Kalevala heritage in the village of Ahmas

The village of Ahmas has a particularly strong tradition of folk culture. Old poetry in the Kalevala metre flourished in the Oulujoki river valley in the early 19th century. Today you can discover this tradition in the Kalevala Heritage Village in Ahmas.

The village of Ahmas is situated around Lake Ahmas at the foot of the Rokua Hills. The village is thought to have taken its name from its early inhabitants, who named the place after a plant called the water wolverine (wolverine = ahma). The shores of the lake have been inhabited since the Stone Age and the area has been permanently settled since the 16th century. The inhabitants of the past were strongly influenced by folk culture.

Compared to today, their way of life was characterised by a high degree of self-sufficiency and a close relationship with nature. There were many superstitions related to the natural environment and attempts were made to influence the forces of nature through prayers and incantations. In cases of illness and disease, people turned to feared but respected healers. Some of them lived in Ahmas.

In the old days, almost everyone practised everyday, ordinary magic, and the intentions were almost always good. Magic was used to restore good fortune, ward off evil or right wrongs. In those days, science, mysticism, Christianity and ancient beliefs became mixed and the teachings spread easily. Despite the spread of Christianity, the tradition of folk religion remained strong.

From magic spells to folk poems and stories

The magic spells of the past were later transformed into folk poems and stories that were passed on orally from generation to generation. The poems were sung to make them easier to remember. Old poems about the wise old Väinämöinen may have been sung in Finland as early as the end of the Stone Age, after which they were passed from region to region as oral tradition by migrants. The metre of the Kalevala is thought to have been created specifically to make the poems easier to remember. In northern Finland, Kalevala poetry became a male tradition; men used to recite it at public gatherings.

Since then, songs, old poems and local stories have been recorded by local enthusiasts and early collectors of local folklore, such as Mikael Agricola, Sakari Topelius, Samuli Paulaharju and A. H. Snellman. This way, the poems of Ahmas became part of Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala.

Lusia becomes the victim of a witch hunt

Lusia Rusintytär Korhonen, a folk healer and poetry singer from Ahmas, has gone down in history as the first named singer of Kalevala poetry. Her skills in ancient poetry were inherited from her father, Brusius Mats “Big Rusi” Korhonen, who was said to be a witch who survived the dark years of raids in the river valley through witchcraft.
Lusia was born in Ahmas in 1640 and lived as an unmarried single woman. Many events of her life are recorded in the minutes of the Oulu District Court in 1680. They detail the charges of witchcraft brought against Lusia and Reeta Tuomaantytär. According to the accusations, Lusia had healed the eyes of her relative Marketta Seppänen in the sauna of a house called Seppälä using communion bread. Lusia denied the charges and Marketta did not confess, so the court ordered a new trial to be held in the summer. However, at an extraordinary court session on 30 March 1680, it was announced that Lusia, accused of misusing communion bread, had hanged herself.

Tormented by the accusations, Lusia committed suicide to avoid being burned at the stake as a witch. In the era of Christian purity, hundreds of Finns were summoned to witch trials, and some of them were sentenced to death. Witchcraft and magic frightened people and led to tragic witch hunts.

Villagers said that Lusia used to sing old incantations as she walked to the hanging tree on the shore of Lake Ahmasjärvi: “On the windward side of the deer’s antlers, seven-branched, the scent of my fire he smells. I will take his place on the journey, on the invisible passage to the kingdom of the dead. I will leave the shore by boat, I will travel to that land through sparkling rapids, through deadly rocks, to the land of the spirits I will go.”

Poems of Ahmas recorded in the Kalevala

Pekka Jaakonpoika Kukkonen, born in the Kukkola house of Ahmas in 1770, is an important figure in the Kalevala heritage. His relatives used to sing poems and spells that were passed down through the family, where children could also hear them. At that time, many local people still knew and remembered the Kalevala poems.

Pekka Kukkonen moved to Oulu to become a parish clerk and changed his name to the more respectable Pehr Gullstén to attract more customers. He worked as a parish clerk in Rovaniemi until his death in 1825. He also studied medicine under Sakari Topelius the Elder, and would sometimes sing to him old poems and incantations that he had heard at home.

Word of the talented singer of poems reached Reinhold von Becker, a Finnish language researcher at the University of Turku, who travelled to meet Pekka Kukkonen. Becker recorded the poems he heard, including Väinämöinen’s Wounded Knee, The Birth of the Kantele and Offer of Marriage to Ilman Impi. Based on Gullstén’s poems, he published an article in the Turun Viikko-Sanat magazine about Väinämöinen, whom he interpreted as a historical figure. He ended his article with the words “- the name of Väinämöinen will not disappear as long as Finnish people are known in this world”.

In 1827, the poems were given to Elias Lönnrot, who was working on a doctorate on folk poetry under Becker’s supervision. Kukkonen’s poems became part of Lönnrot’s research material. In this way, the folk poems from the village of Ahmas also became part of the Kalevala.

Elias Lönnrot included the poems about Väinämöinen that he heard from the singers in his collection. The structure of the eighth poem of the Kalevala comes from Pekka Kukkonen, the most important singer of Kalevala folk poetry in Northern Ostrobothnia.

Lusia revived in heritage village opera

The tradition of Kalevala culture in Ahmas is still alive today in the Ahmas Kalevala Village, which was opened in the early 2000s. Built by the local village association mainly through volunteer work, it commemorates the village’s first inhabitants, its history and its important Kalevala roots.
In the opening ceremony, an inaugural lecture was given by Pekka Oilinki, who has done extensive research in the area. The opening speech was given by politician and journalist Reino Paasilinna, whose family of writers is directly related to Pekka Kukkonen. Väinö Gullstén, the siblings’ father, had previously translated and changed the family name to Paasilinna.

In 2015, the open-air theatre of the Heritage Village presented the opera Lusia, telling the story of Lusia Rusintytär’s life. The choreography of the “forest opera” was created by the famous Finnish dancer and choreographer Jorma Uotinen, who also played the role of Lusia’s father.

The role of Lusia was sung by mezzo-soprano Virpi Räisänen, who got the idea for the opera project after learning that she was directly related to Lusia Rusintytär. She had found this out by chance when she read Lusia’s story in a local newspaper at an airport.

Places to visit


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Pirttikoski, Iita 13.6.2014. Pohjois-Suomen paksuimmassa männyssä roikkuu kuolettava tarina (“The thickest pine tree in Northern Finland has a story of death hanging from it”). Yle.

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Veräjänkorva, Arto 7 Aug 2015. Lusia-ooppera valmis Ahmaksen luonnosta suuriin saleihin (“Opera Lusia ready to move from natural setting to big stages”). Yle.