"These Stories Will Not Lead You to Heaven": An Encounter with Two Sami Narrators

By Skjelbred, Ann Helene Bolstad | Folklore, April 2001 | Go to article overview

"These Stories Will Not Lead You to Heaven": An Encounter with Two Sami Narrators


Skjelbred, Ann Helene Bolstad, Folklore


Abstract

This article deals with a neglected narrative tradition--that of the largely nomadic Sami people of the northern regions of Norway, Sweden and Finland. In the past, when the stability of tradition was taken as necessary to an interesting and "authentic" culture, Sami narratives were regarded only as "loans" from other countries through which the Sami passed, and of no intrinsic interest or value. Though nowadays such criteria are no longer considered either necessary or valid, there still has been no extensive study of Sami narrative culture. This article attempts to begin to remedy this situation by discussing two Sami narrators and their stories. [1]

Travelling North

During the summer of 1997, I flew north from Oslo to Alta, a distance of approximately 1700 kilometres, and from there an interpreter took me on a four-hour car journey to Kautokeino, in order to meet Berit Anne Blind (born 1904) at the old folks' home there. It was a collection of Sami tales, Lappiske eventyr og sagn (1928) by collector and scholar Just Knud Qvigstad, that inspired me to travel to Kautokeino to visit Berit Anne.

While registering North Norwegian fairy tales for Tromso Museum, where Sami tales in Norwegian are also represented, I found that Qvigstad's youngest informant from Kautokeino was only twenty-six years old when the second of the four volumes was published. The young woman's name was Ellen Utsi (born 1902), and her repertoire of tales and legends is the largest in this volume. I wondered if there was a chance that some of her relatives could be found for interviews. Through contacts, Berit Anne Blind's name came up and it transpired that she was Ellen Utsi's younger sister. An interview was arranged with her. She had lived many years in Sweden and speaks Swedish fairly well, but the interview was undertaken in Sami with the help of an interpreter. In this article, I shall discuss Ellen and Berit Anne's background and their repertoire of stories. Ellen's repertoire exists in the printed volume of Qvigstad's collections, but Berit Anne's consists of the stories gleaned during the interview I conducted with her in 1997.

The Sami: Background and History

The Sami [2] population today numbers about 47,000 people, 30,000 of whom live in Norway. Two thousand inhabit the northern part of Russia, 5,000 live in Finland and 10,000 in Sweden (see Figure 1). They may be divided in four groups according to settlement patterns and way of life. The sea-Samis live by the Norwegian fjords and engage in fishing and some agriculture. The river- and lake-Samis are settled along waterways in the interior of northern Norway, Sweden and Finland. The forest-Samis inhabit Swedish Lappland and engage in agriculture, in addition to keeping some reindeer. The mountain-Samis inhabit Norway, Sweden and Finland and their main occupation is reindeer nomadism, moving back and forth between summer and winter pastures.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

According to the Lappish Codicil of 1751 agreed between the monarchs of Denmark-Norway, and Sweden-Finland, the Samis were guaranteed free movement across borders and the right of occupation with their reindeer. In 1852, Russia, which had ruled Finland since 1809, closed the border between Norway and Finland, mainly to keep the Norwegian Samis out. The border between Sweden and Finland was likewise closed in 1889. However, on both sides of the Swedish-Norwegian border, the right to pasture for reindeer, together with fishing, hunting and lumber rights, were upheld in certain districts. The Convention of 1972 guarantees Swedish Samis summer pastures for approximately forty thousand reindeer in Norway, while Norwegian Samis are guaranteed winter pasture for approximately ten thousand reindeer in Sweden.

Attitudes to Sami Culture and Narrative Tradition

Just Knud Qvigstad

Just Knud Qvigstad (1853-1957) is a legend in the history of Norwegian academia, not only because he lived to be a great age but also for his extraordinary academic career.

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