Terhi Vuojala-Magga and Stephan Dudeck breaching the image of the North as a home and as a field

Stephan Dudeck visited Terhi Vuojala-Magga in the Inari region of Finnish Sápmi (Sámi home area) two times during this year.  The first visit was in January in Kuttura – a Sami reindeer herders´ forest village of six houses in the upper stream of Ivalo River – and the second visit was at the beginning of April, both in Ivalo and Kuttura.

I met Stephan for the first time last autumn at Arctic Centre when I was talking about my work in MISTRA project of The Arctic Lessons for Sweden. During our discussions we decided that Stephan will come to visit me in the Far North.

Spring is the high ice fishing season in Lapland. Here Terhi on the Ivalo River.

During his first visit we had some interesting talks about anthropology and we did some polar night ice fishing of burbot with a spring hook fish trap. It was rather cold, but still Stephan wanted to test his clothing for his journey to the Nenets region in Russia and he did stay on ice doing some ice-fishing too. I noticed that he is not afraid of being in the cold.

An artist performing for Sámi children at the new Sajos in Inari

Stephans’s second visit was in the middle of the best spring time here in the north. It was on occasion of the conference “Tales from the North” in the new build Sajos building in Ivalo, which also hosts the Sámi Parliament. Our main motivation to go there was the marvelous and inspiring presentation of Prof. Tim Ingold  from Aberdeen. Afterwards we had a nice dinner at home in Ivalo with him and his wife Anna Ingold.  Afterwards we socialized with the locals in our local pub with dance and karaoke.  Though Stephan did not sing any karaoke songs, even we all wanted to hear it, he did learn to dance Finnish tango. And he did this so well that people liked it (as I heard about it afterwards).  I myself learned to drink wine instead of beer or koskenkorva (Vodka). On Saturday we took part in an ice fishing competition in Riutula together with my friends. The competition was a success in the nice warm sunshine and we all got some fish though not enough to win the competition.

Ice fishing competition in Riutula 14th of April 2012. Grilled sausages are an obligatory companion at such events in Finnish Lapland.

Once back in Kuttura, which was Stephan’s second visit to this forest village, we dived into intensive discussions about anthropology, places and people.  We were talking about intimacy and privacy – in two ways.  I was able to understand what it means when an anthropologist lives with the people – as Stephan did in my home (though I’m an anthropologist too).

Terhi Voula-Magga's home in Kuttura

However, this is not a one sided issue.  Anthropologists have their own privacy and intimacy too.  In both ways there are options and limits and I suppose these dimensions have to be found out each time once people meet. It’s a question how much you reveal of yourself and how much people learn to trust you.

The second discussion was about our emotions and sensitivity – a quite important topic. We agreed that most people here are very sensitive; we share the quietness – that is very common for northerners. It means that the tacit communication in the environment with the people or even in absence of the people has meanings and messages. An important point during our discussions was: never louse your sense of humor – whatever happens we should not stop to laugh at ourselves.

Stephan did skiing on the frozen Ivalo River. It was an extraordinary sensory experience while communicating with the northern landscape.

In short we learned that the eyes can see until there is nothing to see, and the ears can hear even there is nothing to listen to, and we can understand when we cease to understand at all.

One thought on “Terhi Vuojala-Magga and Stephan Dudeck breaching the image of the North as a home and as a field

  1. fstammle

    It is inspiring to read about the dialogue of two northern anthropologists in this way! Most of us know, and many believe that being in the field is mostly an endeavour of a lonely anthropologist with the people with whom he/she lives, makes friends, studies and analyses. I have myself had the chance to benefit from a short month long fieldwork with colleague Piers Vitebsky in the Nenets Region, among some of the people Stephan is now going to in the ORHELIA project (www.arcticcentre.org/orhelia). I would very much agree and advocate more joint field visits by two anthropologists, because talks on-site about situations, people and events happening in real time can give us a different perception of the seen, the observed, and the participated in. This doesn’t mean that we don’t all have our field sites where we have spent a lot of time ‘alone’. I think that ‘alone’ points well to the privacy/intimacy question: in fact in very few cases we are entirely alone in the field. Yet we probably all know the feeling of being alone, which is related to a feeling of difference between you and the people you live with, however close they may be. The difference is that we are anthropologists and they aren’t, which gives us our distinct role in the community, and our specific tasks, which set us apart from others. I have been often referred to as the strange guy who writes notes when others want to go to sleep.
    Our old colleagues were right in pointing to the importance of fieldnote. There is a sense of intimacy between the anthropologist and his fieldnotes as we sit there and write, even in a nomadic tent when surrounded by a dozen people talking about something else.
    Therefore in my work with reindeer nomads in Russia, there is hardly any privacy ever in the outer sense of the word, as I live together with the people in one tent. And yet the intimacy of conversing with my fieldnotes is a lasting impression. So intimacy can also successfully occur in a very public space such as chum (nomadic tent) of a camp leader in a reindeer nomads’ camp.
    In fact, it seems to me that the relation in the tundra is turned upside down: the tent is the public space where there is no privacy (although some put in summer fabric-enclosures around their beds within the tent). If you want privacy, you need to go out to the land. You can be alone in doing things, e.g. herding, fishing, berry picking, getting firewood, water, etc. Once you are back in the camp, you are on public display to everybody there.
    So in the tundra we go in to the public, whereas in the settlements or cities, we go out to the public, to the streets, where we can be seen. Interesting!

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