A film scene: A man in homespun clothes is forced out on to the frozen lake by two other men and pushed down through a hole in the ice. Around his waist he has a rope, and in the next sequence he is pulled up through an adjacent hole. The snorting man struggles to regain his balance and half-runs away. Two men remain standing there, laughing scornfully, one of them having just aimed a kick at the freezing, soaking man. There is no doubt that the film scene from 1969 shocked viewers who watched it on the only television channel at the time.
Eric Forsgren’s documentary The Silver Mountain (1) was unique of its kind. It was rare for anything like it to be shown. The man in the ice hole was a Sami who was being punished, while the two other men were representatives of evil: the mining company and the state. I was ten years old and I remember that many people in Arjeplog found it very unpleasant, and everybody was talking about it. Einar Wallquist “the Lapland doctor” played the part of a priest in the film, and the attacks on Silbojokk and Nasafjäll in 1659 were an act of war in the peaceful mountain community that almost seemed like science fiction. It was painful to watch the scenes with the reindeer pulling sledges filled with ore and getting entangled in each other in the deep snow, and to see a miner being hit on the head by a falling block of stone and dying. The film ends with the speaker’s voice saying that it was lucky that the Danish-Norwegian army put a stop to the suffering on the Swedish side by attacking.
At the same time I remember that people were proud about the national exposure of Arjeplog’s history, even though it was about a shameful era. All this coincided with the opening of the new Silver Museum and the drive to increase tourism. Many things were given names including silver: Silver Cap, Silver Hat, Silver Festival, Silver Girl and the Silver Road (E95) to take just a few examples.
If I had not previously thought that there were Sami on one side and Swedes on the other, it became more and more obvious that there is something to think about here. I was Swedish, others were Sami. With the gaze of a ten-year-old, the field of vision was expanded to see new sides of society and the people around me.
Much later, the scene with the hole in the ice took on a new meaning. When my documentary about the lead mine in Laisvall (2) was almost complete and I had just published my book about the mine in Laisvall, (3) my father was admitted to the Norrskenet nursing home in Arjeplog suffering from cancer. The heavy stairs down to the ward had been decorated with pictures. And there was a big black and white photograph of the scene from the ice hole. That picture gave me a headache. It was a picture of shame, a reminder of abuse. As a Swede I was guilty of what my country and society had done to the Sami. But I could also picture how my father was being pulled down into the realm of the dead. Soon the perpetual ice-cold water would enclose him, regardless of his origin and how his life had been.
I asked my father many questions about his early life and relatives. But we did not get very far, we often had lots of other things to talk about, or else he didn’t want to. Why had I not tried to find this out earlier? In February 2010 he passed away, this son of the village of Bellonäs, Lake Uddjaure.
I am left with powerful memories. Not least of all, there was my father’s great interest in history and his commitment to the forest and the mountains. I don’t know whether it was an attempt to come to terms with my grief, but I decided to walk all the way from Nasafjäll to Skellefteå. This would also help me to understand what it means to walk a long distance. And perhaps sense what it was like to be at the mercy of the weather, carrying only the bare necessities.
There would be more walks; in 2010 to Skellefteå, (4) in 2011 to Piteå and in 2012 to Mo i Rana. The walks were accompanied by meetings to which the general public were invited, in Silbojokk, Jäckvik, Arjeplog, Glommersträsk, Gråträsk and Piteå. Present at the first meeting in Silbojokk was Åke Lundkvist, who in 2002, together with his family, found the skeleton that was handed in to the Silver Museum. The find resulted in new rescue excavations which led to the discovery of a graveyard and a chapel. These had not been found in the early 1980s, (5) and the later excavations conducted on the initiative of the County Administration in Norrbotten were truly dramatic: an unknown cemetery which could perhaps deepen our knowledge about Arjeplog and say more about which families have lived in the area. (6)
The history of the mining plagued me. Was everything black and white? What was the mining adventure like? How could the Swedish state colonize part of my country with such apparent ease? Were there any sources telling how the Sami were treated during the first days of the mining era? I met Eric Forsgren in his home in Lidingö and asked him how he had produced his script. I read Janrik Bromé’s book once again and also found exciting literature about the colonization of my part of Lapland in works by Erik Bylund, Gunnar Hoppe, Lars Rensund and especially Petrus Læstadius (1802-1841) – whose accounts provided foundation for Forsgren’s film script. Kenneth Awebro’s series of books about Nasafjäll and Silbojokk in the 1980s was a treasury of knowledge. And the biting critique of Lennart Lundmark, showing how the lands of the Sami were conquered by state policy. And on page 44 in his book “Stolen Land” (7) Lundmark writes about the scene at the ice hole and considers Læstadius’ narrative about “the jaws of death”.
Lundmark says that one must be careful with this type of account, especially when it was recorded 180 years after the event is supposed to have taken place. This of course does not mean that it never happened, but Lundmark finds something that may be a grain of truth in the archives. It is a document dated 10 July 1660 describing how Sami were dragged in the Silbojokk, the river that flowed past the smelting house. This, however, did not happen in the winter. The testimony about this punishment, according to Lundmark, came from smeltery workers at Silbojokk during a dispute between the master miner Egidius Otto and his deputy Isak Tiock.
The water punishment is similar to the contemporary keelhauling at sea. But there were worse punishments than variants of keelhauling.
Kenneth Awebro, with his archive studies in 2018, has also found previously unknown documents. They show that punishment took place at the smelting house in Silbojokk in 1642. According to these, the one who was to be punished was thrown with a rope about the body in the pond (which existed in the enclosure to the smelting house). However, it was made during the summer, and affected both the Sami and the Swedes.
In 1640 the smeltery bailiff Sven Eriksson from Salberget was sentenced to death for fornication with a woman who worked at Silbojokk. The actual punishment was not unique for the Nasafjäll incident. That was the law of the whole land. The death sentence was reviewed by the Svea High Court where it was confirmed, but it was later commuted to a fine according to a decision by Queen Christina. (8)
Stories like this caught my interest: the fact that there were evidently women working at the smelting house and the mine, and that sources survived where one could discern
the contours of the people who had worked there.
To get a better understanding of the historical context I began to study history at Stockholm University in 2015. On the one-year foundation course, questions about natural resources are a constantly recurring theme. It was particularly obvious that supplies of ore controlled global events. When the Spaniards and Portuguese conquered today’s Latin America, minerals were the basis for their immense wealth, which in turn meant that Europe became a leading world economy. A new colonial era began with the discovery of the “New World”.
In the mid seventeenth century iron was Sweden’s main export. In one of my first essays (9) I examined the legislation. The mining laws are a direct reflection of labour law and the social situation in seventeenth-century Sweden. Religion permeated society at this time. During this expansive phase the law underwent several revisions. There were several mining districts with their own laws. When mining began at Nasafjäll in 1635, for example, it was regulated by the “Lappish Mining Order” (Lappiske Bergzordningen). Later it was given its own laws which were essentially the same as those for Kopparbergslagen. A comparison of the laws of two mining districts reveals the attention to administrative detail in the pioneering industry of the seventeenth century. Through time I have learnt more, and I want to develop this as part of Expedition Nasafjäll.
I would later inherit a little island in Uddjaure at Veälbmá. My father was born and bred in an area on the shores of the lake. A little bit out in the lake runs the old water route between Nasafjäll and the towns on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia. The island in Uddjaure, called Uvvjáge in Ume Sami, with its log houses, was part of Kaskerjaure, a large taxation area for Lapland. This was broken up at the end of the nineteenth century.
After the death of my father I explored all the family lines. My ancestors on my father’s side originated in the Sami population, as is the case with many people born in Arjeplog municipality. Nine generations back on my father’s side was the county representative and court interpreter Johan Tomasson of Kasker (c. 1645–) and his father, a reindeer owner named Tomas Olofsson (year of birth unknown). In the seventh generation was Per Zakrisson (1714–1764), parish clerk of Silbojokk. A detail that caught my attention was that a Sami named Olof Tomasson went all the way to Stockholm to complain about the mining company at the end of the 1640s. He was accompanied by another Sami, Nils Nilsson. The mine master Hans Lybecker wrote to the government in Stockholm about the journey, describing these discontented Sami as “the worst rogues” who “do little else but incite the others to recalcitrance”. (10)
Was Olof Tomasson related to his contemporary Johan Tomasson of Kasker? Could this be the same Olof Tomasson who was buried in Silbojokk in 1696? Awebro mentions an Olof Tomsson of Lochtbyn who was buried in the now abandoned cemetery. 11 It is probably impossible to join all these loose threads. But it’s like a jigsaw puzzle; when you have joined enough pieces and a few are missing, you can still have a good picture of the whole.
The expedition continues.
By Maria Söderberg
1. Forsgren, Eric, the film Silverfjället: Om gruväventyret i Nasafjäll, 30 min (SVT, 1968)
2. Söderberg, Maria, the film Länge leve gruvan! 28 min. Filmpool Nord, SVT and Maria Söderberg, 2010.
3. Söderberg, Maria, Blygruvan i Laisvall, Hässleholm: Midsommar, 2009.
4. Söderberg, Maria, Nasaleden, en vandring till Skellefteå 2–12 juli 2010, Hässleholm: Midsommar, 2010.
5. Roslund, Ylva, ed. Den arkeologiska undersökningen: Silvret från Nasafjäll: arkeologi vid Silbojokk, Stockholm: Byrån för arkeologiska undersökningar, Riksantikvarieämbetet, 1989.
6. Lindgren, Åsa. Silbojokk 2015: Arkeologisk räddningsundersökning av kyrka och kyrkogård inom Raä Arjeplog 368:1, Arjeplogs KRÖLM, Arjeplogs kommun, Lapplands landskap, Norrbottens län, Norrbottens museum, Arkeologi, Rapport 2015:12, Luleå, 2015.
7. Lundmark, Lennart, Stulet land, Stockholm: Ordfront, 2008, p. 24
8. Bromé, Janrik, Nasafjäll, ett norrländskt silververks historia, Stockholm: AB Nordiska bokhandeln, 1923, p. 211.
9. Söderberg, Maria, Gruva ska med lag byggas: En jämförelse av några paragrafer i gruvlagen i Nasafjäll och Kopparberg på 1600-talet, Stockholm: Stockholms universitet, B-uppsats, 2016.
10. Bromé, 1923.
11. Awebro, Kenneth, Silbojokk – kring den kyrkliga verksamheten, Luleå: Rapport Norrbottens museum, 2005.
Maria Söderberg, Bachelor of Arts in History (2018) and a Publisher / Photographer. This text is part of the report Expedition Nasafjäll 2017: Report from a symposium in Vuoggatjålme and at Nasafjäll 11–13 August 2017 (Ed. Lennart Klang & Maria Söderberg). If you like, you can read a Swedish version there. The report work has partly been supported by the county administrative board in Norrbotten County.
”Expedition Nasafjäll” is a collaborative (network) project on the historically interesting mining operation on Nasafjäll in the municipality of Arjeplog. Initiators in 2015 were Lennart Klang, Kenneth Awebro and Maria Söderberg. The goal is to increase the knowledge of Nasafjäll from a number of perspectives. The next guided tour with the archaeologists Lena Berg Nilsson, Ola Nilsson and Lennart Klang will take place in Nasafjäll on August 11, 2019. The meeting takes place in co-operation with the Norwegian Rana Turistförening.