artisans working also with spinning-wheels, rural paramedics, palm
readers and other healers. These activities we in most cases carried out as side jobs in addition
to some of the earlier mentioned base trades and activities were mainly local in nature. Some
places were known for their special skills, for example Malax for its furniture makers, Petalax for
its boat builders and skippers, Molpe for its fishermen and seal hunters, and Bergo for its pilots
and seamen.

It has always been difficult to find professional jobs in the Ostrobothnian country side. Already
in the early 19th century people moved over to Sweden, where they found jobs in mines as well
as in forest owners' sawmills. Work was often seasonal, Finnish employees were kind of
forerunners to the long term commuters of today and they retained their domicile rights in Finland.

From the end of the 19th century until 1930-ies emigration to America and Canada was most
appealing, there was unlimited demand for labor and possibilities, as it was said, to make big
money. The dream of most emigrants from countryside was to work hard for a few years, save
money, and then return to the "old country" and buy a bigger or smaller farm to make a living for
the whole family. Life of the emigrants was tough and for many it only remained as a dream to
see the old country. Most of them, however, returned and were able to fulfill their dream as a
farmer of their own farm. Emigrants' feelings for and yearning to their childhood home and domicile
must have been heavy and difficult burden for many. A woman, who had returned, told in an
evening session how she herself as well as some of those listening were sobbing when they in
their emigrant meetings and parties discussed about the home and homesite in the old country
and they always concluded their meetings with "emigrant song", which we here can recognize as
"seaman's greetings to home". The last verse of the song (with the repeated lines) goes like this:


Little swallow, albeit weak
Day and night, and night and day
Flying towards warmth of home
By speedy wings way
You swallow think also of me
I would love to fly with you
Grass is green there at home
O swallow hear my pray

Bring my greetings for those at home
Give my love to Dad and Mom
My hellos to the green meadows
And love to the little brother
If I only wings could have
I would fly with you
Dearest swallow fly towards home
And deliver my love


Towards the late years of life, in the old age, one's thoughts often effortlessly, and unrelated
to one's whereabouts glide to the childhood home, to the parents and brothers and sisters, to
the safety of childhood home, to the friends from juvenility, the joys and no sorrows. We
observe the successes and adversities of life, we wander with smile of sorrow in our mind
around our past homesites, along the paths where we experienced happiness and sorrow.
Part of what we lived through we may regret while other encounters give us satisfaction,
courage and strength to carry on wandering "until the end of the road".


This wandering of mind goes back to "the view of Petalax from 1800 i.e. 19th century" as
in our Home Page.


Petalax, January 2007

Martin Nordman