Following the reindeer

Come with me on a journey to the North of Europe, where the night disappears, where reindeer strut around and where peace and silence embrace you: the Norwegian Sami people’s world.

Sami people inhabit the northern territories of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. They speak their own language, Saami, which is divided into 9 dialects. One third of the Sami people is bilingual: their second languages are Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish or Russian.

Sami clothing

Sami clothing, with its vivid colours, reminds me a bit of fairy tales and legends. For the most part, Sami people wear traditional outfits for bigger celebrations, weddings or funerals, but it is also easy to meet people dressed like this any other day. All of the colours refer to the national Sami flag.

The most characteristic element of Sami clothing is the Four Winds hat (čiehgahpir). The costumes differ depending on place of origin or clan.

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Sami clothing from Karasjok

Joik

Sami people also have their own music traditions, called joik. A Sami man told me once that joiking is very emotional. In the chant you revere your ancestors and express your deepest feelings. You can hear the echo of traditions in contemporary songs as well. Listen to Mari Boine or Máddji songs. I’m sure you’re going to love them.

Reindeer

In my childhood I saw reindeer only in cartoons, always as Santa Claus’ companions. In northern Norway they showed up in front of me in flesh and blood, in whole herds. For instance, in Karasjok, the Sami capital, for 3000 inhabitants there are 60 000 reindeer! They are extremely beautiful but not very smart. In sparsely populated Norway, where you are quite lucky if you spot a passing car, one small reindeer can cause a huge traffic jam on a road, because it won’t even come to its mind that it would be safer to walk on the side of the road. Obviously, you shouldn’t even try to overtake the animal as you can’t predict its reaction.

Reindeer are considered to be the Sami’s real treasure. They have owned them for centuries, inheriting the skills of husbandry from their parents, grandparents, etc. The amount of reindeer you own is also a measure of wealth. Reindeer supply Sami people with meat (dried reindeer’s heart is a Sami delicacy!), leather and antlers. Antlers are used to make hunting knives, among others. Every self-respecting Sami man should have such a knife. I got one as well, as a token of friendship.

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Lavvu

When it gets colder, according to an old habit, northern people gather in a lávvu. It is a particular kind of a tent that symbolizes the hearth. In the middle of the lavvu there is a huge fireplace around which you can warm up or barbecue a piece of fresh salmon. I adored those moments, interrupted only by a sound of crackling fire and few Sami words (Sami people are cheerful but quite silent).

While living with Sami people I learned to appreciate the beauty and generosity of nature wherever I am. Because of the fact the climate there never pampers Sami people, every single ray of sun makes them very happy (it might be the first and the last one this season). And even if the Sami people’s standard of life is now as high as in the rest of the country, they respect the nature more. Sometimes I miss that slowness and them saying “sånn har de bare” (this is life).

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