Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Kvens and the Voynich Manuscript

A brief history of the Kvens

Over a thousand years ago, the word Kvens (quain, qwaen, quen, cwen, fin, finn) meant to most western people the Finno-Ugric family of peoples who lived in the British Isles, Denmark and northern Germany until they merged with invading Celts and Goths from the east. The Kvens of Western and Central Europe are the people who disappeared from the map, but their name still lives in various forms between Scotland and Kainuu, Finland.

According to Scandinavian legend, in ancient times, the Finnish tribe called the Quen lived in the whole of Finland south of Sapmi. Kvens committed predatory raids on Sami territory and as a result on the Saami areas Kven villages formed up to the northern outskirts of the Gulf of Bothnia. The Gulf of Bothnia's coast was named Kainuu from these Kven villages. At first meant Kainuu meant the coast on both the Swedish and Finnish sides of the bay.
Comprehensive Historical Timeline

The Roman historian Tacitus (ca. 55-117) writes in his Germanica of the enigmatic Sithoni. Tacitus and Adam of Bremen (1070s) describe a country ruled by women: Terra Feminarum. Modern research identifies these as the Kvener. English King Alfred and his Norwegian columnist Ohthere (Ottar, about 890) gives a good description of their kingdom and its history. The value of Icelandic sagas as source material has varied, but their geographical value still holds even in terms of the country's historical location. Snorri Sturluson gave a different interpretation of Norway's founding in the saga Fundinn Noregr. He replaced the Odin myth royal fairy tale with the story about the fabulous kings of Kvenland, which in fact were the giants mentioned in Icelandic mythology. References in Finnish folk poetry to Pohja or Pohjola also mean Kainuu/Kvenland. (This is the land of Louhi, the Witch of the North, mistress of Pohjola, who features prominently in Finland's national epic, The Kalevala and is discussed in a blog post titled The Baba Yaga and dappled others.)
The former Kvenland was thus a unit in the early Baltic history and lay around the Bothnia bay. Kvenland belonged neither to Sweden or Finland, for back then there was no Sweden or Finland. The first threat to its existence came from Karelians and Novgorod from about the year 1100, and it seems that most of the former Kvenland came under Karelian supremacy during that time. There are several sources that account for Kvener cooperating with the Northmen against the Karelians, and others tell of Kvener in cooperation with the Karelians against the Northmen. Birger Jarl's genocide in Tavastland in the middle of the 13th century, known as the second crusade, was directed at the pavilions, which have been said to have been war against Karelians / Russians and sometimes allied themselves to the Swedish invasion, which was basically aimed at Novgorod. Birger Jarl's ravages of Häme was the preparation of the so-called Third Crusade against the already Christian Karelians, who enjoyed patronage in Novgorod. (The above introduction to the Kvens was excerpted from United by Water.)


Who knows? Doggerland may turn out to have been an important ancient seat of Kvenland, and maybe that's why the people themselves seem to have vanished. I would not be surprised if most of the Danish bog mummies were Kven pilgrims on the way to Lejre from Norway. I believe, also, the Kvens' instrument, the jouhikko, gave the Welsh their crwth and the Scots their gue, and the Kven skin boats gave the Celts their curachs and coracles. That is, I think the Kvens voyaged west and brought innovation with them.


Danish/Norwegian tax records from the 16th century already list some Kvens living in North Norway. Also, the famous map of Scandinavia by Olaus Magnus from 1539 shows a possible Kven settlement roughly in between today's Tromsø and Lofoten named "Berkara Qvenar". Kvens of this time are often connected to the birkarl organization in northern Sweden. In some early documents Kvens are also grouped together with the Sami people, who are the indigenous people of Central and Northern Norway. Wiki

Once the later migrations transpire, discerning early from late Kvens becomes impossible. Nevertheless, there is this report of Kven that may be from the Berkara Qvenar. Olaus Magnus knows sequences and thus they are in his Carta Marina (1539). Bureus mention in their atlases (1611, 1626) Cajania province, which coincides with the Finnish Ostrobothnia. Central European cartographic tradition (Tschudi, Herbenstein, about 1550) felt that Kayenskaja Zemlya, and Cayeni (kajaanit, kvener, kainuulaiset) has been under Russian rule, but conquered by Swedish kings. Cayeni lived according to him, both in northern Sweden and Ostrobothnia, ie Finnish Ostrobothnia. Tschudi also identifies Norrbotten Ostrobothnias north of the border and went under the peace treaty in Nöteborg (1323) just south of Pyhäjoki (in Petäoja). Several later European cartographers confuse fields and their positions here in the periphery of Europe, and Mercator (late 1500s) and others place Kayenskaja Zemlya in the Arctic Ocean. United by Water
Olaus Magnus - "Carta Marina satellite images"
Carta marina, a wallmap of w:Scandinavia, by Olaus Magnus. The caption reads : Marine map and Description of the Northern Lands and of their Marvels, most carefully drawn up at Venice in the year 1539 through the generous assistance of the Most Honourable Lord Hieronymo Quirino.
A - Tromso
B - Maelstrom
C - Lofoten
D - Possible Kven settlement - Berkara Qvenar
E - Some devilish little dude sweeping the floor. What does he stand for?
F - An island with mound houses similar to those found in Greenland and nowhere else on this map. Why are they also here?
G - A couple on skis practicing archery. This is a remarkably egalitarian depiction of a woman in the 16th century.

By contrast, Francesco Primaticcio painted this in roughly the same year. It's Helen again, getting raped.

While speaking along the lines of gender specifically, Kvens appear to have been by necessity extraordinarily egalitarian as opposed to their southern counterparts, giving rise to tales of northern amazon tribes, yet along ethnographic lines they appear not to have been egalitarian at all, for as noted elsewhere, they enslaved and taxed the Sami people as egregiously as did any later Norseman. Gunnloth from Snorri's account, who guarded the mead of the Scalds (poetry), may originally have been a Kven from Kven myth, and her uncle, Baugi, a birkarl owning nine Sami, the slaves who killed each other for the whetstone. In the tale, Odin himself Bolverk. Compare this to words such as Boiorix ("king of the Boii", one of the chieftains of the Cimbri) and Boiodurum ("gate/fort of the Boii", modern Passau) in Germany and the modern regional names of Bohemia (Boiohaemum), a mixed-language form from boio- and Proto-Germanic *haimaz, "home": "home of the Boii," and 'Bayern', Bavaria, which is derived from the Germanic Baiovarii tribe (Germ. *baio-warioz: the first component is most plausibly explained as a Germanic version of Boii; the second part is a common formational morpheme of Germanic tribal names, meaning 'dwellers', as in Anglo-Saxon -ware); this combination "Boii-dwellers" may have meant "those who dwell where the Boii formerly dwelt". 

According to Strabo, writing two centuries after the Gallic invasion of north Italy in around 350 BC, rather than being destroyed by the Romans like their Celtic neighbours,
"the Boii were merely driven out of the regions they occupied; and after migrating to the regions round about the Ister, lived with the Taurisci, and carried on war against the Daci until they perished, tribe and all — and thus they left their country, which was a part of Illyria, to their neighbours as a pasture-ground for sheep."
Thus we may have in this myth an ancient tale of cultural appropriation not first by a conqueror but by a wanderer of a lost tribe, himself abducted by the Kvens and set to labor among the Sami, who either escapes later or is released and eventually makes himself the hero of a tale about how he acquired (stole) from the Kvens the art of poetry. Many tales within Norse and Finnish mythology bear marks of an earlier origin and different telling, a thing that scholars of these texts have been repeatedly faced with and forced to explain, one egregious example being the lifting of the sea deity Nerthus from a north German tribe and making her Njorth.

The Birkarls

Birkarls (birkarlar in Swedish, unhistorical pirkkamiehet or pirkkalaiset in Finnish; bircharlaboa, bergcharl etc. in historical sources) were a small, unofficially organized Finnish group that controlled taxing and commerce in central Lappmarken in Sweden during the 13th to 17th centuries.
The most probable assumption is that Birkarls were originally Finnish traders mainly from historical Tavastia. King Magnus III Birgersson is traditionally claimed to have granted their privileges to control the trade and taxes in the north in the later half of the 13th century, possibly just legalizing an already existing situation. Birkarls (bircharlaboa) are first mentioned in 1328, when they are listed as one of the settler groups in northern Hälsingland that covered the western coast of Gulf of Bothnia all the way up and around the gulf to Oulu River.
The main purpose of the birkarl organization was to control the trade with Sami people and tax them. Sami people were traditionally taxed by Norwegians already in the Viking Age or even earlier. Later Russians started to tax them as well. After having southern Finland under control around 1250, Sweden became interested in the situation in the north. Eventually, some Sami people paid taxes to all three states. Birkarls were just one element in the colonial system taking benefit of the Sami area.
It seems that birkarls' privileges were more de facto, than de jure. No document has survived granting them official right to the tax and trade monopoly in the north, even though the state first supported and later tolerated the situation for centuries.
In practise, a birkarl owned the Sami people on his area, and they were treated as if they were property. Privileges to own Sami people usually went in the family. Later, birkarl privileges became merchandise as well.
Birkarls were active on Tornio, Luleå and Piteå River valleys, Tornio being their main area. Each of the valleys formed a separate "lappmark" with its own birkarls. 
It is often speculated in Finland that ancient Kvens which are mentioned in some Norwegian and Icelandic sources in the early Middle Ages, were an organization similar to birkarls. According to this theory, "Kvenland" would have then been the same area where birkarls later operated. The very small number of birkarls makes this connection unlikely. Swedish sources also mention birkarls to be settlers in their area of operation still in the early 14th century whereas Kvenland is mentioned to be a land comparable to Sweden and Norway already in the Viking Age.
It is however likely, that northern Norwegians generally called birkarl traders as "Kvens" in the Middle Ages and later. Olaus Magnus mentions both of the terms in his publication Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus ("A Description of the Northern Peoples") from 1555 CE. Those Finnish traders that went from Tornio to Norway, are told to have been called "Kvens".
Whatever the case, most of the Kven minority in present-day northern Norway has immigrated from the same area on which birkarls were active. Wiki
The author of the wiki article does not take into account that Kven society was made up of two widely disparate occupations: the far-ranging traders who by and large were men and the women who by and large were the rulers and administrators of the land (Kvens as seafaring traders first and foremost and women as rulers on land come from insights shared with me by researcher Andres Paabo, who has conducted a mountain of work on prehistoric seafaring traders all over the world. I recommend his website: Uirala

This helps to explain some things:
  1. How Kvens could be so influential as to rule isles in Scotland and yet later appear to have so few land holdings in Scandinavia
  2. How Kvens appeared to vanish suddenly, with no evidence of calamity. We read in the legends of very powerful wily queens or their beautiful daughters being wooed. We hear nothing of what happened to their men. Plague? Storms? War? Conversion? Famine? Slavery? Or simply the lure of other lands? Perhaps all of these to some extent.
  3. How an entire people may be given a title according to an outsider's perspective and reality be more complex than first glance. 
At any rate, the tax collection and other administrative duties of the birkarls most likely often fell on the shoulders of the women as well. A later post in this blog will shed light on a host of Nordic women of mixed ancestry who owned and managed sometimes vast tracts of land during the 15th century, proving that to some extent the Kven birkarls in fact did not die out at all but rather when it came into vogue to cancel out, wholesale, any significance women may hold--past, present, or future in the annals of history, be it medical, legal, political, or religious, any remnant trace of the Kvens fell into oblivion with their story. Hence, her story of where she came from mattered far less than his of how she was won.

The word "Kven" and its etymological connection to the female sex

cwen  - a noun for woman
Old English From Proto-Germanic *kwēniz ‎(“woman, wife”), from Proto-Indo-European *gʷn. Cognate with Old Saxon quān, Old Norse kvæn, Gothic qens. The Indo-European root is also the source of Ancient Greek γυνή ‎(gun), (Greek γυναίκα ‎(gynaíka)), Proto-Slavic *žena (Old Church Slavonic жена ‎(žena), Russian жена ‎(žena)), Old Irish ben (Welsh benyw), and Albanian zonjë.

Seo clæneste cwen ofer eorþan: the purest woman on earth.
Aðelwulf cyng Carles dohtor hæfde to cwene: King Athelwulf took Charles's daughter as his queen.
nominative      cwēn    cwēne, cwēna
accusative        cwēn, cwēne   cwēne, cwēna
genitive           cwēne  cwēna
dative  cwēne  cwēnum
cwene (woman, wife, prostitute)
Middle English quene
Modern English queen
English: quean
Danish: kvinde
Norwegian: kvinne
Swedish: kvinna

The Kven Language (Kainun Kieli)

The Kven language is a Finnic language spoken in northern Norway by the Kven people. For political and historical reasons, it received the status of a minority language in 2005 within the framework of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Linguistically, however, it is seen as a mutually intelligible dialect of the Finnish language, and grouped together with the Peräpohjola dialects such as Meänkieli, spoken in Torne Valley in Sweden.

Kven dialects include: Lyngen, Nordreisa, Kvænangen, Alta, Porsanger, Tana, Nord-Varanger, Sør-Varanger.
Contrary to popular belief, the dialects spoken by the Kvens and Kainuu peoples are not closely related. The Kainuu dialect is one of the Savonian dialects that was formed from the 16th century onwards, when immigrants from Savonia started to settle in the northern wastelands.

The Kven language has come to incorporate many Norwegian loanwords, such as tyskäläinen (from the Norwegian word tysk, meaning German) instead of standard Finnish saksalainen. The Kven language also uses some old Finnish words that are no longer used in Finland.

Like the old Kven tongue, Voynichese is FENNO-NORSE.

The Voynich manuscript may in fact be written in the old Kven tongue. It is looking very, very likely. Interestingly, numerous early Germanic words have survived largely unchanged as borrowings in Finnic languages. Some of these may be of Proto-Germanic origin or older still, while others reflect developments specific to Norse. Some examples (with the reconstructed Proto-Norse form):
  • Estonian/Finnish kuningas < *kuningaz "king" (Old Norse kunungr, konungr)
  • Finnish ruhtinas "prince" < *druhtinaz "lord" (Old Norse dróttinn)
  • Finnish sairas "sick" < *sairaz "sore" (Old Norse sárr)
  • Estonian juust, Finnish juusto "cheese" < *justaz (Old Norse ostr)
  • Estonian/Finnish lammas "sheep" < *lambaz "lamb" (Old Norse lamb)
  • Finnish hurskas "pious" < *hurskaz "prudent, wise, quick-minded" (Old Norse horskr)
  • Finnish runo "poem, rune" < *rūno "secret, mystery, rune" (Old Norse rún)
  • Finnish vaate "garment" < *wādiz (Old Norse váð)
  • Finnish viisas "wise" < *wīsaz (Old Norse víss)
The old Kven language in its original form has in part vanished and in part it has greatly contributed to and has assimilated with other Fennoscandian languages.

And what happened to Old Norse?

Around 1350 the Black Death ravaged Norway which weakened the country and the population was greatly reduced. The upper class were those who were literate in the country. They became extinct, as did much of the art of writing forvant and resources of cultural life were gone. Swedish, Danish and northern German nobles intermarried into the remains of the Norwegian share which made ​​it foreigners who took over much of the power in Norway. Original literature regarding the Norwegians was no longer written, only literature regarding administration and trade. When Norway came under Danish rule, the language disappeared altogether.

Well...yes and no. Its roots survive everywhere in Norwegian and other Nordic languages.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I would like to be in touch with you as i have written on terra feminarum and just writing a book on Finno-Ugric mythologies from the woman's perspective....Kaarina.kailo at