Visiting the Land of Sami and Reindeers

Europe's northernmost indigenous people

For most people a trip to northern Norway, Finland or Sweden means viewing the famous northern lights, but these Scandinavia countries have so much more on offer than just their spectacular light shows. They house Europe's northernmost indigenous people and showcases snow filled landscapes dotted with Reindeers.

The Sami people (formally known as Lapps or Laplanders) have dated back to as early as 98 A.D. They can still be today found inhabiting

the northern regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. It is suggested that the term Lapp in Scandinavian languages refers to "a patch of cloth for mending" which could possibly be descriptive to the Sami's traditional "gakti" clothing.

Traditionally these Sami people have pursued a variety of livelihoods, including coastal fishing (amongst the Norwegian Sea Sami) and reindeer herding (amongst the mountain Sami).

Despite having been previously discriminated by these European countries, the Sami people are the only individuals that today can legally herd reindeer due to their cultural linage. Just over 2800 Sami's are considered reindeer nomads for herding on a full time basis.

Historically, reindeers provided the Sami with a means of transport, source of food and fur to keep warm from the bitterly cold weather of the Arctic. Today, it is their main source of income.

To make up for past suppression, the authorities of Norway, Sweden and Finland now make an effort to promote Sami culture and language. Many Sami artifacts can be found in local museums around these neighbouring countries.

Day and evening tours to see the Sami are also on offer. Daytime trips provide you with scenic views of the wild mountains, while on the evening trips you will be served a traditional hot Sami meal, enjoy in Sami storytelling, view cultural artefacts and take part in the traditional Sami song of joik. Later, go reindeer sledging under the northern lights.

Fun Facts about Reindeers:

#1 Its hard to tell the sex of a reindeer

Unlike any other deer species, both the male and female reindeers have antlers. Males lose their antlers in winter or spring, but females shed theirs in the summer. Reindeer antlers grow back in a few months.

#2 Santa's reindeers could have been females.

Sorry to break this to you but as the fact above states - male reindeers shed their antlers in winter.

#3 Reindeers are the only mammals that can see ultraviolet light.

Things like white fur and urine against white backgrounds show up in high contrast for a reindeer.

#4 Reindeers are adapted to the cold weather

Their fur traps air providing them with excellent insulation. It also keeps them buoyant in water while migrating across rivers and lakes.

Their noses warm the air they breathe before it enters their lungs keeping their mucous membranes moist.

Exploring the Sami Tents

Sami tents most, commonly known as a Lavvu, are temporary dwellings used by the Sami people. It is designed similar to a Native American tipi but is less vertical and more stable in high winds. It consists of three or more forked poles and several straight poles. The forked poles have a two-stem fork at the top end and are interlocked so that they form a tripod. Upon the assembly of the forked poles, the straight poles are laid in a circular fashion.

Inside the lavvu, there is a fireplace in the middle used for heating. The smoke escapes through the smoke hole in the top of the lavvu that is usually left open. Occasionally a rough blanket is wrapped round the smoke hole to make the opening smaller, but not to the point where smoke would be prevented from escaping. In order to prevent smoke from building up inside, proper air circulation is maintained by leaving an opening between the ground and the cover, or leaving the door slightly open. Keeping the fire hot enough to let the heated smoke rise through the smoke hole is necessary.

Traditionally, there was a smaller door in the back of the lavvu, opposite the front door, called the bear door. This was used for ceremonial purposes, such as removing the dead (not appropriate out of the front door) and similar functions.

This is a Sami storeroom, that were built to return to as they moved from place to place herding reindeer. These storerooms were tucked away, safe, in remote locations.

Images and content by: Chantelle Flores

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