When I tell people my debut novel is the story of a Sami girl who falls in love with the German officer billeted in her home during WWII, I’m often confronted with a distant look, and piercing eyes asking “who are the Sami?”
I almost invariably answer: “The People of the Reindeer”. I’m not sure this makes it a lot clearer, but it does help. That, and the mention of very cool hats. For centuries, we have known them as Lapps, although the term is generally considered pejorative now. In North Sami language, a lahppon is a person who is lost. Some variation of Lapp exists in almost every western language, from French and German to Portuguese, Greek and Russian.
The Sami have accompanied western culture for a long time. They were first mentioned by Tacitus in the first century, who called them Fenni. Our understanding is complicated by the fact that they range across several countries (middle and northern Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Kola Peninsula in Russia) where the other inhabitants refer to them with vastly different names. They are traditionally semi-nomadic reindeer herders, and about 10% of Sami people today still have some connection to reindeer herding. Sami are also known for trapping, fishing and even sheep herding. Today, they are most famously known as artists and performers, including the world-renowned Mari Boine whose unique style mixes traditional lyrics and themes with contemporary Sami music.
Researching Revontuli, there were two museums I found to be of particular interest, both of which have indoor and outdoor collections:
The Riddo Duottar Museat in Karasjok
Siida, the National Museum of the Finnish Sami in Inari
The Huntley Film Archives have uploaded the following early 20th century silent movie of nomadic Sami life:
Despite the tragic events described in Revontuli, Sami culture is alive and thriving today in much of northern Scandinavia. Its fusion with contemporary themes and lifestyle is apparent in both art and music, and its people embrace the modern world while keeping a close link to the traditions of their ancestors.
Revontuli will be released in Canada on November 13th, 2013, available through Amazon and good booksellers.