Glimpses of people and their stories on the Finnmark Heath, post no. 11.

Her eldest brother Nils Mathis Turi, Brita told me, got his driver’s licence in 1931, two years after he was back in Máze. He worked for the Public Roads Administration during the summer, on the construction of the road between Alta and Kautokeino. Jobs were far and few between in the 1930s, and opportunities to earn a little extra money had to be seized. And in this case they had turned up right in the neighborhood.

Four Sami workers were employed on the road construction; the rest of the workers were of Norwegian descent, from Alta and other places in Northern Norway. Exactly where on the road they were working at that time is impossible to say. But the road with its branch down to Máze was completed in 1932, and in 1937 the road was extended to north of Biggeluoppal. The road certainly represented an important advance when it came to Máze’s contact with the world outside. But its transmuting impact on the means of transportation also served to reduce a regular source of income for the village.

Five years later the road was built all the way to the site of Kautokeino Church. As can be seen from the picture below that I found in the collections of Tromsø Museum, it was a gravel road that was built  far from being a modern freeway. The photograph was taken at Stuoraoaivi west of Máze and shows the scenery towards the north (photographer H.A. Vince, reproduced by permission of Tromsø Museum):


The automobile in the picture was a “combination car,” used for the transportation of both post and people. During the evacuation towards the end of the War the car was left behind in Máze – at Hirsaluohkká – and was subsequently burned by the Germans.

When Nils Mathis worked on the construction of the road, neither he nor the three other Sami were furnished with beds. The reigning attitude seemed to be that the Sami could just as well sleep on the floor, they were surely used to that. The other three did not raise any objections, but Nils Mathis did. Perhaps he could assert himself with authority as both storekeeper and as a man proficient in Norwegian. Nils Mathis declared emphatically that this was not acceptable. And then he simply grabbed saw and hammer and built his own bed.

In my last blog post I wrote about the racist prejudices that were manifest in the Norwegianization policies in the schools. But intolerance was of course not something that the Sami encountered only in the school system. Discrimination was something they experienced also in society at large – among Norwegians. When Brita told her own grandchildren of the attitudes that Mils Mathis were met with as a road construction worker in the 1930s, they found it hard to believe. For them it sounded like a fairy tale.

In this respect the world has actually progressed.

Britas eldste bror&kone

Nils Mathis and his wife Marit

But discrimination wasn’t a fairy tale to Nils Mathis. A case in point were the coffee breaks during the daily work on the road. When the workers paused for coffee, the female cook served the four Sami coffee in tin cans. In her view, mountain Sami vagabonds did not need coffee cups. The Norwegians, however, got their coffee in a proper pot and in ordinary cups. Finally Nils Mathis got so infuriated that he went straight to the boss of the road workers and declared that he was fed up with these tin cans with this damn dishwater. He was so mad, people said afterwards, that “the trouser legs trembled on little Nils.” The boss sided with Nils Mathis, and subsequently there were no differences in the serving of coffee.

The work itself and the relations with the other workers went otherwise fine.

It is easy to understand the indignation that had been building up in Brita’s eldest brother. He had grown sick and tired of the cook’s second-class treatment. Brita told of this incident in such a casual and humorous manner that it sounded as if it had become legendary within the family – and most probably, afterwards, in the whole of Máze as well. And there was undoubtedly something comical about the scene: Little Nils so furious that his trouser legs trembled. (And trousers, I assume, were anything but tight in those days.)

But the jocularity in Brita’s story about her brother was at the same time mixed with pride. I heard it in her narrative voice and did not find it difficult to understand why.

It is a story about a man who stood up for his own dignity. And demanded respect.


2017 Text © Fredrik Chr. Brøgger