Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

"When a Lapp Is out on the High Fells": Literary Voice and Cultural Identity for the Sami

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

"When a Lapp Is out on the High Fells": Literary Voice and Cultural Identity for the Sami

Article excerpt


   Go sapmelas boahta moskkus gammarii, de son ii ipmir ii baljo
   maidege, go ii biegga beasa bossut njuni vuosta. Su jurdagat eai
   golgga, go leat seainnit ja moskkus oaivvi nalde. Ja ii leatge
   buorre sutnje orrut suhkkes vuvddiid siste, gos lea liegga ilbmi.
   Muhto go sapmelao lea alla variid nalde, de sus lea oba cielggas
   jierbmi. Ja jos doppe livccui coakkanbaiki soames alla vari nalde,
   de veajalii sapmelas cilget oba bures su iezas assiid. (Turi

   When a Lapp gets into a room, his brains go round ... they're no
   good unless the wind's blowing in his nose. He can't think quickly
   between four walls. Nor is it good for him to be among the thick
   forest when it is warm. But when a Lapp is out on the high fells,
   then his brain is quite clear, and if there was a meeting-place on
   some fell or other, then a Lapp could state his case quite well.
   (Turi 1966:19)

IN 1910, JOHAN Tutu (1854-1936) published Muittalus samiid birra, the book in which he tries to tell all about Sami life. In his introduction, quoted above, he makes a plea to move the prevailing discourse about the Sami out of airless rooms and up onto the high fells, where a Sami could hear his own thoughts and voice. To him, clarity of thought was grounded in place, on the high fells, where reindeer herding provided the ideal "poetics of dwelling" (Ingold 26) necessary to understand a Sami way of life.

However, ironically, Turi found himself making his case in writing, a completely unfamiliar discourse for the self-taught reindeer herder at the turn of the last century. To discuss the Sami, Turi chose a discourse that effectively forced him to negotiate between the dominant Western textual paradigm and the Sami oral tradition. The result is a remarkably polyphonic voice: reinforced by the actual dialogue he maintained with his mentor and editor, it effectively moves between two traditions.

In this article, I will argue that there is a dialogic relationship between the literary voice and cultural identity, which can be found in literature from native traditions and particularly in three texts by Sami authors who address the problems of Sami culture and politics with significant authority and purpose. The authors and their works I have chosen for their focus on Sami life and culture are:

(1) Johan Turi's Muittalus samiid birra (1910; Turi's Book of Lappland, 1966)

(2) Nils-Aslak Valkeapaa's Terveisia Lapista (1971; Greetings from Lappland, 1983)

(3) Kirsti Paltto's Saamelaiset (1973)

These books, especially Turi's and Valkeapaa's, have contributed significantly to the literature of Lapp life, as Turi would have it in the title of his book jointly titled in Sami and Danish (Muittalus samiid birra [A Tale about the Sami]; En bog om lappernes live [A Book about Lapp life]). Like Turi, both Valkeapaa and Paltto explicitly consider their task to shed light on the Sami way of life. Valkeapaa makes frequent references to Turi in his own work. Not incidentally, perhaps, Boares Nauti, Johan Thuri is Valkeapaa's biography of Turi. Paltto starts her analysis and description of the Sami with a quotation from Valkeapaa thus rounding out an interesting, self-referential cycle.

By looking at each author's introductory statements and observations about the origins of the Sami, we should be able to understand more readily how literary voice echoes cultural identity and its relationship with the dominant cultures. My contention is that among these three works, which are comparable in content and approach, there are significant variations in literary voice. Nevertheless, all three sustain a voice that is remarkably polyphonic negotiating adroitly between the dominant Western paradigm and the Sami oral tradition. That "dialogic imagination" (Bakhtin) seems to be an important feature of Sami writing and becomes particularly audible in an analysis of each writer's voice. …

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