The older mines of Jokkmokk…

…have, in comparison to other parts of Sweden, a unique history. Yes, the silver mine of Sala, the copper mine of Falun and many other mines in southern Sweden can be older or larger, but, for being in Lapland and in an isolated area such as the Laponia mountains, Jokkmokks mining history is filled with a historically interesting and significant past.

As people progressed northwards in their search for a new life, some of the very first Swedes to push into the northern inland areas were miners and prospectors. Many of these came and went, but some stayed on after mining adventures and became the first settlers giving birth to small villages that still exist today. But, the story of searching for natural wealth and new settlements starts even longer ago. In the blog pages to come, let’s take a look at this past and briefly touch upon the stories of Jokkmokk’s older mines. To give a short but decent picture of these mines and better understand the story, we must first travel long ago back in time…

resize-of-dsc_0121.JPGPhoto: Jokkmokk’s and Laponia’s older mines take us into an exciting past

There were a lot of exiting things going on in Western Europe after the fall of Rome in the early middle ages (500-1000 A.D.) and a time when people started to move and explore more of the known world. One popular group at this time where the Vikings and one Viking king was known to have ruled over most of the northern Norwegian coastline and as far inland as the regions of Lapland. This was King Othere from Hålogaland. During his rule, he had declared that he had sole rights to all land between the Atlantic ocean and eastwards into Russia and he had the sovereign right to tax all inhabitants. In this case, the people living in this area were the reindeer breeding Saami.

Throughout history there are people taxing other people and either used force or cunning to reap in personal wealth. With the start of King Othere’s taxation on the Saami people, other groups of people believed they, too, had the right to tax the Saami during the next few centuries. These people were from Finland or eastern Russia and consisted of several groups, all doing trade with the Saami. The more popular of these unorganized groups were called “Birkalar” and were for centuries freelancing entrepreneurs selling their talents to collect taxes for different heads of state as they did trade.

During the 16th century, the Swedish King Gustav Wasa also proclaimed his right of ownership for all land between Russia and “the western sea”, or the North Atlantic, and entered into a contract with the Birkarls to collect taxes from the Saami for his part. Afterwards, the Birkarls worked for other Swedish royalty up until King Karl IX, who started free markets in the north of which the most popular was the Jokkmokk Market in 1604.

To pay taxes, the commodities that the Saami had at hand were natural goods. Furs, dried meats, fish etc. were the most common but, because of the Saami’s unique knowledge of the land and mountains from centuries of migration, they also knew about the value of pearls from freshwater mussels (Margaritana Margaritifera) and the clear quartz of Sweden called “Swedish diamonds”. A very small group of Saami even specialized in finding and collecting these two valuables and it isn’t unbelievable that freshwater pearls and “Swedish diamonds” were used to pay taxes. The latter, “Swedish diamonds”, was used as a substitute for flint to start fires with or flintlock weaponry.

With hundreds of years of taxation and the knowledge of the value of the “Swedish diamond” or quartz and its uses, it seems highly likely that the Saami paid taxes with quartz and mined small amounts of this in areas of Northern Sweden; among these near Jokkmokk in a place called “the iron hill” or Ruovddeváre in Saamish.

Next: Ruotevare– The first iron mine in Northern Sweden

Pharmaceutical Needs in Laponia…

…and the small distant villages of this area have a small but significant roll in many people’s lives through the years. And although this significance has dwindled through modernization and change of needs, the proposed changes concerning the restructuring and selling of the state owned Apoteket, or pharmaceutical organization, should be taken with concern.

Because of the distances from Jokkmokk and the need for medical supplies in the mountains, there was an organized system that provided the most necessary supplies to people. Of course, central to this service working depended upon the pharmacist in Jokkmokk. It was the pharmacist’s local knowledge of people’s needs together with a high professional responsibility and attitude that allowed this service to function well.

resize-of-padjelanta1972-copy.jpg>Photo:Medical supplies were available in the mountains for Laponia backpackers in 1972

I was fortunate to have had parent-in-laws that operated the pharmacy in Jokkmokk, Gun & Nils Hövenmark, and had the opportunity to be exposed to discussions concerning Apoteket. And, coming from an American “drugstore” culture, I acquired a better respect for medicines and pharmaceuticals than had I not have had this alternative.

Each spring, Gun would go through a list of needed supplies to the mountains and prepare transport boxes that would be shipped to strategic places in Laponia. The supplies were mostly basic first-aid things, but she also prepared simple salves and medicines for blisters, cramps, heat exposure and especially for diarrhea, which came about from people drinking water that may have had a dead reindeer in it upstream. She would take time to visit the distant villages up to and including Kvikkjokk and conduct an inventory of available supplies each year in order to provide an extended service. Small pharmacy outposts.

She personally knew everybody who lived in the Saami villages and understood their medical conditions and needs. Should anyone in the mountains run out of a medicine they needed, Gun could prepare an emergency prescription and have this sent through a series of buses, boats and airplanes to arrive at the right village for this person. A phenomenal feat when you consider the distances, weather, communication processes and complications.
resize-of-padjelanta1972_01-copy.jpgPhoto: 1972-Returning from a calf-marking with a young Lennart Åstot steering the boat.

As a cabin warden in Staloluokta, in the beginning of the 1990’s, we had a large box of medical items that were available for needy hikers. This was prepared by the pharmacy in Jokkmokk and was always appreciated by both wardens, local Saami villagers and tourists through the summer months.

How it is now? I’m not quite sure!

I do know that January 18, of next year, a commission will propose the selling and commercializing of the Swedish Apoteket and, later, give suggestions of selling medicines through private companies like supermarkets, grocery stores and gas stations. An American “drugstore” situation.

It’s very unfortunate that political leaders of Sweden are of so low caliber and competency that, instead of solving problems within an appreciated service like Apoteket and initiating correct changes to increase quality, they just sell-it-off, giving the problem back to taxpayers. Should this procedure turn out like the Swedish postal service, with postal services through the local grocery store etc., Swedish people will again be faced with huge problems and discontent at losing a professional service. Of course, grocery stores will be happy with more potential profits.

I, for one, am not looking forward in going to our local grocery store and dealing with a pimply-faced, overweight girl with pins in her face, at a crowded cash register and ask for information about a prescription for blood pressure knowing that this girl has totally no comprehension of anything other than taking money and giving a receipt.

Medicines are important, even in the mountains. For Gun & Nils, they’re probably rolling in their grave. The misuse or misinformation of medicines and pharmaceuticals can be highly damaging. Please, consider boycotting these services at stores or gas stations and make a difference.

Consider the Lemming…

…when considering some things that are happening in this world. After a week away in the Västerbotten mountains and without television, I’ve listened to the mayhem of worldly actions on the radio and have felt a bit like a lemming.

I would venture in saying that, like many others in the world, Swedes are a pack of mutual admirers without the ability to say, “The Emperor doesn’t have any clothes on!”. Seemingly, they enjoy being acceptable and having the same beliefs and expectations of this order.
resize-of-dsc_0058.JPGPhoto: A Scandinavian lemming
Unfortunately, they are too ready to place criticism into a rhetorical corner and willingly discuss problems for, literally, years without reaching results nor conclusions nor positive changes.

Therefore, the lemming. A week in the mountains gives a distance to this circus. But I sometimes think that it’s only a matter of time that we all will run until we find that cliff to jump off of, possibly be pushed off of. Or, is it closer than we can imagine?

A small reflection…perhaps we need more courageous little boys and less lemmings?

When My Parents Died…

…I became more keenly aware of how proud they were of their family and sons through the many photographs they left behind. Pictures of us growing up, on the beach, vacations, graduations, sports, picnics, summer camp, scouting, special Sundays and special moments that are a part of and involves a lifetime. There were many many pictures and, in spite of my father having made attempts to sort these out and classify them in a historical manner, many are undocumented other than what my own memory recognizes. Their pictures were their memory and life. Only part of mine.

To save or not to save? And, for who?

For myself, I have “tons” of pictures. Some of historical importance. Some of commercial value. Some of interesting people, places and events now gone. But, most images are for my own remembrances so that my memories don’t become blurred in time. My children or grandchildren or great grandchildren or….will never really know the story behind these. Image meaning is often personal.

So, I’m not going to burden my descendants with my personal trivia but have chosen to sort out my pictures. The next to important images will be scanned and CD’ed (thank God for digital photography and its archival possibilities) and the important ones will be archived with references and comments. The others will be re-cycled celluloid.

But, as I look at these I sometimes wish I could re-live those moments and had savored them longer than I did, like my own boys’ growing-up and the truly great times I had with them as a father…as a friend.

I will try to be better with my images and try to savor life’s moments more!