The Sami, Scandinavia’s Aborigines

Taking the Best from the Modern World while Retaining Traditions

It´s grey. The mosquitoes are biting. The tourists stream in and the Sami smile. We´re in Sapmi, Finnmark´s largest Sami theme park. Visitors are shown around authentic Sami buildings, and in the magic theatre is shown an ultra-modern multimedia presentation of the Sami culture, history and landscape. When you´re hungry you go to the Sami restaurant, and finally you buy Sami souvenirs in the shop near the exit.

Genuine People of NatureThe establishment itself is run by a Sami family that breeds reindeer when not looking after tourists.- How many reindeer does an average Sami family really have?- Ha ha, now your treading on thin ice. It means bad luck if we talk about how many reindeer we have, but in general the average family has about 200 animals, explains Mathis Ailu Eira Meløy. He shows us in to a turf hut and serves coffee round the fire. In the roof is an opening to let the smoke out. Beneath the hole towards the sky are horizontal sticks on which to smoke meat, and we sit on a layer of birch twigs covered by lovely soft reindeer skins. The Sami are genuine people of nature.

Unintelligible LanguageWe get a thorough introduction to the Sami way of life. We´re taken into a reindeer enclosure and learn how to use a lasso, and we get to hear the Sami talk in their own language. It sounds like Finnish.- Our language derives from the Finno-Ugric family. Variations are found in Finland, Hungary and Estonia. But there are extremely different dialects, and there are many Sami that we here in northern Scandinavia can´t even understand, smiles Eira Meløy. Regretfully, it looks as though the minority dialects are gradually disappearing, but northern Sami is now being taught in primary school, so this dialect remains. Fortunately.

Join us on the vidda!– Can tourists join a Sami family out on the vidda and help herd reindeer?- Sure, but it demands a good portion of patience. Reindeer herding depends on the weather, and not everybody has the ability to wait two days in the middle of Finnmarksvidda without anything happening. On the other hand, it´s a unique opportunity to really get to see how Scandinavia´s aborigines live and work.

Norway´s aborigines are not stuck in pre-industrial times. The Sami have taken the best from a modern world, and simultaneously retained their traditions, language and basic lifestyle. A visit among the Sami provides an experience that is completely out of the ordinary.