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Gone But Not Forgotten
Aug 18, 2002
As part of our occasional series of guides to odd things to do when visiting various parts of the globe............

Crazy contests fill short Finnish summers

Thu 8 July, 2004 03:12

By Ott Ummelas

SONKAJARVI, Finland (Reuters) - British academic Ian Walker is about to learn a bizarre Finnish tradition the hard way as he prepares to hoist his girlfriend Sarah Hardingham onto his shoulders.

The couple are competing at the ninth world wife-carrying contest. where men carry their women over a 250-metre (820-foot) obstacle course.

"It seemed like a great idea six months ago, when we heard about it on the web," said Walker, 30, a psychology lecturer at the University of Bath, looking relaxed ahead of his run.

"The only training we've done is run around the hotel room this morning, but at least we'll be the best in Britain."

The competition is based on a Finnish legend, but in recent years it has been dominated by Estonian couples.

The story goes that more than a century ago, robber Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen put potential members of his wife-stealing gang through a test that included carrying a 100-litre rye sack over a chest-high fence and a ditch behind it.

The contest, which takes place each year in the village of Sonkajarvi, 500 km (310 miles) north of Helsinki, requires the man to carry a woman over the course, which features a pond filled with water at chest-height.

The competition, which includes prizes such as the weight of the "wife" in beer, has become a major international draw with 7,000 spectators this year.

It has also inspired others to organise events such as sauna sitting, swamp football, cell phone throwing or karaoke singing. All are part of a summer bonanza of bizarre events that rake in visitors and cash for as long as the midnight sun shines.


The most common explanation for this is that Finns try to get the most out of their short summers. According to a popular saying there are only two seasons in Finland -- winter and summer -- and the bad weather lasts for nine months of the year.

Tuomo Tirkkonen, the head of Finland Festivals, an umbrella organisation for cultural events, says a sparse population is another reason. Finland has only 5.2 million people, but they are spread over an area as large as Germany.

"The country is big and the population is not, so we must have festivals and happenings in all parts of Finland. All communities are eager to arrange these things. We have more festivals per capita than for example Britain," Tirkkonen says.

The boom in the events may also be helped by the steady migration of people from Finland's north to the wealthier capital area on the southern coast, said folklore researcher Kirsti Salmi-Niklander at Helsinki University.

She said the contests got their first boost in 1960s and 70s when the population shift started.

"These communities are losing people and feel even more threatened than they were during the seventies, so they are looking for some new publicity and some of them have got it through the media."

Tourist board spokeswoman Vappu Virkkunen played down the importance of the bizarre events as tourist attractions, saying they do not compete with traditional cultural heavyweights such as the Savonlinna Opera Festival.

"Some of these competitions are known abroad, mostly as jokes that have apparently passed the news threshold with little else happening in the summer. But I would not say they matter much when it really comes to attracting tourists," she said.


Foreign competitors have found it difficult to compete with the Finns in the sauna-sitting event -- arguably the nation's favourite pastime with more than two million saunas for a population of five million.

Finnish men have taken the world title at all five sauna-sitting competitions, although Natalya Tryfanava from Belarus last year upset a long-time Finnish winner in the women's contest.

She also outlasted many men, sitting 13 minutes in heat of 110 degrees Celsius (230 degrees Fahrenheit) with water poured onto the stove every 30 seconds to produce more steam.

Some of these bizarre events have even made it to the Guinness World Records website. Finn Henri Pellonpaa is featured there for killing 21 mosquitoes in five minutes with his bare hands during the 1995 world championships for mosquito killing.

But no contest has proved more popular than wife-carrying, an event dominated for years by couples from Finland's southern neighbour Estonia.

The Baltic nation's couple of Madis Uusorg and Inga Klauso secured their seventh straight win this year. Britain's Walker and Hardingham ended up with 14th place out of 18 couples.

"It was so much harder than I thought it would be," Walker said, gasping for breath and soaking wet after he had stumbled and dropped his girlfriend in the pond.

Once was enough for them, but Julia Galvin from Ireland said she will keep returning despite finishing last as her 110 kilos (242.5 lbs) slowed down her partner, former Irish arm wrestling champion Stephen Gracey.

"I'll come every year until I win. I've lost 20 kilos since last year and one day, I'll bring the beer home to Ireland," Galvin said, getting loud cheers from the crowd.

I've been to Finland, they are a very nice if slightly eccentric race of people but then with the midnight sun to drive them all mad what else can they do? They also invented the Air Guitar contest did you know?... :eek:
I once met someone from just outside Helsinki who lived in a forest and claimed to communicate with elves. She said that most young Finns, when they're not inventing startlingly innovative technological gadgetry and using the Internet on mobile phones the size of lighters, are confused by the attitude of a lot of young people from other European countries who are too busy living in big cities and getting stressed and out of shape to go and live in forests, drink vast amounts of tequila, frequently get naked and paint houses, which apparently is very easy to get into and is the best way to live life. Also, she claimed to get a real kick out of goading Estonians. I'd love to go and live in Suomi. Any Finns on the board?
Throw said:
go and live in forests, drink vast amounts of tequila, frequently get naked and paint houses, which apparently is very easy to get into and is the best way to live life.

As much as I like forests and would quite like to live in one, that doesn't sound like my cup of tea at all :)
Tequila, house-painting, nakedness and forests with elves in them. What's not to like? :D
Well, I'm not a Finn, but I lived there for two and a half years in the early sixties--my first contact with furriners for this California boy. By California standards Finns seem very sensible and respectable. Yeah, whipping your companions in a sauna with a bundle of birch branches to make the place even hotter took some getting used to. Plus the Finns eat an appalling dish at Easter called mammi, which resembles recycled food with cream on it. Actually, not bad, if a bit rich.

By the way, this is my first post.
Plus the Finns eat an appalling dish at Easter called mammi, which resembles recycled food with cream on it. Actually, not bad, if a bit rich.

The Finns eat some strange food all round!! We had a dish which was made up of very sweet local berries (forget the name) with what looked like whipped cream on top. The cream tasted foul and when i asked one of my colleagues why he replied "because it's poor" i.e. past its sell by date. I know we eat dishes with sour cream but this must have been years old!!!

Welcome Marslight by the way....
Hey! Mämmi isn't apalling :)

But being a Finn i may be biased.

It's made of rye, malt, and sugar, basically. Supposed to eat it with cream (not whipped), very sweet. The downside being that it looks like dog poo.

About air guitar contests: there are even air guitar bands nowadays, i've been told.

I'm heading to the woods in a week, actually visiting this very nice national park that has some truly old trees. We'll see about the elves. I'll be sure to report here if i happen to encounter any.

I have to say that i thoroughly enjoyed my visits to Finland. It's a beautiful country and i never once met anyone with a bad thing to say about anyone else (apart from the Russians maybe but that's understandable).
Hope i get the opportunity to visit again some day...:)
Rattus: Got any good English language resources on Finnish folklore/Forteana? We tend to know more about Swedish and Norwegian due to proximity and the cultural contatcs over the centuries but I bet the trees, lakes, etc. have thrown up some interesting tales.

My searches have been rather poor:



[edit: I've just found this on Finnish polts:

http://personal.inet.fi/tiede/poltergeist/english.htm ]

I did find this by Wade Davis (he of Haitian zombie powder fame) on the influences of Finnish legends (esp. the Kalevala) on the LotR:


The Kalevala is avialable here (in English and Finnish):

There also seem to be some good werewolf legends:

The Finnish werewolves are rather melancholy creatures (surprisingly...). In our stories/legends/myths a person usually turns into a wolf without really wanting it, accidentally (by doing something that'll turn him into a wolf without knowing this might happen) or because some witch has put a spell on him (according to Finns, these witches would naturally be Sami, although the Swedes thought we were pretty good at magic ourselves). The werewolf (who's usually bound to be a wolf for nights and days until something releases him from the spell) then lurks around houses, sometimes eating cattle but rarely people and waits for somebody to recognize him. When somebody does (e.g the wolf's mother), she/he can break the spell by calling the werewolf by his Christian name or giving him some bread to eat. Sometimes after the werewolf had regained his human form, he would still have his tail till the day he died. Some houses actually exhibit sauna benches (or whatever they are called; 'lauteet' in Finnish) that have a hole in them, presumably cut for the ex-werewolf's tail. Finland's southern neighbor, Estonia is also known for its werewolf legends. Estonia is sometimes called 'Viro' in Finnish, and at one time werewolves were called 'vironsusi' ('Estonian wolf') in Finland. It should be mentioned, though, that 'vironsusi' is originally the same word as 'werewolf', meaning 'man-wolf' and connecting it with Estonia is a false etymology due to Estonia's reputation as a werewolf country.


The etymology is interesting as it suggests very deep roots for the word werewolf as it is so similar to the Western European word (in fact in Latin it is vir):


But Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian (Finno-Ugric) is part of the wider Uralic Languages which has long been separate from Indo-European (althouh is possible there might have been some borrowing - I'm just rambling now ;) ).

A couple of random Finnish things that might be of interest:

The Finnish language is particularily suited to Spoonerisms:

Annikki Kaivola-Bregenhøj (1997)
Sexual riddles: the test of the listener

A Constraint-based Approach to Finnish CV Spoonerisms
Heli Harrikari
Nordic Journal of Linguistics
Volume 22, Number 2 / October 17, 2000
111 - 135


This paper provides a comprehensive Optimality Theoretic formalization of a Finnish language game. In opposition to earlier rule-based studies, the present analysis motivates the sometimes arbitrary-looking patterns of the game and brings together various phenomena under a unified set of universal constraints. The paper also demonstrates the close relationship between language games and natural languages by showing how the patterns of the game are analysable with the help of constraints of ordinary languages, or constraints that deviate only minimally from the original ones. The analysis of the game offers valuable external evidence for the phonology of Finnish with respect to the internal structure of long segments, vowel harmony, syllable markedness and the integrity of diphthongs.

At-will spoonerisms and vowel length in Finnish
Harrikari, Heli
Proceedings of the 18th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics
edited by Sonya Bird, Andrew Carnie, Jason D. Haugen, and Peter Norquest

vi + 645 pages
publication date: December 1999
ISBN 1-57473-223-4 CD-ROM, $20.00
ISBN 1-57473-023-1 paperback, $40.00
ISBN 1-57473-123-8 library binding, $80.00


The most northerly Middle/Lower Palaeolithic site is in Finland and is considerably further north than any other site (its possibly around 120,000 years old - the Last Interglacial when there were hippos and hyenas in the UK). Its called Susiluola (Wolf Cave):

Some links

Unfortunately most resources concerning Finnish forteana appear to be in Finnish. But here are a few things that might interest you. I'll post here if i happen upon something neat. That poltergeist -site is excellent, btw.

The tale of the Lapp shaman, Aikie Aikiesson

Witchcraft, magic and witch trials in Finland

History of the Finnish sauna

The national epic Kalevala, in English

About Ior Bock (this guy claims to be a direct descendant of Lemminkäinen of the Finnish mythology, and has done some extensive excavations and digging to find the ancient temple of his family line)

The ancient religion of the Finns

Tracing the Cliff God - ancient Finnish rock paintings

Thats it for now, hopefully something of interest there.


Finland receives first PhD in trolls

Fear of trolls was adapted to Christian framework

Finland has received what appears to be the first doctoral dissertation on traditional forest trolls.

Master of Philosophy Camilla Asplund Ingemark, 30, has researched the subject for six years. She will defend her doctoral dissertation, which is classified as a work on folklore, at the Åbo Akademi University in Turku on Friday.

The study describes the world of trolls according to the beliefs in the folklore of Swedish-speaking Finns.

The first stories on trolls appear in the Swedish-language folklore in the mid-19th century. Before then, the tales were passed down from one generation to the next as oral heritage.

"In the 1920s, trolls disappear from folklore, but they persist for a longer time in spoken traditions", Asplund Ingemark explains in Swedish in a telephone interview.

In fact, she limited the material used in the research to the years 1850-1920.

The troll tales of the Scandinavian language region are related to one another. Different cultural environments have shaped them into varying repetitions of the same themes, the soon-to-be PhD explains.

An atmosphere of threat and fear is present in troll tales. In the countryside in particular, loved ones have been kept on the right path in life by frightening them with trolls. According to the beliefs, a troll could also appear in the form of a beautiful woman, or give stolen goods as presents.

If a villager disappeared in the woods, others would say that the trolls had taken him. If he returned home, there was nothing to fear from trolls at that time: the spell evaporates immediately if one manages to escape the trolls.

The people of old transferred the fear of trolls to the framework of Christianity. According to Asplund Ingemark, it is important to remember that troll tales have been told even in Christian surroundings. Written documents show that people understood the troll tales and the stories in the Bible in the same way.

Both Christian and pagan stories described the relationship between man and supernatural forces. Folklore and Christian tales and sermons influenced each other.

"I chose trolls as the subject of my research because I suspected that troll tales could reveal something about the relation between folk beliefs and Christianity. I am interested in that relationship."

Asplund Ingemark used intertextual theories in her research. She compared the style and content of folklore and the stories of the Bible.

The world of the trolls resembles the paradise of the Garden of Eden. Trolls live without needing to work, and without a care in the world, the researcher reports.

In the time period under study, the Christian message played a significant role in the life of ordinary people. It was heard in sermons, songs, and by confirmation students. Christian literature was widely read. People discussed what new things they had learned with their family members.

In past centuries, the Lutheran church scoffed at the people’s belief in trolls. Priests sent out the message that belief in trolls was the opposite to Christianity. Priests regarded the traditional beliefs with animosity.

"I have also grown increasingly interested in how folk beliefs describe everyday life and living circumstances, and what significance folk beliefs had in the life of ordinary people", Vaasa native Asplund Ingemark muses. She has lived in Lund in Sweden for the past several years.

"As I did my research, I gained a much better understanding of how people lived in the 19th century and the early 20th century", she says.

This doctoral dissertation is a part of a broader magic and troll boom in literature and the visual arts. The adventures of trolls were also recounted in the novel Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi (“Before sundown you cannot”) by Johanna Sinisalo. Her trolls are a species that is a cross of cats and monkeys. Sinisalo was awarded the Finlandia Prize for her work in 2000.

The troll has been seen as a humorous phenomenon or a symbol of fears.

But Tove Jansson’s ultra-sympathetic Moomintroll is a different story altogether.

Camilla Asplund Ingemark will defend her doctoral dissertation on Friday at the Åbo Akademi University in Turku. The title of the dissertation is The Genre of Trolls. The Case of a Finland-Swedish Folk Belief Tradition.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 28.1.2005


FACTFILE: Trolls and witches have their own territories

In the Scandinavian tradition:

Trolls live in the forest.

Witches live in towns, perhaps even next door.

Elves live in barns, sheds, or the sauna. The same Finnish word (tonttu) is also used for Santa's little helpers up at Korvatunturi in Lapland.

A house-elf guards the home when the human residents are away.

The photo looks to be "breath fog" that was lit by the
obviously powerful flash. Too bad, though... cool photo!

Being a Finn-American and coming from a Finn community
(my first school was the Kalevala School) I have mentioned
several of the odd-small-town-occurances in other threads.

If something out-of-the-ordinary happens -- it is noted
but not talked about later. The neighbor's clocks all stopping
when someone dies is a good one. Children telling stories
about events that happened before their birth are another.

That these things happen, in themselves, is not that uncommon.
The reaction of the "local folk" to them is what has always
struck me as odd. Very "keep-it-to-yourself" people, they are.
I have wondered if I was adopted? :lol:

Emperor said:
As part of our occasional series of guides to odd things to do when visiting various parts of the globe............

Crazy contests fill short Finnish summers

Thu 8 July, 2004 03:12

By Ott Ummelas

SONKAJARVI, Finland (Reuters) - British academic Ian Walker is about to learn a bizarre Finnish tradition the hard way as he prepares to hoist his girlfriend Sarah Hardingham onto his shoulders.

The couple are competing at the ninth world wife-carrying contest. where men carry their women over a 250-metre (820-foot) obstacle course.



And this years results:

Estonians snatch world wife-carrying title again

Sat Jul 2, 1:28 PM ET

SONKAJARVI, Finland (Reuters) - Estonia reigned supreme once again in the wife-carrying world championship on Saturday, as Margo Uusorg sprinted home to win the Baltic country's eighth straight title in the offbeat competition.

Forty couples from 10 countries gathered in the remote Finnish village of Sonkajarvi to complete a 253.5-metre-long obstacle course. A man must carry a woman, not necessarily his spouse, through a pool and across hurdles.

The few rules require a minimum weight of 49 kg (108 lb) for the "wife" and state that all contestants must have fun.

Uusorg, 25, completed the course in 59 seconds with friend Egle Soll, 23, clinging to his back in the trademark "Estonian Carry" -- hanging upside down with her legs clenched around his neck.

Uusorg's prizes were his partner's weight in beer and a high-tech mobile phone.

It was his fourth victory, and the third in a row for his family. Brother Madis won in 2004.

"We don't have a secret, we just try to run fast and hope the legs work," said Uusorg, who works in Stockholm as an embassy driver. He warned that the family would be even stronger contenders next year when brother number three, Urmet, takes part.

"He holds the Estonian record for the 800 metres," Uusorg said.

Uusorg and Soll received first prize from the hands of visiting U.S. basketball legend Dennis Rodman, who declined to compete, saying he lacked both a wife and proper training.

"I'm not in shape ... It could hurt the back," said the former Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons forward. But he promised to train for next year.

"I'll carry the kids around the house or something," he said.

Some 9,000 people came to view the event, set deep in forests and lakes a couple of hours' drive from the Arctic Circle. It began in 1992 as a purely Finnish contest based on local legend, according to which wife-stealing was once commonplace in the region.

Anyone know any good Fortean sites in Helsinki?

Off to Helsinki in December for a few days...

Anyone know any good weird/Fortean/paranormal type stuff worth a visit?
Sisu: Finnish Lapland in Autumn 1944, the Nazi's are in retreat, withdrawing into Norway. Their scorched earth policy involves burning villages, hanging civilians, taking women as slaves.. The landscape here is very much a star in the film, a bit like Connemara, shading into The Burren. But a vista like that in Black ''47, a wounded land. A lone prospector discovers a rich lode of gold but runs foul of a platoon of SS Troops who want his bounty. But it soon becomes clear that they have run foul of him. From the first fight where he rams a dagger through a soldiers head it is obvious that he is no ordinary man. A chase ensues where he fights tanks, he battles nazis on land, underwater and in the air. Like a Captain Finland he uses his gold pan to shelter from bullets and flings mines which explode on SS troopers heads. A glorious, gory and violent adventure which brings Inglorious Basterds to mind whilst also paying homage to Dr Strangelove and Rambo. Outstanding performances by Jorma Tommila as the lone Finn, Aksel Hennie as the SS officer, Jack Doolan as his sergeant and Mimosa Willamo as the leader of the Finnish women captives who fight back. Written and Directed by Jalmari Helande. 8/10.

In cinemas