Finnish utopian colonies
Aleksis Kivi's Seven
Brothers are an excellent example of
man's striving for utopia. Dissatisfied with the conditions
and society in which they lived, the brothers wished to
set up their own small-scale society far off in a remote
wilderness. Like the Seven Brothers, ninny Finns have fled
to the Impivaara bills of exotic lands, where they have
cleared the land to build new homes, struggled to speak
and read new languages, quarrelled with one another and
endeavoured to manage without the society around them.
ventures of Finns are in fact much more closely linked
to the world history of utopian communities than
is usually realized. Even though, with the possible exception
of Sointula, the Finnish undertakings are not mentioned
together with More's Utopia, or with Fourier, Owen, Cabet
or Oneida, they still have an honourable history reaching
back to the 18th century.
The two best known utopian colonies founded by firms
are Sointula in Canada and Colonia Finlandesa in Argentina.
were, however, almost twenty similar ventures in different
parts of the world.
First searchers of religious utopia
The foundations for the Finnish utopian emigration were
laid since 1734 by a mystic-separatist sect
lead by Jaakko and Erik Eriksson from
Kälviä. After getting in conflict with the state
church the brothers were banished. They travelled with 60
followers for eleven years by ship in Denmark, the Netherlands
and Germany. The last 20-30 years the sect lived
back in Sweden in Varmdö. The group dissolved
soon after Erik died in 1761. At this stage religious situation
in the country had become more liberal and the Enlightenment
was gaining a footing.
Start in Africa
The first utopian undertaking, but one that never got past
the preliminary stages, was New Jerusalem, a joint Finnish-Swedish-English
venture to be established in Sierra Leone in 1792. The next
attempt, the Amur company founded in 1868 on the Russian
Pacific coast, did in fact function for a couple of years.
The third effort comprised the three communities established
by the utopian socialist Matti Kurikka. Of these, the short-lived
Chillagoa was no more than a camp of tents that sprang up
in Queensland, Australia in 1900. The most important venture,
Sointula, was founded in British Columbia, Canada in 1901.
After it broke up in 1905. Kurikka founded his third community,
Sammon Takojat, near Vancouver.
Finnish nationalism was a
prominent feature of these utopian socialist communities.
In 1899, nationalist-minded parties
seeking refuge from Czarist oppression, planned to establish
'New Finland' at Red Deer in Alberta, Canada.
Nationalist principles also led to the founding of the
Finnish community in Cuba in 1904. The Itabo venture,
realized partly through the efforts of members of the
American-Finnish labour movement. The second venture in Cuba,
which got under way in 1906, was even more labour in
undertaking lasted long.
The venture with the strongest background of Finnish
nationalist strivings was Colonia Finlandesa, founded
in the Missiones
valley in Argentina in 1906 by Arthur Thesleff, a
well-known personality in cultural circles.
The outbreak of 'tropical fever' that affected Finland in
the 1920s led to plans for four new colonies, three of which
materialized, all based on vegetarian principles. The Paradise
scheme of 1925 never came to anything, but in 1929 Penedo
was founded in Brazil and one year later Viljavakka in the
Dominican Republic. At the same time vegetarians moved to
Colonia Villa Alborada in Paraguay, which dated from 1920.
The cooperative ideals of the labour movement led to the
establishment of two cooperative farms in the United States:
one in California as early as 1912 and one in Georgia in
1921. These ventures can be considered kindred spirits of
the Ponnistus colony in Cuba.
Under the influence of the 'Karelia fever' that had reached
America, Finns living there moved to the Soviet Union, where
they founded several communes in the 1920s and 1930s. One
of them, Kylväjä, was established in 1922 near
Rostov in White Russia. Three collectives were located in
East Karelia: Side in Olenets, Hiilisuo near Petroskoi, and
Vonganperä in Uhtua.
The most recent utopian colony is Jad Hashmona in Israel,
a Finnish kibbutz founded in 1971 by Christian Finns interested
By even the most generous of estimates, Finnish utopian
colonies attracted no more than 8,000 to 10,000 people. The
moved eastward in the great wave of enthusiasm for Karelia,
and half of the remaining 2,500 went to the two biggest
colonies, Sointula and Colonia Finlandesa. Compared with
total of one million emigrants from Finland, the number
that went to the utopian colonies was a mere trickle.
The question of utopian colonies is not, however, one of
moving and travelling as such but one of a spiritual
journeying, a restless search for a better world, fit which
travel on this earth is but a menus to an end.
The multiplicity of utopianism
Naturally enough the Finnish utopian colonies included people
who were merely seeking good fortune or an easier life and
pleasures for themselves and their children. The majority
of the migrants, however, had more uplifting motives. The
background of the communities was wide and varied, encompassing
socialism, nationalism, Christianity, theosophy, vegetarianism,
arid fortune seeking.
In a division of utopian communities into the secular and
the religious, the majority of the Finnish ventures would
come under the former. Socialist or tabor ideals were predominant
in twelve undertakings, religious ideals in seven, and
Finnish nationalism in five. Vegetarianism was the underlying
in five settlements, which also emphasized pacifism. Back
to nature was the slogan of all the utopian communities
in South America.
Few of the Finnish ventures incorporated the principles
of only one ideal; usually there was a combination of
several in the background. Neither was it unknown for people
from one colony to another. Personal contacts exist between
members of colonies as far apart as Penedo and Jad Hashmona.
Even though communities foundered, their members did
not lose their conviction that one day they would find a
community where utopia would cease to be unattainable.
New social structures
In the classical communities, responsibility for decision
making, work, maintenance of order, housing and meals rested
typically with all the members as a body. Many of these communities
aimed to reform religion, political belief, the family or
The majority of the Finnish utopian communities exploited
only a portion of the potential inherent in such ventures.
The most thoroughly utopian settlements were Sointula and
Penedo, both of which sought to build a completely new
world. The most common utopian feature in all the Finnish
concerned the division of labour. In ten communities all
members received equal wages, and in another ten they shared
communal dwellings. In an even greater number, meals were
taken together, and in some, wages were replaced by social
remunerations or by credit entered in book, payment to
be made at some future date.
Sexual morals or children's education were rarely a topic
of interest in Finnish utopian communities. The most
striking exceptions were Sointula and Penedo. Sointula had
kindergarten and at Penedo the original plan was to teach
the children without a school.
The Firms may have left behind narrow-minded Finnish
bureaucracy and strict internal control but they still
Finnish heritage. The migrants cherished grandiose
notions about relocating the whole population of Finland
changing the whole social structure. The Finnish language
People were slow to learn the local language, and often
the teacher was the only member of the community
who spoke any
language besides Finnish. Small wonder then that
the Indian wives of Colonia Finlandesa Finns had to learn
dialect of Finnish.
At the start, contact with Finland was close, and
the migrants received letters and papers. But as
went by connections
grew more tenuous, and even the South American colonies
could be 'rediscovered'.
The lesson of the utopian communities
Practically all the communities suffered from quarrels and
disagreements. These were usually the result of financial
difficulties, as at Penedo and many other communities, where
the settlers were burdened with huge loans. There were also
disputes about goals, as at Sointula.
Nowhere did the utopian life style last very long. The
South American ventures remained Finnish communities for
it is true, but their utopianism foundered within a few
years. Most enduring in this respect were the cooperative
in the United States, which continued until the depression
and urban migration hastened their end. Many of the Finnish
ventures that had started off with utopian ideals soon
became no more than ordinary migrant communities.
The majority of Finnish utopian communities have, thus,
proved to be a disappointment. But even as failures,
they have performed
the basic role of the utopian community: to help people
to understand the meaning of life, to see what needs
to be changed
and to learn how to go about it. The importance of the
communities should probably be measured by some yardstick
their external success. In Finland, as in many other
countries, the environmental movement is the ideological
of the utopian colony.
Teuvo Peltoniemi: Finnish Utopian Settlements in North
America. Pp. 279-291 in: Karni, Michael G. & Koivukangas, Olavi & Laine,
Edward W. (eds.): Finns in North America. Institute of
Migration C9. Turku 1988.
Teuvo Peltoniemi: Kohti parempaa maailmaa - suomalaisten
ihannesiirtokunnat 1700-luvulta nykypäiviin. (The Search
For a Better World. Finnish utopian communities from the
18th century to the present day.) Otava Publishing House.
Helsinki 1985. (Order from: www.sosiomedia.fi)
Teuvo Peltoniemi: Kohti parempaa maailmaa. (The Search For
a Better World). Video program. 37 min. Sosiomedia oy/ Helsingin
Tietovideo (Helsinki Educational Video) 1988. (Order
Consult also Sources and references list (pdf) of the book
Peltoniemi: "Kohti parempaa maailmaa - suomalaisten ihannesiirtokunnat 1700-luvulta nykypäiviin".