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Finnish utopian colonies

TEUVO PELTONIEMI

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.

The utopian 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. There 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, however, was realized partly through the efforts of members of the American-Finnish labour movement. The second venture in Cuba, Ponnistus, which got under way in 1906, was even more labour in origin. Neither 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.

Tropical fever

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 in Israel.

By even the most generous of estimates, Finnish utopian colonies attracted no more than 8,000 to 10,000 people. The majority 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 the overall 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 the actual 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 principle 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 to move 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 utopian 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 education.

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 communities 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 its own 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 fostered their Finnish heritage. The migrants cherished grandiose notions about relocating the whole population of Finland and changing the whole social structure. The Finnish language was important.

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 the Kitee dialect of Finnish.
At the start, contact with Finland was close, and the migrants received letters and papers. But as the years 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 decades, it is true, but their utopianism foundered within a few years. Most enduring in this respect were the cooperative farms 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 other than their external success. In Finland, as in many other countries, the environmental movement is the ideological continuation of the utopian colony.
 

  

Read also the Turku FinnForum article "Finnish utopian settlements in North America" (pdf)


Sources

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 from: www.sosiomedia.fi)

Consult also Sources and references list (pdf) of the book Peltoniemi: "Kohti parempaa maailmaa - suomalaisten ihannesiirtokunnat 1700-luvulta nykypäiviin".

  Links to Charts

 

Finnish utopian communities and emigration from Finland.

 

Finnish utopian colonies

 
  Links to Pictures

 

Map from Thomas More's Utopia


 

August Nordenskield's plan


 

Matti Kurikka


 

Karl Streng in a workshop in Sointula


 

Sammon takojat


 

Oscar Norring's advance payment


 

Alex Kauhanen


 

The first inhabitants of Georgia Cooperative


 

Children at Georgia Cooperative show a record squash


 

Matti Aaltonen practising samba


 

A greeting from Finns who emigrated to Soviet Karelia


 

A Cristmas portrait from Viljavakka


  Arthur Thesleff

 

 

   
Updated January 1, 2007