Riikka Palonen the Bonemaiden

Riikka Palonen . No waste!

Agriculture and animal husbandry moved to the area now known as Finland relatively late, around 2800-2500 BC.  Finns were a hunting nation – or we still are: hunting is an integral part of rural life, and today women also take an active part in wilderness.

As a trade, hunting is more precarious than farming. The grain harvest could be planned and stored, the game not. The winter in the north was long and harsh, it was all about survival. Thus, the animal caught was respected, as were the forest spirits. On a practical level, respect was fully reflected in the use of the carcass, nothing was wasted. The hunting of a large game, like a bear, was already associated with religious rites – the bear was considered to be of heavenly origin, born in the constellation of Plough, and every bear that was felled had to be brought back to its ancestors. To ensure this, a feast was held in which the dead bear was married to a human and then the bear’s skull was lifted into the canopy of a sacred tree to rise back into the stars.

Bones and horns have been important materials in hunting culture. Beverage containers, knife handles, powder horns, hangers, door handles, combs, buttons and buckles are typical utensils. With the animistic worldview, jewellery and ornaments as well as ritual instruments were made from these materials. By carrying a talisman made from the bone of a particular animal, one could hope to achieve some of the characteristics typical of that animal.

I live in the Finnish countryside and wander every day in the woods. I am licensed to both hunting and carrying a gun – but due to work and family matters I have not had time to take part in the actual hunt. I fetch remains from game animals, mainly deer and moose, from hunters in my village. I do cleaning and processing of the material myself. In addition, I pick up bovine and sheep bones and horns from local slaughterhouses. I only use the remains of animals that have lived a meaningful life either free in the woods or free on pasture. With my jewelry, I would like to bring respect back to modern food production. We could eat much less meat, and whenever eating  it, we should eat with dignity and respect.

I sell my jewellery not only via internet but also at markets and events, and I am happy to tell urban people about the cycle of nature, my ideas and values concerning food production, and the positive effects of hunting and grazing on biodiversity.  I do unique pieces and quite a lot of commissioned work. Bone and horn processing is slow and as unpredictable as the hunt itself. As the work progresses, unexpected cracks or fissures may occur, humidity and temperature change the material and the material changes colour over time. For decoration, I use engraving and burning, very rarely I dye the bone because I want to preserve the original feel of the material. To highlight the carvings, I use soot, boiled spruce bark or cones, or smoke. As a small spicing, I use real crystals because their twinkling reminds me of the ice crystals on frosty mornings. There has to be a little bit of bling-bling even in primitive life!


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