"Before our lord, we are all Smålanders..."
Yes, much has been said and written about and by Smålanders in this big province – the biggest of all the provinces south of Jämtland and one of the provinces in Sweden with most lakes. Smålanders are known for their tenacity, inventiveness and ingenuity, and they had to be in order to choose to settle in the borderland among the forest and stones, in the "small lands" in Småland, between the fertile plains of Östergötland and Västergötland in the north and Skåne in the south. And we really have had to work on and invent things to support ourselves!
Just consider Gideon Sundbäck from Vaggeryd who invented the zipper in the USA! As he said in his adverts: "Opens like a smile, closes like a line drawn in the water". A world success! Naturally, this originated from the knowledge from a clever old tradition in northwestern Småland with its metal drawing makers. Here, hairpins, chains, knitting needles, safety pins, rat traps and much more were made.
The Queen of Rock Candy
Amalia Eriksson has brought on many smiles. In 1859 she was given official permission by the town administration in Gränna to: "Here in the town as a means of support, bake with her own hands coarse rye and fine breads and make so-called rock candy." Sweet, tasty sugar ingots with mint flavour - in Swedish called "Polkagrisar" (roughly translated Polka pigs). They were named after the new dance Polka, but the story doesn't tell us why pigs were added to the name... Her legacy is certainly thriving in Gränna where the rock candy makers line the streets.
Two gentlemen from Älmhult in southern Sweden
The 18th-century botanist Carl von Linné long thought about how he could classify all the world’s plants to make nature more understandable. With the book Systema Natura, Linnaeus laid down the foundations for his international reputation and the system, with two Latin names, for the classification of plants and animals that is still used today. "God created and Linnaeus classified" as he said modestly. Linnaeus’s birth home remains at Linnés Råshult north of Älmhult where the nature reserve is maintained as it was in the 18th century, and now with lovely smells from the herb gardens and the garden café.
Even the global company IKEA started very modestly in the 40s by the young Ingvar Kamprad who cycled around in the villages of Agunnaryd Parish, selling pens and shoelaces and then gradually started with mail order packages distributed from his milk table in Elmtaryd. With Småland energy and tenacity, he and his staff have developed IKEA into one of the world’s best known brands. And IKEA, naturally and quiet unashamedly, stands for: ‘Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd Agunnaryd’. In Älmhult, the world’s oldest store from 1958 has been replaced with a new one with the world’s biggest range of products. The old store now holds IKEA Museum, displaying IKEA's history, present and future.
Oh mighty God, thunderstorms and Elvis
Imagine being inspired and becoming world famous after being terrified by a thunderstorm on Småland’s east coast! That happened to the hymn writer Karl Boberg in Mönsterås. When he had calmed down, he wrote "Oh mighty God" with great inspiration. And the stanza "… With rapture filled, my soul thy name would laud" has inspired endless famous performers all over the world. Not least Elvis Presley who made the song his, at concerts and on records. "Imagine that such a big song can come from such a small country as Sweden,” said Elvis. An African state even has it as its national anthem! In Mönsterås, the oldest wooden house – the Modern House – has an exhibition about Karl Boberg.
Christmas cards by Jenny Nyström from Kalmar
More low-key, but with great inspiration and talent, the artist Jenny Nyström drew and described our Swedish Christmas on countless Christmas cards and wall hangings. Nyström really gave a face to the Swedish Father Christmas! She was an established artist, born in Kalmar, and even exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1884. But it is as "creator"’ of the Swedish Christmas that she has won the hearts of the Swedes. "It is a real Jenny Nyström Christmas," as we say when the snow glitters, the stars twinkle, there is light in all the windows, the porridge for Father Christmas is on the front steps and you can catch a glimpse of Father Christmas behind the cottage corner... At Kalmar County Museum, there is a big exhibition showing her versatile artist life.
But the cleverest are probably our many authors who, in different ways, have taken a sharp look at the Smålanders’ personalities and lives!
Free to observe and describe - Vilhelm Moberg and Albert Engström
In his four famous novels, which have been translated into 42 languages, Vilhelm Moberg tells the story of Karl-Oskar and Kristina and 20 Småland farmers from Ljuder and their emigration to the USA in the 1860s. But it is also an epic about all the world’s emigrant fates, now and then. In 2000, he was chosen by the Swedish people as the most popular Swedish author of the century. In the Emigration District between Växjö and Kalmar, the names of the places from the books and films can be recognised. The 110 km long hiking and biking trail "Utvandrarleden" runs through the district, and the House of Emigrants with an exhibition is found in Växjö.
Albert Engström, Eksjö’s son, was one of the leading personalities of the turn of the century in culture in Sweden. He taught drawing and graphics at the Royal Institute of Art and was also selected as an author for the Swedish Academy. A unique combination of Swedish cultural life! He saw Smålanders through eyes of humour. In his inimitable way, he drew thin, clever Småland farmers, fishermen and crofters, as well as fat and self-righteous people in authority: district police superintendents, police, stationmasters and tax collectors. Eksjö Museum has an exhibition of his work.
Our very best Astrid Lindgren
Finally, we want to pay tribute to our very own Småland icon Astrid Lindgren – the creator of Pippi Longstocking, Emil of Lönneberga, Ronja and Mardie – who has told stories about Småland in the old times like no one else. The stories about Emil from Katthult in Lönneberga in Småland particularly catch the mood of old Småland precisely. There is much to say about our dear Astrid – the best way to experience her, other than through her books, is at Astrid Lindgren’s World and her childhood home Näs in Vimmerby.
It was an evening almost as nice as it can be in Småland. All Katthult’s bird cherry trees were in flower, the blackbirds sang, the mosquitoes buzzed and the perch were quick to bite. That’s where they sat, Emil and Alfred, watching their floats bobbing on the smooth water. They didn’t say much but they were content. They sat there until the sun began to set, and then they went home, Alfred with the perch on a hook, Emil playing on a wooden whistle that Alfred had carved for him. They walked through the pasture, on a winding path under spring-green birch trees. Emil blew his whistle to the blackbirds’ amazement, and then suddenly went quiet and took the whistle out of his mouth.
‘Do you know what I’m going to do tomorrow,’ he said.
‘No,’ said Alfred. ‘Is it something naughty?’ Emil put the whistle back in his mouth and started playing. He walked along whistling for a while and thought hard. ‘I don’t know,’ he said finally. ‘I never know until afterwards.’
Astrid Lindgren: "Emil’s Pranks"