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The Trade Embargo Behind the Swedish Jokkmokk Sami Market

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On the first weekend of February, in each year dating back to the 1600s, Sami traders gather at the Jokkmokk Market in Jokkmokk to trade their goods internationally. This year marked the 412th hosting of the annual market. Although I have yet to attend, its history fascinates me and I wanted to share it with you.

Roundabout art at Jokkmokk Winter market (Photo by Andreas Viklund (2013),, used under a Creative Commons Attribution License
Roundabout art at Jokkmokk Winter market (Photo by Andreas Viklund (2013),, used under a Creative Commons Attribution License

Trade with the Sami – A Historic Overview

The Sami are the indigenous people of the northern parts of the Nordic countries–Norway, Sweden, and Finland – as well as the Kola Peninsula of Russia, an area known as Sápmi. During the 13th, 14th and the 15th centuries, trade with the Sami people was abundant as traders came from all of Europe to buy furs and leather products from the Sami. However, trade soon became the exclusive right of the Birkarlar (designated traders) who traded with and collected taxes/fees from the Sami on behalf of the Swedish Crown.

As the kingdom of Sweden became more united in the 1600s, trade was consolidated in cities, referred to as either uppstäder or stapelstäder. Uppstäder could trade nationally and Stapelstäder could trade internationally. Trade with the Sami also became more regulated, and eventually resulted in a full royal trade embargo.

Prior to the royal trade embargo, there were restrictions on trade with the Sami in the Gulf of Bothnia, dating back to Magnus Erikssons stadslag. The royal trade embargo of 1636, however, was the first legal document formally prohibiting trade between ports on the Gulf of Bothnia and ships sailing to or from the south of Åbo, Turku, or Stockholm.  The royal decree (the Bottniska handelstvånget [Gulf of Bothnia trade embargo] prohibiting trade required that all trade with the northern parts of what was then Sweden go through the ports of Stockholm, while international ships were completely prohibited. Thus, there were no ships in the entire Gulf of Bothnia. Sweden at that time included parts of Finland, but did not include the Swedish region of Jämtland which then belonged to Norway. The decree remained in force until Anders Chydenius (the drafter of the world’s first Freedom of Press and Information Act), managed to build support for its revocation.

Royal Decree from Dec. 3, 1765 (photo by Elin Hofverberg)
Royal Decree from Dec. 3, 1765 (photo by Elin Hofverberg)

The embargo was finally revoked by a royal decree issued on December 3, 1765 by King Adolf Fredrik. The decree allowed ships to sail freely to all harbors in Sweden.  It also created new trading cities, such as Uleåborg (now Oulu), where international trade became concentrated. The value of  [international] trade was acknowledged in the decree by the following paragraph:



And while it is an undeniable truth, that freedom in trade creates a wider supply of goods, that can be traded, that promotes commerce nationally, and the more commerce, the greater opportunity for, and the easier access to nutrients, the more reason for marriage and the peoples activities thereby  (translation by author).

The royal decree was issued in response to pleas from Estates of the Realm (the four estates met in what has sometimes been referred to as Sweden’s first parliament) that the trade embargo be lifted and ships be allowed to sail freely in the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Bothnia.

The Jokkmokk Market

Prior to 1765, while the Gulf of Bothnia trade embargo was still in force, the Swedish Crown wanted to trade with the Sami and therefore created trading markets as an exception to the rule restricting trade only to certain cities and villages. Thus, in 1602, by royal decree, King Charles IX  created trading posts in Sweden, one of which was the Jokkmokk Winter Market. Alongside creating the market, the Swedish Crown also wanted to assimilate the Sami, in hopes of exercising greater control to collect more taxes.

Jokkmokk Old Church. Church building with clock tower. Litografi from “Odd Swedish Churches", 1874,, Creative Commons License: Public Domain
Jokkmokk Old Church. Church building with clock tower. Litografi from “Odd Swedish Churches”, 1874,, Creative Commons License: Public Domain

The Crown therefore set up Sami churches, i.e., state churches in the Sami land. The first Jokkmokk church was completed in 1607, just two years after the first Jokkmokk market was held. A state-run public Sami school was built in Jokkmokk in the 1700s, while the first Sami public school had been built in Lycksele in 1632 (another Sami market town). The Sami people were prohibited from setting up their own public schools.

The old Jokkmokk church was finished in 1753. It is also the place where the market is held today.

Jokkmokk After the Repeal of the Trade Embargo

Even after the sailing embargo was repealed in 1765, the Jokkmokk market continued to be held every year. Today the Jokkmokk Market attracts many tourists but still provides a trading venue for the Sami.

More on Sami Culture and the Law

For more on legal developments regarding the Sami, follow our Global Legal Monitor for Sweden and Norway.

For more information about the Sami National Day, which was celebrated in February, please consult my post Happy National Sami Day! This year also marked the centennial of the first International Sami Meeting where Norwegian and Swedish Sami met in Trondheim on February 6, 1917 under the organization of Elsa Laula.

A sample of our collections on the Sami and other indigenous peoples includes:

For more interesting information on Sami and other indigenous people, come visit us at the Law Library!

Nåå nåå!/Hivás! [Bye in South Sami and North Sami dialects]

Update: This post was originally published as a guest post by Elin Hofverberg. The author information has been updated to reflect that Elin is now an In Custodia Legis blogger.

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