From the Gold Road to the Golden River of Ivalo and its People (June 2013)

(text by Terhi Vuojala-Magga, photos Stephan Dudeck)

Visiting Terhi in Kuttura was an adventure, once again – and meeting Stephan was a joy, once again (or Steppa, as we call him, in a more familiar way). We don‘t know how much anthropology plays a role in our lives, or the other way around, are we such people that everything taking place in our everyday life seems to bring out new curios questions and interests? Maybe we anthropologist are allowed to be children of naïve curiosity. Sometimes research interests and our professional and personal encounters just mingle together, spontaneously. While meeting new friends and having new talks common questions suddenly rise up. In our case, we went to meet Terhi´s husband’s brother on the other side of the river. Stephan sees this tall wooden female figure made by one gold digger. At this blood stunning moment – a story starts taking us around the gold lands of Sámi people and gold diggers that are called ‘migrating birds’ according to a song of Souvarit.

The Two Gold Diggers’ Place

In a few days’ time we dived in the world of encounters of the local Sámi and gold diggers – altogether nice and friendly people. We started from a place of two different gold diggers in the forest. It was not a gold claim in its traditional way – Terhi’s husband took us to the abandoned place that revealed the story of two different men.

Terhi and her Husband at the Place

This place is on the private land of one Kuttura man, but we learned that friendship is more than land. It offered a place for an old gold digger to settle down nearby the village next to the people who would be close to him in case he needs help. He had known the people of Kuttura for decades. At the beginning his claim was 10 km away from Kuttura but finally he ended up in this place of physical closeness to villagers. How did we feel? One of the most touching impressions was that this place keeps up the memory of these two men – a home in the wilderness.

Wooden Art by Runoränni

The second day was a beautiful day with a lot of sunshine and our story carries on. Funny to remember afterwards – when the best things happen, and you live them, there is no camera. We went to the gold diggers´ cafeteria – in the middle of nowhere on a crossroads in the forest – but it is a place crowded with gold people during the summer months. Having an hour or two we had talks with some people from the forest. How small is the world: from the very first people to talked with we heard quite many stories about the two people whose place we visited the previous day.

Terhi with the Gold Diggers Pans

The other couple we met did not have those happy stories to tell, just because they were facing serious problems with the Sami Parliament. Their application to use machinery digging was refused, and the case was appointed to the high court of Vaasa. However, they were happy enough to be allowed to do the shovel work – and they were good friends with some of the local reindeer herders of Kuttura. Their argument was based on a trustful relationship with the locals. According to them, they would not do anything, which could harm the reindeer husbandry of the local people.

Gold Digger’s Old Car

In the nearby ski resort of Saariselkä there is a pub called Panimo, which is the other meeting point of gold men, and women. The discussions were spreading all around different issues – from the sailor’s international language to the life of rich Finns living in Palm Beach of Florida. Once again, the people with whom we talked were gold diggers. Some of them had already found their permanent place in Saariselkä and they lived in the north for the year around. An old gold digger told a story of Jaakko. “Jaakko lived most of his life in the wilderness, in a stave cabin. There was a simple fire place made out of stones. Throughout the year, he wore frieze clothes. When the temperature was below -50°C he stated: “Yes, I had to warm the cabin a bit more often”. When he was over 80 years old and had a sore leg, social workers had to force him to the old people´s nursery home. Otherwise that cold winter would have been his destiny.”

Bridge over the Ivalo River near Kuttura

Before returning back to Kuttura, we visited one of the claims. We had a nice talk about life itself in the wilderness. No more talks about gold, but wild life. These people had have three cats; some years ago a white one disappeared for good, last year the other one disappeared for one week, and the owner had stayed one week longer, just to wait for the cat to come, and eventually she had appeared. People had encounters with white elks (moose), with bears and foxes. One of the foxes had been so tamed that it had come to eat from the hand.

Kuttura Road
Kuttura Road

This land of Lapland – it is so rich with its people and animals. Winters are full of reindeer work, winter animals – but summers, with day and night sun shine, are those times of new encounters of peoples and birds from the south. It would be interesting to study more stories of gold people and locals – for our ears and eyes some of the conflicts we read from newspapers or academic works become less important, at least on a local level.