Like all mountain people who live in difficult terrains, Ylva Sarri has a perpetual, glowing serenity on her face and her eyes have a twinkle that reflects the purity of nature she is surrounded with. She is very soft spoken but her straight frame beneath the beautiful ethnic Sami clothes tells you that she could be as tough as they come!
Ylva came to meet us at our rustic camp just outside of the mining town of Kiruna in northern Sweden along with her daughter Johanna. They were going to host us for a Sami cultural evening and dinner. Ylva was dressed in her traditional clothes – colourful and beautiful. A large metallic neckpiece hung on her chest which was much like the gypsy pieces worn in India. I must admit i was quite enamoured with it! Over the next two hours between the short documentary they showed us, the volley of questions they both had to answer during dinner and later in their own Teepee Tent (Laavu) in the forests, Ylva and Johanna told us so many interesting stories about the Samis.
Samis, also spelt Sapmis, are indigenous people who archeologists say have been living in the harsh snowy lands above the arctic circle for more than 9000 years! This area is more geographical than political and spreads over northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and even a tiny part of Russia. They all consider themselves as one people and have a common Sami Parliament to decide some of their common issues and rules. There may be regional dialects but usually Sami people from two different areas can understand each other.
In the previous century, some of the Samis felt sidelined from the mainstream population and many gave up their identity, gave up their distinctive second names and merged with the more urban society. Most who have chosen to adopt their identity with pride continue to hold on to their customs and traditions and yet continue to be modern in their upbringing & outlook. For instance, Johanna attended school and then college in the city of Kiruna and works in the Sami Parliament but when the reindeer herding season comes, she will be up there in the mountains with the rest of her clan in harsh weather rounding up the animals and perhaps marking her own cut on their ears. She will need to participate in the slaughtering of the male reindeers before winter and in preserving the meats.
The Samis are semi-nomadic and thrive on reindeer farming by themselves staying in one place but moving their herds in different places as per the weather. In the acute winters, the herds have to all move east and stay there until early summer when they can come down to greener fields and forests. In Sweden, Jokkmokk, a town between the eastern coastal town of Lulea and Kiruna, is the nerve centre of Sami culture. Here, the Samis collect during early February for a traditional animal fair & marketplace (much like #Pushkar i assume). There are furs, meats, animals and other useful things on sale and many ethnic sports are played during the festival.
The Sami people have their own music and their songs are also known as Joiks. These, like so many other folk music songs world over, are more sounds, less lyrics and usually unstructured. The songs could be about any thing that is close to the singer’s heart and this one that Ylva crooned to us was about the “little bells that hang from the reindeers necks and tinkle as the herds run down the mountain slopes”.
The Samis are very passionate about nature and how it has to be preserved. It is evident in their conversation; their eyes mist up when you talk about pollution and adverse effects of progress. There is so much to be learnt from them, from their simplicity and their deep-rooted knowledge of the bounties of this earth. They are very special people and here is wishing them a wonderful Sami National day on this 6th of February 2018.