Hanging on the wall the dining room in the main building at Joatkajávri Lodge are three pictures from its previous history, two of them taken in 1914 by Kristian Nissen, who was Inspector of Reindeer Husbandry in the period 1912–1926, but whose life and work was primarily devoted to the church (he served for instance as minister in Karasjok 1904–1912 and as dean in Tromsø 1926–1936). The photograph that Nissen has taken of the Joatka site itself is, unfortunately, somewhat indistinct, but the picture must have been taken from the south, with reindeer grazing in the
foreground on the south side of the small stream, and with cowshed and the Lodge a little to the right of the middle of the picture.
The two other pictures on the wall – portraits of some of the people who lived on the heath almost exactly a hundred years ago – are sharper. The man to the right in the photograph below is Oskar Kristian Nilsen Eriksen, who managed Joatka from 1914 to 1953 (when Helge Romsdal took over), and beside Oskar is his wife, Elle Nillá Iŋgá/Inga Nilsdatter Biti, with their first born on her arm. The man to the left in the picture is Oskar’s brother, whose name was (Nils) Julius Nilsen Eriksen, and who later became the manager of the Mollešjohka/Mollisjok Lodge. The two brothers grew up at Joatka, which was managed by their father.
Julius moreover married Inga’s sister, Elle Nillá Sire/Siri Anna Nilsdatter Biti. The fact that the two brothers married two Sami sisters made the Joatka and Mollisjok Lodges doubly tied to each other.
The third picture on the wall in the dining room is from Joatka in 1916 and shows the two sisters Inga og Siri standing besides their brother Elle Nillá Ánde/Anders Nilsen Biti from Šuoššjávri (photo by Henrik Selstrup):
It is tempting to include one more picture of the two sisters (see further down below). It does not hang on the wall in the main Joatka building and is in fact taken forty-seven years later – a photo from 1963 of Sire áhkku and Iŋgá ahkku (grandmother Siri and grandmother Inga). Grandmothers indeed: Inga at Joatka gave birth to nine children, and Siri Anna at Mollisjok bore fifteen children and also adopted a girl, Margit (Eriksen Opgård), who presently is the manager of the Mollisjok Lodge. One of Oskar and Inga’s sons, Julius Sverre Eriksen (named after his uncle), became manager of the Ravnastua Lodge. And one of Julius and Siri Anna’s daughters, Kirsten Rávdná/Ragnhild Eriksen, married Anders Johnsen who built the Nedre Mollisjok Lodge in 1949. The descendants of Inga & Oskar and Siri Anna & Julius are dispersed all over the Finnmark heath, and further out into the world.
The two strapping brothers (Oskar & Julius) and the two lovely sisters (Inga & Siri) in the two pictures (from 1914 and 1916 respectively) that hang on the Joatka wall, have to me the aura of being the great love story of the Iešjávri Heath of the 1900s (even if I know next to nothing about the personal relationship between the spouses). This certainly does not mean, however, that their life was a picnic; quite the contrary. Inga and Oskar lost three of their children; their oldest son died at the age of seventeen, and two of their daughters also died early, one at the age of three and the other less than a year old. And Siri Anna and Julius lost five of their children (ages one to twenty), including a thirteen year-old daughter who died from diphteria; a two-and-a-half year-old son who perished in a drowning accident in the Iešjohka River; and a twenty year-old son who drowned bathing in the Mollešjohka River.
Life on the heath in the first half of the 1900s, far away from people, was hard and strenuous in ways that are almost unimaginable in Norway today. But, had I been a writer or film maker with considerable imagination and the ability to envisage other people’s lives, I would have been itching to recreate the life span of these two married couples that were related to each other on both sides. With a main focus, perhaps, on the history of the two Sami sisters. We are talking of the lives of two exceptional and formidable women who in this private photo from 1963 are visiting Karasjok on the occasion of the wedding of a daughter of Sire áhkku (private photograph reproduced with the permission of Sofie Stiberg):
But back to the photos on the Joatka dining room wall and the story of the Lodge. The next youngest daughter of Inga and Oskar, Elen Márjá Eriksen, married Helge Romsdal who took over the management of Joatka in 1953. And with that marriage we have reached our own time. (Incidentally, it was not only Elen Márjá’s family that was linked to the Lodge; the brother of Helge’s great grandfather had once been manager of Joatka as well.)
Elen Márjá died early, when she was only thirty-six years old, and Helge was married a second time, this time with Dure Rihttá/Brita Turi from Máze/Masi. Thus Helge became the father of six children; he had three daughters with Elen Márjá (Kirsten Alette, Randi and Inger Marie) and three daughters with Brita (Lisa, Lena and Siv).
The last picture that hangs on the dining room wall is a color photograph of a much more recent date that the three other black-and-white pictures. It shows Helge and
Brita in the kitchen of the Lodge around 2003. This was usually how I met them in the 1990s and the 2000s, when I had started to know Helge and Brita well enough to sit down for a while and talk with them in the kitchen when staying over on one of my hiking trips on the heath.
And thus I have returned to my starting point: To give a few glimpses – on the basis of some occasional snippets of conversation – of these two forthcoming and warm people I met at the Joatkajávri Lodge on my summer rambles. Helge died in 2008, but Brita and I have had the pleasure of talking with each other to this very day – and hopefully longer, even if both of us are getting on in years.
But I begin with Helge in my next blog post – a little about his thoughts about matters we sat talking about some fifteen-twenty years ago …