Culture/ Kainuu

Silent People – speechless yet not voiceless

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Almost one thousand peat headed figures stand in complete silence at the edge of the forest. Stormy wind is blowing far from the Arctic Ocean, fluttering the golden hay hair of these soulless characters. The wooden bodies are covered with different kinds of winter gear, and the arms of the coats are wobbling rhythmically with the gust. When the summer comes, this mute crowd will transform their clothing to something lighter. Then this motionless army will continue their stagnant life under a pair of shorts and airy dresses – until the autumn will change their clothing again.

The Silent People were first built to Suomussalmi in 1988 by the artist Reijo Kela. I can remember those strange and slightly frightening figures from my early childhood. Next time these peat heads saw the daylight in 1994, when they debuted at the Senate Square, Helsinki. 700 silent people’s representatives were erected on the steps of the Cathedral of Helsinki during the night’s dark hours, so you can imagine what kind of attention and publicity they received when the sun rose. After two days in Helsinki, the hay heads were removed from the church stairs secretly and brought back to their home in Suomussalmi, where they have stood expressionless for more than 20 years now.

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I have often wondered what on earth do the Silent People represent. Staid Kainuu people? Forgotten souls? Their creator, Reijo Kela, will not give the answer. Each viewer will have to make their own conclusions. One thing you might be interested in knowing is that if the Silent People’s peat-heads and clothing were completely taken away, one thousand wooden crosses would remain standing on a lonely field.

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The field with its mute inhabitants is impossible to miss, even though it appears to the passer-by out of nowhere, 30 kilometers north from Suomussalmi. Silent People is a must-see place to have a pit stop if you are on your way to the magical Hossa National Park.

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