The History of Saija

There has already been settlement in the Saija area since ancient times. A ski that was found from Särkiaapa in 1938 is approximately 5200 years old, and thus the oldest ski ever timed.
The ski from Särkiaapa
  The oldest ski ever found in Finland. Over 5000 years old. 
  Särkelä, Särkiaapa. The drawing is from the National Board of 
  Antiquites. (Latua! A Skimuseum-publishing no. 1. The picture 
  taken from the book of Salla history).

The inhabitants of Kuolajärvi in Lapland partly lived in Russia, migratory forest Laplanders. Originally the municipality was called Kuolajärvi which was an old Lapland village, but in 1936 the name was changed to Salla. The settlement was centred at the banks of rivers and the shores of lakes. According to tradition Laplanders dwelled in Lehtikoankenttä in Saija. The repeated changes of the seasons influenced the way of living and historical background of the area, going back as far as the ancient times of the people who lived in the Lapland region.

The ancestor of Saija village Tuomas Saija and his family came to Saija in 17th century from lake Tenniojärvi. Trekking from place to place depended on the season as a pure way of living until it ended at the turn of the 17th and 18th century. People paid taxes to the east and also to the west. The harvesting and the raising of the cattle started and all the families sent one man to guard the border of the country against Russia (an incident which was called ‘knihtikondrahti’). As a counterbalance families were freed forever from the surveying. The villagers drove away Sigfrid Halonen (1703 - 1788) a prisoner in a district court session, because they were afraid that by fishing for food, he would drive away all the beavers from their habitats. Nevertheless excessive hunting of the beaver destroyed them at the end of the century.

The family divided after the grandson of Tuomas, Gabriel, to three branches in the middle of the 18th century: Johan (1717 – 1780) moved to house number 6. The younger brother Hannu (1724 – 1782) moved to Saariniemi house number 5, and the youngest brother Gabriel (1727 – 1791) moved to Kotala house number 4. The villagers of Saija descended from Johan and Hannu and the villagers of Kotala from Gabriel.

The hunting of wild reindeer ended in the 19th century and there was a hunger period at the beginning of the century. The villagers ran away to the coast of the White Sea. The village became Finnish, increasing in population  and soon became prosperous. The Finnish Kuolajärvi Lapland language then disappeared. The town meeting founded the Reindeer Tending Association in 1884 and Saija belonged to the Northern Paliskunta, reindeer tending area, of Salla. The inhabitants of Kuolajärvi received a sum of money from Norway, Russia and the Tornio’s markets from cattle products, such as butter, meat, suet and horns. Also fowls and fur were profitable. The village spreads along the side of the river, to Sarivaara, to the riversides of Kuolajoki and Tenniö.

The logging of forests started on the 20th century and with the forest industry came the working-class ideology. The Civil war, Muurmannin Suomalainen Legioona – the Finnish Legion of Murmansk and The Fat Rebellion (Läskikapina) coloured peoples lives. The Civil War was not fought in Saija but in Russia. There were small civil war flank fights that took the lives of two villagers. The Fat Rebellion started from the log site of Saparosokka in Savukoski. The name ‘Fat Rebellion’ comes from the rebellion leader’s Jahvetti Moilanens speech which he gave standing on a fat trunk. The village school was founded in 1929. The surveying, in which farm lands were separated from the states land, was finally completed in the ‘30s.

A few people moved to the United States and dozens to Russia. The centre of the village with its shops and its cafe was at the entrance of Myllyoja until the war destroyed everything twice. The Finnish Army burned everything in the Winter War when they moved back so that the Russians would not get advantage of Finnish villages. The German Army destroyed all that had been rebuilt, except one sauna.

After the war, the rapid rebuilding and field clearing started. Large logging began, the first lot of wood was logged for rebuilding and after that, the rest was sent off to timber companies.
On average, the pasture of 15 000 reindeer was left to Russia because half the area in the Russian municipality was left to their side of the border. A new fence for the reindeer had to be built in order to keep the reindeer at the Finland’s side of the border. Snowmobiles came in the 60s and the use of reindeer as draught animal ended. Logging, working on the ground surface and plus the big forest fire in Tuntsa decreased reindeer’s pasture.

There were three shops and a post office in the village. The school had over 100 students. There was also a bar in the village in the 60s, which was called Hilda’s Bar. In 1951 a community hall was built which later became Saija-Pirtti in the year 1996. The community hall had a lot of activity between the years 1951 – 1965.
The state gave a compensation if a farmer gave up his work which lead to unemployment and many people moved to Sweden. Wide transfer of a farm to a descendant started in 1980. These seven farms had good buildings and efficient places for the cows to live and machines. Although the amount of farms decreased, the outputs increased. The work done in woods decreased when the machines came: first the chainsaw, then the tractor and finally an efficient wood processor.

The municipality closed down the village school in the year 2000. Helvi Kallioinen stayed to be the only shopkeeper. There are about 150 inhabitants at the moment. Young people want to move to bigger cities. The life of the village has had a critical period throughout its entire history. Therefore the villagers of Saija- as well as other Laplanders – are cautious before accepting new things. Unless new sources of livelihood are discovered the village slowly fades. Travelling could be a key to new life.