Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sáami Culture

This thread was a rambling Facebook post with a friend on Sáami culture. Not quite a blog, and I'm not quite willing to let go of the information and shape it into a piece. But we uncovered a wealth of information in one thread in our wanderings. Note: not edited!

What the Norwegians (and all of Scandinavia—including Russia) did to destroy Sáami culture is similar to what England did to Irish and Welsh (and Native American) cultures. Neo-colonialism at its worst. Sáami are (Caucasian) First Peoples. ...Their language is Altaic (or Uralic)—not Indo-European.

You have heard one Sáami singer—Joni Mitchell! And Mari Boine is awesome.

The Finns are sometimes considered to be a First People who lost much their culture to Christian Sweden with forced conversion in the Middle Ages, but many peripheral cultures willingly accepted Christianity and blending their cultures - until the Church objected.

Tho Sáamii and Fins share a linguistic connection, the Finns don't seem to be a First Peoples. One would have to include Basque into that mix. Linguistically, Finnish is related to the other Baltic-Finnic languages Estonian and Karelian. Genetically, Finns are a homogeneous group with a genetic heritage in common with other European ethnicities. The mtDNA markers of Finnish people do not differ from those of other European ethnicities. Hungarians (87%) and Finns (90%) are definitely closer to Europeans. Lapps/Sáami, by comparison, are 50% European.

Tho, like Sáamii, Finns (aka Fenni, Phinnoi, Finnum, and Skrithfinni / Scridefinnumin in the ancient texts) are present throughout Scandinavia & Russia (Kvens, Tornedalians, Karelians, Veps, Ingrians or Izhorians). A lot of controversy tieing Finns with Lappi/Sáami—which is an old school of anthropological thought,

"it has been suggested that the separation of the Baltic-Finnic and the Sáami languages took place during the 2nd millennium BC, and that the proto-Uralic roots of the entire language group date from about the 6th to the 8th millennium BC." Because there are nine Sáamii dialects—some mutually unintelligible—but related through the dialectic continuum— this suggests an ancient peoples.

There is also oral tradition suggesting the Finns moved into Jutland from the East. They weren't First Peoples in Finland. The original home of Finns "was in west-central Siberia." Or they were from central and northern Europe, moving north after the Ice Age. But even that idea is controversial.

The Finnish word lape, which in this case means 'periphery' could be the origin of Lappi. (The old us vs, them paradigm.) The Sámii were considered heathens, lost from God. You gotta sift thru a LOT of flaming racism when reading about the Sáami...

The nomadic Sáami are the earliest of the contemporary ethnic groups represented in the area, they are consequently considered an indigenous population of the area. Their relative isolation in the Middle Ages protected them from the bubonic plague.

During the 19th c. was when Norway began to stamp out Sáamii culture. "The strongest pressure took place 1900 to 1940, when Norway invested considerable money and effort to wipe out Sáami culture," You couldn't buy or rent land id you didn't speak Norwegian. After years of forced assimilation, Sáamii culture is reviving. The Sáami were recognized as an indigenous people in Norway in 1990.

I had a Lappi friend—she gave me an earful...and studying folklore at UC Berkeley also put this info on my radar...Finns are extremely nationalistic—and invented an epic founding saga Kalevala in the 19th c. (fakelore—from real folklore) so you really have to read carefully there. I'll shut up now.

Nik Gervae

Exhibits at the National Museum of Finland indicated that prehistoric continental or even Scandinavian peoples may have displaced the original Finno-Ugric peoples of south Finland, while adopting their language and culture. That far back, and considering migrations after the Ice Age, I just don't know how to apply the term "First People".

Finnish nationalism stemmed more from their precarious position between Sweden and Russia than their relations with the Sáami, but it's certainly true that the big nationalist revival saved their remaining scraps of folklore from the grave with Elias Lönnrot's and other ethnologists' collection of rune-songs, which are vaguely related to joik. He assembled the wide-ranging set into Kalevala, a coherent narrative that had not previously existed, and Kanteletar, which was all the rest of the material. (Estonia managed a similar preservation/reconstruction with their Kalevipoeg.) It's that culture that nearly got exterminated by European culture, so I'm really not sure how to qualify it relative to Sáami, considering the records we have of prehistory are largely in grave objects and in peoples' genes....

Nick—you've more than covered the basics here—good job! I didn't delve into the Kavelala because that's a whole 'nother can o worms! But there's no stong evidence that Finns and Sáami are from the same peoples—they may have been enemies as the so called Finnish saga suggests. The Finns probably displaced the Sáami—based on linguistics alone!

Romantic Nationalism was central "in post-Enlightenment art and political philosophy. From its earliest stirrings, with their focus on the development of national languages and folklore, and the spiritual value of local customs and traditio...ns, to the movements that would redraw the map of Europe and lead to calls for "self-determination" of nationalities...

the romantic ideal; folklore developed as a romantic nationalist concept. The Brothers Grimm were inspired by Herder's writings to create an idealized collection of tales, which they labeled as authentically German. ...

Romantic nationalism inspired the processes whereby folk epics, retold legends and even fairy tales, published in existing dialects, were combined with a modern syntax to create a "revived" version of a language. Patriots, it was expected, would then learn that language and raise their children speaking that language, as part of a general program to establish a unique identity. "Landsmål", which is the foundation of modern Norwegian, was the first language to follow this program, and it was joined by modern Czech, Slovak, Finnish and later by Hebrew as nationalizing languages. ...

Romantic nationalism is inherently exclusionary, and that, in the 20th century, proved to be a tragic flaw.....

The concept of a "national epic", an extensively mythologized legendary work of poetry of defining importance to a certain nation, is another product of Romantic nationalism. ...

Beowulf, Macphearson's Ossian and the Kalevala...were examples of new national poetry – forged either out of whole cloth, or from cobbling together folk poetry,...

linguistic and cultural nationality, colored with pre-genetic concepts of race, were employed for two rhetorical claims consistently associated with romantic nationalism to this day: claims of primacy and claims of superiority. Primacy is the claimed inalienable right of a culturally and racially defined people..."

(That vein of this thought directly contributed to the "superiority of the Aryan race...")

"The idea was that Germans should "naturally" rule over the lesser peoples. Romantic nationalism, which had begun as a revolt against "foreign" kings and overlords, had come full circle, and was being used to make the case for a "Greater Germany" which would rule over Europe."

In the US it played out as The Frontier, Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny—not our most shining moments.

Nik Gervae

Yow. But yes, that's what I was saying, the original inhabitants of southern Finland (purporteded migrated from what is now Spain during the ice age), were displaced northward by another people, blond, fair-skinned.

I've been very curious to  learn more about the creation of Kalevala. There's only one good book I know of in English (Pentikäinen's "Kalevala Mythology")...and my Finnish is nowhere good enough yet.

From what I remember—w/o digging out my (really old!) notes—Kalevala is a modern Romantic construct, understand there were no folklore collection rules yet in place, it was very much a product of 18-19th c mindset, some real folklore was us...ed—but it's definitely a collage, a pastiche. An attempt to create a national literature.

Think it was patterned after Jamie MacPhearspn's equally romantic (read nationalistic) attempt at trying to abscond with Irish sagas, by claiming that the Scottish Oissin was the extant story—earlier by 3 centuries.

Sadly, MacPhearson really did collect some old Gaelic verse—but he bowlderized (and plagiarized) so much of it—and then deliberately destroyed the notes, so nothing can be verified.

Point being—the two sagas were modeled on the same construct. We did not study Estonian version. Don't know if it too is a construct. Nothing wrong with that—but claiming it as a national literature was the real problem. More like Oh look I just happened to find this old mss in a trunk or a cave—when in fact, it was a forgery in MacPhearson's case.

Something about the form in the Kalevala—was a giveaway. Can't remember what. Not an ancient form? Anyway, there's been a LOT of misdirection and bad scholarship around it—and I can see in the Wiki articles, the attempts to ameliorate the contradicting schools of thought. Thus confusing everybody even more. Not just grains, but vast piles of salt are needed while reading about it.

Read it for what it is, but don't assume its veracity. Weirdly, Tolkien was attempting to do something similar—create a national English literature. it is said the Simillaron (sp?) is based on the Kalevala...

That's why I posted all that stuff about Romanticism—you (not you, but one has) have to understand the circumstances that spawned it. Romanticism was in direct (antagonistic) reaction to the Age of Reason—I like to think of it as a collective battle of the psyche of modern man. Sorta like The Bible told me so—stance.

As for translations‚ no clue there. I did read it in translation but don't remember who. I found it challenging to read—probably because it is a collage. But Irish medieval mss was really my thing—and the occasional Icelandic saga-for cross reference. The Kalevala was, along with Ossian, when we were studying fakelore. Everybody was doing it—it was all the rage.

Joseph Jacobs, Wendt, and Yeats fall into that category—it's not to say they didn't collect folklore but they sure "improved" it, thus destroying its integrity. Luckily for the Irish—there were all these very real medieval manuscripts to back it up. I took this cool class where we plowed through stacks of books and looked at them as cultural artifacts of Romantic thought. An interesting way to read.


original inhabitants of southern Finland (purporteded migrated from what is now Spain during the ice age), were displaced northward by another people, blond, fair-skinned.

Yeah, I was just reading a variant of that theory—But the Sáamii (who seem to be older than FInns—linguistically, etc.) are pale (and many are blond) tho their skin color is more golden—perhaps belying their eastern heritage. So don't know ow that all fits in. Don't forget there were fair people in Northern Japan—the Ainu...who may be related. (Japanese tried to obliterate them too...) Another wild school of thought!

Nick—this is what I mean by so much misinformation: "The Sáami people, an indigenous race related to North American Indians and Eskimo tribes, were colonized by the Christian Scandinavians." Fail! See what the idea of First Peoples conjures up? Argh!

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