Sámi Cultural History

This page is dedicated to ongoing work by some of our authors here on the topic of Sámi cultural history. Below you find a general introduction and some links to our work, while you can search for current news and entries on the topic under the categories “oral history”, “spirituality”, and “Sámi”.

Sámi culture and history has been one of the most debated fields of interest by scholars throughout all the Scandinavian countries, as well as Russia and the United States. This is for a number of reasons but the main one concerns a similar cultural history as many other indigenous peoples whose relationship to the natural world in the past, was maintained by ritualistic practices and a direct dependence on nature. All indigenous peoples have lived in close contact with the animal kingdom too. Approximately 350 years ago in Lapland, this relationship with the natural world was thrown into chaos as the Swedish and Norwegian governments authorised the Christian churches bishops and priests to assert their powers over the reindeer people, which in time brought significant change to an ancient hunting culture and nomadic way of life.

Today, the Sámi in Finland, very much like other minority peoples, are in a process of current strife to maintain their culture and identity which is constantly being redefined to meet the needs of the people who live in the Sami areas of northern Finland, as well as the city Sami who live for example in Rovaniemi, Oulu, and Helsinki. One of the ways this struggle is encountered and portrayed is through the arts and media.

Perhaps one of the most important as well as mysterious figures portrayed in Sámi culture has been the elusive Sámi Noaidi or shaman, who throughout the course of the 17th and 18th centuries was at the centre of Sámi religion and culture. The tools and skills of the noaidi were complex and varied, but were characterised by close contact with certain spirit beings which existed in a non-ordinary reality that was divided into between two to five different realms, the main three being an upper or celestial world inhabited by God and Goddess figures; a middle world of every day events and occurances, and a lower or nether region where departed ancestors resided. This place is referrred to as Saivo, a mythical underworld that is often portrayed as being upside down or as a mirror reflection of the physical reality.

One of the main tools which was used for establishing contact and engaging with the powers from these different dimensions was the drum. The noaidi or owner if the drum was skilled in divination and healing as well as tracking lost souls.

The Sámi noaidi drum was so revered in Lapland that it was often sacrificed to, and considered to have the same value as one would revere to a bible or holy book, but without any scripture to it.                                                                     Francis Joy, Feb 15, 2011

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