Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

"The Same Nature as the Reindeer": Johan Turi's Portrayal of Sami Knowledge

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

"The Same Nature as the Reindeer": Johan Turi's Portrayal of Sami Knowledge

Article excerpt

Sapmelaccas lea goit seammalagas luondu dego bohccos. Soai haliideaba golgat lulas ja davas dan mielde go soai laveba ge golgat dal nai. Ja soai leaba arggit goappasagat. Ja soai leaba saddan argivuoda dihte ballat juohke guovllus. Ja dan dihte dal sapmi ferte orrut doppe gos ii oro oktage ieza olmmos go sapmi. Beare alla duoddariid alde son orosii vaikko alo jos bivasii--ja ealasii su garji--bohccot.

Ja sapmi dovda dalkkiid--ja son lea juoida oahppan bohccos nai dovdat dalkkiid--ja sapmi lea bivvil ja deaivil. Son deaiva seavdnjadin nai ja mierkan ja guoldun--goit soames oassi samiin. Ja mii gulla cuoigamii ja viehkamii--dat lea su luonddu mielde. (50)

(The Sami have much the same nature as the reindeer. Both want to be on the move east and west in the manner that they are accustomed to. And both are sensitive. And because of their sensitivity they have been scared away from everywhere. And because of this, the Sami today have to live in places where no one else is living besides Sami. The Sami would live just up in the high mountains permanently if it were possible to keep warm up there and provide for their animals, the reindeer.

And the Sami know about the weather and have learned about it from the reindeer. And the Sami are hardy and sharp-eyed: they find their way in the dark and the fog and the snowstorm--at least some Sami do. And that which pertains to skiing and running is part of their being.)

JOHAN TURI, secure in his identity as a Sami, confident in his experiences as a sometime herder, healer, wolf hunter, son of a teacher, and godson of a minister, assumed in his Muitalus samiid birra the authority to give an account of Sami culture to the wide world. He chose to do so, not through the presentation of a single overarching narrative in the way of a work of fiction or an autobiography, not through the construction of a rhetorical argument as in a political tract, but rather, through the creation of a compendium of Sami knowledge, organized around specific livelihood activities and life situations, presented as occurring over the course of a year or in conjunction with certain key crisis or life-cycle moments: birth, illness, marriage, death. In so doing, I argue, Turi seeks to characterize a complex and valued state that he describes as "Sami luondu" [Sami nature]--a Sami way of being. This luondu relies fundamentally on the acquisition, maintenance, enactment, and transmission of a particular body of knowledge. This knowledge in turn derives from and helps sustain a particular way of life: an evolving set of techniques for herding, hunting, healing, and human relations that Turi saw as critically endangered by the policies and social transformations taking place in early twentieth-century Sapmi. Crucially, luondu includes the aesthetic perceptions and emotional predispositions that result from this valued way of life and its knowledge base. In short, I argue, knowledge for Turi is the life-blood of Sami culture, without which the Sami way of being would be irreparably lost. Turi's project in Muitalus is to present that knowledge so that his contemporaries--Sami and non-Sami alike--can take stock of it and come to understand its usefulness and sophistication. In so doing, of course, Turi also helped preserve that knowledge, fixing it in a textual form that can still be read and appreciated a century later as a record of Sami traditions and as a snap-shot of Sami cultural life in one part of Sapmi at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In order to understand Turi's complex agenda, then, we should look carefully at the knowledge that forms the foundations of his text. In the following, I suggest six overlapping and mutually reinforcing ideals that I believe underlie Turi's characterization of Sami knowledge and that are discernable in his presentation and the structuring of his book. Each of these six ideals is reflected in the passage quoted above and recur in various other instances throughout Turi's text. …

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