Ella Johansson: Poachers and Peasants. Cultural Meanings of  Hunting and Agriculture in Northern Sweden during the Industrial Revolution

Swedish text here
This is a short presentation of one of the participating projects in the nordic project Cultural Processes in Nordic Woodland Communities

During the period 1850-1950 the inner and southern parts of the Northern coniferous region of Sweden was marked by population increase and processes of social stratification and integration into a modern, industrial society. Practices and symbolic constructions of the landscape are studied through the concept of appropriation. The empirical sources are mainly "folk-memories" concerning poachers and other persons who "stroll the forests," collected by folklorists, mainly during the 1930s.  These narratives are used to interpret the differing and competing norms and views of both landowning and non-landowning groups with regard to legitimate practices and usage of both the forest and agricultural land.  The valleys around the rivers were thoroughly marked by agricultural activities.  The value system of their inhabitants was dominated by a strict work ethic, and this was displayed in the conspicuous ordering and tidying activities which characterized life in the river valleys. It was here where the old and wealthy family farms were located. The view of these prosperous landowners about sources and creation of wealth can be expressed as a belief in the force of constant struggle to maintain order and to create tidy surroundings.
          The poorer small-farmers, crofters, and cottagers lived on the fringes of the forested areas which were situated up in the mountains surrounding the river valleys. According to the farmers' value system, men who were hunters were considered to be spellbound by their activity, unable to discipline themselves for the performance of strenuous and repetitive everyday work. Although the timber industry in the late 19th century gave the wealthy peasants a good income from the forests they owned, their cultural identification with agricultural land and the valley landscape increased during the same period. The less propertied forest dwellers on the other hand, although celebrating many of the same ideals of orderliness and strenuous work, were more inclined to heroize the poacher.  Significantly, none of these groups viewed the forest as private property in a strict sense.  For all, wealth derived from the forest related directly to luck and to the struggle involved in bringing home prey, be it game, timber, charcoal, or tar.

Ella Johansson
E-mail: ella.johansson@etn.lu.se
Address: Etnologiska Institutionen, Umeå Universitet, S-90187 Umeå
Address at home: Bryggaregatan 9, S-22736 Lund
This page was updated on July 11, 2000