Pali-Maj – a versatile writer

Närpes had an authoress who wrote songs that were widely sung throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century. It was Maria Berg, or Pali-Maj as she was generally called. To this day you can find her songs in collections of poetry and anthologies, for example in the anthology Nordisk kvinnolitteratur (Nordic women's literature), where she is mentioned as an interesting woman among the folk writers in Finland. According to the Finnish biographical lexicon, she was the most prolific and versatile of the Finnish female writers around the turn of the century, and she was the first female writer in Finland who could at least partially make a living from her authorship.

Pali-Maj was born in 1784 in Pörtom as Maria Johansdotter Uppgård. Her parents had moved out to the Pali fence, featuring in her calling name. A memorial stone has been erected at Österlandsvägen in Pörtom, at the Pali farms where her parental home was located.

When she was eighteen years old, Pali-Maj began working as a teacher for children at the parish's schools, mostly in Rangsby, Norrnäs, Töjby, Harrström, Taklax, Övermark and Yttermark. In the school cottages there was usually a small room where the teacher could live. She wrote poems for her students and sang them together with the children to a known tune, and this also made her poems famous in the villages.

Many of the poems were inspired by dramatic events in the area, such as the song about three girls, who drowned in the Heinijärvi (Hinjärv) swamp, one of whom was from Tuväng or Höglund and two from Viitaniemi in Korsnäs. The poems could also be about crimes, such as the song about a murder, which took place circa 1829 on the way down to Kamb village in Korsnäs, where Anna Träskvik in jealousy assaulted and killed Anna Greta Kamb, and the song about Gabriel Karlsson Antfolk from Rangsby, murdered by Karl Kamb in Korsnäs. In Smeds' and Rancken's publication of Pali-Maj's poems in 1881, the event is explained like this: Antfolk had promised to give a beacon to the Church of Korsnäs if God would help him home. Kamb, who had no prior dispute with Antfolk, had been teased by a tailor against the villagers of Rangsby and one Sunday he stabbed Antfolk, who was returning from church.

There poems can be perceived as the news service or perhaps the sensational journalism of the time, but the events are also processed in the poems. The author ponders on the themes of crime and punishment, and she tries to comfort the relatives in their grief.

Pali-Maj also produced commissioned work, such as the song about the paper mill and the faience factory in Granfors in Övermark and the wish of luck for outgoing ships. For some of these songs she received a decent payment.

The most beautiful and timeless of Pali-Maj’s poems are perhaps her love poems. She describes both the deep feelings for the beloved one and the worry about losing him.

The lyrics of the song When the sun lights its rays or Pörtomvisan, as it is called because the melody is recorded in Pörtom, is also usually considered authored by Pali-Maj. However, the song does not feature in Smeds' and Rancken's publication, and this matter is somewhat uncertain.

When Pali-Maj worked as a teacher in Norrnäs, she met the farmer son Mats Matsson Snickars, and as a result she gave birth to a boy in the autumn of 1814. Not wanting to commit to fatherhood, Mats rushed to the schoolhouse and was utterly upset when finding out about the pregnancy. The matter was taken to court, and Mats was eventually ordered to pay alimony to the son as well as a large fine. Pali-May also had to pay some fines, as it was illegal to bear children out of wedlock.

Later, Pali-Maj married the significantly younger Matts Berg of Rangsby, and she now finally got a home of her own along with him. When they were married five children were born in six years. The husband, unfortunately, was a heavy drinker and the family’s economy was bad. He also got himself a mistress. This gave Pali-May reason to write powerful verses, in which she cursed both the drunk and his mistress. Her song about problems caused by alcohol can be considered one of the first songs to warn against drunkenness and promote sobriety.

Three of Pali-Maj's poems were published in 1851 in the newspaper Ilmarinen, a predecessor of Vasabladet. The editor had also received many other poems for publication, but they were destroyed in the Great Fire the following year. A larger collection of her poems was published about ten years after her death, in the collection by Smeds and Rancken. It is possible that only a small part of her poems have been preserved. The local heritage society in Pörtom published a book of Pali-Maj’s poetry in 1983. The book was edited by Trygve Erikson and contains, among others, the collection of Smeds' and Rancken, as well as some other poems that have been discovered. The book can still be purchased from the local heritage society in Pörtom.

Pali-Maj lived her last years in a side chamber to her son-in-law's forge. Her daughter Fredrika was married Bergström in Rangsby. Pali-Maj's husband had been beaten to death in an altercation with the youth of the village as early as 1847. She worked as a teacher for as long as she could, and she kept writing poems to old age. She died during one of the famine years in 1867, aged 83.

A memorial stone dedicated to Pali-Maj can be found in Rangsby at Övermarkvägen, near the spot where her last home was. The text on the stone is: Här levde, diktade, lärde Pali-Maj, Maria Berg (“Pali-Maj, Maria Berg, lived, wrote poems and taught here.”).