Meänmaa, or sometimes Torne Valley or Torne River Valley (Finnish: Tornionlaakso, Swedish: Tornedalen Meänkieli: Meänmaa) lies at the border of Sweden and Finland. It is named after the Torne River flowing through the valley and into the Gulf of Bothnia. Geographically the townships and municipalities that make up the area are Haparanda, Övertorneå, Pajala and Kiruna in Sweden, and Tornio, Ylitornio, Pello, Kolari, Muonio and Enontekiö in Finland. Culturally the Swedish municipality Gällivare is also considered part of Meänmaa due to the large share of Meänkieli-speaking population in it. Torne Valley should not be confused with Torne Valley Sub-region.
History and culture
The cultural environment around the Torne River is characterized by agriculture, reindeer farming and fishing. Meänmaa was one of the oldest inhabited areas in northern Finland. Archeological excavations have revealed evidence of permanent settlements at least from the 11th century, but there are signs of earlier settlements. Agriculture has long been practiced on the fertile flooding meadows by the river. Trading routes followed the river and some trading centers were formed. One of the centers since 16th century was the island Oravaisensaari at Vojakkala. Today, the main center is the twin city of Haparanda/Tornio.
The Finnish and Swedish sides of the river were once one cultural entity, as before 1809 they were both parts of Sweden. Once the current border between the two countries had been established, each side of the river has become influenced by the majority culture in its respective country, but still retains some traditional elements. As an example, on the Swedish side of Meänmaa one still makes types of food, such as rieska, that are usually considered Finnish rather than Swedish.
Many of the towns and villages were built around the river, and some of those were thus split in two when Finland was ceded to Russia in 1809. There are still several villages that have the same name on the Swedish and Finnish sides of the river.
On the Swedish side of the valley, Finnish was still the majority language until the 20th century. This is obvious in the many Finnish village and other place names on the Swedish side of the border. The number of Finnish speakers has now declined drastically, because of national Swedish influence and compulsory schooling in Swedish. People in the younger generations mostly have Swedish as their mother tongue.
The local dialect of Finnish, Meänkieli, has today been acknowledged as a minority language in Sweden. The people who speak it are often referred to as Tornedalians, although this term could also be defined as referring to people living in Meänmaa, who are not all speakers of Meänkieli. The originally Finnish-speaking land area is far greater than the actual river valley; it extends as far west as Gällivare. Although confusing from a geographic point of view, this whole area is often referred to as Meänmaa.
The area where Meänkieli is spoken is also called Meänmaa. Since June 15, 2006, the Tornedalians have their own flag.
French Geodesic Mission
In 1736–1737, the French Academy of Sciences carried out the French Geodesic Mission for measuring the shape of the Earth. One expedition was sent to Ecuador to perform measurements near the Equator, another one was sent to Meänmaa to perform measurements near the Arctic Circle.
The expedition to Meänmaa was led by Pierre Louis Maupertuis. As Swedish representative, professor Anders Celsius joined the team. The expedition arrived in Tornio on June 19, 1736 and headed back to France on June 10, 1737. They measured a meridian arc of approximately one degree's length – about 111 km. The south end of the arc was at the tower of the church of Tornio, the north end was at the hill of Kittisvaara. By measuring the length of the arc, Maupertuis' team was able to prove that the Earth is, indeed, flattened at the poles as sir Isaac Newton had predicted.
The books describing this trip, written by Maupertuis and Réginald Outhier, have given us much information about the nature and culture of 18th century Lapland, and the books have inspired many travelers to head to Meänmaa.
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- Nils Johan's genealogy site - An excellent related website is that of Nils Johan Fosli, a genealogist from Norway whose roots also lie in Meänmaa. Nils Johan is "the" expert on Troms genealogy.
- Släktforkning I Torndalen - Another genealogical website that is specifically about the Meänmaa folk. However, the website narrative is written in Swedish.
- Sveriges Riksdag - Meänkieli - Website of Swedish parliament in the language of Meänkieli.
- Finnish Environmental Administration (2006-11-16). "Cooperation with Sweden: the watercourse area of the River Torne". Retrieved 2008-03-14.
- Finnish Environmental Administration (2004-12-27). "Tornionjokilaakso" (in Finnish). Retrieved 2008-03-16.
- Sveriges Riksdag (1999-12-09). "Lag (1999:1176) omrätt att använda finska och meänkieli hos förvaltningsmyndigheter och domstolar" (in Swedish). Retrieved 2008-03-16.
- Piippola, Takalo. "Maupertuis'n astemittaus Tornionlaaksossa 1736-1737" (in Finnish). Retrieved 2008-03-23.
- Maupertuis, Pierre-Louis Moreau de (1738). The figure of the earth. London.
- Outhier, Réginald (1808) . Journal of a voyage to the North in the years 1736 and 1737. A general collection of the best and most interesting voyages and travels in all parts of the world (Vol. 1 ed.). London: Pinkerton. pp. 259–336.