Kontokki and
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Kontokki and Kostamus

Kontokki and Kostamus
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At the turn of the century, the municipality of Kontokki included Kostomuksha, the villages around Lake Kiitehenjärvi, as well as the villages of Vuokinsalmi, Saarijärvi and Niskajärvi near the Finnish border. The eastern boundary of Kontokki extended beyond Lake Kenttijärvi. The population of the municipality in 1907 was 1,872.

Kontokki was not the largest village in the area; that distinction belonged to Akonlahti. Kontokki had 35 houses and 230 people. Kostamuksha, too, had a higher population than its neighbor, although it had fewer houses.

Kontokki was not a major bardic village, either. Poems were collected there by Lönnrot (1837), Europaeus (1845), Borenius and Genetz (1872) and Juvelius (1886). They all visited Kostomuksha as well, as did the researchers and collectors that came after them.

Lönnrot describes his visit to Kontokki as follows:

I walked alone 15 km to Kontokki, to which there was a good trail. I stopped to see Sallinen, one of whose brothers is living near Tornio in Finland. Sallinen had been a Lutheran for some time, but now he had converted back to the Orthodox faith. He deserted the army near the Persian border. Six houses in Kontokki. Spent the night there.

None of the other visitors to Kontokki had much to tell about the village or the villagers. Inha at least had something to say: "The village is spread out along the shores of its big lake. In a sense, its graveyard was even more curious than that in Kostomuksha; all the trees were petrified and dead yet still standing. A woodpecker clacked on the tree; the wind whistled; loose strips of bark flapped in the wind; and rotting, cracking branches jutted out with tufts of beard moss on them."

Inha wrote the following about the graveyard in Kostomuksha, to which he had compared that in Kontokki:

Evening was already upon us when we reached the shore out of the wind and saw a high stand of spruce in the fading light of day. The trees were like a spectacular bush on the dark land. There were gray houses around it that one could hardly distinguish from the ground. This was the village of Kostomuksha, and the stand of spruce marked its graveyard.
I went back there the following morning since I had never seen such a solemn and majestic stand of spruce. They were old trees and extraordinarily tall. Some had fallen through wind or age but had been left where they were, since custom dictates that one cannot touch a tree in a graveyard with an axe or a knife. Everything must be allowed to grow and fall as nature deems fit.

Sparre also describes at great length what he called that "picturesquely untamed" graveyard, a site that later proved to be of archeological interest as well.

Discoveries in the Kostomuksha graveyard

Before the site of the village of Kostomuksha and its graveyard were covered by the sludge basin of the Kostomuksha mining complex, archaeologists had some time to conduct excavations. The graveyard proved to be very old indeed, with three layers of graves being uncovered. Interesting finds included birch bark coffins and the burial of dogs with their masters. One dog even had a silver cross around its neck. The oral tradition telling of the giants of Viena gained some credence when a number of graves were found of men over two meters tall.

When Lönnrot came to Kontokki, he spent four days in Kostomuksha - some 10 houses at the time - and recorded poems, fairy-tales and proverbs. The esteemed Kalevala researcher Väinö Kaukonen gave the following appraisal of Lönnrot's notes: "[His] notes from Kostomuksha were important - first-hand folk poetry material for the second edition of the Kalevala. And this applies to the Kanteletar as well."

Other valuable materials on the area include Inha's photographs of a wedding on Pentecost and the description of an 1892 wedding by Sparre.

Stroitša, or Pentecost, was the traditional village festival (praznika) in Kostomuksha. People came there from the surrounding villages, and as Inha tells us, the neighboring village, Kontokki, did its best to contribute to a festive atmosphere:

Kontokki had prepared to provide food for those passing through, so they would have the strength to make it all the way to Kostamoksha. The houses had been tidied up, pies baked, samovars heated, and branches strewn on the floors; and the open hospitality shown everyone that happened to come inside created a superlative festive atmosphere. The baths had also been heated, although it was only morning, in case people wanted to wash after what was doubtless a sweaty journey.

Kostomuksha - a village of bandits

A certain shadow was cast over Kostomuksha in the past as well: it was generally considered a haven for bandits. This attitude is reflected in both Lönnrot's and Sparre's accounts, although the precautions they took proved unwarranted.
Lönnrot wrote the following:

A little before midnight I was halfway to Kostomuksha and saw a sauna used in summer by haymakers. I was tired but, foolishly, was afraid to lie down and go to sleep there because I thought that someone might have guessed I would stop there and could possibly follow and rob me. I thus kept on, went into the forest and tried to sleep on some moss. But this was impossible with all of the mosquitoes. The air was black with the insects, and I breathed in a mouthful of them with every breath...
I cut a large pile of branches, lay down and covered myself with branches as best I could. I tied a scarf around my head and thought I was now safe from the mosquitoes. But this was a wasted effort... A fire would have helped, but I didn't want to start one, since it would attract attention.

Sparre remembers his night in Kostomuksha with Emil Wickström and his guide from Kuhmo, Renne Haverinen:

In Vonkajärvi and other villages we were warned about the people in Kostomuksha. They said it was a real den of thieves, and these rumors were borne out by horrible stories of how travelers to that village had mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Thus far we have not paid much attention to these stories. But when we compare them to the scene we just witnessed in the yard of the house where the wedding was held, we concluded that just about anything could happen tomorrow. At home we talked about it for a long time and decided to take necessary precautions. Renne locked the door and lay down to sleep in front of it. Fatigue soon overcame fear, and he fell asleep in the middle of one of our anecdotes. He then began snoring so loud the whole place shook.


The iron content of the Kostomuksha region has been well known for a long time. A.J. Sjögren mentioned it in the 1820s:

I hear that the peasants in Kostomuksha make iron from ore they find in the bogs. It is generally thought that the lakes, too, have iron in them.

One of Karelia's best known writers, Jaakko Rugojev, is a native of Kostamoksha. When the mining complex there was being built, he appealed to the engineers to spare the beautiful lake from becoming a sludge basin for the mines . His appeal fell on deaf ears but provided the engineers with more work: it seems they neglected to plan retaining walls for the sludge basin. The water would have flowed freely from Lake Kostomukshajärvi and polluted the entire Lake Kuittijärvi watercourse, which runs through the bardic regions. After fighting against the technocrats and bureaucrats and ultimately writing to the highest government levels in the Soviet Union, Rugojev realized a victory of sorts. The mining complex was ordered to built a dam three kilometers long and dozens of meters high and wide to prevent sludge from the mining operations from polluting nearby waters.



Kontokki and Kostamus
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