Taking one of the many wonderful Northern Lights trips, or exploring up to the Arctic region of Norway yourself, could offer you the opportunity to meet the local Sami people, who often get involved in tourism as guides and hosts in their home villages.

Photo: tonynetone, Flickr.com
Photo: tonynetone, Flickr.com

The Sami capital, Karasjok, is a fascinating city to visit here you will experience a thriving Sami culture. Home to almost 3,000 locals and about 60,000 reindeer. Indigenous to northern Scandinavia, the Sami live alongside Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, and Russians but continue to speak their language and practice some cultural traditions, such as reindeer herding.

Their are about 80,000 Sami people left, with half of the occupants living in Norway’s north. The neighboring town Kautokeino, technically have more residents.

Photo: martin_vmorris,  Flickr.com
Photo: martin_vmorris, Flickr.com

Their lifestyles vary across Sami – and beyond – but interested visitors can gain a window into the part of their lives and learn a little about Sami cultural history.

Reindeer Herding

Evidence of reindeer use by people living the Sapmi area dates back at least two thousand years. Reindeer offer valuable resources to people living in circumpolar regions: including meat, hides, antlers (used for tools, such as harpoons, and decorative items), milk and transportation.

There are currently 43 Sami villages that organizes reindeer herding in accordance with Swedish law, with a similar legal organisation in Norway and less strict laws in Finland.

Thousands of Sami rely on reindeer for their livelihoods, and visitors can encounter some of the reindeer and talk to Sami people about their culture. As a quick note, dog sledding is a popular pastime as well and you can be treated to a dog sledding expedition with the experts if you’re lucky.

Cuisine

The traditional cuisine of the Sami people has depended on locally available resources, but it typically centers on ingredients such as fish, game, reindeer and berries, with the latter proving vital during the sparse winter months in the far north.

Dishes include smoked meat, fried meat, smoked or cooked fish, soups – with potatoes and other vegetables in addition to the meats – and bread, with desserts including cloudberries and stewed mountain sorrel leaves.

Handicrafts and Art

While visiting Sami, on either Northern Lights tours, or your own, you will also have the opportunity to see – and buy – some Sami handicrafts and art works. Many Sami crafts are dual-purpose – being both practical and beautiful.

The primary purpose of their coats, for example, is to stay warm in the cold climate, like with  the lavvu (Sami tent), but they are also stunning examples of textile and embroidery work. The noadi (drum) is both a musical instrument and a visual display of the worlds of people and gods.

Buying from Sami artists helps to support the Sami communities and their traditions.

Language

The morphology of the Sami people belongs to the same Uralic language family as Finnish, although they are entirely different. It is more accurate to say that there are multiple Sami languages, as there are ten or more dialects across Sami, loosely divided into Western Sami and Eastern Sami and further sub-divided within those two groupings.

Not all dialects are mutually intelligible. The Sami people that visitors meet on Northern Lights trips will be able to share some of their traditional language. Nine Sami languages are considered “living”, with others critically endangered. Previous suppression of Sami language use by Scandinavian governments has led to the languages’ diminished use, but communities are now working to keep their languages alive and teach them to new generations.

Photo: martin_vmorris, Flickr.com
Photo: martin_vmorris, Flickr.com

There are so few places in the world in which people preserve their culture and tradtions in the way the Sami do. Make it a point to learn more and experience a bit of the lifestyle yourself if you head up north.