Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Attending the Hakkapeliitta Fair

The first weekend of August was once again the time to visit the Hakkapeliitta Fair - an event commemorating the Finnish light cavalry that served in the Swedish army under King Gustavus Adolphus during the 30 Years War in the early 17th century. It is practically the only occasion when we can put on our cavalier costumes and not get strange looks when we walk outside our apartment.

Hakkapeliitta is the curious name given to the Finnish light cavalry and is supposedly based on the Finns' battle cry "Hakkaa päälle!", which is sometimes translated as "Hack them down!" The name is a 19th century Finnish modification of the original name given to the cavalry by foreigners who did not understand Finnish and thus began to call the Finns in a variety of terms, such as Hackapelit, Hackapelite, Hackapell, Haccapelit or or Haccapelite (Source: Wikipedia).

Unlike the above picture from the Hakkapeliitta Fair might lead you to believe, Hakkapeliitta did not wear uniforms (uniforms did not really exist in any army yet during that period), nor did they wear good clothes. In fact, period texts tell us that Finns became known not only because of their bravery in battle, but also because of their worn and patched clothes and equipment as well as otherwise shaggy appearance.

According to one nameless French soldier, "Finns are mostly short in stature, but nevertheless brave and able to endure hardship. They live on meagre food and do not care about luxuries. They consider the German weather warm even during winter. [. . .] As soon as the command to advance is given and drums are sounded, the Finns begin to sharpen their swords. From distance, it looks like a troop of butchers or fieldworkers ready for harvest." (Source: S. Sauri, Suomalaisten Suuret Taistelut [The Great Battles of Finns].)

The Hakkapeliitta Fair is, in comparison, a very peaceful event and merely has the actors playing Hakkapeliitta marching around occasionally and letting people study their swords and equipment. Other actors play the part of King Gustavus Adolphus and his Queen and court. There are music performances and some plays performed in the area. Very few visitors wear costumes (unlike during medieval fairs), which is a pity.

Other than a few brief glimpses of the actual period in the form of the King and the Hakkapeliitta, the main theme of the event are the handcraft salesmen and blacksmiths etc. selling and showing their wares to the public. Luckily, the organisers allow only handcrafts sellers to the area and thus you will not see ice cream, modern sweets or refreshments, or cheap mass produced items during the fair. These restrictions make the event feel very rural and you can imagine - with some conscious effort - that you have been transported to the 17th century.

However, despite many above-mentioned good aspects, the overall feel of the event is relatively unfocussed. The musical performers play songs unrelated to the period... the costumes of the Hakkapeliitta actors are not only ahistorical with all the lace (Finns certainly did not have lace), but also pretty... disappointing in general quality...

I'd wish that in future the Hakkapeliitta Fair develops into an event that gives us a better look at the life and culture of the early 17th century, showing how it differed from the medieval period and what the 17th century (and King Gustavus Adolphus and High Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna) meant for the development and history of Sweden and Finland.