Lapland’s indigenous people are called Sami (which is pronounced Sar-mee) and their lives and culture are inextricably linked to the reindeer. The area defined as Lapland covers northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and part of Russia, with over 900,000 Sami people living between these four countries. In Swedish Lapland the Sami number 70,000 and even today the Sami reindeer herders enjoy a free border between the four countries as they follow their herds.
The semi-nomadic lives of the Sami people dates back thousands of years and follows the east-west and west-east movement of the reindeer herds. There are nine variations of the Sami dialect with the most common one being that of the Northern Sami. Only at the beginning of the 20th century was the Sami history recorded in Sami language. The people in Lapland have hundreds of words relating to reindeer and reindeer husbandry, which reflects how important the reindeer is to their daily life. They even have a word for a reindeer with skin peeling off its antlers – calocoarvi!
On a visit to Lapland you’ll no doubt come across the opportunity to take a visit to a Sami camp and sit in a traditional tent or lavvu around a warm log fire. We highly recommend accepting a hearty dish of reindeer stew, if it is offered, whilst you listen to generations-old stories recounted by a brightly dressed Sami. One of the best known features of Sami culture is the joik, or chanting, similar to that of the North American Indian or Mongolian throat singing. Themes present in joiks are animals, people, and special occasions in life.
The Sami people are known for their stunning handicrafts. As you travel around you will come across cups and bowls hollowed out of birchwood. Over the thousands of years’ of history similar implements were used to drink water from the rivers and lakes. With exquisite reindeer skin artifacts based on their centuries old traditions. The shapes have been honed over the years and their handcrafts feature no sharp edges – even to the knives that they use, designed so as not to get caught in clothing or bags whilst out on the fells with the reindeer.
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