Sami history

From Academic Kids

The Sami peoples have inhabited the northern regions of Scandinavia since far back into antiquity. Their ancient life style, dominated by hunting, fishing and trading, was preserved to ca. 16th century when the Nordic countries were established. After this time, they stopped using traditional exchange commodities such as animal hides and fur and began using currency. Non-Sami explored their land searching for valuable minerals, and in more modern times, built dams there to produce hydroelectricity. Many Sami families were forced to leave their old way of life, accept the authority of a new government and adopt the Lutheran Christianity.

Since their dialects or languages differ so greatly according to latitude, the Samis might well be considered as consisting of many ethnic groups rather than as one homogeneous group, like Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Icelanders, etc. 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 heathenry") in old court protocols.

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



The Sami are the original Northern European people. The genetic origin of the Sami is unknown. They cannot be genetically linked to any other modern population. The Finns, compared to Sami, are genetically indistinguishable from Germans, Balts, and other Central Europeans.

There are older theories linking the Sami to Asians. They are mostly based on phrenology and other pseudosciences, or to the now-discredited Uralo-Altaic theory.

Before 15th century

Before the 1500s, very little is known about the Sami. However, it is believed that, since the Viking Age, the 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 Lĉstadius 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.)

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 somewhere between 500 BC- 500 AD, but tax tributes were raised in the 16th century. Since 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.

15th - 19th century

Since the 1400s, the Sami people have been subjects of Denmark, Norway and Sweden-Finland. The region was seen as non-Swedish before the 15th century, but Gustav I of Sweden 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 Finland was part 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 "... Lapplanders' and Quenlanders' king" 1607. 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, more territories was taken over by the crown by force since many Sami families did not have the resources to pay tributes. Confiscation fostered opposition among Sami groups since they lost their hunting-, fishing-, and pastoralistic areas, sometimes taken over by immigrants. It is believed that the borders of Umeċ, Piteċ, Luleċ and Torneċ lappic regions are arranged to limit the immigration. These borders, although contracted, are what today make up the county Lappland. Some problems the boundary agreement was intended to resolve still remain today.

The 20th century

The conflicts between Sami and Scandinavian states continued into the mid 20th century. The making of the hydro power dam in the 1960s and 1970s contained very discriminating propositions such as putting a village (Maze) and a cemetery under water. It was in the end stopped by an intensive opposition from village inhabitants.

Starting with the Russian revolution, many Laplanders in Soviet Union was forced to adhere into the so-called kolkhoz and sovkhoz programme. As long as it was supported by the Soviet government it worked normally well. But after the fall, almost all activity was dissolved. In 2004, the first private post-revolution reindeer husbandry was established.

Only a minor part is today working with reindeer husbandry. There are also minor groups working as fishermen, producing Saami arts and serving tourism. Besides having a voting length in 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 Saami villages) are also experiencing major emigration to larger towns

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)

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