culture of the Sami people in Sápmi

Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden
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The Sami are an indigenous ethnic group, endemic to the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Their total population is just short of 100,000 people.

RegionsEdit

 
Homeland of the Sami people

CitiesEdit

 
Sami Parliament of Norway
  • Inari (Anár, Aanaar, Aanar) – the capital of the Sami in Finland, seat of the Sami Parliament of Finland
  • Jokkmokk – a Sami town in Sweden with an annual fair in February
  • Karasjok (Kárášjohka), Finnmark, Norway – a village where the Sami Parliament of Norway is located
  • Kautokeino (Guovdageaidnu) – a centre of Sámi culture having over 90% Sámi population
  • Kiruna (Giron) – the seat of the Swedish Sami Parliament
  • Östersund (Staare) – town with the Sami information centre of the Swedish Sami parliament
  • Lovozero (Luujäuˊrr) – Centre of the Kildin Sami in Russia

Other destinationsEdit

Sámi culture is not about city life. Although you will meet authentic Sámi in the towns, find museums, shops and exhibitions there and may have the chance to participate in Sámi festivals, an understanding of the Sámi necessarily includes a feeling for the vast areas outside cities. If you have time and are lucky you may join Sámi working with the reindeer on the fells. If you are a hiker you will appreciate the large wilderness areas. Otherwise you may get on an arranged tour, perhaps fishing in a lake far from the busy modern life.

UnderstandEdit

 
Traditional raised Sami storehouse, displayed in Stockholm. A similar structure is mentioned in Russian fairy tales as a "house with chicken legs".
 
Twice a year the reindeer are gathered and some animals taken to slaughter. Calves are marked in the traditional way while still accompanying their mother. The reindeer are half-wild – even though they graze freely, every individual has an owner.
 
Dressed up Sámi politicians.

Reindeer husbandry has been – and still is – an important livelihood among the Sámi and the culture surrounding the trade is important also for many with other professions. Even traditionally, though, not all Sámi have been involved in reindeer husbandry, but lived from fishing, hunting and similar, having reindeer mostly as draft animals. Today many Sámi work in modern trades. Tourism is an important income in the Sápmi, the Sámi area.

As reindeer herders or hunters the Sámi traditionally followed the animals on their seasonal migrations, having a winter village, calving and autumn grounds, summer grounds, and mobile homes (goahtis and lávvus). As the movements between pastures took quite some time, they had eight seasons, not four. Also those living mainly from fishing moved as seasons changed. The reindeer still have seasonal pastures (mostly treeless areas in summer, either in high terrain or by the coast) but the borders between countries, closed in the 19th century restricting the migration. With the introduction of motorized terrain vehicles (most importantly the snowmobile), reindeer herders have been able to reach their livestock from a permanent home. Some of the people you might meet were born before this revolution, and some choose to still live in or near the traditional summer settlements in summer, close to the livestock.

During the 18th century the Sami became trendy and exotic subject to Central European adventurers and scholars. The linguistic relationship between Sami language(s) and Hungarian was revealed already in 1771. Yet most of the area was connected to the road and electricity grid only after World War II.

Today many tourists in Sápmi want to experience the exotic Sámi culture. This has lead to non-Sámi dressing in quasi-Sámi clothes and performing "Sámi" rituals (thought of as insults by many Sámi). You may enjoy these shows for what they are, but if you want to learn about Sámi culture, you should be wary of the difference. On the other hand real Sámi are, despite preserving a distinct culture and identity, to varying degrees integrated in the modern lifestyle, and marriages across the cultural borders are quite common – you should not try too hard to find "authentic" Sámi.

The joik is a Sami singing style, which still is a living, continuous tradition, but also is re-interpreted today as a genre of popular music; see Nordic music.

TalkEdit

There are nine existent Sámi languages, although Northern Sámi is by far the most widely spoken and understood also by many Sámi not having it as mother tongue. Unfortunately, because of earlier language policy, not all Sámi speak Sámi at all. All speak the majority language of the country and they study English in school like other citizens of their respective countries. In Finland, Swedish is non-compulsory for those getting their education in Sámi.

Most places in Sápmi have Sámi names. The names in the non-Sámi languages are often based on these, although the spelling may be quite different. Sami place names often describe the place in some sense, so knowing some basic words for different types of terrain may actually appear useful while trekking!

One can study Sami languages as a major at least in the University of Oulu. The Sámi University of Applied Sciences, University of Helsinki, Sámi Educational Centre, University of Umeå, and Sami Education Institute (SOGSAKK) offer language courses for different Sami languages.

Get inEdit

There are quite a few airports in the Sápmi area, with at least domestic flights. Kittilä in Finland has relatively many seasonal flights from European destinations.

The railways in Finland terminate at Kolari and Kemijärvi, with Rovaniemi the most important hub for continuing by coach.

Trains in Sweden go to Kiruna, and to Narvik in Norway. Inlandsbanan is usable too.

The Norwegian trains terminate at Bodø.

Russian trains go to Murmansk, and with sparse services somewhat beyond.

For Norway, the Hurtigruten ferry service is an option.

European routes such as E6, E45 and E75 reach Sápmi and can be used by those arriving by car or coach.

Get aroundEdit

The area is served by coaches, mostly at least with daily services. If you use your own car, be wary of the Norwegian terrain (there is quite a difference between the shortest route and the route by car) and driving conditions in winter. The distances are long, so biking requires some dedication. Taxis are a viable option for some destinations.

SeeEdit

 
Buildings in the Sámi settlement of Vastenjávrre in Padjelanta National Park.

MuseumsEdit

  • Most national park visitor centres in Sápmi tell also about the Sámi and their culture.
  • 1 Siida (Inari Sámi Museum), Inarintie 46, Inari, FI-99870, +358 400-898-212, . Jun 1-Sep 19: 09:00–20:00; Sep 20–Mar 31: 10:00–17:00. The National Museum of the Finnish Sami in Inari village. Both indoors and open air exhibitions. Large museum shop with souvenirs, handicrafts and literature on local Sami languages. Adults: €10, Finnish Museum Card valid..
  • 2 Skolt Sami Heritage House (Nuõrttsaa´mi Ä´rbbvuõttpõrtt), Sevettijärventie 9041, Sevettijärvi, FI-99930, +358 400 373 015. July-August 10:00-16:00. Small museum about the Skolt Sami and their life. Small museum shop with handicrafts and Eastern Orthodox items. The house is open in July-August. Open air exhibition is open around the year but the area is not maintained in winter. free.
  • 3 Varanger Sami Museum (Várjjat Sámi Musea), Endresens vei 4, Varangerbotn, N-9840, +47 952 62 155, . June-August daily 09:30-16:30; otherwise M-F 10:00-17:00. Rather large museum concentrated to the Coastal Sami culture. Museum shop. adults 80 NOK, students 40 NOK, children 30 NOK.
     
    The rune drum played an important role in Sámi shamanism, but most were destroyed as the Sámi were Christened.
  • 4 Mortesnes Cultural Heritage (Geavccageađge), Mortensnes, Nesseby, N-9840, +47 41 07 00 50. at summer daily 10:00-16:00. Free-in open air museum at a site where Coastal Samis have lived for 10,000 years. Digital guide available. Geavccageađge holy stone pillar and a burial site used for about 2000 years until 1600s. Awesome views. Café and changing exhibition indoors. free.
  • 5 Ä´vv Skolt Sámi museum (Ä´vv Saa´mi Mu´zei), Neiden, N-9930, +47 95 26 21 63, . mid-June to mid-August daily 10:00-17:00; otherwise M-F 10:00-15:00. Large museum about the Skolt Sami opened in 2017. Main exhibition tells about Saaʹmijânnam, the Skolt Sami Land. Changing art exhibitions. A few kilometres south there is also an open air museum consisting of Eastern Orthodox St. George's Chapel from 1565, and a traditional Skolt summer village. adults 80 NOK, students and children under 16 yo free.
  • 6 Sámi Museum in Karasjok, Mari Boine geaidnu 17, Karasjok, N-9730, +47 784 69 950, . summer daily 09:00-18:00. The largest museum about Sámi cultural history in Norway. Both indoor exhibition and open air museum. adults 90 NOK, students 60 NOK, children under 15 yo free.
  • 7 Nutti Sámi Siida – Reindeer park and Sámi camp, Marknadsvägen 84, 981 91 Jukkasjärvi, +46 980 21329, . Winter season: Dec 1–Apr 14, Daily 10:00–17:00; Summer season: June 17–Aug 11 Daily 10:00–16:00. Visitor center in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, with reindeer and information about the Sámi people. Café and handicraft shop. Winter: Adult 150 SEK, student 100 SEK, children 75 SEK. Summer: Adult 180 SEK, student 120 SEK, children 80 SEK.
  • 8 Ájtte, Kyrkogatan 3, Jokkmokk, SE-96223, . The national museum of Sami culture in Sweden. Exhibition about the Fell Sami culture and the nature at the fells. adults 90 SEK, children under 16 yo free.
  • 9 Saemien Sijte, Ella Holm Bulls veg 30, Snåsa, N-7760, +47 74 13 80 00, . mid-June to mid-August M-F 10:00-17:00, Sa-Su 11:00-17:00. Culture center and museum on Southern Sámi culture. 50 NOK.

TheatresEdit

  • Beaivváš Sámi Našunálateáhter in Kautokeino
  • Giron Sámi Teáhter in Kiruna

DoEdit

 
People at the St Mary's Day Celebrations, Heahttá
  • St Mary's Day Celebrations (Hetta). Late March. Dance, music, lassoing competitions, reindeer races. Handicrafts for sale.
  • Easter festival (Kautokeino). Easter, programme all week. Festival with exhibitions, races, ice fishing, film and music festivals, concerts. The Easter has been an important time, the last chance to gather with friends before it is time to move the reindeer to the calving grounds.
  • Jokkmokk Market. First Th–Sa in February. Held since 1605. Local handicraft, Sámi produce and ordinary market fare; also a big cultural happening.  

Music festivalsEdit

  • 1 Riddu Riđđu, Kåfjord. Indigenous music festival in Olmmáivággi (Norwegian: Manndalen) village in Kåfjord municipality and held every July since 2007. Most artists are indigenous musicians from outside the Sami area. The festival's name is Northern Sami for Coastal Wind.
  • 2 Ijahis Idja, Inari. Indigenous music festival held in Inari village in August since 2004. The event is concentrated on traditional and modern Sami music. The name is Northern Sami for Nightless Night.

BuyEdit

Sámi handicraft makes good souvenirs, but check that it is authentic. In shops the item should have the Sámi duodji (literally: Sámi handicraft) mark. Typical materials are wood, leather, wool, horns and bones. Silver has been highly appreciated material in traditional Sami jewelry.

In addition to traditional handicraft, there are quite a few artists making modern jewelry with strong roots in the Sámi culture. Their products may however not be on sale locally, other than possibly from their workshop at home.

Be especially wary about clothing. Sámi hats and dresses are virtually always fake, as a Sámi dress, gákti, is made for a specific person, with lots of symbolism about the home village, family and person of its user. Those who do the fakes often do not even know what details belong to a man's dress or woman's dress. However, a traditional scarf, liidni, is a prestige, commonly available, and (if authentic) quite expensive souvenir.

EatEdit

 
Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum), one of the berries abundant even in northernmost Sápmi. The northern subspecies has somewhat bigger and sweeter berries than the southern subspecies.
See also: Nordic cuisine

As agriculture is quite a hopeless try with most crops at these latitudes, most dishes are based on reindeer, fish and game. Also some wild plants play or have traditionally played an important role, such as berries, especially cloudberry and crowberry. The Norwegian angelica (Northern Sámi: Olbmoborranrássi, Norwegian: kvann, Finnish: väinönputki) has been important vegetable and also medicinal herb. The Sámi still have their own bread types, such as flatbread called gáhkku which is traditionally baked on a stone by open fire.

DrinkEdit

SleepEdit

As the Sámi lived semi-nomadic life wandering between summer and winter locations they had mobile homes. The lávvu is made from straight tree stems (resembling a teepee) and thus easy to build from scratch in fell birch forest (if you have the fabric or hides to cover the structure), while the goahti is more elaborate, with larger floor area. The lávvu stems are often left behind for next use, while the goahti trees are carried along. There are also permanent goahtis made from timber or peat. Especially the Skolt Samis gathered into winter villages for the winter. In such villages each family had their permanent house. These mobile and stationary homes are still commonly used, both as tourist attractions and as traditional accommodation, although not as primary home any more.

Many tourist businesses invite you to drink coffee by the fire in a lávvu. Nearly always you will get more familiar lodging for the night, in a few cases with something built to resemble a lávvu, but with normal beds and mattresses.

Stay safeEdit

 
Landscape in Käsivarsi Wilderness Area. Spots of snow remaining in July.

Sápmi, the Sámi region, is mostly very sparsely populated, with a harsh or even extreme climate. Do not venture into the wilderness without proper skill and equipment.

RespectEdit

Sami are often known in other languages as Lap, Lapons, Laplanders or similar, but many of them regard these as pejorative terms. Use the word Sami for the ethnicity and the language, and Sápmi for their collective territory.

Especially during the 20th century the Sami have been subject to severe assimilation and racial policy and therefore many ethnic Sami have never learned to speak their language and may even feel their ancestry shameful.

The Sami community has some unresolved disputes internally, as well as with the national governments, and the majority population. Land management rights (including mining, forestry, reindeer herding, fishing, and wildlife management) is a particularly sensitive topic.

Go nextEdit

  • Nenetsia with the Nenets people, an other reindeer herding people of the Arctic. Advance research is needed though, as most Nenets villages are very remote and English proficiency scarce.

See alsoEdit


Sami people
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