AfroFinns – a View of the Past & Future

Sep 16, 2022

"A Tree Cannot Stand on the Ground Without its Roots."

African Proverb


A few weeks ago, I participated The Good Hair Day annual event, an event which emphasised this year, the Future of the Afro-Finns community in Finland. The event started with celebrating afro Finns’ recent fashion with two fabulous fashion shows from the creation of the artist Malaika Mollel and Agar Mamer. There were different panel discussions about Afro Finns heritage, Afrofuturism in the digital world and the Hair Talk (an honest discussion about celebrating afro hair, offering advice on how to take care of afro hair and a view of the subject in our daily life).

So, what is Afrofuturism? And why is it so important?

Afrofuturism was born in the minds of thousands of enslaved Africans passing the horrific Middle Passage while saying prayers for their lives and that of their descendants. These people dreamt of a society completely without both physical and social bondage of oppression. These were the first Afrofuturists, and they brought to life what we know as the definition today

Afrofuturism is all about evaluating the past, present and future and imagining a world that encourages better conditions for Black people through literature, music, technology, and arts. In Afrofuturism, the world has a structure that doesn’t violently oppress Black communities (

It is all about empowering a minority group that is maybe visual but invisible at the same time in Finland, like in many other countries. It’s the appreciation of seeing a bright future and realize a sea of possibilities. Whether you’re an afrofinn or not, I would say that this apply to all immigrants, especially to those who been oppressed and are unheard in society. That’s why culture events that are made by minorities, for minorities are so important. It is our chance to be heard and shine.

Now back to our topic.

AfroFinn Heritage

One of the topics that got my intention was the heritage of Afro Finns which was unknown to me as it for others. Did you know that African presence in Finland was already in the 1800??

One of the first documented Afro-Finn was Ibrahim Petrovič Gannibal (1696–1781). He born in Eritrea or Chad and died as a respected military expert and the governor of Tallinn. Gannibal is best known as the great-grandfather of the Russian writer Aleksandr Pushkin. 


In that that time, it was fashionable in many European courts to have black "adopted children". The children brought to Finland by Finnish missionary workers in the 1880s. the number of them and their fate is unknown due to lack of researched information. Afro-Finn women were known as caregivers and nannies in Finnish homes.

Photo: unknown dark-skinned and light-skinned girl, Mr. and Mrs. 1800-mid (Finna)

Photo: Family of Kaarle August Weikkolin Nyblin, Daniel 1880

Photo: Pietari Kurvinen and his family returned to Finland after the resettlement work done in Africa in 1875. Ch. Rice

CARNIVAL/FAIR LIFE AND CIRCUS FUN- 1930 (the pictures speak louder than words)

Photos: 1930 Suomen Tivoli


Rudolf William Pruess (2.5.1903 Riga – 14.21.1940 Koivisto rural municipality) was a Finnish corporal of African descent who led a ski patrol in the Winter War. Prüss died in the winter war 1940.


Saeed Nassir, who moved from Somalia to Great Britain, settled in Finland in the 1950s after marrying Raili Lehto.

Unknown dancers. Helsinki Olympics 1952 by Volker von Bonin


Independent African countries sent scholars to study in Finland. There have been African students in Finland since the 1950s. Most of the students were in Helsinki. 

Photo: Joseph Owindi came to Finland from Kenya in 1963. He was the first African student at Tampere University and he graduated with a master's degree in social sciences.

Photo: Helsinki School of Economics' development cooperation project Prodec, where students got to know Finnish business activities. The operation started in 1968 and continued until the end of the 1990s.

Photo: Sunbathers on Pihlajasaari's sandy beach. Volker von Bonin 1966

Photo: Black Panthers at Helsinki's Old Student House. Yrjö Lintunen 1969


As we saw, presence of Afro-Finns is in the Finnish history, however many of them are unknown. Today, The Helsinki City Museum wants to change the unrecorded past and collect Afro-Finns’ stories and experiences of their youth in Helsinki. They researched and recorded Afro-Finnish life in Helsinki as a part of its cultural environment programme for 2021–2022. The aim of this project is to generate new meanings for the city’s cultural heritage and support diversity and equality in Helsinki.

Here is your chance to be seen! They are collecting Afro-Finns’ stories and experiences of their youth in Helsinki. The stories collected will be presented in an exhibition opening next spring.

The survey is aimed at all Afro-Finns over the age of 18 who have spent at least part of their youth in Helsinki. For the purposes of this survey, the term ‘Afro-Finns’ is used to refer to persons who have roots particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and persons with African background who’s own or family history is connected to the African diaspora in a wider sense. You can respond to the survey in Finnish, Swedish, English, French or Somali:

We can also see a promising future in changes high places such as the nominating of Michaela Moua as the EU's Anti-Racism Coordinator. We can see at least a start if not more for “all Europeans are able to live lives free of racism and discrimination" (as the EU Anti-racism Action Plan wish for with Moua’s as their leader).


PERSONAL NOTE: This article is dedicated to all Afro Finns out there. I write about these topics because it is the heritage and legacy of my family as well. As a woman with strong ties to Africa, I urge you to know your roots, be proud of them and work for a better future, even if it’s only by reading this article and educating yourself.

I based my article on the following links. Please have a look for further interest.

Written by: Dana Graydi

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