Sami people

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The Sami people (there are other names and spellings including Sámi, Saami and Lapp) are an indigenous people of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia, covering a total area in the Nordic countries corresponding to the size of Sweden. The Sami are one of the largest groups of indigenous peoples in Europe. Their languages are the Sami languages, which are classified as Finno-Ugric.

The Sami call their ancestral lands Sápmi. Traditional occupations are hunting, fishing, reindeer herding and farming, but today only a minority of the Sami are making a living from these things alone. The population is estimated to about 85,000, although it is difficult to establish exactly how many there are. Roughly half live in Norway, although Sweden also has a significant group. Finland and Russia only have smaller groups located in the far north, including the Russian Kola peninsula. The Sami in Russia were forced by the Soviet authorities into one collective called Lovozero / Lojāvri, in the central part of the Kola peninsula.

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Sami costumes

Traditionally, the Sami had a variety of livelihoods; fishing on the coast and in the inland, trapping animals for fur, sheep herding etc. The best known livelihood is reindeer herding, but only a small percentage of the Sami have been mainly reindeer herders over the last centuries. Today, many Sami lead modern lives in the cities inside and outside the traditional Sami area, with regular jobs.



Main article: Sami history

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A Sami family around 1900

The Sami peoples have inhabited the northern regions of Scandinavia since far back into antiquity. Lapponia, a large, 35-chapter book written by the rhetorican Johannes Schefferus (1621 - 1679) is the oldest source of detailed information on Sami culture. It was written due to "ill-natured" foreign propaganda (in particular from Germany) claiming that Sweden had won victories on the battlefield by means of 'Sami magic'. In attempts to correct the picture of Sami culture amongst the Europeans, Magnus de la Gardie started an early 'ethnological' research project to document Sami groups, conducted by Schefferus. The book was published in late 1673 and quickly translated to French, German, English, and other languages (though not to Swedish until 1956). However, an adapted and abridged version was quickly published in the Netherlands and Germany, where chapters on their difficult living conditions, topography, and the environment had been replaced by made-up stories of magic, sorcery, drums and heathenism.

Up to around 1500 the Sami were mainly fishermen and trappers, usually in a combination, leading a nomadic lifestyle decided by the migrations of the reindeer. Around 1500, due to excessive hunting, again provoked by the fact that the Sami had to pay taxes to Norway, Sweden and Russia, the number of reindeer started to decrease. Most Sami then settled along the fjords, on the coast and along the inland waterways to pursue a combination of cattle raising, trapping and fishing. A small minority of the Sami then started to tame the reindeer, creating the well-known reindeer nomads, that although often portrayed by outsiders as the archetypical Sami lifestyle, only represent around 10% of the Sami people.

The Sami crossed the borders freely until 1826, when the Norwegian/Finnish/Russian border was closed. Sami were still free to cross the border between Sweden and Norway according to inherited rights down to 1940, when the border closed due to Germany's occupation of Norway.

For long periods of time, the Sami lifestyle reigned supreme in the north because of its unique adaptation to the Arctic environment, enabling Sami culture to resist cultural influences from the South. However, in the 19th century Norwegian authorities put the Sami culture under pressure in order to make the Norwegian language and culture universal. On the Swedish and Finnish side, conditions were a lot more lax. The strongest pressure took place from around 1900 to 1940, when Norway invested considerable money and effort to wipe out Sami culture. After World War II, the pressure was relaxed somewhat. Starting in the 1980s, Sami rights have been on the political agenda.


Main article: Sami organisation

Sami inhabitants have in Sweden, Norway and Finland (but not Russia) a vote, besides the regular country democratic election length, in their special designed authority, the Sami Parliament (SP). The SP has a democratically elected parliament and acts as a governmental authority. An individual has a Sami vote if any of the following applies:

  • s/he considers himself to be culturally or ethnically Sami (valid in Sweden, Norway, or Finland) because:
    • s/he speaks a Sami language
    • s/he had or has a parent, or grandparent, that speaks or spoke a Sami language
  • s/he simply considers her/himself to be Sami (valid in Finland only)

For the Swedish case, the term 'Sami' have been defined by the government, and included only peoples herding reindeers. This was contrary to how the Sami themselves wanted to be defined.


Main article: Sami religion

The term Sami religion is usually referring to the pre-Christian religion, practiced till about 18th century. Christianity started already in the 11th century but the Lutheran Bible was first translated in much later time. In the 16th century, priests had tried to convert them, sometimes by cruel means such as burning rune drums (and peoples) on the stake. This made the Sami practice their religion secretly at home, while attending church when required from the authorities. On the Norwegian side, a major effort to convert the Sami was made in around 1720, when the "Apostle of the Sami" - Thomas von Westen, burned drums and converted people by force. The Swedish Sami vicar, Lars Levi Laestadius initiated a puritan, lutheran movement among the Sami around 1840. This movement is still today very dominant in Sami speaking areas. Sami on the Russian peninsula, in North-Eastern Finland and a handful in Norway are members of the Orthodox church.

Sami religion shared many common elements to the Norse mythology and the latter's spiritual parts are often considered to be derived from an aboriginal life style. By a mainly French initiative, from J.P. Gaimard, Lars Levi Laestadius began researching the Sami mythology. His work resulted in four bands or fragments, since by his own admission they contained only a small percentage of what had existed. The fragments were termed Theory of Gods, Theory of Sacrifice, Theory of Prophecy, or short reports about rumorous Sami magic and Sami sagas. Generally, he filtered out the Norse influence and derived common elements between the South, North, and Eastern Sami groups. The mythology has common elements with other Circumpolar religions as well -- such as those in Siberia and North America.


Main article:Sami language.

The Sami language is divided into nine dialects, of which several have their own written languages (orthography). Southern Sami cannot understand Northern Sami. Most dialects are spoken in several countries, as linguistic borders do not correspond to national borders. The Sami language is part of the Finno-Ugric family, related to Finnish and Hungarian but not to Norwegian and kin, however due to prolonged contact with the Scandinavians, there is a large number of Germanic words in Sami.


Main article: Sami music

One very interesting Sami tradition is the singing of joik (not to be confused with the call yoicks used in fox hunting). Joiks are traditionally sung a capella, usually sung slowly and deep in the throat with apparent emotional content of sorrow or anger. Christian missionaries and priests regarded these as "songs of the Devil". In recent years, musical instruments frequently accompany joiks. The Sami singer Mari Boine introduced joiks to the world audience when she blended it with rhythmic music such as jazz and rock on several award-winning albums in the '80s and '90s.

Related articles

External links

als:Saami eo:Sameoj fr:Saami it:Sami nl:Saami no:Samer nn:Samar fi:Saamelaiset sv:Samer


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