Monday, 15 June
Tired of debating with myself whether a 22 km bike ride there and back would be too much for me on a hot day, I get up at 5 am and set off an hour later for the “row village” of Ekeby just off the road to Sala. It’s a pleasant journey in the cool of the morning, with just one awkward section when I foolishly attempt to rebel against the cycle path’s counter-intuitive meandering, ending up at the side of highway 55, a wannabe motorway, no place for a silver top on a bike. But after a couple of hundred metres diesel trudge, a traffic light suddenly appears. I award God a half quality point for this miraculous intervention (it would have been a whole quality point if the boring old green, yellow, red had been replaced by a messenger angel with a shining selfie stick pointing out the way ahead….). But shortly after I’m off the wannabe motorway and all is peaceful and bucolic. I’m tempted to stop to examine the flowers but am eager to get my journey done before the sun gets high in the sky.
I want to see Ekeby as it’s arranged like many mediaeval villages were in Sweden before the eighteenth and nineteenth century agricultural reforms, the so-called partitions, the Great Partition (storskifte), enskifte, laga skifte, with increasing degrees of compulsion. Previously, the farms had been gathered together in traditional villages (in a row of buildings with the amount of frontage depending on the amount of land owned), with houses on one side and farm buildings on the other. The farmers then owned strips of land, some on better and some on poorer land, scattered around the village. They were often dependent on one another, working together and deciding what to grow. The agricultural reforms aimed to concentrate land holdings and, after the “laga skifte” partition in 1827, enabling a single farmer to demand partition, the farms were often moved away from the traditional village. The farmers became less dependent on one another and employed more landless labour.
This process can be viewed in many perspectives – agricultural efficiency, social divisions (the landless as cause and effect of the partitions), the effect on the rural community, its different impact in different parts of Sweden (weak in Dalecarlia/Dalarna, for example, where many villages remain intact), the effect of differing traditional provisions on inheritance on the division and sub-division of the land, and the ideological justification and interpretation of the partitions.
Ekeby is unusual as it not only has a row but also a ring road around the core of the village like many mediaeval settlements, which apparently has only survived here. The village with its cluster of falu red buildings is visible from some way off. It’s an idyllic place but didn’t obviously look like a collection of working farms. I wonder what happened to land ownership here. Did the survival of the village mean that the partition of the land didn’t take place or was there some other reason for the survival of the traditional village? (photos on my facebook page).
There’s no noticeboard at the village to explain what we are looking at. I don’t suffer from craft shop deprivation but it would be interesting to know more, to understand that the differing countryside in, for example, England and Sweden but also within Sweden. isn’t just natural phenomena but the result of distinct historical processes.
A couple of notes on terminology. As far as I can see “partition” is the word used, although what actually happened was more of a re-partition (and joining together rather than splitting). I’ve also sometimes seen the word “enclosure” used although enclosure in England differed. There it was a matter of enclosing or privatising common land and I’m not sure that this played such a major role in Sweden even if the causes, aims and effects of agricultural reforms bore some similarities.
“Row villages” also has an awkward translation flavour – it comes over as reihendorf in German, which may be more convincing. There might be a better technical term.
Dalecarlia, an English or rather Latin term, is hardly used in everyday English (unlike Gothenburg).
Dalarna does not require any unfamiliar oral gymnastics (also unlike Göteborg) so most English people are probably happy with that. I learnt the other day that Dalecarlia is an exonym or xonym (like Germany or Sweden) – an external name for a geographical place, group or people (while Dalarna and Deutschland are endoyms (or autonyms) used internally; a satisfactory acquisition along with ethonym and glossonym.