The “Same”—Always the Same?
BY “AWAKE!” CORRESPONDENT IN SWEDEN
IF YOU look at the Scandinavian peninsula on a map, you will notice that it roughly resembles a giant lion jumping high. The head would be the lower part of Norway. The “lion’s” hindquarters, including his tail, reach high above the Arctic Circle. This region north of the Arctic Circle, together with a tongue of land along the mountain districts on both sides of the Norwegian-Swedish border, reaching to some 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle, is the land of the Lapp people.
The Lapps call themselves samit. And here in Sweden the names Lapp and Same are about equally common.
To a visiting southerner, Lapland, with its immensely rough terrain and its extremely cold climate, must seem almost uninhabitable. But long before the Common Era, a people came here and bravely took up the struggle for survival against hunger and cold—and succeeded!
Today, about 35,000 Lapps live here and even want to remain here. A few thousand of them still live their traditional, nomadic life, moving with their huge herds of reindeer from winter pastures in the wooded areas to summer grazing in the scenic landscape in the mountains and by the fjords.
The “Same” Through History
A peculiar fact about the Same is that he has passed through history without greater changes in his way of life. Some of the features of the Same people mentioned as early as 98 C.E. by the Roman historian Tacitus are still found with them.
Tacitus described them as a people without possessions, dressed in skins, sleeping on the bare ground in huts made of twigs and living by hunting.
Later, in the sixth century, another writer added to the description by saying that they lived almost like animals with animals and drank no wine. A couple of centuries later another historian wrote that they were skilled in traveling over snowy wastes on “curved pieces of wood.” He also said they were closely connected with animals resembling deer, wore a skin garment like a tunic reaching the knees and lived in a strange land with snow both winter and summer. About 1200 C.E. a chronicler explained that the Same carried his house with him on his wanderings and that he was clever at sorcery.
Such reports have kept people interested in the Lapps down through the ages, and many of the details in those ancient descriptions fit well into the picture of the Same life and customs of today. Let us look closer into this picture.
The “Same” Dwelling
A modern-day Lapp may well have been born in the traditional Same dwelling, a kåta, which is a peculiar tepee-like hut. The Lapps have been using this as their movable home as long as history knows. The kåta was raised on any suitable piece of ground where the Same family wished to stop for a time with their reindeer herd. Usually the material for the kåta was taken along on sledges. The hut was skillfully set up in less than an hour. Its framework consisted of rods conically fitted together, giving a circular floor inside and a hole for the smoke and ventilation at the top. The framework was covered with peat or home-woven canvas.
Suppose you could step in through the low, narrow entrance and have a look. What would you see? Birch twigs are strewn on the ground and used as a double flooring covered with several reindeer skins as carpets to sit on in the daytime and sleep on at night. In the center is an open fireplace lined with stones. The interior is simple but gives a sense of coziness and warmth with the mixed smell of smoke, dried reindeer meat, coffee and birch twigs.
Before you sit down you should know that each member of the Same family has a reserved seat around the fire. The wife always sits at the very back of the kåta, her husband next to her and the children nearer the opening along one side. The other side of the kåta is for the grown-up children, servants and guests. You probably will be seated on that side.
The “Same” Origin
If you ask your stubby, weather-beaten host where his ancestors originally came from, he will probably shake his head and tell you that it is all shrouded in mystery. But it is believed by many that they originally came from the East, wandering over the vast steppes of Asia, across Russia, until they finally reached the Arctic wilds of northern Europe. Their language, Lappish, is related to that spoken in Finland. It is believed that they were Finland’s original inhabitants.
Confirming what the old chroniclers said, your host will tell you that his ancestors lived by hunting and fishing. The land offered numerous reindeer, bears, foxes, wolverines and wild birds. The lakes and rivers swarmed with trout and salmon. Formerly the reindeer was a wild animal, but later the Lapp learned that it liked to live in flocks and could be gathered into herds and tamed.
The “Same” Livelihood—His Reindeer
With tamed reindeer the Lapp could secure his supply of meat, milk and clothing. From being a natural asset to the Same the reindeer now became his most valuable possession, his capital, and this is true even today. He does not count his riches in terms of money, but by the number of reindeer in his possession. A rich Lapp will often own a thousand deer or more. And because his necessities are so few, he will often be able to increase his herd from the profits of selling reindeer meat and furs, or the tools carved from the animals’ horns and bones. Every part of the reindeer is utilized in some form or other.
Thus the Lapp is very dependent on his reindeer. He is even forced to follow where the reindeer lead, and it is almost impossible for him to hold back the herd when it decides to move. That is one of the reasons why the Same still follows the old way of life—following the unchanged natural rhythm, the annual movement of the reindeer herds up to the mountains in spring and summer for calving, and back to their grazing grounds in the forest and along the coast in the late autumn and winter.
Reindeer are experts at moving fast on the snowy wastes. They are also wonderful swimmers and, when the great migration to the coast takes place, thousands may be seen swimming across the lakes and fjords.
To be able to follow his herd across country the Lapp has employed a means of transportation that can make him move faster than his typically short legs and small feet. Since ancient times he has used what one of the chroniclers called “curved pieces of wood,” that is, skis. Some authorities have even suggested that it was the Same who invented the ski.
Another typical means of transportation has been the pulka, a small canoe-shaped sledge with room for just one person, drawn by a reindeer. The reindeer is a willing draft animal, able to cover long distances on the snowy hills and mountains.
The “Same” Clothing
Now take a look at the Same’s typical way of dressing. Warm and practical clothes are vital here in the Arctic regions. Being so exclusively dependent on the reindeer, the Lapp has made his clothing chiefly of reindeer skins, hairless and tanned in the summer, and with extremely warm fur for winter use. Reindeer hide with its air-filled layer of fur is one of the warmest kinds of clothing, and has remained the Lapp’s style of dress for generations.
Although modern, ready-made clothing has been adopted to a great extent among the settled Lapps, you can still find the migrating Lapps dressed in their traditional gay clothing with splashes of scarlet, yellow, green and bright blue, colors which look wonderful against the pure, unbroken whiteness of snow. The traditional dress of both men and women is much the same all over Lapland.
Would you like to try on a typical Same costume? Then you would have to put on trousers of tanned skin, leggings of reindeer fur reaching above the knees, snub-toed fur boots secured with scarlet ankle bindings, a blue cloth tunic or underdress, often embroidered with red and yellow, a gaily decorated blue cloth cap—or in the case of a woman, a little scarlet bonnet—with an ornamental belt completing the costume. For special occasions these belts are very elaborate, and are made of leather, richly studded with small squares of solid silver. Slung from the belt is always a long knife used for almost all purposes, including scraping the snow off the bottom of their sledges, slaughtering their reindeer and eating.
The “Same” Food
Although the reindeer is a vegetarian, feeding on lichen in winter and green herbage and grass in summer, the migrating Same himself is almost exclusively a flesh eater. Unable to cultivate the frozen ground and raise cereals or vegetables, he lives on meat and fish. With winter lasting nine months, he has no deepfreezing problems most of the year, and, moreover, he ‘knows how to conserve meat and fish by drying or salting.
If you were invited for a meal, you would likely find that it begins with a cup or two of very strong coffee. You will notice that the Same woman puts snow in a kettle and lets it melt over the fire. A grain of salt is put into the boiling water and then the hand-ground coffee.
After the coffee, you might be served a cup of hot bouillon, consisting of snow water in which pieces of raw reindeer meat and some bones have been boiled in an iron pot hanging on a chain from the roof over the fire. After you had emptied the cup, your hostess probably would invite you to dip your fingers into the pot and pick out a piece of meat and eat it while holding it with your fingers.
Following the meal, the entertainment most likely would consist of a quiet conversation, with long pauses between the comments. A Same seldom talks much. He likes to be silent and listen. He is no entertainer. He plays no instrument. If a Lapp is in the right mood, he may sing, or yoika, as he would call it. This is a very strange form of song, peculiar to the Lapps, and, although consisting of only four or five monotonous notes, can be very melodious. The words are usually composed on the spur of the moment and express the deep emotions of the singer.
The “Same” Religion
The Lapps are very religiously minded, and there have been changes in beliefs. Lapps used to believe in a form of magic called shamanism. The medicine man, or shaman, would beat drums in an effort to foretell the future. The magic drum was used in such a way that a ring, a tip of a horn or some other “pointer” stopped close to one of the symbols painted on the drumhead—a kind of “Ouija” board.
Their belief in the pagan gods was so strong that, even long after they became Christians in name, they still paid these gods reverence. At the end of the seventeenth century a scholar named Johannes Schefférus reported that the Lapps were “guilty of joining their own feign’d gods with God and Christ, and paying them equal reverence and worship, as if God and the Devil had made an agreement together to share their devotions between them.”
It was long—even after that—before they entirely ceased to offer sacrifices to the various images of wood or stone by which their favorite pagan gods were represented. And it is only within comparatively recent years that the smoke from their altar fires finally ceased to rise into the cold, still air. Even to this day there are traces of ancient superstitious beliefs among the Same people.
The truth about God’s kingdom has been preached by Jehovah’s witnesses among the Lapps during the past decades, but very few have embraced it until now.
Although the Same of today is in close contact with a modern industrial society in the south and has employed some of its technical inventions, he has in an amazing way preserved his characteristics, his language and his thoughts and actions. What is more: he wants to preserve them. He wants to be unique, basically unchanged, yes, the Same—always the same.
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