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A backpacker in Småland

Backstugusittare in Småland
Old woman in front of a cottage in Klevshult, Östbo district, Småland. 1890-1910. Photo: Steijertz, A / Nordiska museet

In the picture you see an old woman in front of a cottage in Klevshult, Östbo district, Småland. The photo was taken 1890-1910 by A. Steijertz and comes from the archives of the Nordic Museum.

The word "backstuga" means to live "on a bare hill" because you did not own the land you lived on. Back cabins were simple cottages often occupied by old and/or poor people, and the cabin was exempt from taxes. Many served as "retirement housing" for elderly parents, retired indentured servants or parish paupers. These people were known as backstall tenants, and unlike the peasants, the backstall tenant did not normally rent land for his cottage. Backstuga can also refer to so-called 'earth cottages', as shown in the picture, built partly buried in the ground, simple dwellings that were common in southern and south-western Sweden, where timber was expensive. This type of earthen house was found in northern Skåne, Blekinge, Halland, most of Småland, the southern coast of Östergötland, southernmost Västergötland and southern Bohuslän. To the south, gatehouses (gadehus) are found instead. Östbo härad was part of the small country of Finnveden and is located on the edge of the Småland highlands. The northern parts are hilly while the southern parts are low-lying with many lakes and wetlands. Today, the district corresponds to parts of Värnamo municipality, Vaggeryd municipality and Gnosjö municipality. The place of registration was Värnamo. Seeing pictures of all these poor people in their small, simple cottages puts our modern prosperity into perspective. Prosperity has not come from nothing. The Social Democrats did not wave their magic wand and make the country rich. It was hard work, generation after generation, that turned Swedish forests into fertile fields, mountains into steel, and rushing water into electricity. If you forget that and stop valuing hard work, and stop striving to leave a better life for the next generation, you are doomed to repeat the history of civilisations and once again feel the hunger of poverty.

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