Just above the Arctic Circle: Reindeer husbandry with the Sami

Posted on January 27th, 2013 by

(Wednesday, January 23, 2013)

Many of us were sore this morning from playing Innebandy (similar to floor hockey) yesterday afternoon.  After our group introduction to the Sámi school (who we were, why we were there, and our different ethnic roots), we had a lecture on Sami language from Anna-Margith Påve.  She spoke both North and Luleå Sámi. Here are some things we learned how to say…

  • Mii du namma lea? (What is your name?);  Mu namma lea… (My name is…)
  • Gos don orut? (Where are you from?); Mun orun… (I am from…) A person from Minnesota would say, “Mun orun Minnesotas,” and a person from Wisconsin would say, “Mun orun Wisconsinis.”

Anna-Margith said that it is important for young Sámi to learn their mother tongue at home, school, in the media and literature, and in society. We read from a selection of Sami poems by Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, which we received in a packet to take with us, and listened to some yoiks, or songs. Here is an excerpt from one of Nils-Aslak’s poems:

My home is in my heart

it migrates with me

The yoik is alive in my home

the happiness of children sounds there

herd-bells ring

dogs bark

the lasso hums

In my home

the fluttering edges of gaktis

the leggings of the Sami girls

warm smiles

After a lunch of salmon and stroganoff, we all bundled up for a trip to Anna-Margith and her husband Isaac’s reindeer pasture.  Only the Sámi are allowed to own reindeer in Sweden.  On the way, we stopped at the Arctic Circle border.

DSC03553DSCN3373

At the reindeer pasture, we learned how the Sámi mark their reindeer so they can identify them, and that reindeer eat lichen.  If they can’t find it on the ground, they find it in the trees.  In the winter, the reindeer are always fed on reindeer feed, so they get used to eating it in case there’s a hard winter and they can’t find enough lichen.  Both male and female reindeer have antlers, but the males shed their antlers and hit the horns between the back of their hooves to help them regrow.

Anna-Margith Påve next to a reindeer trough

Anna-Margith Påve next to a reindeer trough

DSC03584

DSC03579

DSC03587

Many of us were freezing, despite wearing both a hat and hood and many layers to preserve body heat.  We had had a similar experience at the Västerbotten Museum and had come better prepared this time.  Seeing us in our condition, jumping up and down with our hands in our pockets, Anna-Margith and Isaac made us a fire and laid plastic tarp bags on the ground for us to stand on.  Despite our preparations and the fire and tarps, we could never quite get our hands and feet warm.  Personally, I was wishing I had worn two sweatshirts and hats and left off a third pair of socks, because it prevented air from circulating in my boots and keeping my feet warm.  We drank tea and black coffee and ate flatbread topped with cream cheese and reindeer jerky.

DSC03595 DSC03600

Around the fire, Elizabeth Lutz, Matt Lindahl, and Anna-Margith Påve read from Nils-Aslak’s Poems in both Sámi and English.  Soon, we Americans were so cold, our generous hosts decided to just let them finish reading in English.  Even more generous was at the very end of our visit, Isaac sang us his father’s yoik, or his father’s own song.  I have no words to express how I felt, but it was a very sacred event and a special treat for us, since the Sámi have been working to preserve their culture, and they want to make sure that outsiders treat it with respect.

Anna-Margith (reading the poem in Sámi) and her husband Isaac.

Anna-Margith (reading the poem in Sámi) and her husband Isaac.

Matt Lindahl reading the poem in English.

Matt Lindahl and Elizabeth Lutz (left) read the poems in English.

 

We were all grateful when we finally got back in the van to drive home and turned the heat on full blast, but I felt it was worth it getting to see reindeer for the first time, and experiencing Sámi traditions firsthand.

Later that evening, I did my laundry with Elizabeth.  The laundry room is just one of several places on campus that the students claim to be haunted.  When you walk down the stairs, you are supposed to introduce yourself to the laundry room ghost and say that you would like to do your laundry in peace.  Tucked away in a quiet corner of the basement, with low lighting, it seems as though something will jump out at any moment.  Elizabeth and I didn’t introduce ourselves, but were thankfully left in peace.

 


3 Comments

  1. Krister Stoor says:

    It looks like you’re having a good time. Greetings from Umeå!

  2. Carolyn O'Grady says:

    I like the pics you all are taking. Seems like you’re having a very full experience! By the way, I really like sound of joiking so if any of you feel inspired to bring me a giftie, a joik CD is a great idea! Hope the reindeer experience is all that you expected it would be.

  3. Roland (2009 leader) says:

    Thanks for sharing! It seems like you have had much colder days than we did in 2009 (Chelsea would know).
    I’m glad you are reading Valkeapää. He more that anyone introduced me to Sami culture.