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  • Writer's pictureMikko Koistinen

Follow in the footsteps of Private Duus - the origin story of Tuusniemi

Legend has that Private Duus, a German soldier, escaped from imprisonment in the St. Olaf's Castle to search for a treasure in a small rural village in the borderlands of north Savo. The last words of Duus’ brother-in-arms, Lauri Juhaninpoika, had been the location of the treasure. The mysterious fugitive was so enamoured with the local residents, natural beauty and calmness of the region that he ended up starting a family and starting a new life there. This area was later named after him as Tuusniemi - a derivative of his name as the Savo dialect does not contain the letter “D”.

In 2020, the action-packed adventures of Private Duus were dramatized into a feature film. Local residents were hired as actors in the film.

Join us to follow in the footsteps of Private Duus - but be careful! First of all, the responsibility lies with the reader, and second, you too may find yourself falling in love with this place - for the rest of your life...

The fate of deserters from the Swedish army was grim. First Sergeant Johansson was the first person to experience Tuusniemi in the footsteps of Private Duus. Image: Duus the Movie

The fate of deserters from the Swedish army was grim. First Sergeant Johansson was the first person to experience Tuusniemi in the footsteps of Private Duus. Image: Duus the Movie

1.) Koivulahti-Hiidenlahti - an idyllic and lively villages in Savo

Private Duus got his first introduction to the peculiar but sympathetic local residents at a bay cove, where the beautiful Koivulahti guest harbour is located these days. The villages located by Lake Tuusjärvi are among the oldest settlements in North Savo. Based on archaeological evidence, people were living in the area up to 10,500 years ago. The locals have farmed land in the fertile fields of the region ever since the Middle Ages. Duus’ appearance in the area sent a quiver of excitement through the village society. As the Plague and other diseases had been raging through Europe, no foreign “tourists” had been seen around the area in ages. This meant that the locals would have to make the most of the rare visitor!

Today, Tuusjärvi continues to have an active village association that treasures the local nature and cultural values, organises versatile leisure time activities, and promotes the continuous development of the village as a pleasant living environment.

The beauty and attractiveness of the Tuusniemi region is concealed in small villages just like Hiidenlahti and Koivulahti located along the road from Kuopio to Joensuu. Start your visit by taking a turn from the highway to Hiidenlahti, slow down and get enchanted by the beautiful rural scenery. Just like Duus, you’ll soon reach the birdwatching tower, which is one of the best places for birdwatching in North Savo. Take a break at a hut and continue along dirt roads for the few-kilometre-long Kyläkiekka hiking trail. You will encounter field landscapes, an old mill still in operation, and the romantic Myllykoski bridge, which plays a key role in the film.

The village association’s area has around three hundred of Duus’ descendants, and this number is doubled during the summer with guests from all around the Finland - and also from abroad!

2.) Seinävuoren rotkolaakso ravine - a cradle of shamen

Private Duus hides from his pursuers in a mysterious canyon. The exhausted private falls asleep below a moss-covered rock. In his dream, he hears the beating of shamanic drums, growing stronger and stronger, taking the traveller to the middle of a sacrificial pagan ceremony...

The Rotkolaakso ravine is one of the most popular sights in Tuusniemi - and no wonder! The majestic rocks and ancient forests serve as a reminder of the natural forces that once boomed in the area as high-magnitude earthquakes were crushing the rock millions of years ago. At the weathered tectonic plate boundary on the rock there was a glacial river. In time, the river eroded its path on a crevice on the rock. What makes Seinävuori so special is the brook that flows hidden at the bottom of the ravine, known as sahi. The brook flows to the Seinälampi pond located in front of the Seinävuori cliff.

There is a lot of history and mysticism related to the Rotkolaakso ravine. According to folklore, magic spells were once performed to appease the forest spirit and ensure luck in hunting wild game in the depths of Seinävuori. “Esikoiset” (the “first-born”) of the caught prey were sacrificed at the bottom of the ravine: this meant that the hunter set the bowels of his catch under an anthill. In addition to the sacrificial ceremonies, the canyon has served as a hidden place for brewing beer and making moonshine, and according to one story, Finnish soldiers even buried a fallen Russian colonel who fell in the Finnish War waged in 1808 and 1809.

One of the most famous local legends is a hunter called Kettu-Mooses (“Moses the Fox”), who is said to have been endowed with the gifts of a clairvoyant and a shaman. He used to perform his magic in the Rotkolaakso ravine and had the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses (in Finnish known as the “Black Bible”) under his pillow to ensure good luck in hunting. The mystical Kettu-Mooses was said to be an unparalleled fox hunter. First Sergeant Johansson, who was pursuing Duus, would later feel the full might of his spells.

Rotkolaakso is an excellent hiking site throughout the year. Especially in the winter, the ice slabs formed on the boulders are a sight to behold. An easily accessible 2.5-kilometre trail, and a longer, around 20-km long hiking trail from the Seinävuori via the Mäkimaja and Ahvenlampi lean-tos to Kaavinkoski. Rotkolaakso has good amenities: the area includes an accessible panoramic deck, clearly marked trails, lean-tos, campfire sites, a dock and a roomy hut.

“Juojärven Aarnitulet” is a group of artists drawing inspiration from ancient legends. The collective is known for its impressive fire performances. Images:Duus the Movie, Mikko Koistinen. Juojärven Aarnitulet

3. The diabolical bandit stone of Kosula

Over the course of history, the islands, ravines, caves and the holes between erratic boulders have provided safety to animals, fugitives, bandits and spiritual beings alike. Along the Luostaritie road, near the Kosula village and in the middle of the forest stands Rosvokivi, “the bandit stone”, a huge boulder. Legend has it that the devil himself threw it there. Although the stone was named after the bandits once lurking behind it, this was not what those passing the stone feared the most. Ghosts possessed by the devil were believed to reside under the bandit stone! The story of Duus the Movie says the following about the stone: “People once believed that the devil himself was throwing rocks across the slopes in anger, which had also created the unbroken tract of boulders in a nearby area. A shepherd who had isolated himself in the naturally beautiful Paimensaari island in southern Tuusniemi, keeping away from other people, was also suspected of having been conceived under the bandit rock. The locals implied that the shepherd was the bastard child of the devil who no human or ghost would want for a spouse. The shepherd had a diabolical fate. His old father abandoned him for being way too benevolent, but people had their suspicions of him: after all, he was known to hide a set of small horns under his hat. “

Whatever the case, a random hiker or berry picker should stay well clear of the bandit stone or else they might end up like Duus. On the other hand, experiencing the spirit world and extreme tourism are very much in vogue these days.

Above: The ghosts of the bandit stone are approaching an unsuspecting traveller.

4. Ohtaansalmi -the border between the Savo and Karelia regions

People from Savo have a rather playful, curious and talkative character. The locals find it easy to start a conversation with a stranger, whether you are in a shop, at a market square, or in a train or a bus. The local dialect is melodious, relaxing and sounds fun. While the locals have plenty to say, after listening to them, many may feel that they are not quite sure of what exactly had just happened. The reasons for this culture of indirect conversation can be found in history. Eastern Finland is an old border region between the east and the west. In the past, this meant existing in a constant battle between two superpowers, two realities, and two religions, which sometimes culminated in bloody confrontations. When the rest of Finland was “breaking the bread of peace”, no one in the Savo’s backwoods really knew whether the person they encountered was a friend or a foe. As a result, saying vague things and leaving the responsibility for fact-checking to your conversation partner turned out to be a better idea. This has proven to be a sustainable strategy - it so happened that people from Savo have won fame as entertainers, politicians and businessmen, and spread out all around Finland and the world.

The Treaty of Teusina border stone dating back to 1595 serves as a reminder of the Russo-Swedish War. Before the stone was raised to the site, Private Duus ended up in the middle of a fierce border feud between a guerrilla group from Liperi and peasants from Tuusniemi once more.

In the 1590s, wars were largely waged as guerrilla warfare, which involved the peasants from the nearby municipalities attacking the neighbouring villages. The three crowns in the Tuusniemi coat of arms symbolise the Treaty of Teusina. A peasant can’t help but smile after the battle.

4. The secrets of the Silmäsuo wetlands

There are seven wetlands in Tuusniemi, known together with the name Silmäsuo, “eye bog”. The narrative in the film says that some of these wetlands are guarded by a group of angry old women, and you may not enter them, at least in the dark. When Duus was on the run, he was nearly swallowed up by the largest and most beautiful of these bogs. Rumour has it that after settling in Tuusniemi, one of Duus’ activities when tipsy was jumping in a bog hollow. However, we must say that there are no credible eye-witness accounts of this.

In fact, the Silmäsuo wetlands in Tuusniemi are a form of a watery treeless mire formed on a kettle hole surrounded by pine mires. This is a significant nature reserve where you may hear the croaking of the moor frog, a protected species. The vegetation is typical for a pine mire. You may spot both leatherleaf and bog bean growing in the area. Cotton deergrass, sundews and water-lilies are also part of the vegetation. There are relatively few birds in the area, unless you count random small birds and sandpipers. Who knows what secrets lay hidden within the wetlands...

There is a clearly marked hiking trail with paths and lean-tos in the Silmäsuo wetlands, so it is a natural sight definitely worth a visit!

5. Potaattikukko and other medieval delicacies

On his journey, Private Duus got to know the famous Eastern Finnish cuisine marked by a heavy use of potatoes, rye meal and fat. The most well-known traditional food from Tuusniemi is potaattikukko, a type of savoury pie with potatoes and pork baked inside a rye crust.

Duus was impressed by the hospitality of the locals. The Savo residents, who had grown accustomed to scarcity, were self-sufficient in every way - they fished from the lake, foraged berries and mushrooms from the forest, and every home had domestic animals. Finland’s best rye cutters worked on the slash-and-burn fields of Juurikkamäki. In fact, the name of the whole region, “Savo” originally referred to the smoke from slash-and-burn agriculture. Slash-and-burn cultivation was a tough and laborious job. These days, you can still see its remnants in the form of deciduous forests, endless stone ruins and turnip holes. The locals often found their only solace in humorous, local folk-sayings such as “eating no bread won’t keep you sated”.

As the rocky terrain in the area is particularly favourable to growing berries, there are a number of berry farms in the Tuusniemi and Kaavi region. During the summer, there is a farmer’s market, where you can buy local food products - eggs, honey, berries, vegetables, rye flour etc. Ask for the “Duus special” from the local restaurants, and you can order the original potaattikukko pie from the Luostaritie village shop bakery!

For those interested in subsistence economy, there are two interesting places to visit in the Tuusniemi and Kaavi region, the Paimensaari island, where there used to be an old, self-sufficient model farm and the Telkkämäki traditional farm and an outdoor museum that treasures the old Eastern Finnish slash-and-burn cultivation tradition and landscape.

Private Duus was dumbstruck on the last supper. Slash-and-burn cultivation shows are organised during summers in Telkkamäki. Images: Duus the Movie, Kaavi municipality.

6. Sauna steam in Kaavinkoski

The idyllic Kaavinkoski channel once marked the border of the Treaty of Teussina. Currently, the channels serve as the border between Tuusniemi and Kaavi. In Duus the Movie, the Kaavi residents were characterised as underdeveloped savages, but as a result of globalisation, such suspicions have been replaced by friendliness and cooperation. A prime example of this is this joint tourism website of the two places. It is said that Private Duus and Kaavi legend, Waikko-Joe, a jovial wilderness philosopher and wise man, once met on the Kaavinkoski bridge and formed a friendship. According to the story, the two friends then threw the border stone between Kaavi and Tuusniemi to the bottom of the Kaavinkoski channel in a symbolic gesture to mark a new era (video).

The village association of northeast Tuusniemi regularly meet in the sauna lodge in Kaavinkoski, an old time smoke sauna characteristic to the Savo and Karelia regions. In addition to Duus himself, dozens of other legends from the village, great men and women, had bathed in the soft and fragrant steam of the sauna. You also get to experience this atmosphere during the public hours at the sauna organised by the village association or by renting the entire sauna lodge for private use!

Waikko-Joe - a living legend from Kaavi, a jack of all trades and an unmatched humorist from the crazy Eastern Finland More information >>>.

7. Kojanlahti and Juojärvi - too much of a good thing is just great!

Juojärvi, a lake with clear water, one of the cleanests lakes in the world, is the heart of Tuusniemi. The lake was announced the top lake in the counties of North Savo. The lake is a quiet, ancient lake with unpolished beauty manifested in its rocky shores, sandy coves and islands. The large open lake unites with the blue sky into a landscape that radiates calmness. In addition to seagulls, black-throated divers, common sandpipers and mallards, you may also spot ospreys and whooper swans on the lake. Lake Juojärvi is known for its abundant fish species - pike, vendace, pike perch, trout, whitefish, burbot, perch...

The Kojalahti residents have found livelihood from agriculture and fishing ever since the 1500s. The village is spread across the shores of Lake Juojärvi as well as the largest islands in the nearby region. The extensive open fields with the surrounding forest areas continue to dominate the village landscape today. These days, Kojanlahti is a popular location for summer cottages. The village springs back to life in early summer. The villagers and summer guests meet up at the old village school, Villa Rysseli, to play games, have coffee by a campfire or exchange greetings and chat about what is happening in the world. Joint celebrations are held at the school and it also serves as the place for a summer café by the local 4H organisation on weekends. The school also has its own, public beach, where visitors can immerse themselves in the clean waves of lake Juojärvi.

It is in this scenery, where Private Duus’ flight also comes to an end. The traveller has finally found his home. This is a place where you should also come to escape from the busy lifestyles and other scourges of the modern world today. The landscape emanates a sense of calm and safety and has remained unchanged for millions of years. Below the crystal clear water, you see the sandy bottom of the lake glittering like gold. Perhaps this was the treasure that Duus’ friend had meant all along. A treasure that we must save for future generations.

An evening at Lake Juojärvi in June. In front of us is Laitasaari, a kilometre-long but only around 50 to 100 metres wide esker-like ridge shaped like nature, where graves dating back to the Stone Age have been discovered. Behind the island is the wide open lake from which the New Valamo Monastery can be reached through a boat route. Summer cottages displaying this landscape are available for rent online, for example at Hottituvat.

Watch Duus the Movie - the truth about the origins of Tuusniemi

Directed by: Mikko Keinonen

Manuscript: Antti Syrjäläinen, Mikko Keinonen

Starring: Antti Syrjäläinen

Despite "reaping success around the world", the makers of Duus the Movie are not interested in making a profit with their work. Instead, they consider the film part of Finland’s cultural heritage. This is why Duus the Movie is now made freely available to watch online for everyone.

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