In other words I’m sure the only people who enjoy May in Sápmi are the reindeer herders: miessemánnu stands for the month of the reindeer calf. This is the month when they are born, often en route to the summer pastures on the coast (at least in Norway, in Finland they closed the border long time ago and made the annual migration impossible). For rest of us, May is a month of stagnation and freezing winds. But when you know it, you don’t expect it to be any other way. Gone is the warm sun that embraced us around May Day and melted most of the snow. Ever since it’s been snowing and zero degrees…

The traditional golgadeapmi (drift net) fishing was supposed to start today at my home river Deatnu but there’s still too much ice in the river. Those who have the right to golgadit have to patiently wait on the shores, hopefully not too long because it’s only allowed for a short period. There are some people saying that this is an unusually cold May…

The Sami have eight seasons instead of the regular four. So it’s constantly changing and before you have got to used to one, another season has already arrived and taken over. Not surprisingly, it took forever for me to get used to one-season life in Vancouver, BC. The only difference between summer and winter there was a little less rain in the summer – if you were lucky. But it’s a proof of human adaptiveness that now I love the rain!

Traditionally, the eight Sami seasons are giđđa (spring), álgogeassi or giđđageassi (early summer or spring-summer), geassi (summer), álgočakča (early fall), čakča (fall), skábma (the dark season), dálvi (winter) and giđđadálvi (late winter or spring-winter). I think we should declare May as its own season because it’s so special. The term ‘spring’ doesn’t really catch or reveal the specialness of Sápmi spring. Spring means daffodils and cherry blossoms but May in Sápmi means totally something else. Like fresh snow on the ground, as in that picture.

It’s also a season when you are confined to the roads. You can no longer ski but the bush is still too wet, with patches of wet snow, to go walking or running. The wind is too strong and cold for enjoyable bike rides. So we have to take pleasure of the small delights at hand, like local sightseeing. The next entry and the first installment of Kauto sights will be from Juhl’s, a jewel on the mountains…

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3 thoughts on “May is miessemánnu – a season of its own

  1. I am shocked to learn that Finland closed the border! what is this madness? and yet they market themselves to the world as a place of nature, nature lovers, etc. But what! Stop the migration! This is terrible.

    I loved learning more about your seasons. Truly it is the 4 seasons of colonial Europe that have planted their seeds of normalization of the year into so many minds. It is important to learn of these 8 seasons.

    I was also intrigued by how some Finnish words are like Saami words. Just yesterday I was thinking of the greeting Paivaa, and also of piika (maid). Finns lived with the Saami and learned to share language; how is it that Finns then came to discriminate against them? [I guess that is too big of a question!] Q: Is Saami an ugric language?

    …looking forward to your trek to Juhl …is this word related in some way to Juhla [celebration] ?

  2. The border closures probably still aren’t discussed much in history textbooks but they’re part of the colonial history and the nation-building in the Sami territory. The border between Finland (then part of Russia) and Norway was closed on 1852, in the same year as the Kautokeino rebellion. As one site writes: “Northern Sámi – also known as the reindeer or fell Sámi – have lived a nomadic life, migrating along with the reindeer herds. Reindeer economy spread to Lapland in the 17th century. The reindeer Sámi of Varanger area had their winter pastures in the surroundings of Lake Inari. In 1852, the closing of border between Norway and Finland caused dramatic changes to the migrating life. Since the 1860s, many reindeer Sámis moved to the Finnish side of the border with their herds and gradually multiplied the amount of reindeers in Utsjoki and Inari. As the ancient ways to the Arctic Sea coast were cut, the immigrants settled in the new areas around Lake Inari.” (http://www.pasvik-inari.net/neu/eng/culture_population.html)

    Although not all North Sami are reindeer owners (like myself!) as the text maintains, the border closure significantly altered everybody’s lives. This is the border that splits my home river, Deatnu, into Norway and Finland today. In my book I write about the river: “For many of us along the river, however, Deatnu is not a border but rather a bond that connects families who live on both sides of the river. The entire Deatnu valley is the landscape of our home. Before the roads were built on both sides of the river, Deatnu was the main johtolat – a Sami word signifying passage, way, route, channel, connection – for people, news, foodstuffs, mail, building materials and so on. During the summer, traveling and commuting was done by boat. In the winter, the thick ice of the river served as a road for horses and oxen and later cars. In short, everything and everybody moved along the river, except during short periods in the spring and fall when the ice was either too thin to carry weight or, in the process of being formed, prevented boating. Besides being a significant salmon river, it has functioned as a source of both physical and spiritual sustenance for generations.”

    However, “On the Finnish side of the Deatnu valley, Sami carried quite an isolated life from the rest of Finland until the postwar period. Sami scholar Veli-Pekka Lehtola notes that some people even designated the northernmost municipality as its own republic. After the return from the evacuation in Central Finland, life got restarted mainly with the help of the Norwegian connections. Unlike in many other places, there was no lack of food on the Deatnu River because of the nearby towns on the Norwegian side. People also relied on the health services of those towns. In Vuovdaguoika school, located on the Finnish side of the river, there even was a Norwegian hospital running for a while, admitting patients from both sides of the river.
    After the war, however, the border of Finland and Norway was patrolled more closely, particularly because the two countries were considered to belong in different ‘camps.’ Northern Norway was liberated from the German occupation by Russians while Finland was, at the end of the war, a German ally. The first Finnish border patrol station was established in the region in 1945, after which the formal connections to the other side of the river gradually weakened.” …

    “After the war, people were required to settle down more permanently on either side of the river, although many families had land on each side. New laws were passed to regulate land ownership. According to the Norwegian law, ‘Finnish citizens,’ i.e., the Sami who happened to live on the Finnish side of the river when the ‘border was closed’ (in 1752), were no longer allowed to own land on the Norwegian side. My great-grandmother, who had married from one side of the river to the other, however, was able to retain her land on the Norwegian side and, after retiring, she moved back with her husband. Her situation was by no means unique, as illustrated by Sami poet Rauni Magga Lukkari:

    I row across my river
    Father’s river
    Grandfather’s river
    Row first to the Norwegian side
    then to the Finnish side
    I row across my river
    to Mother’s side
    Father’s side
    Wondering
    where homeless children belong
    (Lukkari, 1996)

  3. PS: I think you have the thousand dollar question about the languages – a question that we, Sami in Finland, keep asking even today. But you must know, it was the very opposite. Because many Europeans recognized that Sami and Finnish are at least linguistically related, they did everything, of course with the help of ‘science’ to prove that the Sami belonged to the Mongoloid race while Finns were a European race. There was a very lively ‘scientific’ debate in Finland about this for decades until the early 20th century. In the process, Sami skulls were measured and theories of long and short skulls were developed, anatomical photos were collected… (Finnish scholar Pekka Isaksson did his PhD on the topic and it was published as Kumma Kuvajainen: Rasismi rotututkimuksessa, rotuteorioiden saamelaiset ja suomalainen fyysinen antropologia, 2001).

    So to answer your question, yes, Sami and Finnish languages both belong to the Finno-Ugric language family – which in fact should be called the Sami-Ugric language family if it’s the geographical span that decides! (Sami in the West, Ugric or Uralic languages in the East.) Sami and Finnish in fact originate from one “proto language” that started to differentiate about 10,000 years ago due to Germanic influences and taking up agriculture in the southern areas. Some people argue that in terms of language, Finns are in fact Europeanized Sami!!

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