Stories from my travels around the world


 

Background info to my travel pages

The Samer

The Sami village of AlisjŠvri
The Sami village of AlisjŠvri

On this page I would like to write a bit about the Sami people (also spelled in English as Saami or SŠmi), which means "the people". The Sami used to be known under the name Lapp or Lapplander, a name however, that today is considered to be an offensive term and better not to be used. You also might come across the name Samer, which is the plural form of Sami.

The Sami are an indigenous people of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. I got quite fascinated by their history and culture, so that's why I decided to write a bit about the Sami.

So who are the Sami?
The defination of Sami is rather vague and subjective. The only law in Sweden that defines a Sami is the Sami Parliament Law, which says: "Anyone who considers himself or herself to be Sami and is likely to have had Sami as his or her maternal language, or that Sami was likely the maternal language of parent or grandparent, or has a parent who is in the Sami Parliament voter registration list."

In the photo you can see the Sami village of Alesjaure or AlisjŠvri.

Sápmi, the land of the Sami

Sápmi
Sápmi

The area the Sami call their land Sápmi and it is quite a large area; about the size of Sweden, but spread out over Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russian Kola Peninsula. The Sami inhabited the region long before the concept of national borders existed. Most experts agree that the Sami culture can be traced back to around 2000 to 2500 years.

Nowadays there are over 70 000 Samer, although this number varies quite a bit depending on the source of information. I guess the vague definition of the term Sami makes it hard to conclude how many people consider themselves to be Sami. Roughly devided there are about 2.000 Samer in Russia, 6.000 in Finland, 40.000 in Norway and about 20.000 in Sweden. I've added a map so you can see the area of Sapmi. Sapmi covers most of the land north of the polar circle in Scandinavia.

The flag of the Sami people

The flag of the Sami people
The flag of the Sami people

In the picture you can see the flag of the Sami people. The flag is rather new, designed and officially recognized in 1986 by the Nordic Sami Conference. Astrid BŚhl from Skibotn in Norway designed this flag which is based on the four colours (red, blue, green and yellow) from the traditional Sami dress.

The design of the flag was inspired by the shaman's drum and the poem "Paiven parneh" ("Sons of the Sun") by the Anders Fjellner (1795-1876). In this poem Fjellner describes the Saami as sons and daughters of the sun. The flag's circle represents the sun (red) and the moon (blue).

A Sami village

The Sami village of AlisjŠvri
The Sami village of AlisjŠvri

When hiking in this northern part of Sweden you might pass a Sami village, like this one in AlisjŠvri. Don't expect something special though, as it is like any other tiny village in the north of Sweden. The village mostly excist of some colourful houses (mostly in a rusty red colour) scattered around in the landscape. One thing you might notice is this unusual type of building called a "kŚta" a type of building that the Sami used to live in in times gone by.

What fascinated about the Sami vilages is the location of these villages. They seem so far away from the civilized world that I know. These Samer live in isolated areas without power lines, grocery stores, roads or phone lines, and seem to live in such harmony with nature. They probably have much more comfort in those houses then I realize, but still, it's hard to imagine to live here in those long cold winters of northern Sweden. I am not sure if I could...... although I could spend a summer here though! That must be a wonderful experience!

Reindeer

Reindeer
Reindeer

While hiking across the Fjšllen area you might come across some herds of reindeer and these reindeer most likely belong to the Samer. The ones that might have heard of the Sami people before say: yes, Sami people and reindeer they go together! But this is not necessarily true. Traditional Sami occupations are hunting, fishing, reindeer herding and farming, but only a minority of today's Sami still have this as their livelihood. Only 10% of the Sami people are reindeer nomads: which is seen as the stereotypical Sami lifestyle.

Reindeer
Reindeer

In Sweden there are around 50 native communities where the families earn most of the income from herding reindeers. But they mostly don?t live on reindeers alone; they often combine this with fishing, hunting and crafts. But like I said in the previous tip, only a small percentage of the Sami population has reindeer herding as their occupation. One of the problems facing reindeer herds is the lack of space as the habitat suitable for reindeer herding is constantly shrinking due to mining operations, clean-cutting of the forests and the construction of hydroelectric power plants. Reindeers need a lot of space, depending on the season of the year the reindeer herds are up in the high mountains (in the west) or in the valleys (to the east), so you can imagine that this acquires a lot of space. Interesting to know is that reindeer keeping is by Swedish law reserved only for Sami people.

The Sami language

The Sami village of AlisjŠvri
The Sami village of AlisjŠvri

While looking at your hiking map you might learn a tiny bit of the Sami language. The places are often named after which type of landscape it is. Like tjŚhkŚ, for example, which means mountain top or jŠvri/jŠvvre which means lake. By studying the map and knowing a few of these Sami words you get a good picture of what the landscape is going to be like. But it can be a bit confusing though, as there is not just 'one' Sami language. There are many different dialects and even languages, some of these are so different that they won't understand each other. But there is one dialect/language that is spoken by the majority and this is probably the one you'll discover on your hiking map.

A fascinating thing to realize is also how close the Sami language is with their original way of living and everything concerning nature, landscape and the climate of Northern Sweden. The number of words describing these is amazing! There are several hundreds of words for different kinds of reindeer describing the age of the reindeer, colour, body structure or the antlers. In such cases only one Sami word is needed when you have to use whole sentences to explain the same thing in English or Swedish. There is also richness in words concerning different kinds of snow, describing for example the amount of snow, the quality, the surface and how easy it is to travel on the snow.