Accepted Paper:

Rapids on the 'stream of life' as focal point for life, use and discourse on the Kemi River  


Franz Krause (University of Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

Examining why the conflicts between different uses of the Kemi River in Finnish Lapland usually focus on its rapids, this paper suggests that for river dwellers, the rapids epitomise the life-giving powers of the river.

Paper long abstract:

The Kemi River in Finnish Lapland is frequently called the 'stream of life' by its riparian inhabitants, for its central role in the histories of places and people. This paper considers why most attention is focused on the river's rapids. The best fishing places are said to be close to these; they provide the most challenging stretches for boating and rafting; offer a remarkable visual and aural spectacle, and are the most appropriate sites for hydropower dams.

The ethnography suggests that, for many people, the rapids epitomise the river, embodying many intrinsic characteristics: its energy, its fish and its heterogeneous movements. Experiencing and talking about the river means visiting and debating the fate of its rapids. Rapids are also the focus of conflicts concerning river use. In the 1900s, the powerful Timber Floating Association regarded them as obstacles and transformed many into un-obstructive channels. Later, many rapids have been inundated by hydroelectric schemes. And most recently, the Environmental Administration has 'reinstalled' multiple rapids to attract prestigious fish species and tourists.

This paper argues that the pivotal position of rapids in the Kemi River resonates with their display of what river dwellers regard as the specific powers and properties of river water. The river is most 'river-like' in its rapids: it is in their incessant movements, their oxygen-rich waters, their sounds and their force that the 'stream of life' is particularly tangible, exploitable, and contested.

Panel P11
Living water: the powers and politics of a vital substance