Finlandia August 24 – 2002


Colourful traditional Sami clothing


We visited the Sami Musuem this morning, before going on a long walk into a national park. The Sami Museum was certainly a big improvement on the Sami cultural centre, indeed, it was a very good display offering a good insight into the history of the Sami people. And as to be expected, it was essentially a tragic one, like the history of most if not all indigineous peoples everywhere. Moving from one display to the other, I found myself comparing the traditional life of the Sami with that of the Australian Aborigines.

Both people were hunters and gatherers occupying traditional demarcated areas on the basis of extended families/tribes. Whilst the Sami lived in an extremely cold part of the planet with long and freezing winters, the Aborigines lived in most cases in an area of the planet with long, hot and dry summers. Whilst the Sami wore clothing, most Aborigines were naked, their bodies decorated with clay based pigments. 

The Sami hunted reindeer, fish and other forest animals; later they began to keep reindeer in large herds. The reindeer provided meat, the hides were used for making tents and clothes and the bones and antlers for making spears.

The Aborigines hunted kangaroos and later, began ‘kangaroo farming’ – by burning off the bush so that wit the first rains, new green grass grew which in turn encouraged the rapid proliferation of kangaroos, Indeed, the kangaroo came to dominate the Australian continent because of the Aborigines. The firing of the bush had other dramatic consequences, including the rise of forms of flora and fauna which adapted to fire.

In the case of both peoples, the worship of nature was central to their beliefs, along with the role of shamans, or seers, men who had insight into the spirit world beyond the realm of the living. And both indigineous people with their nature based religions were quickly demoralised and had their way of life and beliefs crushed by the civilsed and technogically developed Christians.

There was one difference between the destruction of Sami culture and Aborignal Australians: the Fins shared a similar language to the Sami. Both groups originated somewhere in Siberia. The signs in Lapland feature place names in both Sami and Fin and the similarities in the language are evident from these. The Finish language in turn, is nothing like the Germanic based languages of Scandinavia. Actually its like no other language in the world, besides Sami. 

The day previous, I was wondering about why we didn’t actually see anyone around who could be identitified as a Sami (whereas in Australia, the indigineous people are generally easy to identify). At the musuem I read that 70% of the Sami were integrated with mainstream Finnish society; the 30% of original Sami people lived in remote areas, near lakes or in forests – of which there is no shortage in Finland. 





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