lundi 16 janvier 2012

Sami people, reindeer herding and the lynx

    The land of the Sami people is Sápmi. This land area stretches through four countries, Sweden, Norway,Finland and Russia. The Sami have lived in this area through out the history, before it got invaded and colonised. Originally the Sami traditional settle area was larger, but gradually this area has been limited…

    Today, about 70 000 Sami people live in Scandinavia:
    - Approximately 40 000 lives in Norway
    - Approximately20 000 lives in Sweden
    - Approximately 6 000 lives in Finland
    - Approximately 2 000 lives in Russia

    These indigenous people of Scandinavia have their own culture, language, customs and traditions that are different from those of the society around us.

    The Siida community – an organized hunting- and gathering society

    In the age when the Sami still lived unaffected of the Nordic states, they were organized in local systems, the Siida. The Siida controlled a certain area, which no other Siida could use. The Siida was an effective hunting team and consisted of about ten families that together used the land and the water. Within the Siida the hunting grounds and the fishing waters were divided according to need. They made seasonal migrations after a determined pattern to use what nature offered.
    The main food was meat from wild reindeer, other wild animals and fish. Berries and vegetables were also a part of the food.


    A common way of hunting was the use of snares. In the beginning the snares were made of sinews and twined horsehair, hemp and linen thread. Later on brass- and copper thread were used. The animals trapped were wild reindeer, moose, bear and capercailzie, black grouse and ptarmigan.


    Already at an early age ambient people began trading with the Sami. Important merchandise’s were furs from, for example, squirrel, marten, fox, wolverine,lynx, bear and reindeer.

    Capercailzie,black grouse and hazel hen were also common merchandise. Gradually the Nordic states began to collect taxes from the Sami people and furs were often used as payment.


    In the 17th century the wild reindeer herds decreased, at the same time as the Nordic states introduced a new tax system. This change meant that the Sami had to find new ways of supporting themselves to satisfy the states new tax system. The new system meant that the need of reindeer increased because the most of the taxes were paid with the reindeer’s meat and furs. The Sami population had also grown during this period, which meant that they could no longer cope on only fishing and hunting. At this time the Sami people increased their herds of tamed reindeer, which led to the ending of the hunting community. The reindeer herding gradually becomes the main live hood for a big part of the Sami population.

    The reindeer in the centre

    When the reindeer herding develops into an important live hood, the reindeer come to have a huge impact on the Sami people’s way of life. For the reindeer herders, the reindeer permeated everything, their way of living, the culture and the wild nature. The reindeer was the reindeer herder’s live hood and what his life was adapted after. They followed the reindeer’s annual migrations between their different grazing lands. It was on the reindeer’s condition.

    Calf marking

    When the reindeer herds became bigger they had to start marking their reindeer to discern to whom the reindeer belonged. To distinguish who owns a reindeer, the calves are marked in the ears with a combination of cuts. One of the cut off peaces was saved to keep track on how many reindeer calves they had marked. A reindeer mark is personal and is inherited within the family. The reindeer calf follows its mother and that make it possible to decide who owns the calf.


    Spring camp – Calving

    During May they were in the spring camp (often the same as the autumn camp), which was situated in the higher regions of the birch forest. They stayed here for about 1 ½- 2 months. During this time the reindeer calved and the calves got a chance to grow stronger before the summer migration began.

    Summer migration

    In the second half of June the summer migration took place. They moved west towards the high mountain regions, to mountain sides at the fjords or out on the islands.
    In the summer camp they stayed for about two months. The tent was put up on a level alpine health. If their dwelling laid by a lake they often had a boat and nets for fishing.

    © Jason Roberts/Jason Roberts Productions

    Autumn migration

    In the end of august the migration to autumn camp began. The reindeer carried the baggage on their backs.
    In September they came to the autumn camp and stayed for about 2 months. Some of the reindeer bulls were castrated and then tamed to pull sleds. The slaughter also began before the rutting season in the end of September. If they don’t, the bulls meat got a bad taste and was not edible.

    Copyright © (C) Bryan and Cherry Alexander Photography

    Reindeer round-up

    DuringOctober, the reindeer which roamed relatively freely in September are grouped according to families separated by the lasso.

    Winter migration

    It usually took place in November. They moved to the wood lands. The men moved with the reindeer herd and the dogs were a big help to keep the herd together. After the herd, often led by the women came a trail of reindeer with sleds.

    In Decemberthey arrived at the winter grazing lands that often were situated in the coniferous woodlands. During the winter they kept the herd together and moved it between different grazing areas.

    Winter camp

    They stayed in the winter grazing grounds until middle of April. If the grazing was good they could busy themselves with other chores as making things as sleds, ski etc. The women made handicraft.

    Spring migration

    It started in middle of April. They then moved to the spring camp. It went relatively quick. It was necessary to arrive to the spring camp before the calving season began. They often moved in the night when the snow was hard because in daytime the thaw made the journey hard.

    The reindeer’s food and habitat

    The reindeer graze different kinds of lichensand about 250 species of plants. The winter food (lichen) is poorly nutritional and is not satisfying the reindeer’s need of energy. Therefore, in summer/autumn the reindeer build up a strong fat reserve to survive the winter.

    Male reindeer can reach a weight of 100-150 kg
    Doe reindeer has a weight of 60-90 kg

    In Sweden we have mountain reindeer and forest reindeer. The mountain reindeer dwells in the mountains during the summer season and in the woodlands during the winter season. The forest reindeer stays in the woodlands all around the year. In Scandinavia all reindeer are semi domesticated (partly tamed) are herded both in the mountain and the forest region.


    The Sami village of today

    Today old and new technologies are used side by side. A good example is that herding dogs and lassos still are used regularly together with four-wheel drives and snowmobiles. The technological development constantly leads to changes in the reindeer herding of today. The sled dogs are still a very quick (and ecological) to move.

    Sleddogs by Kiruna © Landeline Valory

    Currently, the reindeer herding operated in Sami villages. A Sami village is a geographic area and economical cooperation. In this area the members of the Sami village have the right to work with their reindeer and to hunt and fish.

    Sweden has 51 Sami villages, which are divided into mountain, forest and concession sami villages. The mountain Sami villages move with their reindeer, between the mountains in the summer and the coniferous woodlands in the winter.

    - There are just over 4500 reindeer owners in Sweden
    - There are about 230 000 reindeer in Sweden
    - The reindeer herding area comprise about 40% of Sweden’s area

    Constant migration

    In all Sami village areas the reindeer stroll and are moved between the different grazing lands. The grazing areas have different characteristics of various importances for the reindeer depending on the time of the year. To move between the different areas the Sami use special walking and moving trails that often are very old.
    During certain periods of the year the reindeer herders use different corrals for gathering, roundup, mark and/or slaughter the reindeer.

    © Jason Roberts/Jason Roberts Productions

    A business controlled by wild nature

    The reindeer herding is probably the only nomadic form of animal tending that still exist in Europe.It is a business that is affected strongly by natural conditions as weather, temperature, wind, snow – and ice conditions, etc. It makes no year alike.

    In Sweden there are five large predators : lynx, wolverine, wolf, bear and kings eagle. All of them except from the wolf have their main spreading within the reindeer herding area. With that, these predators constitute a danger for the reindeer and can affect the yield of the herder.

    Therefore we must find a way to reduce lynx attacks on reindeer herd while respecting this feline whose specie is classified as "endangered."

    In February I will met a Sami herder to bring me his vision concerning the lynx.To be continued!

    Reindeer at Jukkasjärvi © Landeline Valory

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