The Saami people have lived in northern Scandinavia and the Kola peninsula, in Russia, since the beginning of time, in an area called Sápmi or Lappland. Saamis are traditionally reindeer herders much like Mongolians, or Yakuts from Siberia are, though they share no genes with these Asiatic people. The Saami religion is a belief that all life is dualistic on both spiritual and physical levels and that people must live in harmony without disturbing Nature. Alongside the material world there is a spiritual world, called saivo.
A Saami shaman will often chant a yoik to better relate to the nature around her or him. A yoik is a traditional saami form of song. It is often sung a cappella, without accompanying instruments. The tonality of yoik is mostly pentatonic but yoikers are at liberty to use any tones they want. Please see the videos below for two yoiks; one traditional and the other more recent. Let the sound shimmer, or vibrate through you. Yoiks are also sung to a beating drum, in a similar way to American Native Indian chants. The Saami shaman drum skin is dressed with symbolic Saami images that are representations of the ‘known’ world.
Most of the Saami shaman drums that existed through history were burned in the late 17th century. At this time everyone had to be a Christian. There are only about 70 old drums saved, and as mentioned many Siberian and North American groups have also used drums in a similar way.
Saamis traditionally have 8 seasons; a much better rhythm. The 8 seasons are equivalent to Winter, Late Winter, Spring, Early Summer, Summer, Late Summer, Autumn, Early Winter. Saami months also have different names than the usual monthly names we are used to:
There are Saami parliaments in the Scandinavian countries, but they are pure window dressing and have no real power or say in any affairs which concern them, and 35% of Saamis in Scandinavia currently feel racially discriminated against. Historically they have been, with encroachment on their land, destruction of cultural artefacts, official discrimination, racial profiling, sterilisation and forced assimilation. The usual story, as seen in North America, the Highlands of Scotland, Siberia and many European countries with their Roma Gypsy people, among others worldwide. These days the situation differs in each country with a Saami minority, and though the situation is much improved, tacit official racism is still common.
The Saami language is said to have Uralic roots, and is a ‘loose branch’ of the widespread Finno-Ugraic language tree. Saamis have long been nomadic when they could, living in tipis (called lavo) even through the long dark winter, when the northern skies are ablaze with the aurora borealis. (Accordingly the summer day can be 24 hours long, bathed in sunlight).
Saami craftwork is simple at first glance, but quite intricate, on wood, leather silver and copper, and we still have much to learn about the medicinal use of herbs and berries in the Saami diet.
The Saami now have their official flag as a ‘nation’.
One of the more interesting of the ancient Saami legends is that of an ‘old’ man or woman who enters the tipi through a hole and leaves gifts during Yule season. The visitor is not always a benefactor or benefactress, however.
It is said that the Finnish Saami get their reindeer from the Swedish sami, who in turn take them from the Norwegian Saami, who get theirs from the Russian Saami, who in turn take theirs from the Fnnish Saami. In this way everyone shares. Saami people I have talked to find some amusement that we give to our leaders but get precious little in return.
Two famous Saamis are Joni Mitchell, the folk singer and Renee Zellweger, the actress.
Many of the Saami shamans are women, who possess an intimate understanding of nature, and of the curative powers of plants and berries, as well as a spiritual connection to the environment.
I have visited a female shaman, and it is an intriguing experience, I will admit. The shaman I went to took me out to a large meadow. She taught me that yoiking creates an emotional bond between people, the animal chain and nature. She told me that they ”don’t yoik about something as we do when we sing, but that they yoik something and then become a part of what they are yoiking.”
Try it: commune with nature, freely, and as loudly as you want. Its worth it.
- “Only Finnish spoken here” versus cultural diversity (migranttales.net)
- Migrant Tales Literary: What Color is the Finnish Government? (migranttales.net)
- NEWS: UN forum: Inuit and Saami vow to “fight the tendencies of linguicide” (nunatsiaqonline.ca)