Savonian flag flying high

I may have mentioned before that within the quite heterogeneous (edit: I meant “homogeneous”. Should think while writing!) umbrella of Finland there are remains of old tribes, and old stereotypes, and dialects; and I have a sort of an affinity to two of them. One, karjalaiset (Karelians), I get through my parents: we people of Karelia, which lies on both sides of the Russian-Finnish border, are on the Finnish side at least traditionally seen as talkative, carefree, hospitable and happy. Or as chatterbox simpletons, if you ask someone not in the mood.

On the side of my childhood and upbringing, and the greater tribal umbrella under which even the Finnish varieties of Karelia can be clumped, but which is stronger a bit more westward, away from the border, I am a Savonian (savolainen): the kindred of delight in wordplay, horse-play, horse-trading and jokes bad, horrible and abysmal. (Someone not in the mood would probably say the same.)

No matter where I’ve been in Finland, I’ve tried my best to keep at least the latter of these two flags flying high; and for that purpose I give to thee a music clip and a movie by Esa Pakarinen (1911-1989), a variety star, a sort-of stand-up comedian, singer and black-and-white film star so affectedly Savonian, so winsomely charming and openly simpleton sly he was a hero of all Finland, back in the day. Such as the year 1966, when he sang to record this bit, Suhmuran Santra (“The girl called Santra from the place called Suhmura” — that’s always the problem with unfamiliar names).

My hacked-together translation follows. I haven’t attempted any rhymes because I know my limitations.

Kun seurojentalolla tanssittiin,
Back when there was dancing at the club hall
Ja haitari haikeesti soi.
And the accordion mournfully whined
Oli tyttäret pyntätty retonkiin,
All daughters were fine in cretonne
Ja kuukin kuin keltainen voi,
And yellow like butter shone the moon
Niin pyysin mie korreinta suatolle piästä,

Then I asked the prettiest to escort her home
Tämä vastaa: “Voi tokkiinsa jalkojas siästä.
And she said me: “Oh dear, save your legs
Niin pitkä matka, niin pitkä matka on suatolle Suhmuraan.”
Such a long way, such a long way, is taking me home to Suhmura.”

Niin Suhmuran Santra se yöhön män,
So Suhmura’s Santra went into the night
Minä silimäyksen perrääsä loin.
And I was left looking at her behind
Tok’ toiste jo ymmärsin enemmän
Truly the next time I understood more
Ja pyörän mie matkassain toin.
And with a bicycle came to the ball.
Mut Santra ei tullut, hän pysyttel poissa,
But Santra wasn’t there, she kept away,
Kai Suhmuran puolessa äitinsä koissa.
Probably in Suhmura in her mother’s home.
Kun pitkä matka, kun pitkä matka oli suatolle Suhmuraan.
As such a long way, as such a long way, was to take anyone home to Suhmura.

Mut oihan se Mantakin Mulosta
But, really, there was Manta out of Mulo, too,
Niin sorree jo tok’ sortiltaan.
Who was quite fetching to look at, in a way.
Ei kiellellyt suatolle tulosta
She was not prone to forbidding escorts
Ei pyörtänyt kot’portiltaan.
Not prone to splitting at the home-gate
Vaan pyörällä poski ol’ poskea vasten.
But wheeling round, cheek-to-cheek.
Mulon Manta nyt mulla on äitinä lasten,
I now have Mulo’s Manta to mother my children
Kun pitkä matka, kun pitkä matka oli suatolle Suhmuraan.
As such a long way, as such a long way, was to take anyone home to Suhmura.

Nyt Mantalle mattoja puistelen
Now for Manta I dust her carpets
Ja lapsia liekuttelen.
And push the swing for her children
Myös Suhmuran Santraa mie muistelen
Though I also remember Suhmura’s Santra
Ja iäneti näin uattelen:
And silently think along these lines:
No pithän tok’ arvata, se siitä tulloo,
Oh I should have known, this was sure,
Kun lähteekin pyörällä suatolle Mulloon,
When I went bicycling someone home to Mulo,
Ja pitkä matka, ja pitkä matka on suatolle Suhmuraan.
And such a long way, and such a long way, it still is to take anyone home to Suhmura.


I think “cretonne” is the English word for kretonki, “a strong, heavy fabric of cotton, linen or rayon”, which I gather the danceworthy gowns were made of. The “club hall” is my stab at seurojentalo (or seurantalo; the difference is whether there are several clubs or just one); a house built by some usually ideological association to meet in. These would not be Elks or Lions Clubs, but something like workers’ and farmers’ associations, temperance and sport associations, volunteer fire departments, and the like; they used to be the place where dances and other entertainments happened in the first half of the 20th century; often those were the only entertainments a village had, so the people of generations before me were quite attached to them.

Moving swiftly on, seems some kind soul has put the 1957 movie “Pekka ja Pätkä sammakkomiehinä” up on Youtube; the first part is below. The language is Finnish, of course, but this should be something of a hint: Pakarinen plays Pekka, a tall thin guy of infinite good cheer, infectious accent and no brains. (You’ll recognize him by the grin and the flower hat.) He is married to Justiina, a woman with the body and the disposition of a tank. Pekka’s best friend is the much shorter, craftier and more stressed Pätkä (“Shorty”; has a black hat and a diabolical laugh); and in this particular bit the two get mixed up in matters musical, cross-wordial, tour-related, military reserve-mandated and aquatic, and meet a mermaid, even; the name of the movie translates as “Pekka and Pätkä as Frog-Men”.

The first person actually seen, the momentarily satisfied-looking man reading the paper, is the janitor (talonmies) Pikkarainen, of the house Pekka lives in; it is his part to be the third of the three who during any good movie blow their lids at what Pekka has wrought. The paper he’s reading is called Talonmies or “Janitor”, and is thus filtered full of demands and opinions he sees as entirely reasonable and worth a cheer — but then he is disturbed by the sound of music.

If the beginning titles seem somewhat full, remember that this is (madness?) Finland; and thus what’s written is so in Finnish and Swedish both. Whichever is written second is Swedish.

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