Terje Abusdal. Slash & Burn
Finnskogen—directly translated as “The Forest of the Finns”—is a large, contiguous forest belt along the Norwegian-Swedish border in Hedmark/Värmland, where farming families from Finland settled in the early 1600s. The immigrants—called Forest Finns—came mostly from the Savolax region, close to the Russian border at that time.
The Forest Finns were slash-and-burn farmers. This ancient agricultural method yielded plentiful crops, but required large forested areas as the soil was quickly exhausted. In fact, it was a scarcity of natural resources in their native Finland that forced the first wave of migration over the border. Failing crops and war forced the Forest Finns to search for new land to cultivate. Many of the migrants went southwest and tried their luck in the wilderness. In the following decades, they spread across the forest areas of Scandinavia in search of land with the best and highest-density spruce.
The Forest Finn culture as it was four centuries ago no longer exists. Yet more and more people feel a connection to it. Today, the Forest Finns are recognised as one of the national minorities in both Norway and Sweden. There are no statistics on their numbers. In fact, the only official criterion for belonging to this minority is that, regardless of your ethnic origin, you simply feel that you are a Forest Finn.
The Forest Finns’ understanding of nature was rooted in the shamanistic tradition, and they are often associated with magic and mystery. Rituals, spells, and symbols were used as a practical tool in daily life; to heal and to protect, or safeguard against evil.
This photographic project draws on these beliefs while investigating what it means to be a Forest Finn today, in a time when the 17th-century way of life is long gone, and the language is no longer spoken.
Terje Abusdal (1978, Norway) is a self-taught photographer with an academic background in environmental economics. In 2015 he published his first photographic book, Radius 500 Meters. Terje’s work was part of the second group of the Norwegian Journal of Photography, a biannual publication showcasing Norwegian documentary photography. He lives and works in Oslo.