The island of Seili is known for its gloomy history, but that didn’t stop Henriikka Konk, 28, from receiving the winter watchman’s lonely wash. What did the months in the silence of the island teach?
Eon the first night in Seili Henriikka Konki, 28, had nightmares. In a dream, he escaped a crowd that shot him in the back so that he was paralyzed. Next, someone opened the windows of his apartment in a dream.
Henriikka awoke to her own cry.
He had really not missed anything like this when he had applied for a winter watch on the island of Seili.
Under normal circumstances, Henriikka would have spent the winter in the heat of Portugal teaching yoga, but Korona changed her plans and reduced her work to a minimum in Finland as well. When Henriikka then saw a job advertisement from a travel company about washing an island elf in Seili, it felt like a great opportunity to stop and calm down.
Seili is located in the Archipelago Sea, about 30 kilometers from Turku. In summer the island is visited by a lot of tourists, but in winter it is quiet. The task of the island elf is to look after the places and receive occasional visitors. In the event of frost, care must be taken to ensure that the pipes do not freeze.
– I thought the job might be right for me. I like to travel and now I was hoping for a new kind of different adventure. Although I am a social, also I miss the peace, quiet and independence from other people, Henriikka says.
Henriikka, however, was not prepared for the fact that the gloomy history of the island might creep into the subconscious.
On a gray day, Seili looks enigmatic. The pine forests that draw on the island’s sky are almost black. When the yellow ferry moored at the pier, it is as if the island is wrapped in a gray cotton. In addition to the wooden pier, only a few sheds painted with red soil can be seen. Henriikka stands on the pier.
Sail’s history has been recorded in many books and documentaries. The island is known for the hospital of lepers, where the first patients arrived from Turku in 1624. Those suffering from a deadly disease spent the last years of their lives on the island and ended up buried in the vicinity of Seili Church.
Later, people with syphilis were also brought to the island. When the last leper died in 1785, Seili became a mental hospital.
As of 1889, there were only female patients at Seili Hospital when male patients were transferred to Käkisalmi. The mental hospital is a misleading name, as patients ended up in Seili for quite a variety of reasons. Some of the women had committed serious crimes such as infanticide or murder, but the island also became a place of accommodation for the poor and socially unsuitable.
Between 1889 and 1944, 193 women were sent to the hospital. The majority of them were unmarried and without a permanent home and job. Reasons for being on the island included insanity, malice, and immorality.
As we step deeper into the island, its peace and quiet seem to creep all over our body, but history can’t escape. The old crosses behind Seili Church are a barren reminder of how many patients ’lives ended here.
In front of the old wooden church lies the carcass of a dead hare, and it is freezing cold inside the church. The church was once built in its own area for lepers, and is separated from the ornate wooden logs. It may have been a beautiful idea to try to make distinguishing people from others somehow gentle. The end result is even more sad.
Space to breathe
It is a short distance from the church to the pier. It has become an important place for Henriikka. Excited, he says he dips into the water several mornings a week. Henriika’s apartment is in a building called Portti, opposite the rugged hospital building. The apartment has modern amenities with a wife and a day. Henriikka has set up a yoga studio in one of the rooms in the apartment.
After the initial nightmares, the island has already started to feel like home, and routines have developed over the days. Online yoga classes follow the morning dip. Then cooking, forest walks, sauna and playing for lovers. Henriikka is also developing yoga research and launching a book project.
In Turku, he pops up every couple of weeks. Meals should be carefully planned in advance. The nearest store Nagu is a half-hour ferry ride, but the ship is traveling during the winter rarely. On a daily shopping trip, it is not very often successful.
Henriika’s friends have visited Seili regularly. He says he quickly noticed how important human encounters are.
– I didn’t think in advance what types are here. Everyone has been friendly. Sometimes someone knocks on the window and asks if you are that island elf, he laughs.
In addition to Henriika, the island elves also have a retired couple who have stayed in their own cottage. In addition to them, only a maintenance man and one cottage stay on the island more permanently during the winter. The corona reality on the island is quite different from the city. No need to think about masks and can breathe in the fresh air.
– The best thing is that we talk to people here like they used to. Let’s look others in the eye, get to know each other and see when the other smiles, Henriikka says.
Answers about the forest
Many know the saying that patients coming to Seili had to take chests with them. No evidence has been found for this allegation. The lives of all patients did not end on the island either.
Patient records show how more and more patients who committed crimes were sent to Seili in the 1930s and 1940s. The era was also marked by the spread of racial hygiene and the Sterilization Act, which came into force in 1935.
The doctrine of racial hygiene was evident in fear of a subclass that was considered degenerate. Subclass crime and obscenity were concerns. By law, patients could be sterilized without the patient’s own consent. People with mental illness in particular were the target group of the law, but women were also sterilized on the basis of poverty.
Seili’s old patient records show how women were also blamed for unwanted pregnancies. Women’s sexual aggression was highlighted, and menstrual bleeding in patients, for example, was carefully recorded.
Document I sailed women (The women on Själö) kertoo Katarina Karlsson story. Katarina became a patient in Seili in 1940 when she was 26 years old. The patient records show that Katarina had met a married man at the age of 14. The man had tried to rape her, and Katarina became closed.
He was involved in armed robbery at the age of 19, but in prison he was found to be too restless. Katarina was diagnosed as a “severe antisocial psychopath”.
When Katarina got into Seili, her parents wrote many letters of petition to get her daughter home from the island. Eventually, they had to bow to Katarina being sterilized. Only then did he get back to his home.
Unlike before, today you come to the island voluntarily. But Seili is still a place where you have to stop – and then you also have to think.
The joy of life at zero
At the end of December, Henriikka has spent two months in Seili. He recounts how, after years of going on, he finally feels stopped.
When Henriikka has visited Turku, she has wondered why she needs to fill her day in the city with a program and constant activities. Why is it so hard to stop there?
Long walks in Seili’s atmospheric forests have also brought answers. Amidst magical curly pines and stones covered with emerald green moss, Henriikka has rewound her life. How his SM-level floorball career broke in his twenties with a spinal stress fracture. How soon after that his friend died through his own hand. And how her then boyfriend got cancer.
– In all of this, going through the boyfriend’s cancer and the best friend’s death, some of me must have died, Henriikka now reflects.
After graduating as a restaurant owner, Henriikka moved from Espoo to Turku. However, the joy of life seemed to be zero. It wasn’t until the mindfulness course that slowly opened his eyes to how badly he could.
His work and studies took Henry for years to the United States, the Netherlands and England. The sail became a stopping place for years of wandering life.
On the island, Henriikka has understood that part of the reason for the constant going was the desire to deny harsh experiences. Only now on a remote island has he dared to face his past.
No more need to escape
Originally, Henrik had to be in Seili until the dawn of spring. However, the adventure came to a conclusion at the beginning of February – after three and a half months. The work on the continent was inviting, and at the same time Henriika felt that Seili had fulfilled her mission.
As Henryikka now thinks about all she has learned and learned on the island, she feels that in a short time a considerable journey came to heaven. He doesn’t have to escape anymore. He feels ready to build his life in one place.
– Now it feels like one stone at a time, the heavy backpack of the past would be emptied and the step would be lighter. I feel like I’m on the verge of a new kind of courage.
Henriikka has also stated that when there is a need to stop and be alone, a couple of weeks’ cottage trip is enough. Equally important to him is being with people close to him.
All in all, the months in Seili have taught Henry to see his own life through acceptance and compassion.
– My eyes opened. I got to spend time alone and also dared to be alone. It also turned out that I have a need to connect with people, and it is now even more comfortable to be with people.
Now Henriikka lives in Turku and shares the apartment with three roommates. It seems to him that in Seili, the contradictory relationship with his hometown also changed. Turku now feels like the cleanest place in the world. There, he would like to organize yoga events, for example.
– It’s no longer fun to go anywhere. On the sail, I was hiding from other people. On the other hand, there I learned to be happy. To live a beautiful and simplified life.
Lähteet: Jutta Ahlberg-Rehn: Diagnosis and discipline: medical discourse and female insanity at Själö hospital 1889–1944 (Åbo Akademi University Press, 2006). Dokumenttielokuva Seilin naiset (Women on Själö, 2008, by Mikaela Weurlander). Ilppo Vuorinen: Seili – elon kirjoa (Kustannus Aarni, 2020).
Source site www.is.fi