Jokkmokk the roadless meeting place

Many describe Jokkmokk as a multicultural meeting place, which is quite true. The influx of different folk and nationalities has created a special dynamic. The fact that large parts of the area has been and still are roadless may have been a contributor. The benefit of getting to know each other increases.

Roadless land. What’s that? Isolated? Not at all. Roadless is only an expression that there are no roads all year around for vehicles. To stay in a roadless land is about using snow, water and ice to travel. This is how it’s always been, ever since our neighbourhood was populated about six thousand years ago. It’s only a few weeks in autumn and spring, when the ice is neither strong or thin enough to use, that it can become a bit isolated.

Lively traffic despite the loss of roads

Way back, when there were still much population along lakes and waterways, even in the most remote alpine areas, the traffic may have been exceptionally lively. Reindeer herding Sami moved, with their herds, between their grazing areas each spring and autumn. People rowed, walked, skied and used beasts of draught, back and forth in the river valleys, to do their errands. Nobody hesitated to travel many miles. Perhaps to visit relatives in Pite river valley, or to visit the winter market in Jokkmokk.

TheMarket became a hub

Jokkmokk’s Market is more than four hundred years old. This once was an opportunity for the state to collect taxes from the inhabitants of the Lapland area, spread God’s word and update the parish register. It became over time the most important and largest gathering of people during the entire year. At the market the Sami, and settlers alike, sold fish, meat and skins, they traded wares, got some coffee, flour, salt, tobacco and other necessities, met the family and friends and had just had some fun. They registered banns of marriage, got married, had children baptisted, berried their loved ones and answered to the law.

What is Swedish and what is Sami?

To divide the cultural ways of the Sami and that of the settlers by drawing a sharp line between their ways is a blunt way of looking at things. People in the area have lived side by side for many years, intermarried, created family bonds, spoken each others language, traded wares and quarrelled, just like folk tend to do. But most of all, people have been of use to each other. The knowledge of how to survive, how prepare fish, meat and other things have been passed on for generations by all, regardless if you were a settler or Sami. Just like the climate, it is the same for everyone, sometimes bitterly cold, yet predictable.

Many languages

In this parish Sami and Swedish are not the only languages spoken over the centuries. In fact there were several languages and most people could make themselves understood in at least two. The Sami spoke lule-sami, north-sami or south-sami. Some spoke Norwegian, others Finish or Tornedal Finish. One or two spoke Russian. And the Swedes, well they had their dialects in their baggage when they moved in. One can wonder how long it took the ones from Småland ( a county in southern Sweden) to understand the dialect of Lulebondska in the river valley.

A mutual dependancy

Money was not an item for the self catering reindeer herders and the settler. Their survival was not based on cash but on how they themselves could do everything. And what you could not make or do yourself, someone else could. The trading and exchange of services flourished

Ones own work meant even more. The woman and mans work were equally important. The settlement was a family affair where the man and the woman were the breadwinners. Without one the other one could not cope to look after the family. When the men were away working in the forest and stayed away months on end, the women looked after everything to do with the small farm, in its entirety.

The dependancy on knowledge and efforts from each other was basically a good thing. When a woman and man’s work is measured i an equal manner there is a balance, even when the work is divided. Each person does what suits them best, or what has to be done at the moment, both knowing it’s the partnership that must work.

And how are things today?

Today there’s traffic in Jokkmokk’s roadless land in summer as well as in winter. It is relatively simple to get to just about any destination these day by snow-scooter, four-wheeler, helicopter and other vehicles, but still not all. Vehicles are banned in the national parks. It is only allowed for reindeer husbandry to get permission, when it is absolutely necessary.

Perhaps the thing with traditional roads is overestimated when it’s possible to create your own with skies, snow shoes or on foot. The feeling of looking back after a few kilometers travel and see your own tracks in the snow is rare, almost symbolic. My road through life….

Jokkmokk’s market is a folk fest without precedent and a meeting place for Sami from all of Sápmi as well as people from the rest of the world. The commerce the cultural exchange during these few days in February is still the absolute highlight of the year. Jokkmokk, is keeping its position as a meeting place.

Nowadays the number of languages spoken in the municipality are more than ever. During the last decades many people have moved to Jokkmokk from other countries in Europe, quite often to the remote areas where most of them are running a business of some form. Today the population in Jokkmokkis made up of people from all parts of the world and these many cultures is an asset to the society. The atmosphere is permissive and there is a natural curiosity in the migrants.

There has been equality in the political area in Jokkmokk for a long time, with as many women as men dedicated to their cause. There are also several female managers around the municipality. Perhaps its a legacy from previous generations, when it was natural to value the work of women and men equal.

Here people’s feeling for nature is deeply rooted. Many share their worry when the climate is no longer as predictable, even thought it is mainly the freezer in the supermarket that hold their route to survival these days. Ancient tradition of collecting food for winter is still in their genes. The households that does not have a pretty well filled freezer before winter is easily counted on one hand. The ones having loaded freezer’s full of meat, fish and berries feel opulent.

What has changed is that today it’s much harder to do without money. In today’s consumer society we become nervous if we can’t buy what we want, when we want, despite whether we need it or not. Money, shops, open-all-hours and web-shops has become the basis of our society.

Whether things were better in the old days is hard to say. They are different, yet similar in many ways.

Surely you must agree that it’s fascinating to go back in time. Life today suddenly becomes easier to understand. Or..?

Guides in roadless land


After four years of studies in  ecology, guiding, guidance and recreation and 10 years of professional experience as a guide, Cecilia Lundin now runs the company NatuLife. Her passion for the outdoors has also become her profession.


In 2003 Jokkmokkguiderna became an approved Eco Tourism organizer and got several of their tours labelled with the Nature’s Best certification.

Laponia Adventures

Laponia Adventures is an outdoor company based in Jokkmokk just north of the Arctic Circle. They offer guided tours and activities in the world heritage of Laponia.