Friday, September 24, 2010

Kautokeino Opprøret

Just before leaving for Ft. Bliss I received a DVD I had been debating about whether or not to buy for a while. The DVD is the Norwegian film Kautokeino Opprøret, about a small rebellion which took place in Lapland in the far north of Norway in 1852.

Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows that a part of church history I’m very interested in is the Laestadian revival which took place in Lapland in the 19th century. I’m also interested in the current churches which are descended from this revival, the Laestadian and Apostolic Lutherans. I grew up around many of these Apostolic Lutherans and while certain sects in this movement have some theological problems I believe many are faithful Christians and I’ve been blessed to hear preaching in an Apostolic Lutheran church and worship with these brothers and sisters.

The film begins by portraying the ruination which alcoholism brought to the Lapp or Sami people in Kautokeino. It also introduces the Norwegian settlers in the area who profited from this alcoholism with their sale of liquor. One of the most powerful scenes is early in the film where the main characters, a young Sami family, make a trip to Karesuvanto on the border of Sweden and Finland. They arrive in Karesuvanto to the ringing of church-bells and find all the shops closed. A local says, “Come to the church. Laestadius is speaking.” They proceed to the church where the Laestadian revival is in its earliest infancy. The character Mathis, a reindeer herder who had gone far down the path of alcoholism and is now either drunk or severely hungover, at first plans to sleep in his sled while his wife and brother head for the church. As Laestadius preaches, Mathis enters the church to hear his own path of destruction being described in the sermon. Mathis stops in the center aisle of the church standing dumbstruck as Laestadius thunders before him. In a powerful moment Laestadius walks up to Mathis, shakes him, and commands him to be free of alcohol. I will write about some of the problems with the film in a moment but this scene will be disappointing to any Christian as the gospel is not preached. This is unfortunate because I think Laestadius was a great preacher of the gospel. After being rebuked by the preacher, Mathis falls to the floor - it is left up to the interpretation of the viewer whether this was because of some overwhelming spiritual experience or simply his own level of intoxication taking its toll. Laestadius lays his hand on the chest of the young Lapp and prays, “Lord, I beseech Thee, give him the strength to confess his sins to those nearest to him and to You so his soul may be liberated from that which burns inside him.” The young family then returns to Kautokeino with the supplies they had come to Karesuvanto for and also written sermons of Laestadius.

After the return to Kautokeino the young family begins spreading the word they had heard preached in Karesuvanto. Revival comes to the village and the tavern, once full, is now empty. This sets up the enmity which would grow between the Sami people and the Norwegians who owned the tavern and general store and held power in the village. The conflict between the Laestadian Sami and the Norwegian settlers would grow to the point of a riot or “opprøret” where two would be killed. In the chance that someone who reads this ends up watching the film I won’t give away any more of the plot.

As with any film made by non-Christians where the subject matter is religion and specifically Christianity there are inevitable problems. I’m assuming that the film-makers in this case were not Christian based on the spiritual state of Scandinavia, but I could be incorrect in this assumption. While the film did seem sympathetic to Laestadius and the revival, it portrayed things in such a way as to be palatable to the very secular and post-Christian culture of Scandinavia. The name Jesus is never mentioned by the character of Laestadius or the awakened Christians in Kautokeino. Instead Jesus’ name is mentioned only by the corrupt Norwegian state-church pastor who comes to Kautokeino to get the rebellious Sami under control. This corrupt pastor quotes John 14:6 where Jesus reveals Himself as “the way, and the truth, and the life,” a very non-PC passage, just after beating an elderly Sami woman with a cane. As opposed to this pastor who is often heard speaking of Jesus and seen brandishing a Bible, the newly Laestadian Sami are usually heard uttering vague sounding spiritual platitudes which would be much more acceptable sounding to the typical post-modern film-watcher. Other than the philosophic problems with the film there are some fake-looking CGI wolves at one point.

Even with all of these criticisms, I had a great time watching this film. As I wrote earlier, it is sympathetic to Laestadius and the early Laestadians, even if they are somewhat incorrectly portrayed. The acting is good and the scenes of Lapland and reindeer herding are very beautiful. So overall I think this was a very well-made film. There is one somewhat questionable scene but other than that the film is also very clean. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Laestadian revival.

From the Laestadian point of view another problem may be that these people in Kautokeino were not even accepted as genuine children of the revival by the leaders in early Laestadianism. It makes sense that the early Laestadians would want to distance themselves from the Sami in Kautokeino as they probably already looked suspicious to the governments of Finland, Sweden and Norway along with the state-churches in those countries. It wouldn’t help to be linked to a group of people who had been involved in a violent uprising. Juhani Raattamaa, who took the reigns of the revival after the death of Laestadius, made reference to Kautokeino in his preface to the Church Postilla, a collection of Laestadius’ sermons. Raattamaa wrote, “It is possible that a false sect can appear beside the right [Church]. So it happened even in Kautokeino, of which the bishops of Norway wanted to accuse Laestadius. But it was not Laestadius’ fault because he didn’t have men whom he could send to Kautokeino at the right time when it still would have been possible to advise them.”

Perhaps Raattamaa is correct in implying that violence could have been avoided if a preacher could have been sent to Kautokeino. Whatever the case may be, the Kautokeino Rebellion is a very interesting event in the history of Lapland and the Laestadian revival. I think this film, even with the liberties it takes, is probably a good introduction to learning about these events.


Ed said...

That really does sound interesting. I doubt I'll ever have the chance to see it, but I'd like to.

Jacob M. Aho said...

Elmer Yliniemi is an authority on this Kautokeino event. He studied under Dr. Pekka Raitilla, University of Helsinki. All Lestadian groups respect his work, he has passed away. If you ever want any information about this tragedy talk to Pastor Elmer Yliniemi.

Matt Perkins said...

Hey Jacob, Thanks for letting me know about him. I think you mentioned him once before when I was home visiting and I mentioned my interest in Kautokeino. It's good to hear from you again brother - thought maybe you had had enough of my blatherings here on blogger. Glad to see you're still stopping by. God's peace brother.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to seeing this film someday, as I too am interested in the ALC church and its history. Thanks for sharing about it, blessings my brother.

Anonymous said...

The director of this film, Nils Gaup, was raised in a Laestadian family. One of the screenwriters (Eira) was also raised Laestadian.

Probably more of the "Norwegians" you saw depicted in this film were Kven (Norwegians of Finnish descent).