Monthly Archives: January 2013

The reindeer gathering

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Lapland is reindeer country. They roam free across this flat land, docile as cattle, standing in the roads or digging for lichen in the deep snow.

But they are not wild animals, or not entirely. Many are owned by the Sami people, the indigenous group once known as the Lapps, who live throughout Arctic Scandinavia and western Russia.

The reindeer herders are – or, for the most part, were – a semi-nomadic group, migrating north to the coast with their animals for the short Arctic summer, south to the forests over winter.

Modern life has not been kind to the Sami. Main roads and national borders have sprung up across centuries-old migration routes, while many of the traditional ways have become lost after generations of Sami children were sent to Finnish language boarding schools in the south – from which many never returned.

But Sami culture lives on. Recent government initiatives have pumped money into Sami-language education and cultural revival.

Here in Enontekio, the elderly Sami ladies can be spotted their embroidered smocks and bonnets in the supermarket, browsing the sweet selection. The Sami men, oozing testosterone, can be found in the only bar in town, or blearily winding their way home again on their snowmobiles.

Reindeer herding here is still very much a way of life. Although the majority of the Sami reindeer herders now keep a permanent home – a house, a car, a comfortable bed – life is still dictated by the changing seasons; the movement of the reindeer. Continue reading

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