Coded gray.

Tuesday 27 November 2001

Sami flag

Pic of the day: The Sami flag, or at least one of them. I've also seen it without the circle, but then again I've never been there in real life.

Forgotten peoples

Today I heard on radio that one of the more famous Sami artists (Nils-Aslak Valkeapää) is dead. This made me listen to some Sami music today, and think about the strangeness of it all.

The Sami (with a long a, often spelled Saami) are widely recognized as the aboriginal people of northern Norway, as well as the northern parts of Sweden, Finland and north-west Russia. Their cultural center however is in northern Norway, where they are also more or less officially recognized as an aboriginal minority in regards to international treaties.

Some historians claim that the Sami were invaders from the east; certainly their language is closely related to Finnish and Estonian, which again are more remotely related to Hungarian. We know that the Hungarians were an invading warrior people from east, presumably from the Ural area. So many scientists believe that also the northern Uro-Altaic speakers came there in historical times. This is however hard to prove, and if so it seems unlikely that the entire population hails from there; more likely the language may have been brought by a small warrior caste. Certainly there is an unbroken line of settlement in these areas hailing back to the end of the ice age.

Be all of that as it may, the undisputed fact is that in historical times, it is the nation-states that have attacked the Sami with "bibles, booze and bayonets" to annex their land and make them obedient taxpayers. There was also a strict policy of assimilation, and up until modern times (somewhere around my lifetime, I think) Sami children went to school and heard nothing but Norwegian. Their teachers did not know a word of the native language in the area. That's pretty creepy.

Things are looking better these days. But it may be too late. For even the invaders may be headed for cultural assimilation of a new and subtler form. And as the Norwegian (and Swedish etc) nations eventually realize the looming end of their own culture, they're not likely to spare much thought or money for Sami literature and software.


The Sami may like to compare themselves to the Native Americans (or whatever the politically correct name is this year) and the Maori and the Australian Aborigines, as well as the less known tribes of Siberia. But in truth, the Sami are more equal to their opressors than these others. The Scandinavians did not suddenly arrive in great metal ships and act like gods. These peoples lived together, fairly peacefully, for millenia. But climate and proximity to the more advanced nations of Europe gave Norway and its neighbors an edge eventually. That, and the partly nomadic way of survival in the harsh arctic region prevented a unified government to organize a resistance.

Also the genetic difference between the Sami and Scandinavians is negligible. There is a small minority that can be identified as different, especially if you look for differences. But most fit within the dominant Fennoscandian type. (Contrary to popular opinion, not all Scandinavians are tall and pale blond. Especially the pale blond part.)


I sometimes wonder that these aboriginal people generally have accepted their fate, the loss of their land and so much of their freedom. True, they have a wildly higher standard of living than they used to, but then again so have we. But I compare them to for instance the Palestinians, whose right to the land is far more contested. The Palestinians are nearly identical to the surrounding nations; it is not as if any great cultural heritage is lost with them. As a matter of fact, they were never a nation in the past. The Sami have been a people apart since the dawn of time. Not to mention the other aboriginal people.

I personally am quite happy that the Sami don't blow up McDonalds in Oslo and stuff like that. Then again, I guess it's a bit late now. As I said, we're moving toward a unified global culture. And there are other ways to make your mark in history. For instance, Sami music is surprisingly good, especially when they mix part of their traditional style with contemporary music. It's really hard to get hold of, I'm sorry to say, but hopefully this will change over time. As long as they are not bought out by Sony and Warner and whatever they're all called ... Rumor has it that those people copyright stuff for 70 years and then never publish it. And I don't think we have 70 years left of the cultures we know today.

Since I'm not in any way affiliated with the Sami people, I guess I should properly pack you off to a more informative site. And of course also the only Sami online journal I read from time to time, even though it is extremely different from mine: Snowy Grrr. (No, I did not know she knew the man. I hadn't checked up her journal before I wrote my own. Sorry.)

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