In May of this year, at the international conference “River Pearl Oyster” in the city of Rovaniemi, Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian biologists will sum up the results of a unique three-year project, the fruits of which can be used only by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of scientists. Their “sowing” is amazing mollusks, river pearl oysters, which almost disappeared from the rivers and streams of Finland in the 20th century. Meanwhile, these subtle creations have contributed to the history, culture and economy of the country.
Only a couple of hundred years ago, they are rather large, up to 17 cm long, but completely inconspicuous looking shells peacefully “grazed” on the sandy beds of the clean, undiluted rivers of the North, in the vast space from Norway to the Urals. In immemorial times they were impoverished for the first fishermen who came to the places left by the glacier, because the hunters had nothing to do on the bare desert plains.
From the strong shells of large mollusks, people made fishing hooks and primitive locks, and when game appeared, arrowheads and scrapers for making hides. Beautiful pearl fragments were ground and turned into jewelry. So this shell marked the beginning of a North European design.
Pearl oyster, or raakka (as it is called in Finland), turned out to be in the North along with its symbiont - salmon fish, without which it simply cannot reproduce.
For the first time miraculous shells were described in 1758 by Karl Linnaeus, the great Swedish naturalist, the creator of the scientific classification of living organisms. According to Lynne, the pearl oyster is a mollusk of the order toothless (Unioformes) of the pearl oyster family (Margaritileridae) of the genus Margaritifera, that is, its full name is Margaritifera Margaritifera. Linna already knew that she lives only in clear water, in ducts with a fast current and a bottom of coarse sand and pebbles. Pearl oyster feeds on microscopic diatoms and green algae, burrowing into the ground, filtering the water, making it even cleaner. And ... begets pearls.
"Frozen Sky of the North"
It is now the word "pearl" in the mass consciousness is associated with the East, and 500 years ago, the main source of pearls for the countries of Northern and Eastern Europe were swift northern rivers. Pearls, reminiscent of their gentle dim tints of the northern sky, were highly valued, and serious passions were played around their prey.
Even before the appearance of the first Byzantine missionaries (love for pearls came from Byzantium, where it had been a symbol of fame and wealth since ancient times) locals found amazing grains in the body of large river shells to adorn the stony-sandy banks of rivers and streams of Fennoscandia. This is how the 5th book (the 14th rune) of the Karelian-Finnish epic “Kalevala” describes the festive female attire:
... And the mistress of the forest herself, serving joy,
In gold was a bracelet
In the gold rings on the fingers,
Headdress of gold,
In the hair are golden ribbons,
And in the ears of gold earrings
And on the neck large pearls.
Pearls were very popular in Russia. Princes loved jewelry and clothes, embroidered by him, and the business of pearl mussels in the Russian rivers became more and more intense. The demand for nacreous peas and grains was so great that a contraband channel for the transportation of freshwater pearls from Swedish Finland to Russia was formed 500 years ago.
One of the first to notice was the diversion of a precious commodity from the kingdom of the Swedish monarch Gustav Vasa, who did not like this black cross-border trade at all. The king knew that even wealthy Russian peasant women wore pearls on kokoshniks and ornaments in the form of a grid that went down on their foreheads. It was a true family treasure, which was inherited, supplemented and repaired. Gustav Vasa saw in the organized export of pearls a steady source of income for his country.
There was also a demand for precious grains inside the kingdom: in Sweden, before the Reformation, they were used in embroidery for Catholic hierarchies and for throne decorations. Nevertheless, official sales of pearls remained insignificant.
The famous Swedish church leader, writer, cartographer Olaf Magnus, who has traveled to northern countries for a long time, including living in Finland for about a year, added fuel to the fire. “Women interweave precious pearls in braids, spending fortunes on jewelery with the sole purpose of getting married.
A man caught in such a network gets a handful of pearls and a fool for his wife ”, the cartographer described in indignation in his book History of the Northern Peoples (Historiade Gentibus Septentrionalibus), printed in 1555 in Rome, the craze for Northerners in river jewelry.
The beginning of pearl fever
The situation began to change when the son of Gustav Vasa Juhan, having received Finland in the status of hereditary duchy, began to pursue an active foreign policy, wanting to independently solve the issues of “Russian trade”. The rift with brother Eric, proclaimed by the time king of Sweden, led Juhan to the court of the Polish king Sigismund Augustus. Johan married his daughter Katharine Jagiellonica and settled with his young wife in the capital of the Finnish Duchy of Turku.
It was there that the Duchess discovered that their possessions are rich in pearls so precious in her homeland. When Johan later became the king after years, she introduced a new fashion at the Swedish court, decorating her outfits and her husband’s costumes with Finnish pearls.
Johan III, even more vigorously than his father and brother, began to combat the smuggling of pearls into Russia, including this issue in the standard package of national diplomacy until the middle of the 18th century. The Swedish crown even imposed a monopoly on purchases of Finnish pearls, but this measure lasted only 40 years. Royal inspectors could not control the profitable fishing in the country of dense forests and thousands of lakes. In addition, buyers from the neighboring state paid iridescent grain getters better than Stockholm.
With the accession of Finland to the Russian Empire in 1809, the river hunt for jewels entered a new stage. Pearls were becoming more and more desirable, and the populations of valuable shells in Russia were depleted. The growing demand for jewelry with mother-of-pearl grains, drops and peas agitated the market, and on the Finnish banks of rivers and brooks raakka catchers became more and more. If in 1733, according to tax documents, there were only three pearl catchers who lived from this fishery and paid taxes in 1733 in the “pearl” province of Kaipuu, then in a hundred years their number increased tenfold. New, more efficient mining technologies have also appeared.
By the way, for centuries the shell sites were passed on as family property from father to son. About them talked only with the elect. It happened that even the villagers did not know about the secret fishing. Therefore, in Finnish toponymy there is only one river, in the name of which the word “pearl” is mentioned - Raakkujoki.