Collaborative Ethnography before Its Time: Johan Turi and Emilie Demant Hatt

Article excerpt

Mon lean okta sapmelas guhte lean bargan visot sami bargguid ja mon dovddan visot sami dili.... Mon lean jurddasan, ahte dat livccui buoremus, jos livcciu dakkar girji, masa lea visot callojuvvon bajas sami eallin ja dilli ... ja vai eai beasa botnjat nuppe ladje, dakkarat gudet haliidit samiid nala gielistit, ja botnjat viso beare samiid sivalazzan, go leat riiddut dalolacccaid ja samiid gaskkas Norggas ja Ruolas. Ja dasa jerte callit visot dahpahusaid ja cilgehusaid, vai boadalii cielggqas nu ahte ipmirda juohke olmmos. Ja lea dat nuppiide samiidenai havski gullat sami dili birra. (Turi, Muitalus II)

I am a Lapp who, throughout my life, have busied myself with all manner of Lapp work, and I know all about Lapp life.... Now I've thought that it would be a good thing if there was a book which told everything about Lapp life and circumstances ... so that folk shouldn't come to twist everything round till the Lapps are always slandered, and always made out to be in the wrong when there's trouble between the Lapps and the settlers up in Norway and Sweden. In that book every event must be written down and explained so that it is quite clear to everyone. And it will be good for other Lapps to hear of Lapp circumstances. (Turi, Turi's 19) (1)

IN THE INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPH to Muitalus samiid birra, (2) Johan Turi wrote these words nearly a century ago with an assured conviction in the authority of the written text and the emergent sovereignty of the documenting narrator. However, while approaching that seminal text in Sami culture with the purpose of writing my current study, I was confronted by the ambivalence of the topic analyzed.

In any discussion of Sami literature today, Muitalus is unavoidably mentioned as the first book written by a Sami in the Sami language, which automatically gives it a certain position of significance. Yet at the same time, this publication carries equivocal baggage that occasions conflicting interpretations. Sami scholars recognize the groundbreaking role of Turi and Muitalus in cultural history, but when analyzing Turi's body of work, the instrumental role of Emilie Demant Hatt is mentioned only in passing or even ignored. It seems tacitly suggested that her input entailed a degrading effect on the creative quality and authenticity of Turi's work. On the other hand, the dynamics of interaction between Johan Turi and Emilie Demant Hatt have attracted the attention of creative imaginations making the romantic affection involved a central focus of the relationship. In general, both Johan Turi and Emilie Demant Hatt--and even Muitalus--have remained relatively neglected as subjects of detailed scholarly analysis. This article intends to explore the synergetic endeavor that produced Muitalus, a publication including a descriptive narrative that recounts certain aspects of Sami life by Johan Turi with an introduction and explanatory notes by Emilie Demant Hatt. While rethinking the discursive aspects of the collaborative project undertaken by Johan Turi and Emilie Demant Hatt that eventually produced several ethnographic and poignantly idiosyncratic cultural descriptions, I propose to eschew an essentialist study of Muitalus as a transparent literary text or a singular effort and seek rather to reach beyond the text to examine the temporal context of contested codes and representations, negotiated subjectivities, and the politics of textualization. To discuss Muitalus as an intellectual product of two people obliged to communicate and negotiate as equal partners, as co-authors working toward a mutual objective, I inquire into the aspects of cultural poetics and cultural politics of constituting textual representations and creating interpretive authorities.

During recent decades, American anthropological discourse has been intensely interested in the practice of ethnographic writing and has given rise to extensive reflexive studies of classical ethnographies. The paradigmatic shift from interpretive anthropology to textual meta-anthropology is seen in scholars' investigating and reflecting not on cultural encounters or symbolic patterns of social practice, but on discursive aspects of cultural representation. …