Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Skiing Down the Demon Wolf: Redefinition of the Predator in Johan Turi's Sapmi

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Skiing Down the Demon Wolf: Redefinition of the Predator in Johan Turi's Sapmi

Article excerpt

IN JOHAN AND PER TURI'S lesser known collection, Sami deavsttat or Lappish Texts made up of materials written by Turi in 1908 but not included in his 1910 Muitalus, there lies nested among the more elaborate and plot-driven noaidi tales a brief and memorable selection called "Biilejavrri noaiddi birra" [About the Biilijavri-noaidi], which tells of a noaidi who drives his sledge to church with a wolf as a draught animal:

   Son leai maid imas ja goase ipmaseabbu, go lea goasge gullon. Son
   leal oktii vuodjan girkui navddiin, ja son vujii visor meaddil oppa
   girkoveaga. Ja de dat, go bohte girkobaikai, de oidne, ahte navdi
   sus leal vuojanin, muhto de dat lahppui dar su vuojan. Ja go
   girkoveahka leai vuodtime ruoktot, de dat noaidi fas bodii navddiin
   ja manai fas meaddil visor olles veaga ja leai ovdal dalus go
   iezat, ja de dar lahppui fas su vuojan. (44)

   (He was a strange one too, one of the strangest people you've ever
   heard of. Once he drove his sled to church using a wolf, and he
   sped right past the other church goers. And then when they got to
   the church, they saw that he had a wolf pulling him, but then it
   vanished. And when the church goers were driving home, then the
   noaidi again drove with his wolf, and again he sped right by
   everyone and arrived home before the others, and then once again
   his draught animal vanished.)

Turi twice recalls this tale in Muitalus samiid birra and again in Sami deavsttat where he uses it as an introductory example to the practice of noaidevuohta (the noaidi-arts) as common noaidi-like behavior. For Turi, this tale's deep resonance demands repetition and scrutiny by his audience since he changes the story of one noaidi's feats into a task that noaiddit would typically perform.

Though an effective and powerful tale, Turi's choice of the Biilijavri-noaidi to represent the entire complex of noaidevuohta proves unusually difficult to understand. The Biilijavri-noaidi's wolf-sledge motif is the sole occurrence of such feats in Turi's works and only one similar story appears in Qvigstad's Lappiske Eventyr og Sagn (Qvigstad 4:141.1b, 480-2). In any case, it remains at least significantly less common than tales depicting noaiddit flying, healing, divining, or battling. Turi frequently relates instances of noaiddit poisoning enemies with graveyard mould or freezing thieves (or even a steamliner) in its tracks, yet he still selects the wolf-drawn sledge as a central representation of noaidevuohta. This choice aside, the riddles of this tale run considerably deeper. Is the Biilijavri noaidi attending the church to which he drives? If not, how does he spend his time while others are in the church? Though a veiled antisocial and anti-Christian message is relatively unambiguous, what specifically is the noaidi trying to tell the church goers? Ali these mysteries generate the powerful intrigue of the tale alluding to a history and context essential to understanding the tale. Yet at the heart of this tale lies its greatest mystery, Turi's apparent center of and purpose for the tale: what exactly is the nature of the relationship between the Biilijavri noaidi and the wolf?

This relationship would naturally intrigue Turi. By the time Muitalus samiid birra was published, he had long since abandoned reindeer herding, in order to "hengav sig helt til sin lyst at kaempe mod renernes vaerste fjende, ulven" (Demant Hatt v) [devote himself fully to his desire to fight against the reindeer's worst enemy, the wolf]. Turi knew the wolf. He knew how to ski it down, he knew how to wrestle with it, and he knew how it thought. He knew that "go navdi dohppe gihtii, de galga coggalit gieda navddi njalbmai gitta njielu radjai ja de carvet njielu niddagii, de ii navdi sahte gaskit" (95) [when a wolf grabs hold of a man's arm, one must thrust the arm right down the wolf's throat and squeeze it so that the wolf cannot bite]. Turi knew how to control it:

   Ja dat guhte ruopmasa galga riekta bivdit, dat galga diehtit visot
   namaid samegillii stalppis dain baikkiin, gos navdi golga. … 
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