Finnish Kale

Finnish Kale
Remu Aaltonen • Rainer Friman
Regions with significant populations
 Finland 10,000[1]
 Sweden 3,000[1]
Finnish and Finnish Romani
Lutheran and Pentecostal Christianity
Related ethnic groups
other Romani peoples
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The Finnish Kale (Romani: Kàlo; Swedish: Kalé; Finnish: Kaale, also Suomen romanit "Finnish Romani") are a group of the Romani people who live primarily in Finland and Sweden.

Their main languages are Finnish and Finnish Romani.


The original Finnish Kale were Romani groups who came to Finland via Sweden in the 16th century, leaving the kingdoms of Scotland and England.[2][3] In 1637, all Romani groups were declared outlaws who could be hanged without trial; this practice was discontinued in 1748 . When Finland declared independence in 1917, all Kales received full citizenship and rights. During the Winter War and Continuation War, about a thousand Kales served in the Finnish military.[4]



Finnish Kale commonly follow their traditions in both male and female dress. Finnish Kale women choose personally whether to don the traditional dress or not at around the age of 15 to 20, and the choice is considered final. In case of nontraditional wear, modesty customs are still followed.

Back in the 19th century, Finnish Kale men dressed nearly identical to the ethnic Finn farmers, in a coat, slacks, high boots, and a rimmed hat. In the early 20th century, many Kale men adopted the clothing style of cab drivers, a highly regarded profession. This dress featured a white shirt, a jacket (sometimes in leather), a peaked cap, tall black boots, and baggy dark jodhpur trousers. The use of jodhpurs was very specific for the Finnish Kale, as Romani in other areas would have associated them with the often aggressive military, and thus avoided them.

During the 1960s and 70s, the peaked cap fell out of use, and the jodhpurs and boots were replaced with slacks and walking shoes. Jackets are still worn as traditional Kale modesty disallows appearing in only a shirt. Light-colored slacks or jeans are rarely seen. The driver-style dress is used only by some of the older men, or by younger men for special occasions.

The traditional female Finnish Kale dress stems from the traditional dress worn by the ethnic Finn women. Until the turn of the 20th century, Kale and Finn women dressed much alike in blouses, long skirts, and waist aprons.[5] Over time and with increased wealth, the female Kale dress has become continually more decorated. The dress features a heavy full-length black velvet skirt worn relatively high at the waist, supported by padding, and a puffed blouse, often with prominent ruffles and lace, made of decorative cloth such as with sequins or a metallic sheen.

Young children wear similar clothing to other ethnicities. Girls approaching maturity, but still below the age to don the traditional dress, often wear long, narrow, dark skirts.


Taisto Tammi in 1960.

Music is a central part of Finnish Kale culture, everyday entertainment and domestic life. In Finland, the Kale are known especially for their contribution to the Finnish tango and Schlager music. Kale men have been a vital part of Schlager singers since the start of the genre's popularity in Finland following World War II. At first Kale singers faced direct discrimination, and for instance were banned from performing at certain establishments either on principle or following Kale audience misbehavior. Taisto Tammi and Markus Allan were the two most important earlier Kale performers; both adopted artistic aliases to reduce attention at their ethnic background.

Since then, discrimination has lessened and Kale singers have no need to mask their birth names in order to succeed in the career. Numerous Kale have participated in the Tangomarkkinat tango-singing contest, winners include Anneli Sari and Sebastian Ahlgren.

Perceived problems of the Kale in Finland

Socioeconomic status

The Kale have traditionally held positions as craftsmen, but the occupation has lost importance in modern times, leading to a significant rise in unemployment within the group.[6] A paper published by the Ministry of Labour states that "According to labour administration's client register material, 70% of the Roma jobseekers had a primary school or lower secondary school education." According to the same paper: "Education is compulsory in Finland and this obligation applies equally to the Roma as to other citizens, but dropping out of basic education is still common among young Roma, while in the mainstream population it is extremely uncommon."[7]

Violence and criminality

In 2007 police officer and boxer Riku Lumberg (of Romani heritage) wrote an open letter to his own people, seeking an end to the "barbaric tradition of blood feud" in the community.[8] Roma artist Kiba Lumberg has said the following about the culture she grew up in: "Blood feud and the violence that exists in Roma culture, can't be discussed in Finland. We can't accept that some groups hide behind culture to excuse stepping on human rights and freedom of speech," and "the problem is, that when a Gypsy dares to speak in public about the negative things happening in their own tribe, they face death threats. If a white person opens their mouth, they're accused of racism."[9]

The Finnish Ministry of Justice indicated that in 2005, persons of Romani background (who make up less than 0.2% of the total population of Finland[1]) perpetrated 18% of solved street robbery crimes in Finland - by way of comparison, the slightly larger 14,769 as opposed the 10,000 Somali population were responsible for 12%, while ethnic Finns were close to 51%.[10] According to a 2003 report by the Finnish Department of Corrections, there were an estimated 120 to 140 Romanis in the Finnish prison system. The report discussed ways to combat institutional racism and discrimination within the prison system, as well as ways for improving rehabilitation of Romani inmates through, for example, education programmes and better cooperation with the Romani community at large.[11]

Notable people of Kale descent


See also


  1. 1 2 3 Suomen romanit – Finitiko romaseele
  2. Ethnologue website
  3. Eltzler. Zigenarna och deras avkomlingar i Sverige (Uppsala 1944) cited in: Angus. M. Fraser. The Gypsies (The Peoples of Europe) p120
  4. Tampereen romanit - Meidän isänmaa
  5. "Tie romanien elämään" (in Finnish). Suomen käsityön museo.
  6. Romanit Suomessa Suomen Romanifoorumi
  7. "Heikko koulutus pitää romanit poissa työelämästä" [Low level of education keeps Romani out of employment]. Keskisuomalainen (in Finnish). 11 September 2008. Retrieved 29 May 2010.
  8. Lumberg, Riku (19 August 2007). "Riku Lumbergin avoin kirje romaniyhteisölle" [Riku Lumberg's open letter to the Romani community]. Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish). Helsinki. Retrieved 1 November 2009.
  9. Varpula, Sari (16 August 2007). "Taiteilija Kiba Lumberg: Sieluni ei mahdu mustalaishameeseen". Sana (in Finnish). Helsinki. Archived from the original on March 23, 2008. Retrieved 1 November 2009.
  10. Lehti, Martti (14 February 2008). Ryöstörikoskatsaus 2007 [Robbery Crime Report 2007] (PDF). OPTL:n tutkimustiedonantoja 83 (in Finnish). Helsinki: Oikeuspoliittinen tutkimuslaitos. pp. 36–7. ISBN 978-951-704-350-2. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
  11. Romanien asema ja olosuhteet vankiloissa sekä yhdyskuntaseuraamusten suorittajina: Työryhmän raportti [On the status of the Roma and the conditions of prisons and community penalties performed: Task Force Report] (PDF). Rikosseuraamusviraston monisteita 2/2003 (in Finnish). Helsinki: Rikosseuraamusvirastolle. 20 January 2003. Retrieved 21 February 2010.
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