Sami – The True People of the North
The Sami are the only indigenous people in the European Union area, living in the Northern parts of Finland, Norway, and Sweden as well as the Kola Peninsula of North-Eastern Russia. In Finland, the Sami population is approximately 9 000 strong, and the preservation of their endangered language and culture is governed by an autonomous parliament in Inari, Finland.
The Sami possess a rich cultural heritage and are known for their close connection to the land they live on. Their ancient religion consisted of strong beliefs in the spirit world and the power of nature around them. They believed that everything is connected to the earth, and that the earth is everything. Mountains and fells, as well as bodies of water, were worshipped and sacrificed to. The Sami also believe that everything organic has a soul, and they treat everything and everyone accordingly.
The Old Sami Way of Life
The Sami’s beliefs in the supernatural are well documented. One of the most famous Sami tales regards the inception of the Northern Lights; the Fox ran across the night sky, sweeping the Heavens with its tail, leaving behind a spectacular glow for the people of the North to see.
Shamanism has always been an essential part of the old Sami way of life. The Sami witch drum is today a popular tourist item. It was originally used by medicine men as a tool, along with the Sami chant called the joik, to fall into a trance in order to reach a level of communication with the Spirits, whose will was then conveyed to the community.
In the mind of the average Finn, the Sami are often thought of as reindeer herders. While it is indeed the most prominent of their traditional sources of livelihood (complemented by fishing and hunting), many Sami today work in more modern professions. They no longer live in tradional kotas (similar to a tepee), although many still lead a fairly rustic lifestyle in Northern Lapland.
It is estimated that around 60 percent of the Sami now live outside their home area. This poses threats to the already endangered culture; keeping the community together is getting harder and harder, with young people leaving the North for education and employment in the South, and forgetting the old ways as they integrate into modern society.
There are a few variations of the Sami language: North Sami is spoken by approximately 2 000 people, while the Inari and Koltta dialects are only known by around 300 speakers each. These days, Sami is taught in the universities of Helsinki, Oulu and Rovaniemi, and the number of students is on a slow but steady rise.
In just a few minutes, you can leave behind the hustle and bustle of a ski resort or a city and arrive in the peace and quiet of the wilderness. All children (and young-at-heart) know that Santa Claus lives in Finnish Lapland, where you can meet him in person.