Kvens in Norway

Who were the Kvens?

Featured photo: Public domain (CC pdm) Foto: Tromholt, Sophus / Norsk Folkemuseum
Some time ago I was asked by a person in the US about an abbrevation in the 1865 Norwegian census for Finnmark county. The abbrevation was transcribed in the Digitalarkivet as “Qn”. Looking at the original census record I believe it was actually “Qv”. Anyway, you find both the abbreviations, and we also find a single “Q” listed  under “ethnicity.

I readily admit that I had not seen this abbrevation before. Looking at the last name of the individual, this didn’t look like a Norwegian name. Considering that this was a census from Finnmark (North-Norway) I figured that these abbrevations had to mean that this person belonged to the Kven people.

If we look at this transcription of the 1865 census from Kåfjord, Finnmark,  we find Johan Memila. It may not be obvious for a foreigner, but as a Norwegian I immediately suspect that Memila is not a Norwegian name. If we look at the “Ethnicity/father’s ethnicity” label (you may have to click the “more information” to see it) it says “Qn, hærtil 1838”. In this case we get a further clue as the record states that Johan was born in Sweden. Johan was a “Værksarbeider” meaning that he was working for the Kåfjord mining company.  Copper ore was mined at Kåfjord between 1826 and 1909 (Wikipedia). “Hærtil 1838” means he came here in 1838.

So back to the initial question; Who were the Kven people?

Family of mixed Sami and Kven people Public domain (CC pdm) Foto: Wessel, Ellisif Rannveig / Norsk Folkemuseum. Hover mouse over picture to enlarge.

Kvens (Kven/Finnish: kveeni, Norwegian: kvener, Northern Sami: kveanat) are a Finnic ethnic minority in Norway who are descended from Finnish peasants and fishermen who emigrated from the northern parts of Finland and Sweden to Northern Norway in the 18th and 19th centuries (Wikipedia).

The name “Kven” is used as early as about 890 AD, as Ottar (Othere) from Hålogaland (Norway) visited the court of  King Alfred (871–99) of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex. He called the land to the north of Sweden “Cwena land” (Wikipedia).

The name Kvenaland is also used in Snorre Sturlason’s sagas of the kings.

The first Kvens to settle in Norway came to make a living as farmers and fishermen. In 1845 there were as many as 2700 kvens who had settled in Norway (Troms and Finnmark counties). In the early 1800’s the influx of Kvens increased as the Kåfjord mining company needed workers. (Store Norske leksikon).

The mines and houses for workers in Kåfjord. Public domain (CC pdm) Foto: Bugge, Anders Ragnar (1889-1955) / Riksantikvaren



5 thoughts on “Kvens in Norway

  • March 19, 2017 at 1:22 am

    There were the Skogfinnene in Hedmark. They were slash and burn farmers.

    • March 19, 2017 at 9:00 am

      You are right about that. It is a very interesting history. I don’t believe they belonged to the same ethnic group as the Kvens though

  • January 6, 2019 at 8:21 am

    I see a lot of people of Kven origin who have names like Adam, Eva, Isak, Moses, Marie, Johan and Kristian. I wonder if they changed their names to (Norwegian) Biblical names when they came to Norway ( or may be they were part of the Laestadian movement and their names were changed after conversion?) Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  • January 11, 2019 at 11:34 pm

    I saw an documentary in the norwegian state channel, NRK, ca three years ago, about archeology-finds on waterwells in eastern part of Europe, but I don’t remember now exactly the region, but close to Azerbajan . It was anyway in an area of percecuted messianic jews , where the Ortodox church was placed, before Islam. We know that Constantin changed so much in the society about the the laws for christians and especially for jews becomming christians, that many of them selected a route in the north-eastern way to flee from the scenario in Rome in year 300 ff, when the west and east church splitted up. About the wells… the archeologist found the same type of well-structure and practise among the kvenes in Kveneland (!) And in an other documentar, same channel, we learn that when Leastadianius were planting his movements, it was the Kvenes who became the pastors of the groups and teachers among the sapmipeople. And, as we know (if its correct that some of the kvenes might be in jewish bloodline) from history of the hebrews, f.ex., that they were a stubborn people who over and over again turned back to the egyptologic magic, that they practised in Egypt in time of slavery, instead of trusting in Moses, many of the hebrew people never quite really became monoteistic, serving Jahwe, as the one and only God, but mixed both the practise of serving Molok and the fallen angels-consept ideology that all the Pharaoes got their inspiration from. So that there also is existing shamanisme among the Kvenes is not so strange, magic learned from slaverytime in Egypt. Like they found equal practise among the sapmi people, they got along very well.. But wonder if not also the sapmi people can be among the lost tribes of Jacob (Israel) We know that Judas tribe and Israels tribe remained , but there are 9,10 others lost tribes of The old testaments 12 tribes, wandering around the globe searching for their real home… These names you mention could indicate a bloodline from the Levi-tribe or the tribe of Aron. That means the people serving in the temple. They never got land to build house on, but only for their cattle. Wandering tribes, or “flôtt-same”, or people who never quite find themselves calm enough spiritually to settle down anywhere, might silently long back”home” (of course it has a lot to do with the food for their animals to eat, also, that they lived periodes in tents. It might be an explanation… But as the percecution has become an never-ending story, for the kvenes, this might be information that is very tough to handle in these days. But again, it can release healing for some to understand generational stories happening over and over again, without never really undserstanding why….. The good part of it, is that Jahwe is saying He has hidden this people for the end of times to become as arrows in His hand in the end of time. That means the lost tribes will have a great influence in the last days of this fever-hot globe. So maby it’s time to “believe in life after love” (-:

  • June 14, 2019 at 10:08 pm

    Hmm, maybe not..


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