The old customary rights of the Lapps in Finland

Foreword by J. Kitti:

Several new studies on the history of Lapland have been published in recent years, e.g., by Enbuske, Hiltunen, Joona, and Nahkiaisoja. The topic has been studied by professor Helmer Tegengren already in 1950's. He gave the following presentation in the second Nordic Sámi conference. His research in the area of Kemi Lapmark tells about the spreading of settlements from south to north. According to Tegengren, the state regulated the livelihood of Lapps by taxation and military service. The most productive source of livelihood was hunting. Both lapps and the settlers hunted wild deer and other game animals for nourishment and skin but also fishing was important. Tegengren's writing shows that the main lines of the colonization of Lapland were well known already in early 1950's.

The old customary rights of the Lapps in Finland

Helmer Tegengren, Åbo Academy,
presentation given in the second Nordic Sámi conference in Karasjok 1956

In ancient times the Lapps inhabited the whole area of present- day Finland (with the possible exception of Aland). As hunting and fishing people in the Finnish forests, they found barter goods and skins much in demand. It is likely that a lively fur-trade was carried on on the coasts of the Gulf of Finland and the Bothnian Sea, a district frequented by Finns as well as by Scandinavians and Russians. The frequent seasonal visits from the Baltic lands in the first hundred years after Christ resulted in Finnish colonies in the southwest corner of the country. The Finns gradually travelled inland and in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries there was also a fairly brisk emigration of Swedes to the coasts of Finland.

When Finns and Swedes settled in Finland, there was cultural contact between Lapps, who were hunters and fishermen, and the Finns and Swedes, who were cattle farmers. The Finns occupied the country relatively late and, being a farming community, there arose between them and the Lapps inevitable conflicts as to the ownership of the land. For hunters, if the supply of game is rich individual ownership of land is less important, but it is obvious that farmers consider the problem from a different point of view.

When Finland was incorporated in the Swedish realm the church played an important role in the collection of taxes and the creation of parishes, but in northern Scandinavia enormous tracts remained outside the frontiers of the Danish, Swedish, and Novgorodian (later Russian) Kingdoms. In this wilderness the subjects of competing sovereigns fished and hunted alongside Lapps who had a conscious social organisation of their own but no centralised government or administration. Since these uncolonised areas could not be incorporated in the ruling states, the authorities had to be satisfied with collecting taxes from the subjects they claimed there. This system corresponds to the one which obtained during the general migration in England and Italy, where subjects of various kingdoms intermixed in the same territory. Since the Lapps were valuable subjects because of the taxes they could pay in the form of furs, their territories were divided among the three competing kingdoms, and when this was not feasible, two and even three sovereigns claimed taxes from the same Lapp village.

The popular notion that people claimed taxes from the Lapps while they had no means of redress is not altogether justified. It is true that aggression and the violation of laws were frequent in the tundra and went unpunished, yet it was formally possible for even the humblest member of a community to claim his rights and the Laplanders were certainly better placed to do so than many people in the old civilisations of Central Europe.

Tax-collection and trade were closely associated in the old days, and it is clear extortion of taxes would have a bad effect on business. If the Lapp were badly treated, he would simply not turn up at the appointed meeting-place; he could also migrate and change his overlordship, and since the 15th century the Swedish government has been very circumspect in this matter. The Lapps needed certain goods their neighbours could supply-butter, milk, salt, hemp, rough woollen cloth, household utensils and tools-and we can assume that they were willing to pay taxes as a premium for obtaining these goods in exchange.

The states competing for taxes from the Lapps extended their dominion over the country by colonisation, church-building and the creation of parishes. The old principle of the right to collect taxes irrespective of the domicile of the subject contrasted sharply with the principle adopted by the expanding states concerning limited territories containing taxable subjects and a common nationality. At the peace treaty between Sweden and Russia in 1595, the Swedish frontier was considerably shifted to the north, being drawn from Iivaara in Kuusamo to the middle of Lake man and thence to the Arctic Ocean. This meant that the villages of Maanselkä, Kitka and Kuolajärvi were now within the Swedish Kingdom. As the Lapps in these settlements had hitherto paid taxes to Russia an attempt was made to settle the problem by ordering the Lapps to move into Russia while the Swedish Crown took possession of their territory. The Lapps, however, remained in their own villages and Russia continued to collect taxes within territory that was indisputably Swedish. This conception of justice remained long established in the north and the fact that some farmers in Pudasjärvi, near Oulu, still paid taxes to three sovereigns in 1723 can only be explained by the fact that they were descendants of Lapps who had moved out of Inari, the only Lapp village, where taxes were collected by all three kingdoms. When Finland was separated from Sweden in 1809 and united with Russia, a tax-even though a small one-was still being paid, and it was not abolished until 1814, when the last traces of the old legal system in this part of Europe disappeared.

Now we come to the question of natural resources and the part they played in the conflict between Swedish law and Lapp customary right. There were wild deer and beaver in Finland. The reindeer fled before the Finns as they cleared forests and settled to farming, and the beaver was also affected by colonisation. The Lapps tended to withdraw to hunting places left intact, but Finnish folk-tradition recounts that they were forced from their fishing places and homes and that sometimes violence occurred. The Lapps have always been peace-loving and have preferred to withdraw rather than fight, so it is unlikely that the battles were bloody. From what written evidence we possess, the picture is not very dark. However, during this period the Lapps landed in economic difficulties.

In the middle of the i6th century, the settled Finnish population of inner Finland reached Oulunjärvi, the village of Rovaniemi being the Finnish outpost in the north. From these districts to the south and west the Finns penetrated into Kemi Lappmark and now we hear of formal complaints by Lapps of Finnish encroachment. The complaints began in 1500 and became more and more vocal; when Duke Karl visited Tornio in 1602, the Lapps protested against the Finns and the Duke published a letter favouring the protection of the Lapps, a letter which was frequently referred to in the course of later history. In 1621, 1638 and 1665 the Provincial Government forbade farmers to hinder Lapps in their activities by fishing and clearing forests, the letter of protection of i665 being issued by Johan Graan who, as a descendant of Lapps himself, had been appointed as Provincial Governor.

In 1670 the same Governor insisted that Lapps and resident farmers could well live side by side in the different Lappmarks since both groups earned their living differently. The settlers needed Birchwood and meadows and these requirements did not interfere with the Laplanders. The Lappmark Proclamation of 1673 was based on this viewpoint but while it offered special terms to all who were willing to settle in Lapland, it proved fatal for the Finnish Lapps. The land of Kemi Lappmark was quite different from that in Umea and as the Finns who made their way into Kemi Lappmark were forest-clearing farmers, the immigration following the Proclamation led to the extermination of the old Lapp culture. The authorities tried to solve the conflicts which arose from this peculiar situation but could devise no satisfactory measures.

The colonisation of Kemi Lappmark began in 1630 and ended in 1758 when the first Finnish colonists settled at Lake Inari. The legal documents of the period throw interesting light on the situation; economic and social change was extremely rapid during this time and we observe not only the evolving of new conditions of living but also a mixing of the populations. The Finns exploited the ground for hunting, fishing, forest-clearing, cattle-breeding and farming while among the Lapps the hunting of wild reindeer predominated. In this latter activity the participation of everyone was considered as a moral duty, game being shared out among the members of a village in such a way that every household paying full tax received an equally large share.

Beaver hunting, the other important source of income, developed differently. The Lapps were taxed for beaver-hunting and in this way it became an exclusively Lapp activity, every Lapp being obliged to declare the number of beavers he caught and deliver them to the village. This practice was acknowledged by the courts and remained in force until it was repealed by common agreement. The various stages in this evolution show what conflicts there existed between Finns and Lapps and how finally the two peoples fused.

All authorities acknowledged the Lapps' sole rights to the beaver, court documents from Inari in 1677 upholding the rights of a whole community. When a Lapp youth was admitted to membership of the group of tax-paying adults in a village, he took the "Beaver Oath", promising to report his capture to the village. Even if a Finn was allowed to settle in Lapp territory, he could not trap beaver and it was only in the 17th century that Finns were gradually allowed to participate, in the first place through marrying a Lapp's daughter. The beaver right was not an automatic consequence of marriage but was granted by court and had special conditions attached. When a farm changed hands the right was not automatically transferred but remained with the former owner.

When the Lapps abandoned their primitive hunting way of life in the first half of the 18th century, it was impossible to maintain the Lapp monopoly over the beaver. The old right was first abolished in Kittilä, and in it was proclaimed that Lapps and Finns had equal rights to game also. The Lapps protested several times against this but the courts did not grant their claims.

According to the law of 1734, the beaver is considered as vermin, and in the declaration of which also deals with hunting- rights, the Lapps recovered to some extent their monopoly so far as the beaver was concerned. In Kemi Lappmark, despite the development of written law, the old custom right survived.

The old hunting culture in Kemi Lappmark disappeared rapidly in the middle of the 18th century, a culture of settlers taking its place and giving rise to new problems which, in turn, produced new custom rights and legislation.

Suorce: The Lapps to-day. In Finland Norway an Sweden I. Conferences of Jokkmokk 1953, Karasjok 1956