The puukko is known to most of us as a very useful and practical tool, a classic traditional all around knife. However at one time, in the 1800s it was often used as a weapon. In some parts of Finland, especially the Southern Ostrobothnian region there were groups of men called puukkojunkkari or häyt, who used the puukko to settle their differences much the way the Colt revolver was used in the American West during the same era.
The puukkojunkkarit liked to show up at public functions, especially weddings to cause havoc. Fueled by alcohol at the reception there would often be knife fights. The famous “golden age” of puukkojunkkarit lasted from the 1820s to the 1880s and it is said that the most notorious puukkojunkkarit lived in towns near the Lapuanjoki river, such as Alahärmä.
“The Härmä knife was associated with the history of the häjyt knife fights and the heyday of knife-bearing ruffians around the middle of the 19th century. The knife with a ferruled handle is mentioned, for instance, in many folk songs about the legendary häjyt Antti Rannanjärvi. Erkki Rannanjärvi the maker of the first Härmä puukko knife, was a cousin of Antti Rannanjärvi. The Härmä knife was regarded as the weapon of the häjyt, but also as a symbol of the home region and the spirit of Härmä, The knife tradition of some 150 years and the craftsmanship of the master knife-makers have contributed to the appreciation of the Härmä knife.
Puukkojunkkarit were present in all society classes. They included both home owners and farm servants. The home owners were often gang leaders. Puukkojunkkarit were often feared and respected, and fought for their honor. The code of honor disallowed fear and respected fighting. Puukkojunkkarit were often difficult to prosecute because few people dared testify against them. Puukkojunkkari also received admiration and respect because they dared to stand up against society and authorities.”
Puukkojunkkarit activity was later romanticized and idealized in songs and folk tales and in 2012 there was a film called Härmä released that is partially based on the exploits of Antti Rannanjärvi. The film features puukko made by Taisto Kuoritti and as can be seen the puukko used as weapons had a somewhat longer blade than usual.