Saturday, October 14, 2017

Clothes of the Sami[1]
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Sápmi is the name of the Sami's traditional lands, but it also denotes the Sami community and the people. The Sami live in what is commonly known as the Lapland region of Scandinavia. Note: Western historical records are poor and so whether the South of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia was previously occupied by Sami is still an open question.

The population of Sami is over 80,000 of whom 20,000 live in Sweden. There are nine different languages that span the North Sami, Lule Sami and South Sami in Sweden, with several of them so different that speakers cannot converse with one another. All are on the UN list of endangered languages.

Map of Samic language areas.

The Sami flag is common to all Sami. It was designed by Astrid Båhl from Skiboth in Troms, Norway and was adopted by the Sami in 1986.

The circle in the flag is a symbol of the sun (red) and the moon (blue). The colors come from traditional Sami dress (see below).

A Sami woman wearing a replica of traditional Kola Peninsula Sami dress.

The National anthem of the Sámi is - Sámi saga lávlla ("Song of the Sami People") with words penned by Isak Saba and music composed by Arne Sørlie, both are Norwegian.

The Sami's political status varies between the four countries over which their community spans (i.e. Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia). In Sweden the Sami are acknowledged as an indigenous people and a national minority.

Around the turn of the last century, many politicians, the Church of Sweden and scholars saw no future for the Sami as a people and decided that reindeer herding was a doomed livelihood and so wanted to wash away their culture into a European framework.

Per Henning Nutti packing a castrated male reindeer (Lapland, 1950).

At the same time, racial biology classified the Sami as an inferior race and this classification was used as justification for keeping Sami outside of the industrial society and so discarded them from preparatory work needed in order to enter a modern European state.

Professor Gustaf Retzius (a racial biologist) and the Sami Fjällstedt from Härjedalen (probably 1905).

In so many ways the Sami society was well advanced from the emerging European state.The print below taken from - Olaus Magnus: History de gentiles septentrionalibus in 1555 shows a Sami women - with flying hair - shooting arrows during a hunt with the same skill as the men. Obtaining food in Europe was divided into hunters (men) and gatherers (women), whereas among the Sami there were no such divisions.

Women and men were hunters in the Sami society.

While the Sami were slowly being extinguished by stealth, from the sixteenth century onwards there was a growing interest in these people, who were then given the name Lapps. Grand ethnographical work such as Johannes Schefferus' book "Lapponia" was written in Latin in 1673. Not surprisingly it did not appear in Swedish until 1956.

Even today many Sami feel that they encounter discrimination and prejudice on a daily basis. In 1999 a man in Stockholm was reported to the police for incitement to murder or agitation against an ethnic group, since he had a car bumper sticker that declared: "Save a wolf - shoot a Sami". Needless to say no charges were laid against this act of folly.

This post hopes to showcase the clothing on the Sami - some traditional and others influenced by European life.

Jokkmokk Sami market in the first half of the twentieth century.

Clothes of the Sami[1]
Below are some traditional and non traditional clothes worn by the indigenous people of the Sápmi - the Sami. Unless otherwise specified, all photographs and information were obtained from reference [1].

The picture is of Lis-Mari Hjortfors' grandmother Inga, her grandmother's brothers and sisters and their mother. "Were they forced to pose for this photo," Lis-Mari ponders,'in order to document their racial features?"

Man from Kaalasvuoma, Kiruna, Lapland. His racial features are documented next to the photograph.

Inga Pirtsi using a sewing machine in her hut.
Jokkmokk, Lapland, first half of the twentieth century.

Man's cap from Karesuando, Lapland (1918).

Woman's cap from Karesuando, Lapland (1918).

Sami man - winter outfit.
Photograph Courtesy of Borg Mensch (1919).

Sami woman.
Photograph Courtesy of Borg Mensch (1919).

Children in school hut.
Jukkasjärvi, Lapland (1939).

A pewter embroidered belt (1872).

A man in a summer kolt.
Karesuando, Lapland (1918).

A Silver Collar.
Photograph courtesy of Mats Landin.

Confirmation celebration in Vilhelmina, Lapland (July, 2001).

[1] E. E. Silvén, M. Landin and C. Westergren, Nordiska Museet (2007). Catalogue for the exhibition "Sápmi".

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