Author photo

By Sheila Zanghi
contributing writer 

Are we part pirate? Yes, we Arrr!


January 21, 2023

Sheila Zanghi.

When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of the swash-buckling pirate movies. My favorite Saturday matinee on Channel 5 was any pirate movie featuring Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. The good pirates fought against the evil island governors on the sea and land. It was very romantic and exciting. So, you can understand how happy I was to hear that I was a direct descendant of a Finnish pirate. His name was Mustaparta, which translates to "Black Beard." My imagination ran wild.

About 10 years ago the Nordic countries initiated an effort to become an attractive tourist destination. All areas that would enhance tourism were explored, like food, music, history, accommodations and so on. Our cousin, Vigert, invited all cousins to a play he had written for this program. This play was about our mutual, ever-so-great grandfather, Mustaparta. The story of Mustaparta was still an important part of the culture of the Tonio/Haparanda area, even after over 250 years. Our grandparents had emigrated to the U.S., but apparently this story didn't make the trip.

Isack Mustaparta was born in the late 1700s. The area of Finland was under the rule of Sweden, and Sweden was not kind to the Finns. The Swedes had appointed birkals to positions of power to tax and regulate trade in Finland and they took advantage of their power. These birkals collected taxes and paid very little for Finnish products, like furs and tar. As a result, the Finns were unable to pay for the items they needed. Isack decided to do something about it and he, with others, built a ship with a false deck. The false deck allowed Finnish goods to be smuggled outside the area and be paid for without the middleman taking advantage. The Swedes realized smuggling was their main activity and tried to capture them, but the coastlines and numerous islands in the Bothian Bay made the ship too elusive to capture.

The Swedes chased Mustaparta for years, labeling him a pirate and continually raising the amount of bounty for his capture, but the stubborn Finns and Swedes who benefitted from this smuggling never gave him away. After eight years the Swedes offered a deal with Mustaparta. For concessions on the power of the birkals the Swedes would forgive Mustaparta his piracy. A deal was struck when the Swedes offered clemency and a position to represent Finland in the Swedish government to Mustaparta. Even today boats, with sails depicting the image of the Bothnian Pirate on it, retrace the route the smugglers took to help the Finns through a very tough time.

It seems my connection with piracy was more a connection with "smuggling for a just cause" rather than piracy. I think of my forefather as a person who saw a wrong and tried to make it better. Thankfully, Mustaparta became a Robin Hood story instead of a story about a successful smuggler. But still those pirate movies of good versus evil still inspire me.

So, when my granddaughter, Annabelle asked, "Are we part pirate?" I proudly said, "Yes, we Arrr!"


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