Helinä Rautavaara

Courageous World Traveller

Photo: Helinä Rautavaara Museum photographic collection

Helinä Rautavaara made a career of documenting foreign cultures and religions. After graduating from university, she travelled beyond Europe as a reporter during the 1950s. Her journeys to the Middle East and South Asia made these areas familiar to Finns through a series of colourful articles she wrote for Seura magazine. She also made her first programmes for radio and television based on the material she collected during these travels. Her subsequent travels added to her ever-increasing number of photographs, super-8 films, audio recordings and videos.

Collecting materials for a doctoral thesis, Helinä Rautavaara spent long periods in South America and North Africa. The thesis never got written, but Rautavaara did learn a lot about the places. She became known in Finland for her personal knowledge of South America, the Caribbean and Africa, and, during her later years, for a museum project in preparation. Rautavaara created a wide international network of contacts through her good social skills and all-round education, helped by Finland’s reputation for being politically neutral. Artistic invention was as important a tool for her as her knowledge of written sources.

Curiosity and the wish to let her passionate interests lead her, link Rautavaara to other, earlier, female explorers who likewise travelled light and alone to see the world.

Take a look at the film footage by Helinä Rautavaara, available at the YLE Living Archive.

Read more: Biography of Helinä Rautavaara in Finnish at Issuu:

Listen in Finnish to the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle’s programme Peukaloliisan matkassa (Travels with Thumbelina) – in the Yle series Matkakuume (Travel Fever) on the Museum’s Sound Cloud account.

Helinä Rautavaara wrote travel reports under the pen name Peukaloliisa (Thumbelina) for the magazine Seura. She called herself Thumbelina because she mostly travelled from one place to the next by hitchhiking.Yle’s Finnish language series Matkakuume takes listeners to North Africa, the Middle East, Ceylon and Nepal. Editor for the programme is Kai Ristola.