From North Norway to Russia lays a vast and wild territory in which winters are among the coldest of Europe and summers, although being short, are renown for their lot of bloodthirsty insects. A territory whose inhabitants have been living with and from a sacred animal called reindeer and are proud of their history. Although you might know it under the name of Lapland, Lappland or Laponia –which are pejorative terms– this territory is called Sápmi, homeland of the Sámi people.
Roads look like infinite ribbons across forests of birches and pines. Sometimes, here and there, swamps covered by cotton flowers along with mushrooms and berries dot these monotonous and quiet landscapes. As for the sky … THE sky! A symphony of grey, purple, blue and yellow clouds contrasts with beauty against the greens of the surrounding vegetation. This is the only place I have experienced such a sweet and colorful light.
Sometimes on the road, the famous reindeers show up. Beware! They are not really afraid of cars and chances are that they will not run away while you quickly move closer to them … Which means that you will be the one to make the effort of letting them live (and save your life at the same time)!
And then, after a hundred kilometers or so, a small village with a church, a supermarket, a gas station and a couple of houses appears. This is a quick but representative description of what you will find in Sápmi. That, and Sámi people.
Sámi are the native people of arctic territories. They speak their own language (there is actually a couple of different Sámi languages) in addition to their native country’s language and although they still live following their own traditions, it seems that integration among Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish people is working fine… Well, not perfectly of course, but we have seen worse!
If you are not lucky enough to assist to a mass, a wedding or any other religious or cultural ceremony in Sápmi, chances are that you will not make the distinction between a Sámi and a “classical” Norwegian/Swede/Finnish. Even if they used to be nomads in the past, most Sámi now live (and dress) the same way than you and me. By consequence, the best ways to learn about them and have the chance to see their colorful traditional suit is either to go in a museum, either to take the time to make some friends and assist to one of these ceremonies. Unfortunately, we did not have time to do both. It’s a shame, I know, but time lacks … Anyway, here is a portrait I made during the Norwegian national day in Tromsø this spring which will show you what their traditional suit looks like. Nice, isn’t it? :)
By the way, never call a Sámi “Lapp“! A Lapp is a patch that was once used to cover a hole on a cloth. When Sámis have first been discovered they were probably wearing damaged clothes, though the name Lapp. It can then be perceived as an insult. Most of them will however forgive you because you are a stranger and are not supposed to know that. But now you know and you don’t have anymore excuse! ;)
To finish this post, I would like to share with you something more. Something I have found quite curious. Among the different languages spoken by Finnish Sámis, one is still used by some 400 Sámis called Skolts. They are basically Sámis that have found refuge in Finland when their territory has been given away to Russia. I have literally been fascinated by its spelling (example from Wikipedia) :
“Niõđ puõˊtte domoi Čeˊvetjääuˊrest”
which means :
“The girls came home from Sevettijärvi”
The first one that pronounces it correctly wins a beer! ;)