Browsing through the local Barnes and Noble last week, I came upon a book called “Weird Virginia”. Since I just recently moved back to the Old Dominion and pretty much consider it my home state, I was intrigued.
Flipping through the book, I found a piece on a group of people called the Melungeons. They are centered around southwest Virginia, northern Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky. I skimmed the article, not really reading it very closely.
What I learned is that no one knows where they come from. They apparently are mixed race, perhaps a mixture of Middle Eastern, native American and European descent. The most interesting reference I found about them in “Weird Virginia” was that some consider them descendants of the lost settlers of Roanoke Island, off the North Carolina coast.
I am a big history buff, and get quite curious about mysteries from the past such as this one. Another people group whose origins are difficult to determine are the Finns. Since my wife is from Finland, I have lived there, and I have friends from this Nordic country, I am interested in their history.
Working in a field where there are a lot of internationals and people interested in things foreign, I sometimes get into conversations about culture. The other day one of my colleagues and I were discussing Finnish derivations. I mentioned to her that one British man involved in international work told me that the Finns look European, but really are not culturally. In his view, it was as difficult culturally for me as an American to be married to a Finn as it would be if I were married to a Chinese.
My colleague agreed with the man from the UK. She pointed out that Finns do not even look European, noting their “high cheekbones” and how the language seemed similar to Japanese. She also added that they were Sami people.
As this was a casual conversation, I did not expect my colleague to be factually correct. We were just jabbering. I agreed with her that the Japanese and Finnish languages seemed to have similar rhythm and left it at that. But I knew she was not correct in a couple areas: the Finns speak a distinct language related mainly to Hungarian; the Sami (or Lapps) are not Finns, although they live in Finland.
Historical myth indicates that Finns are from Asia. But recent studies, including genetic ones, show that they really are an indoeuropean people who have been inhabiting their current location for a very long time.
The Finns do have some interesting practices in their history that resemble those of Asia. For example, they used to place food at their burial sites, expecting the dead loved ones to feast on it in their new “state”. But the reality according to the most current research is that Finns are indeed Europeans. Perhaps their proximity to Asia brought some of these practices to them.
Modern-day Finns have embraced their status as citizens of Europe. They have a standard western society. Other than participating in some strange games (wife carrying contest) and engaging in some unusual humor (Elvis in Latin), there is nothing weird about the Finns.