The Church and Copper Smelting Works at Sulitjelma

The Church and Copper Smelting Works at Sulitjelma

The church and copper smelting works at Sulitjelma.

Photo:Sulitjelma Historical Society’s photo collection.

The shaman family and the legend of Sulitjelma

By Wenche Spjelkavik

The legend of a Sami shaman’s prophecy of the creation and ruin of Sulitjelma is familiar not only to those who grew up in the mining town, but also to many from far away. In particular, many remember the prediction that if a spire were to be erected on the church tower, then Sulitjelma would “go under”. A spire was never put on the church and the legend remained alive. The name of the shaman, however, has been forgotten.

In the local narrative tradition, the legend of the future of Sulitjelma has been linked to a person, most often described as “a Sami”. The name of this person has not been widely known. The legend has been told as an event that really happened, and not a fictional story. It is unknown whether there are other stories and legends that have survived in the folklore of this area.

The survival of the legend

It is not unusual for a mining town to have a legend about how a Sami randomly found the ore, or about a reindeer bull that kicked away some moss and uncovered some precious metal. In Sulitjelma, the Sami was Mons Andreas Pedersen, who found the ore in about 1858. Older memoir material occasionally mentions the name “Jungen” for the Sami who gave Sulitjelma the legend of the church spire and the downfall of the village.

That the legend has remained alive in folklore until the present day is not so strange. The fate of mining communities who live by producing metals is inextricably linked to international politics and stock exchange prices for currencies and metals, and thus to economic ups and downs. Political events on the world stage have certainly influenced life in this northern-Norwegian mining town. For example, the outbreak of the First World War brought with it an extraordinary increase in the prices of copper and pyrite. In 1915, the enormous profits realised by the mining company became obvious to everyone when the railway was extended by 10 km from Hellarmo and into the smelting works in Fagerli. A brand-new workers’ housing area with architect-designed homes was also constructed in Glastunes. By November 1918, however, the war was over, and the market for those products suddenly evaporated. The 1,545 workers faced massive lay-offs. By October the following year, only 420 workers remained.[1] After such dramatic changes, the legend was surely recalled and refreshed by those who had been affected. People experienced similar sudden upheavals in the mining and economic situation almost every decade, until the mine in Sulitjelma was shut down in 1991. Consequently, there have been many situations where workers have brought up the legend of the Sami who had a vision of the building and downfall of Sulitjelma. The identity of the soothsayer was forgotten, along with when this “vision” was supposed to have taken place. This article aims to attempt to shed new light on both the prediction and the shaman.

The Church and the mining company’s relationship with the prediction.

Johannes Aanderaa came to Sulitjelma as a resident curate in 1915. After two years in the mining town, he wrote an account of the place: They say that about 60–70 years ago, a clairvoyant fjellfinn (Mountain Sami) stood on Sulitjelmatoppen and looked out over the Sulitjelma Valley, [...] down to the hills with the lush, green grass and luxuriant forest, which had been his permanent station for many years. There was an excellent pasture for reindeer, and there were plenty of fish in the rivers and grouse up in the woods. And there he ruled, mostly alone. However, as he stands there and looks out over his kingdom, a strange sensation runs through him; he becomes psychic and sees into the future: Large boats with no oars or sails steaming up Lake Langvatnet. The forest disappears, and great houses are erected along the lake. Places where there used to be reindeer paths are teeming with people. They dig into the mountains and retrieve an expensive metal. Everything is changed, and bustling prosperity prevails. A church is also built, but when the church spire is raised, everything will have reached its peak. From then on, the village begins its decline. With certain variations, this is how people retell the vision of the future supposedly seen by a fjellfinn, long before copper deposits were discovered here.[2]

The Sulitjelma church was completed in 1899. The priest Aanderaa wrote that the church had, remarkably, been built in such a exposed location that no one dared build the church tower as high as was originally intended. The tower was shortened by four metres, and, among the people, this has been interpreted as being due to the legend. Aanderaa does not mention that the church had a cross on the tower and not a spire.[3]

The church was consecrated with great fanfare, but not without the prediction casting its long shadow among the parishioners. Olaf Amundsen, the parish priest in Skjerstad, had written the text for a cantata that was performed at the consecration. The director of the mining company, Emil Knudsen, had composed the music and was himself the soloist. And, in one of the verses, Knudsen sang:

An ancient legend runs along the mountainsides, and spreads across these villages,

That gone forever are the times of ore, when a house of God is built in this place.[4]

The legend and the shaman in folklore

In the memoirs of the mining engineer Fredrik Carlsson there is a story told by a miner in Sulitjelma, Frants Holmstrøm. Holmstrøm came from Arjeplog and worked in Sulitjelma from 1891 to 1935. He said: Kristine Jungen in Fagerli was a cook and old maid. It was her paternal grandfather who had visions in Bursi. He saw that Sulis would be populated as a big city with lights and houses, and steam boats on the lake, dragging barges behind them, and he saw the church being erected. But if the spire were also raised, it would mean that Sulis had reached its peak and would begin to decline. He then foresaw the construction of three smelting works and that the third would be at Sandnes and that it would explode and lay waste to the area, and many lives would be lost – and then the fortunes of Sulis would enter a state of flux.[5]

Steamers with pyrite barges on Lake Langvatnet, about 1913.

The unique thing about Frants Holmstrøm’s retelling of the prediction is the information that three smelting works would be built. Three smelting works were indeed built in Sulitjelma, and the last one was built in Sandnes and stopped production on 3 February 1987 after an explosion![6] This marked the end of copper smelting in Sulitjelma. The prediction also said that the place would be desolated and many lives lost. The halting of copper smelting did indeed lead to a rapid decline in profitability of mining operations. This was because they would now have to sell copper concentrate, which was significantly less valuable than “blister copper” from the smelting works. In addition, byat theat time the smelting works closed down there was no longer any market for pyrite once the smelting works closed down. From the time when mining started in 1887 until it stopped in 1991, about 120 workers lost their lives. As for whether the place will eventually be deserted, that remains to be seen.

Holmstrøm said that the shaman was Kristine Jungen’s paternal grandfather, without providing any more detail about how he could know that. He probably didn’t know the name of this grandfather. The first time I heard the name of the shaman was a summer evening in the mid 1970s, on the Swedish side of the Sulis Mountains. It was Lars Ranberg (b. 1903) in Stenudden by Tjeggelvas, who spoke of “Jungen” and the prediction about Sulitjelma. Jungen belonged to the Mavas sameby (corporation of Sami reindeer herders). The family was now extinct, and no descendants were known of in Sweden. In his childhood, Lars had often heard about Jungen and how he had seen a steaming serpent slithering both on water and on land through Langvassdalen. This had been interpreted to be the steamboats on Lake Langvatnet and the railway.[7]

Lars Erik Ruong (1937–2007) was brought up in Mavas and had been a reindeer herder for many years. He was known as a local historian with great knowledge of the areas bordering Sulitjelma. In a conversation with Ruong in 1995, he said that for many years after “Jungen’s” death, his walking staff stood as a monument in a rocky desert in the mountains east of Mavas, where it had remained for many, many years, weathered by wind and rain, until strangers to the area arrived around 1920 and used the staff as wood for their fire.

In 1940, the nomad Peder Nilsson Ruong (b. 1889) told of several known people one would visit during one’s stay with reindeer on the Norwegian side of the border. He mentions Klihpa Jåuna (Jonas Klippen).[8] He was the son of Junga, who saw what other people could not see – among other things, how the Sulitelma [Sulitjelma] mining community would spring up in a place where there was still a small Lapp lavvu.[9]

Based on the story told by Nilsson Ruong and curate Aanderaa, the shaman’s prediction/vision was supposed to have happened long before any ore was discovered, i.e. before 1858. This changes the general perception that the Sami’s “vision” had been provoked by the encounter between reindeer herding and the commencement of mining operations in Sulitjelma.[10] Recent literature on Sami religion and shamanism indicates that the Sami shamans were known to be able to see into the future (precognition). Clairvoyance is described as the ability to predict events or future conditions that are not due to likely prognoses. This quality among the indigenous people of the north was well known from the time of the writing of the Norwegian sagas.[11] A vision was not considered a curse; indeed, by having such a vision, one could also prevent things from happening. In the prediction about Sulitjelma, there was a warning against putting a spire on the church. It may have meant that if they did not erect one, the village would not “go under”.

The discovery of a Sami shaman

In the sources that have been examined, two different people have been suggested as the shaman. It remained to investigate who these people were, and their lives before the ore was discovered in 1858. The first was “the paternal grandfather of old maid Kristina Jungen”.[12] His name was Jon Andersson Ljung, b. 1782 in Mahasvuoma lappby (corporation of Sami reindeer herders). The other was believed to be the father of Klihpa Jåuna (Jonas Klippen).[13] The claim was a confusion of kinship, but it turned out that Jon Andersson Ljung was Jonas Klippen’s maternal grandfather. One explanation for the confusion may be that the Jungen name was linked to Jonas Klippen, but that one was unaware of family relationships backwards in time.

It turned out, therefore, that Jon Andersson Ljung was the common denominator for all who thought they knew who the shaman was. In a genealogy record based on church registers and interviews of the local residents of Arjeplog, I found Jon Andersen Ljung – and also his origin.[14] This was a remarkable discovery. It turned out that his father, Anders Andersson Antack, was a Sami shaman. According to the records of Eva Lundmark in Jäckvik, Antack’s shamanistic abilities were known across much of Pite Lappmark.[15]

Antack was born in 1739 and moved to Mavas in 1772 to work as a reindeer hand.[16] In 1776, he married Karin Jonsdotter, and the same year the couple was registered as residing at Lake Langvatnet in Sulitjelma.[17] I presume they herded reindeer, and since they did not have any hereditary land in Mavas, they moved to Lake Langvatnet. Here they could engage in intensive reindeer husbandry for their own household, without conflict with the established reindeer owners. At this time, there was also a large emigration from the Mavas area, due to crop failure from heavy snow and later a massive wolf incursion.[18]

Antack was thus referred to as a shaman. What does this entail? According to an article on the shaman in Sami tradition, the “shaman’s primary task is to establish contact with the spirits and either ally himself with them to achieve a desired outcome or fight them because of their dangerous powers and influence. The shaman does not primarily get involved to satisfy his own wishes, but rather because there is someone who needs his help and who asks him to use his insight for the welfare of the individual or the community. The benefit of having a shaman available could thus be great, and he was treated with both respect and dignity by those who made use of his services.”[19]

Two stories have been preserved about Antack’s abilities that fit well with the description of the shaman’s primary duties, and that he did not act on his own behalf but for the community. The stories were recorded by Eva Lundmark in Jäckvik.[20] The first story tells of when a contagious foot-and-mouth disease broke outthe breakout of a contagious foot disease in Antack’s reindeer herd. The herds belonging to other Sami in the same community became infected and sick. There was great despair and the Sami asked Antack to use his shamanistic abilities. Antack refused for a long time, but finally he took his shamanic drum and went up on the mountain where the reindeer were gathered. This was on a pleasant summer day, with the sun shining in a cloudless sky. Up there on the mountain, the others saw Antack beat his drum. The next moment, they saw a small cloud come sailing across the sky and stop just over the herd. Suddenly, they heard the rumblings of thunder, and lightning struck down in the middle of the herd. The reindeer ran away in confusion and fear. When the people gathered their herds again, there was no trace of the of the foot-and-mouth disease.

The second story tells of when Antack demonstrated his special abilities at a market in Arjeplog. During the market in Arjeplog, a group of Sami had sought out Antack and asked him to participate in a wrestling match against a big Swede who had been tormenting and harassing the Sami. Antack reluctantly agreed, but only on the basis that the other Sami had to promise to help him. If they saw that he could not win the match, they were to shout: Manne Stuor-Antack nau stimpala? (“Why does the Great Antack falter?”)

The time for the match came, and soon the big Swede had an advantage over Antack. So the Sami shouted their phrase in unison, just as Antack had taught them, and Antack became so strong that he threw the Swede over the roof of a small house nearby. After this incident, the place where the wrestling match took place was named “Antackbakken” (Antack Hill).[21]

Four years after Antack and Karin moved to Sulitjelma, in 1780, they moved on again, this time to the areas east of Vassbotn mountain.[22] Antack and Karin’s first son, Jon, was probably born here in 1782. Jon was the only one of Antack’s children who took the surname Ljung/Jung. Jon was confirmed in Saltdal in 1800. In the church register, the priest has written: Lapp Jon Andersen, servant at Pothus, 18 years old. Knows much about the Lord’s will. Believes he is a good Christian.[23]

Two years after Jon was confirmed, his father Antack passed away at Saksenvikfjell. He was buried in Saltdal on Good Friday of 1802.[24] Antack and Karin had seven children, of whom six survived to adulthood. Of these, two children married in Saltdal, and two in Skjerstad. Jon’s youngest brother, Pål, married in Mavas in 1813; the following year, he was murdered “at the Norwegian mountain Saulo”.[25] Jon’s youngest sister, Anna, was married in Saltdal and moved to Skjønstådal, near Sulitjelma. There she had many descendants, of which a number still live in Sulitjelma and Fauske today. Among other things, she was the grandmother of Johan Fjeld, after whom the Fjeld mine in Sulitjelma is named.[26]

The Jung family’s relationship with Sulitjelma

Whether it was the shaman Antack or his son Jon Andersson Ljung who foresaw the emergence of the mining town of Sulitjelma, we will never know. It could be that it was Antack who had the vision, but that his son Jon passed it on, and the prediction was consequently attributed to him. Both father and son had lived at Lake Langvatnet in Sulitjelma and made their living and had their families there. For the detailed story of what the shaman had seen to be remembered, the family had to remain linked to the Sulitjelma area in some way. I have chosen to follow Jon’s life and that of his descendants to seek an answer to how the prediction could be remembered from “long before the copper deposit was found” until the present day.