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For the festive season, 80 Days brings you a Christmas special on the most appropriate place we could think of, complete with reindeer and Santa Claus: Lapland, or – as the native Sami people prefer to call it – Sápmi. This is a large region of Fennoscandanavia, north of the Arctic Circle, with its territory spanning parts of Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia (see map). This episode will touch on all areas of Lapland, but will focus primarily on the Finnish and Norwegian sides. The area is named for the indigenous people (and their specific language grouping), who have sparsely inhabited the region for several thousand years.
In Lapland, winter lasts from early October to early May, with temperatures well below freezing throughout the region and up to 60 cm or 23 inches of snow during midwinter. However, in summer the sun does not set on the region for several weeks at a time. Population has declined quite significantly since 1990, and the region is now home to approximately 180,000 people. Residents are spread across a total area of just over 100,000 square kilometers, or 38,000 square miles, and there are as many reindeer here as there are people. Your hosts are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach, in Hong Kong, the UK and Switzerland, respectively. (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle)
Some things you might like to know more about:
- An article by Doug Simms on early Sami history can be found on Sami Culture, with reference to the records of the Phinnoi by Ptolemy, the Fenni by Tacitus, and the Scritobini (“Ski Finns”) by Paul the Deacon (his original Latin description here) and Norwegian chief Ottar of Halogaland who described collecting taxes from Sami in his territory along the north coast. The first text to refer to the Sami as “Lapps” is the Orkneyingers’ Saga
- Various creation myths were mentioned, these include one involving a reindeer, as described in this Cultural Survival article, the “Son of the Sun” myth is detailed by Charlie Thomas in this article (also see Creation Myths of the World: An Encylcopedia, Vol. 1, p.170), while some other folklore is described on EveryCulture.com
- Various Lapland coats of arms, featuring a wild man with a club
- Traditional Sami dress (called gákti) is very distinctive and colourful (pictured are three Norwegian Sami political candidates, picture from Norske Samers Riksforbund)
- For some interesting research articles into the continuation of traditional Sami religious practices into recent times see (for example): “On the Continuation of Old Sami Religion” by Rolf Kjellström and “Sjiele Sacrifices, Odin Treasures and Saami Graves?” by Inger Zachrisson
- First music break: “Iđitguovssu” (Dawn Light) by Máddji
- The most significant figure in converting the Sami (in Sweden and Norway in particular) to Christianity was Lars Levi Laestadius, a half-Sami Church of Sweden preacher and founder of a revivalist movement which bears his name
- The Kautokeino Rebellion was main significant violent movement against Norwegianisation and cultural assimilation (read an article by Roald E. Kristiansen). Mons Somby and others were executed as a result of this uprising against the Norwegian church and commerce. He features in the documentary Give Us Our Skeletons (focussing on his descendant Nillas Somby, who was involved in the Alta Controversy). A movie about the uprising was also made in 2008 by Nils Gaup.
- World War II in Scandanavia was a very complicated affair, with various alliances, invasions and small wars. Finland alone had the Winter War, the Continuation War and the Lapland War, all of which had some effects on Sami people, not least the final one, which resulted in the destruction of Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland. A helpful summary of what happened in the region over the course of WW2 can be found here, while an article about how the war effected the Sami in particular (by Jessica Johnson) may be found here. These conflicts were devastating to the continuity of Sami culture, with many people killed or displaced and settling elsewhere. Notable fighter around this region was sniper Simo Häyhä, who the Russians nicknamed the “White Death” (pictured)
- We mentioned the recording of Mannerheim and Hitler speaking, which is the only known recording of Hitler talking casually in private. It is on youtube with subtitles in English.
- Second break: a version of “Eatnaman Vuelie/Song of the Earth” (by Norwegian choir Cantus) which you might recognise as having been used in the opening number of the Disney movie Frozen
- Last Yoik in the Sami Forest – a documentary about the impact the Finnish forestry industry is having on traditional reindeer herding practices
- We played a clip from Erika Larsen’s Nat Geo Live presentation The Reindeer People – watch her talk here. She lived with Sami families for a number of years to research their way of life.
- 2013 Film on Swedish reindeer herders: The Last Generation?
- Segment from 1977 film The Winds of the Milky Way about the Sami
- Sami woman Gunnel Heligfjell describes aspects of the traditional lifestyle in this video
- Sami and other indigenous groups work together on matters of common interest and in solidarity with each other, for example lobbying at the Paris climate change summit, or intervening in the opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
- Third Music break: Petteri Punakuono – Finnish version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
- A lot has been written about Lapland’s most famous resident and how he came to be here. Most of it is mysterious and people make some wild guesses (often not true), but here, in no particular order, are a few resources that might be useful about Santa Claus and his village near Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland. Who is St. Nicholas (about his early years in Myra); Andrea McDonald’s account of visiting; History of Santa Claus (on the-north-pole.com), Santa Claus and His Works (New York Times piece describing the contributions of artist Thomas Nast to the image of Santa’s snowy abode); Head to Finnish Lapland… (a 2009 article in the Independent, including descriptions of Santa’s village); Checking Out Santa’s Workshop in Lapland (a 1988 article in the LA Times describing visiting Santa in Rovaniemi). For the more cynical, a stuffy article on postmodernism and Finnish tourism policy can be found here (for all the Scrooges out there!).
- You can often watch people visiting Santa live (or look back at earlier recordings) at this website, which is wonderfully magic
We hope you have a happy Christmas and a wonderful new year and that you are looking forward to joining us for Season 2 in the coming months. As always, please get in touch if you are enjoying what you are hearing or have anything to share with us!