Reel Norden : Nordic Film & History

Kautokeino Rebellion: Chronology & Events

The film, Kautokeino Rebellion, accurately depicts the uprising and gives the audience insight into this event from a Sami perspective. The film goes through many of the events that led up to the Rebellion. The main events that bring about the rebellion are the teachings of Laestadius and Kautokeino receiving a new minister.

Early Exposure to the Teachings of Laestadius

The film begins by illustrating the prevalence of the drinking problem in the Sami village of Kautokeino. The central character of the film is Elen.  Her husband Mathis is seen intoxicated at the general store of a non-Sámi merchant named Ruth, and Elen must take him away before he is beaten.  The decision by director Nils Gaup to open the film in this way is crucial to prefacing the coming uprising. Following the incidents at Ruth's, Elen and her family traveled to the village of Karesuando to purchase supplies, where they also listened to Swedish revivalist pastor Lars Levi Laestadius preach.

Laestadius' teachings inspired a religious movement, known as Laestadianism, which focused on the forgiveness of sin and the betterment of the sinners. Followers of the Laestadian movement were expected to abstain from drinking alcohol. In the northern Lapland region, Laestadianism became a reaction to the growing alcohol abuse problem in the 1840s. Laestadianism preserved the Sami culture and identity through using the Sami language in religious services and legitimizing that living in poverty was not something to be ashamed of. Laestadians took pride in not owning more than what was necessary.(1) The Sami culture clung to this movement because alcoholism had been quite destructive to their lifestyle, and Laestadianism provided an alternative.

Upon returning to Kautokeino, Elen began to hold meetings with the local people to spread the words of Laestadius and stop the heavy liquor consumption. The events leading up to the actual rebellion transpired similarly. The Sami held meetings in an attempt to awaken the people, which were largely successful as they led to a strong opposition by Ruth and his men.(2) The film accurately depicts the exposure and subsequent spread of a new religious mindset in the village.

Ministers of Kautokeino

As depicted in Kautokeino Rebellion, Niels V. Stockfleth is the minister that comes to Kautokeino by the request of Ruth. Before Stockfleth showed up there had been a minister who would come and go with only short, sporadic visits to preach to the people.(3) During the time after Elen and her family came back to Kautokeino from Karesuando, she started to preach about what Laestadius was preaching. Since the new religion looked down on drinking liquor, Ruth's store continued to lose business. More and more Sami were converting to the Laestadianism that Elen was preaching. In the film, a new pastor named Stockfleth is appointed to minister to the Sámi in Kautokeino.  There are other accounts of a man named Fredrik W. Hvoslef holding this position.  There is a letter by Fredrik Hvoslef written shortly after the events of the Kautokeino uprising that suggests that Hvoslef was actually there during the Rebellion.(4)

The final scenes of the film illustrate the climax of the rebellion with the violent actions of the rebellious Sami group. On November 8, 1852, a group of Sami people rebelled and killed the local tradesman Carl Johan Ruth and the sheriff Lars Johan Bucht, and burned down the tradesman's house. According to Adriana Margareta Dances, associate professor at the University of Agder, the rebels took Hvoslef, his wife, Ruth's wife and their servants hostage, and whipped Hvoslef. This is accurately depicted in the film, except the film makes no mention of the minister being beaten or even having a family or wife with him in Kautokeino.

In real life, there were five people that were convicted, including Elen, and other Sámi community members named Aslak and Mons. Even Elen Aslaksdatter Skum was the first sentenced to death, but was granted remission to lifelong penal servitude. On October 14, 1854, Aslak Jakobsen Hætta and Mons Aslaksen Somby were executed by decapitation. The killings of Aslak and Mons were depicted correctly in the film, as the closing scene shows the two men being beheaded in a public setting.

Some historians have theorized that a few of the rebels of the Kautokeino Rebellion were mentally ill, and that was the reasoning for the violence. Other historians claim that the violence was a result of a misled religious interpretation of the teachings of Laestadius. Their interpretation of Laestadianism led the rebels to believe that they needed to "exorcise" the evil of alcoholism completely from their community by killing the merchant, Ruth, and his associates.(5)

Final Thoughts

The movie incorporated the basic historical facts of the rebellion accurately. The names of the main characters involved are correct, aside from the Stockfleth/Hvoslef issue, and the timeline of events during and after the uprising itself is accurate. During the credits, it was even noted that the skulls of the two Sami men who were decapitated had been sent to the University of Oslo for research and were not returned to their rightful burial place until 1997. The Kautokeino Rebellion did what it could to portray the event within the constraints of the media in which it was created. The film provided an insider's view of the uprising from a heretofore ignored Sami perspective and gave its audience insight into an event that occurred more that 150 years ago.

(1) Svein Larsen, "The Origin of Alcohol-related Social Norms in the Saami Minority," Addiction 88, no. 4 (April 1993), doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.1993.tb02056.x, 501-508.
(2) Roald E. Kristiansen, "The Kautokeino Rebellion 1852," Sami Culture, University of Tromsø, accessed October 4, 2014,
(3) Kristiansen,"The Kautokeino Rebellion 1852," University of Tromsø.
(4) "Kautokeino-Opprøret 1852," Statsarkivverket I Tromsø, accessed October 15, 2014,
(5) Adriana Margareta Dancus, "Ghosts Haunting the Norwegian House: Racialization in Norway and The Kautekeino Rebellion,"  Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 55, no. 1 (2014), doi:10.13110/framework.55.1.0121, 121-139.

Written and edited by Grete Hamnes, Rachel Olson, Phil Kuball and Chelsea Pritchard.

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