Sunday, December 7, 2008

Saami controversy in Lapland ....

I thought that I would share with you all, a little local politics. It's important social politics at that - with far reaching consequences. Over the past few months there has been a growing dissatisfaction amongst some of the Saami community, with regards to products on sale, relating to the Saami identity.

The two main items of enquiry are the use of their national dress and the noitarumpu drum and its symbols.

Personally, I have never understood why anyone non Saami would want to buy themselves a Saami costume and thus have never looked to sell them, although I have had many enquiries worldwide! However, of course I do sell noitarumpu drums and am intensely interested in the study of the drum and its shaman symbols.

The word noitarumpu translates to witch's drum and is known by many, under either name or also by the term, shaman's drum.

Poppamies. Symbol of magician drawing in control over the four elements.

For those that are not aware, the noitarumpu drum was self crafted, owned and used by the Shaman of a Saami tribe and used ceremonially as a tool for the northern people, since before records began. It is deeply engrained in the heritage of the Saami folk.

The Shaman would call for the help of the great spirits by beating on the drum with the reindeer bone hammer until they fell in a trance. During trance, the Shaman would wander the Underworld, where the dead provided advice for solving a problem. Much like the wise old witch woman, with her herbs and poultices in most european villages through the dark ages.. the Shaman was the main person of the Saami tribe. The word Shaman originates from the Siberian Evenki Tribe word 'Saman', that means knowledge and vision. Shamanism is a traditional and ancient way of taking care of both spiritual and physical welfare. The Shaman's aid was and is, the drum. Healing involves rituals comprising chanting and the use of various natural powers provided by objects such as stones and feathers.

Anyway, back to politics...

In october there were problems raised to Saami council court level about the interior decorations and marketing of the Hotel Santa Claus, situated in Rovaniemi (which is on the Arctic circle border itself). Inside, on the walls, are witch drum symbols and some members of the Saami community raised concerns that this was an abuse of their heritage. However, the Saami Council** decision was that there was nothing wrong with this decoration, said by the hotel to emphasise local heritage, not aimed to abuse it. **An elected body who deal with the Sami language, culture and traditional matters with regards to matters of in both a national and international context.

Image from

However, it has not ended there.. as the Saami who do not agree with this decision have said that the government's decision does not represent the whole of Finland's Saami population and they wish to get them recalled. They say that with only a few Saami members in the Government and whilst an elected body, their views cannot be the legitimate situation and cannot decide for all people.

Since then, there have been demonstrations in the streets of Rovaniemi, by Saami youths in which the Saami of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia took part. According to the demonstrators, the use of Lapland costumes are being used improperly in Lapland's tourism guides, advertising and tourist trinkets. The demonstrators hope to have access to establishing negotiations, over when, how and who can not keep a Lapland suit and for replica dress sales to cease. They also state that tourism, with a the lack of data, creates stereotypes and in turn is undermining the Saami identity. They said that the majority of Saami do not accept the governments position over the use of symbols in tourism and are making their statements based from a UN indigenous declaration on the protection of indigenous cultural heritage.

Nili, a Saami food storage hut above ground and out of reach of predators

It has to be said that currently the situation is contradictory, on one hand, there is an encouragement for the use of the Saami manual workers for their products, but on the other hand, an accepting of industrially produced witch drums, which are most definitely not Saami handicrafts. Saami Parliament encourage tourism businesses to negotiate with the Saami handicrafters, the Saami manual workers' organization, Sami Duodjin over the use of the symbols in home decoration.

According to the opinion of the Council these recent activities may well damage the Saami entrepreneur and their products marketing. They said that it gives the wrong message to tourism entrepreneurs, who do not dare to use Saami products and may even lead to a Saami product boycott. They encourage entrepreneurs in the Saami product and tourism field to be responsible and respectful of Saami culture. They wish to encourage tourism - but with the use of Saami crafts, Sami Duodjia, interior design, foods and raw materials and that they are acquired directly from Saami Duodji-craftsperson or a Saami manual worker.

Individual symbols pyrographied on horn pendants

It has also been pointed out that the Shaman drum and its decorations are not solely a Saami culture and its symbols are of paganism. That the Shaman Drum has spread throughout the Arctic indigenous peoples' cultures and religions, so the Saami can not own it only to their own culture.

Akka, fertiliy Goddess and wife to Ukko, the supreme Thunder God

At this point, I would like to interject that the drums that I sell are NOT a factory printed reproduction drum. Believe me, there are many of those out there on the market, printed automatically and instantly recognisable as mass made.

The drums I sell however, are totally made of natural materials - genuine Reindeer leather over an arctic Pine wood frame, hand dyed and treated, with natural ingredients, such as moss, berries and roots. The symbols are painted by hand with a proper ink, you can see each stroke and the due care in which they are made by hand as they are very slightly raised from the leather's surface - they are not drawn with a felt tip pen (as I have seen on some drums - surprising and as horrid as that might sound...) Each creation is a work of art and OOAK. (One Of A Kind)

The maker of these drums has Saami parentage, is wise, shamanistic and incredibly knowledgable about the history of the drum, its symbols and meanings. I am deeply honoured to know this drum maker and be able to work with them.

Sadly, I have to inform you though..that they have decided to withdraw noitarumpu drums from sale - for the time being at least.

This, because there have been a number of personal situations for them recently where they were demeaned by other Saami for creating the noitarumpu! It has been an immensely disturbing time for both the drum maker and the drum maker's partner, also with Saami parentage. This is their life and this is a small community. Until the situation is resolved finally, I do not think more noitarumpu drums will be crafted.

Having said that, the drums in an undecorated form, or with other decoration may be created and we will be working together sensitively on this matter. The drum maker has written to the Saami union to see what can be done and if the situation moves favourably then noitarumpu drums will come back on sale. I will at no point purchase commercially made drums for sale. I love this drum maker and respect the noitarumpu drum itself too much!

Noitarumpu horn pendants

As you can imagine, the debate goes on.. and may go on for a good while yet. So, if you are looking to buy Saami suggestion is to do it sooner rather than later.. as time may not be on your side.

Here are some links to information online - from where I have stated the above facts. They are in Finnish.. but you can run the URL through the Google translator and read it with about 95% accuracy in English.

Reindeer, symbol of prosperity...never ask a Reindeer herder how many Reindeer they's like asking how much money they have in their bank account!