Indigenous culture in Sweden
Sami country – known as Sápmi – stretches across the northern part of Scandinavia and Russia’s Kola Peninsula. The original settlement was even larger, but the Sami were gradually forced to give up land, first to farmers starting in the 1650s and later to industries such as forestry and mining.
There is no census for the Sami, but the population is estimated at around 80,000 people, spread over four countries with approximately 20,000 in Sweden, 50,000 in Norway, 8,000 in Finland and 2,000 in Russia.
Reindeer husbandry traditions
Originally hunters and gatherers, the Sami turned to herding of domesticated reindeer in the 17th century. Reindeer naturally move across huge tracks of land to graze, and the Sami historically lived lives following the herds.
The modern norm is instead to have a permanent home and a cabin in the mountains for the herding season. And those who remain in the business have long since replaced the skis with snowmobiles, AWD vehicles and helicopters. Only some ten per cent of Swedish Sami earn a living from the reindeer industry, and many supplement their income through tourism, fishing, crafts and other trades.
Many have been forced to look for income elsewhere as a result of ongoing challenges to the reindeer trade, including disputes with the government over grazing rights, restrictions as to who may legally be involved in reindeer husbandry, and loss of land.
Handicrafts – Duodji
Reindeer are a big part of Sami culture, providing food and raw materials for everyday use. Sami pass on knowledge about reindeer through formal education and from generation to generation. Traditionally, every part of the reindeer was kept and used – skin and antlers for making shoes and knives, meat to cook or for further processing.
Sami handicrafts, duodji, use natural materials and often have soft rounded shapes, pleasing to the touch but functional. Elaborate ornamentation was, and is, important, for showing off the maker’s skills and to preserve family and cultural designs.
Many Sami supplement reindeer husbandry with secondary employment such as making handicrafts or tourism-related activities. A certificate of Sami handicraft quality guarantees authenticity for the buyer, and indicates that the maker is recognised within the industry.
New styles and materials have made their way into Sami crafts, and today, a variety of techniques such as metal casting, visual arts and photography are used.
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