Sami history

The Sami peoples (originally known as Saami) have inhabited the northern regions of Fenno-Scandinavia and Russia for a long time in coexistence with other peoples. The traditional Sami life style, dominated by hunting, fishing and trading, was preserved to ca. 16th century when the modern structures of the Nordic countries were established. After this time, they stopped using traditional exchange of commodities, such as animal hides and fur, and began using currency.Fact|date=September 2008 At this time the northern parts of Scandinavia were being searched for valuable minerals, and in more modern times, dams were built there to produce hydroelectricity. Many Sami families were forced to adapt their way of life, accept the authority of their respective government and adopt Lutheran Christianity.

Since their dialects or languages differ so greatly according to latitude, the Samis may be considered as consisting of many ethnic groups rather than as one homogeneous group.Fact|date=September 2008 Of the original nine Sami groups, only seven remain. The now extinct Kemi Sami group, presumably assimilated into the Swedish population, is typically described as "the most hellish" ("meaning" "the most heathen") in old court records.Fact|date=September 2008Dubious|date=September 2008

It is possible that the Sami people's existence were documented by such writers as the Roman historian Tacitus. They have on uncertain grounds, but for a very long time, been associated with the 'Fenni'. However, the first Nordic sources dates from the introductions of runes and is the Account of the Viking Othere to King Alfred of England.


The area traditionally inhabited by the Sami people is known in some Sami languages as Sápmi (or Lapland), and typically includes the northern parts of Fennoscandia. Previously the Sami have probably inhabited areas further south in Fennoscandia [Samenes Historie fram til 1750. Lars Ivar Hansen and Bjornar Olsen. Cappelen Akademiske Forlag. 2004] . A few stone age cultures in the area have been speculated to be associated with the ancestors of the Sami.

Ice age

Following the last ice age parts of the Norwegian coast line become free of ice at about 11000 BC which equals in time span the formation of Salpausselkä I ridge system in Finland [Deglaciation chronology of the Scandinavian Ice Sheet from the Lake Onega Basin to the Salpausselkä End Moraines] . Not until around 6000 BC all of Fennoscandia was free of ice, although the land mass was pressed downwards because of the weight of the ice and partially still under water.

tone age

The commonly held view today is that the earliest settlement of the North Norwegian coast belong to one culture, comprising Fosna and Komsa, using different types of tools. The cultural complex may have originated on the western and southwestern coast of Norway, following the Norwegian coastline when receding glaciation at the end of the last ice age opened up new areas for settlement, and ultimately in the final Palaeolithic Ahrensburg culture of northwestern Europe.

The term Fosna is an umbrella term for the oldest settlements along the Norwegian coast, from Hordaland to Nordland. The distinction made with “Komsa” type of stone-tool culture north of the Arctic Circle rendered obsolete in the 1970s. [] Brittanica online, Norway]

The oldest Fosna settlements in Eastern Norway are found at Høgnipen in Østfold.

Recently, Komsa culture finds from Finnish Lapland have lead to some re-evaluations concerning the affinities of this culture complex. Phase 1 of the Norwegian Finnmark Mesolithic (Komsa proper, dating between 9 000 and 10 000 BP) finds from the Sujala site on the shores of Lake Vetsijärvi in Utsjoki in the province of Lapland include bifacially shaped tang points with a ventral retouch on the tip that are rare or absent in Ahrensburgian contexts, but very characteristic of the so-called Post-Swiderian cultures of the northwestern Russian type. [Survey and excavation at Lake Vetsijärvi, Lapland - Tuija Rankama & Jarmo Kankaanpää, in: PEOPLE, MATERIAL CULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT IN THE NORTH, Proceedings of the 22nd Nordic Archaeological Conference, University of Oulu, 18-23 August 2004, Edited by Vesa-Pekka Herva [] ]


The Sami are claimed by some to be the aboriginal Northern Europeans, possibly those who first reentered Europe from ice age refugia after the last glacial maximum. The genetic origin of the Sami is still unknown, though recent genetic research may be providing some clues. Nevertheless, it appears that the Sami represent an old European population.

Archeological evidence suggests that people along the southern shores of Lake Onega and around Lake Ladoga reached the River Utsjoki in Northern Finnish Lapland before 8100 BC [ [ Uncovering the secrets of the Sámi] , a February 2006 "Helsingin Sanomat" article] . Other experts trace the Sami presence back to as recently as 2500 years ago.Fact|date=September 2008 They are the earliest of the contemporary ethnic groups represented in the Sami area, and are consequently considered the indigenous population of the area.

The genetic lineage of the Sami is unique, and may reflect an early history of geographic isolation, genetic drift, and genetic bottle-necking. The uniqueness of the Sami gene pool has made it one of the most extensively studied genetic population in the world. The most frequent Sami MtDNA (female) haplotype is U5b1, with type V also common. There is an intriguing study that suggests a connection with the Sami to the Berber people of northern Africa. [ [ Saami and Berbers - An Unexpected Mitochondrial DNA Link.] Achilli, A et al. American Journal of Human Genetics, 76:883-886, 2005.]

Before 15th century

Historically, the Sami inhabited all of Northern Russia,Fact|date=September 2008 Finland, and Eastern Karelia for a long time, though the Eastern Sami became assimilated into Finnish and Karelian populations after settlers from Häme, Savo, and Karelia migrated into the region. Placenames, e.g. Nuuksio on the south coast of Finland, remain as proof of former Sami settlement. However, Sami people increasingly mixed with Finnish and Scandinavian settlers, losing their culture and language.Dubious|date=September 2008

Up to around 1500 the Sami were mainly fishermen and trappers, usually in a combination, leading a nomadic lifestyle decided by the migrations of the reindeer. Around 1500, due to excessive hunting, again provoked by the fact that the Sami had to pay taxes to Norway, Sweden and Russia, the number of reindeer started to decrease. Most Sami then settled along the fjords, on the coast and along the inland waterways to pursue a combination of cattle raising, trapping and fishing. A small minority of the Sami then started to tame the reindeer, becoming the well-known reindeer nomads, who, although often portrayed by outsiders as following the archetypical Sami lifestyle, only represent around 10% of the Sami people.

It is believed that since the Viking Age, the Sami culture has been driven further and further north, perhaps mostly by assimilation since no findings yet support battles. However, there are some folklore called "stalo" or tales, about non-trading relations with a cruel warrior people, interpreted by Læstadius to be histories of Vikings interactions. Besides these considerations, there were also foreign trading relations. Animal hides and furs were the most common commodities and exchanged with salt, metal blades and different kinds of coins. (The latter commodities was used as ornaments.).

Along the Northern Norwegian coast, the Sami culture came under pressure during the Iron Age by expanding Norse settlements and taxation from powerful Norse chieftains. The nature of the Norse-Sami relationship along the North-Norwegian coast in the Iron Age is still hotly debated, but possibly the Sami were quite happy to ally themselves with the Norse chieftains, as they could provide protection against Finno-Ugric enemies from the area around the White Sea.

However, in the early Middle Ages, this is partly reversed, as the power of the chieftains are broken by the centralized Norwegian state. Another wave of Norse settlement along the coast of Finnmark province is triggered by the fish trade in the 14th century. However, these highly specialized fishing communities made little impact on the Sami lifestyle, and in the late Middle Ages, the two communities could exist alongside each other with little contact except occasional trading.

ami Art

Traditionally, Sami art has been distinguished by its combination of functional appropriateness and vibrant, decorative beauty. Both qualities grew out of a deep respect for nature, embodied in the Sami's animism. Their religion found its most complete espression in Shamanism, evident in their worship of the "seite", an unusually shaped rock or tree stump that was assumed to be the home of a deity. Pictorial and sculptural art in the Western sense is a 20th century innovation in Sami culture used to preserve and develop key aspects of a pantheistic culture, dependent on the rhythms of the seasons. [Grove Dictionary of Art, ISBN 1-884446-00-0]

An economical shift

From the 15th century on, the Sami come under increased pressure. The surrounding states, Denmark-Norway, Sweden-Finland and Russia show increased interest in the Sami areas. Sweden, at the time blocked from the North Sea by Danish-Norwegian territory, is interested in a port at the Atlantic coast, and Russian expansion also reaches the coasts of the Barents Sea. All claim the right to tax the Sami people, and Finnish-speaking tax collectors from the northern coast of the Gulf of Bothnia reach the northern coasts, their Russian colleagues collect taxes as far west as the Harstad area of Norway and the Norwegian tax collectors collect riches from the inland of the Kola peninsula.

Hence the hunting is intensified, and the number of wild reindeer starts to decline. The Sami are simply forced to do something else. Reindeer husbandry was previously practiced in a limited way, for instance one tamed a few reindeer to divert the wild reindeer towards a cliff, hunting ditches etc. Now, a more intense kind of reindeer husbandry was practiced, in which the reindeer were more or less tamed. Now, all reindeer in the Sami area are tame, or owned by someone.

The majority of Sami people, however, settled along the inland river, along the fjords and on the outer coast. Fishing, in the sea or in fresh water, hunting and a simple herding of cows, sheep and goats together make the livelihood of most Sami.

Reindeer and other animals play a central part in Sami culture, though today reindeer husbandry is of dwindling economic relevance for the Sami people. There is currently (2004) no clear indication when reindeer-raising started, perhaps about 500 AD, but tax tributes were raised in the 16th century. Since the 16th century, Samis have always paid taxes in monetary currency, and some historians have proposed that large scale husbandry is not older than from this period.

"Lapponia" (1673), written by the rhetorician Johannes Schefferus, is the oldest source of detailed information on Sami culture. It was written due to "ill-natured" foreign propaganda (in particular from Germany) claiming that Sweden had won victories on the battlefield by means of 'Sami magic'. In attempts to correct the picture of Sami culture amongst the Europeans, Magnus de la Gardie started an early 'ethnological' research project to document Sami groups, conducted by Schefferus. The book was published in late 1673 and quickly translated to French, German, English, and other languages (though not to Swedish until 1956). However, an adapted and abridged version was quickly published in the Netherlands and Germany, where chapters on their difficult living conditions, topography, and the environment had been replaced by made-up stories of magic, sorcery, drums and heathenry. But there was also criticism against the ethnography, claiming Sami to be more warlike in character, rather than the image Schefferus presented.

wedish advances into Sapmi

Since the 1400s, the Sami people have traditionally been subjects of Sweden, Norway, Russia and for some time Denmark. In the 16th century Gustav I of Sweden officially claimed that all Sami should be under Swedish realm. However, the area was shared between the countries (i.e. only Sweden and Norway -- at that time the Baltic-Finnic tribes of the region that is now Finland were also subjects of Sweden) and the border was set-up to be the water flux line in Fennoscandia. After this "unification", the society, a structure with a few ruling and wealthy citizens called birkarls, ceased to exist, especially with the new king Charles IX who swore by his crown to be the "... Lappers j Nordlanden, the Caijaners" king 1607. [ [ Titles of European hereditary rulers - Sweden] Konung Christoffers Landslag. Edictum Regis Caroli IX eius iussu edito textui praescriptum] Yoiking, drumming and scarification was now abandoned and seen as (juridical terms) "magic" or "sorcery", something that were probably aimed to remove opposition against the crowns. The hard custody of Sami peoples resulted in a great loss of Sami culture.

The boundary agreement (like a "Codex Lapponia") between Sweden and Norway had an attachment; frequently called "Lappkodicillen" or "Samic Magna Carta." It has the same meaning for Samis even today (or at least till 2005), but is only a convention between Sweden and Norway and does not include Finland and Russia. It regulates how the land is shared by Sami peoples between the border of Sweden and Norway.

After the 17th century, many Sami families lost the right to use Swedish land since they were poor and could not pay tribute for it like other subjects. The state also took the Sami area in tighter control with specific Lappmark Regulations, enforcing non-Sami settlements on the area. This fostered opposition among Sami groups that wanted hunting, fishing, and pastoralistic areas back. Instead other groups often took over to put more use to the land. It was also at this time the county of Lappland was established in Sweden.

Russian interest

In the 16th century, as part of a general expansion period for the Russian empire, missionaries are sent to the far reaches of the empire, and several Russian Orthodox chapels are built on the Kola Peninsula. The westernmost advance is St. George's chapel in Neiden/Njavdam near Kirkenes in the Norwegian/Russian borderlands.

Danish-Norwegian policies in the North

On the Norwegian side, the Sami were converted by force to the Lutheran faith around 1720. Thomas von Westen was the leading man of the missionary effort, and his methods included burning the shaman drums on the fire and the like. However, economically the Sami were not that badly off, compared to the Norwegian population. They were free to trade with whom they wanted, and entertained trade links with Norwegians and Russians alike. However, the crumbling economy of the Norwegian communities along the outer coast led to increased pressure on the land and conflicts between the two communities.

19th century: Increased pressure

The 19th century led to yet increased interest for the far north.

New borders in an old land

In 1809, Finland was seized by Russia, creating a new border right through the Sami area. In 1826, the Norwegian/Russian border treaty finally drew the border between Norway and Finland-Russia, where large tracts of land had previously been more or less governing themselves under very light joint control from Russia, Sweden and Denmark-Norway. This meant that reindeer herders who until now had stayed in Finland in Winter and on the Norwegian coast in Summer, could no longer cross the borders. The Norwegian/Swedish border, however, could still be crossed by reindeer herders until 1940.

The Sami crossed the borders freely until 1826, when the Norwegian/Finnish/Russian border was closed. Sami were still free to cross the border between Sweden and Norway according to inherited rights laid down in the Lapp Codicil of 1751 until 1940, when the border was closed due to Germany's occupation of Norway. After WWII, they were not allowed to return. Their summer pasturages are today used by Sami originating in Kautokeino.

For long periods of time, the Sami lifestyle reigned supreme in the north because of its unique adaptation to the Arctic environment, enabling Sami culture to resist cultural influences from the South. Indeed, throughout the 18th century, as Norwegians of Northern Norway suffered from low fish prices and consequent depopulation, the Sami cultural element was strengthened, since the Sami were independent of supplies from Southern Norway.

Economical marginalization

In all countries, the 19th century was a period of economic growth. In Norway, cities were founded and fish exports increased. The Sami way of life became increasingly outdated, and the Sami were marginalized and left out of the general expansion.

Christianization and the Laestadius Movement.

In the 1840s, the Swedish-Sami minister, Lars Levi Laestadius, preached a particularly strict and puritan version of the Lutheran teachings. This led to a religious awakening among the Sami across every border, often with much animosity towards the authorities and the established church. In 1852, this led to riots in the municipality of Kautokeino, where the minister was badly beaten and the local tradesman slain by fanatic "crusaders". The leaders of the riots were later executed or condemned to long imprisonment. After this initial violent outbreak, the Laestadius movement continued to gain ground in Sweden, Norway and Finland. However, the leaders now insisted on a more cooperative attitude with the authorities.

Cultural pressure

In Norway, the use of Sami in teaching and preaching had initially been encouraged. However, with the rise in nationalism in Norway from the 1860s onward, the Norwegian authorities changed their policies in a more nationalistic direction. From around 1900 this was intensified, and no Sami could be used in public school or in the official church.

The 20th century

However, in the 20th century Norwegian authorities put the Sami culture under pressure in order to make the Norwegian language and culture universal. A strong economical development of the north also took place, giving Norwegian culture and language status. On the Swedish and Finnish side, the authorities were much less militant in their efforts; however, strong economic development in the north led to a weakening of status and economy for the Sami.

The strongest pressure took place from around 1900 to 1940, when Norway invested considerable money and effort to wipe out Sami culture. Notably, anyone who wanted to buy or lease state lands for agriculture in Finnmark, had to prove knowledge of the Norwegian language. This also ultimately caused the dislocation in the 1920s, that increased the gap between local Sami groups, something still present today, and sometimes bears the character of an internal Sami ethnic conflict. Another factor was the heavy war destruction in northern Finland and northern Norway in 1944-45, destroying all existing houses and visible traces of Sami culture. After World War II the pressure was relaxed somewhat.

Prewar hardliners in Norway

"See also Norwegianization"

The 20th century started with yet increased pressure on the Norwegian side of the border. In the name of progress, Norwegian language and culture was promoted, and Sami language and culture dismissed as backward, uncultured, downright ridiculous and even the product of an inferior race. Land, that previously belonged to no one, and was used according to age-old principles, was considered state property. Settlers had to prove they could speak good Norwegian before they could claim new land for agriculture.


In Sweden, the policies are markedly less militant in the beginning. Teachers even follow the Sami reindeer herders to provide education for the children. However, the Sami areas are being increasingly exploited by the new mines in Kiruna and Gällivarre, and the construction of the Luleå-Narvik railway.With the birth of the Swedish Race Biology Institute a lot of Sami were affected by the compulsory sterilization project. Their graves were plundered to provide research material and they were overall seen as an inferior race.


In Russia, age-old Sami ways of life were brutally interrupted by the collectivization of the reindeer husbandry and agriculture in general. Most Samis were organized in a single kolkhoz, located in the central part of the Peninsula, at Lovozero (Sami: Lojavri). The Soviet state made an enormous effort to develop this strategically important region, and the Sami people witnessed their land being overrun by ethnic Russians and other Soviet nationalities, including Nenets and other arctic peoples.

WWII destructions

The Second World War was fought right in the middle of the Sami area, and the eastern Sami in North Eastern Finland and Russia found themselves fighting on opposite sides. The withdrawal of the German Wehrmacht from Northern Finland and far north of Norway meant that all houses, roads and infrastructure was destroyed. This meant forced evacuation, destruction, an economical setback and the loss of all visible history. The Finnmark province, the north-eastern municipalities of Troms province and all of the northern areas of Finland were but smoking ruins.


The reconstruction of the northern areas was a marked programme for modernization. In Finnmark, modern houses were build, and the Norwegian way of life was promoted as the way to progress and modernity. Sami was old, ridiculous and best left behind.

Renewed interest

News in Sami on national radio in Norway started in 1946. At about the same time, experiments were being done with bilingual teachings of the alphabet in the first and second grade, to ease the learning process. However, the presence of a Sami minority in Norway was largely ignored. Education, communication, industrialization, all contributed to integrating Sami communities into Norwegian society at the point of losing identity.

The conflicts between Sami and the Nordic governments continued into the mid 20th century. The proposed construction of the hydro power dam in the 1960s and 1970s contained controversial propositions such as putting a village (Máze) and a cemetery under water.

However, in the 19th century Norwegian authorities put the Sami culture under pressure in order to make the Norwegian language and culture universal. A strong economical development of the north also took place, giving Norwegian culture and language status. On the Swedish and Finnish side, the authorities were much less militant in their efforts; however, strong economic development in the north led to a weakening of status and economy for the Sami.

The strongest pressure took place from around 1900 to 1940, when Norway invested considerable money and effort to wipe out Sami culture. Notably, anyone who wanted to buy or lease state lands for agriculture in Finnmark, had to prove knowledge of the Norwegian language. This also ultimately caused the dislocation in the 1920s, that increased the gap between local Sami groups, something still present today, and sometimes bears the character of an internal Sami ethnic conflict. Another factor was the heavy war destruction in northern Finland and northern Norway in 1944-45, destroying all existing houses and visible traces of Sami culture. After World War II the pressure was relaxed somewhat.

Only a minor part is today working with reindeer husbandry. There are also minor groups working as fishermen, producing Sami arts and serving tourism. Besides having a voting length in the so called Sami Parliament or influence in any Sami language, the rest are ordinary citizens, adhering to the Scandinavian culture. In Sweden, major parts of Norrland (and not only Sami villages) are also experiencing major emigration to larger towns.

With the creation of The Republic of Finland in the first half of the 20th century, the Sami inhabiting this area were no longer under the rule of the Russian Empire, but instead citizens of the newly created state of Finland. The Sami Parliament of Finland was created in 1973. One recent issue concerning Sami rights in Finland is the foresting of traditional Sami land by state-owned Finnish companies.

Since 1992, the Sami have had their own national day; the February 6.

In 1898 and 1907-08 some Sami emigrated to Alaska and Newfoundland, respectively, due to requests from the American government. Their mission was to teach reindeer herding to native Americans. (Source: Nordisk familjebok)


ee also

*Sami people
*"Fragments of Lappish Mythology", A recently found book by Lars Levi Læstadius that was lost from 1845 to 1997 about the traditional religions of the Sami.
* Norwegianization - a program to forcibly assimilate the Sami into Norwegian culture.

External links

* [ Historiska nyheter, No. 62]
* [ A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels, Vol. 1]
* [ Sami Emigration to America]
* [ Sami Genetic Information]
* [ The Saami Culture, University of Texas]
* [ Coexistence of Saami and Norse culture reflected in and interpreted by Old Norse myths, Mundal]
* [ Ohthere's Voyage (890 AD) original text with English translation]
* [ The Origin and Deeds of the Goths by Jordanes (551 AD)]
* [ Germania by Tacitus (98 AD]
* [ The Western and Eastern Roots of the Saami—the Story of Genetic “Outliers” Told by Mitochondrial DNA and Y Chromosomes, Tambets 2004]
* [ Saami Mitochondrial DNA Reveals Deep Maternal Lineage Clusters, Delghandi 1998]
* [ The Origin of the Baltic-Finns from the Physical Anthropological Point of View, Niskanen 2002]
* [ Saami and Berbers—An Unexpected Mitochondrial DNA Link, Achilli 2005]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Sami people — For other uses, see Sami (disambiguation). Samis redirects here. For the Samis Foundation, see Sam Israel. Sámi Mari Boine • Lars Levi Læstadius • Lisa Thomasson • …   Wikipedia

  • Sami Church Council (Church of Norway) — The Sami Church Council ( Sámi girkoráđđi , Sáme girkoráde , Saemien gærhkoeraerie ) is the organ of the Church of Norway responsible for Sami church life. It answers to the General Synod of the Church of Norway.BackgroundThe… …   Wikipedia

  • Sami music — A Nordic Sami woman playing Lur horn in the evening. A wood cut made by Emma Edwall after nature in the mid 1800 s. In traditional Sami music songs (e.g. Kvad [1] and Leudd songs [2] …   Wikipedia

  • History of Sweden — Modern Sweden emerged out of the Kalmar Union formed in 1397 and by the unification of the country by King Gustav Vasa in the 16th century. In the 17th century Sweden expanded its territories to form the Swedish empire. Most of these conquered… …   Wikipedia

  • Sámi school (Sweden) — Sámi schools, which were referred to as Nomad schools or Lapp schools before 1977, are a type of school in Sweden that runs parallel to the standard primary school system. Sámi schools are part of the Swedish public school system, and as such are …   Wikipedia

  • Sami Makarem — (April 14,1931) is a Druze Lebanese scholar, writer, poet and artist; he was born in the village of Aitat in Aley district and is best known for his academic contributions in the fields of Islamic studies, Sufism, and Islamic history. He obtained …   Wikipedia

  • Sami orthography — refers to the various orthographies used by the six Sámi languages that have their own literary language: Southern Sami, Lule Sami, Northern Sami, Inari Sami, Skolt Sami and Kildin Sami.Orthographical trendsThree different orthographical trends… …   Wikipedia

  • Sami cuisine — Sami milking bowls dried …   Wikipedia

  • Sami Rintala — (born Helsinki, 1969) is a Finnish architect and artist and, since 2004, Professor of Architecture at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway and a partner in Rintala Eggertsson Architects since 2007. He studied… …   Wikipedia

  • History of Galatasaray S.K. — On foot: Adnan, Milo Bakiş, Ali Sami (founder) , Ahmet Robenson, Asım Tevfik, Emin Bülent, Hamit, Fuat. Seated: Celal İbrahim (martyr, 1917) , Sabri Mahir, Tevfik Fikret (headmaster) , Hasan, Bekir. Sitting on ground: Horace Armitage (coach and… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.