Sharon OJanpa Mackey, FHM Staff Reporter

PatriciaAt the October 8, 2018, meeting of the Finnish Heritage Museum (FHM), Patricia Ochman entertained and informed us with information about the Saami and the land where they live - Lapland. The Saami are an Arctic people who live in the northern part of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia. Ms. Ochman, who loves languages, lived with the Saami in Rovaniemi, on the Arctic Circle. This city is considered the gateway to Finnish Lapland. In that part of Finland, the sun sets for about four months in the winter, before emerging again in the spring. Can you imagine how dark and cold it gets?

Lapland takes up about a third of Finland’s land area, and there are approximately 7,500 to 9,000 Saami living there. As the indigenous people of Finland, they have a special status under the Finnish Constitution. They have certain rights pertaining to their own language and culture. They also have their own Parliament, which takes care of their cultural, language, and natural resource rights.

So, who is a Saami? Here a person is defined by a language. To be a Saami, he or she must have learned Saami as a first language or have at least one parent or grandparent who learned Saami as a first language. The Saami language is related to Finnish, much closer than is Hungarian, but not as close as Estonian.

How did the Saami and the Finns come to live in Finland? One theory is that the Saami and the Finns came from a common ancestor and migrated into two different lifestyles. What actually happened is still unclear. What is clear is that the Finnish and Saami people became distinct societies about two centuries before Christ. The Saami were probably living in Fennoscandia around the third century B.C. and got pushed gradually into the interior. The Saami were a hunting, trapping, and herding society, rather than one engaged in agriculture. They developed a fur trade with the more settled societies around them. The Saami and the Finns are most likely related, and people often get them mixed up when talking about them.

The first Saami congress was held in Trondheim, Norway, on February 6, 1917. That date has been celebrated as Saami Day ever since. There are at least 11 Saami languages and six different ways of writing them. Two of these languages are today almost extinct. These languages are not always mutually intelligible. In Finland, Northern Saami is the most prevalent spoken language, but you will also hear Inari Saami and Skolt Saami.

Because of their comparable history, there are a lot of similarities between the northern and southern Saami and the Finnish people. The two cultures have been interactive for a long time and may have a common ancestor. The Saami are probably the only indigenous people of Europe. In Norway and Sweden, only the Saami can have reindeer, but in Finland, anyone who is a European citizen has a right to own reindeer. This can sometimes cause tension among the Saami.

Reindeer are the same as caribou, but are domesticated, where the caribou are not. Because the reindeer are allowed to roam freely, people need to drive carefully. The reindeer have identification tags on their ears signifying whom they belong to. There are approximately 50 reindeer herding cooperatives in the country. As an example of how adaptable the reindeer is, we know that their eyes have a reflective property, so they work well both in the long, dark winter and the long, light filled days of summer. Their eyes are similar to the transition lenses we can get in our glasses.

The traditional costumes of the Saami vary, with the styles and artwork changing by family and region. The colors are bright and cheerful. The Saami are also known for their beautiful carving of burl cups and other wooden objects. Traditional food consists of reindeer, cloudberries, lingonberries, a flatbread, blood pancakes, and fish, especially salmon.

The Saami type of singing is called joik and is very calming and peaceful; samples can be found on You Tube. At times, it reminds me of some of the songs sung by Native Americans.

After this remarkable program on the Saami, refreshments were provided by Jovette and Lassse. There was a very good variety of sandwiches and desserts. Lasse made sure to point out that he carried them safely into the Museum. Lasse then called the business meeting to order.


Our next meeting will be on November 12, 2018 and will feature letters to home from the front during WWII. These letters will be read by descendants of the letter writers themselves.

Pikku Joulu will be celebrated on December 10, 2018, in the parlors of the Zion Lutheran Church in Fairport Harbor. If you are in the area, we hope you will visit. As always, you can keep up with our schedule and programs by checking our website: finnishheritagemuseum.org. We hope to see you soon.

Text © Sharon Ojanpa Mackey, Photo © Jane Hiltunen 2018








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