How would you react if I say that I wore the traditional Sami costume and got framed in the middle of a snow-covered forest with an adorable Sami couple in Finnish Lapland?
This was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip to the winter wonderland and will remain one of the most treasured memories of my lifetime.
Ever since I read about the last remaining indigenous people of Europe, I was truly fascinated by their history, culture, and lifestyle. My inclination to meet the Sami people was way higher than seeing the Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland. I may sound a little crazy with this statement, but that’s a fact. Local people have always been a high point of interest during my travels as one learns so much about that place by observing and interacting with them.
Also Read: Why You Should Visit Finland At Least Once In Your Lifetime
The temperature dipped suddenly as I touched down the Northernmost part of Finland. From cold to the coldest, I could feel the weather transition instantly, the moment I stepped out of the Ivalo Airport. But I still remember the moment when I was greeted with a big smile and a warm tight hug by Mr. Timo, my Sami Guide in Lapland. This was my first meeting with one of the real Sami people I have been so deeply fascinated with. I could not have been happier than this during the rest of my journey in the mystical land known as the winter wonderland.
Who are the Sami People?
The Sami people are Europe’s last remaining indigenous people. After the ice age, the Sami were the first people to come here. If you turn over the pages of history, you will know that the origin of Sami goes back to around 4000 years and it is also said that the first residents of Finland are documented to have arrived 10,500 years ago.
This region is known as Sapmi and covers the Arctic area of the Northern parts of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia’s Kola Peninsula where the Sami population is concentrated. Basically, they live in the tundra (arctic or subarctic treeless plain), taiga (subarctic forest), and coastal zones in the northern end of Europe.
The total population of Sami is approximately 80,000 across these four countries. In Finland, the strength of the population is 9000 and about 2000 Sámi reside in the Inari region of Finland. The ancestors of Sami people were nomadic in nature.
They belonged to no particular country as they used to move with their herds in search of grazing lands. The Sami were once called Lapps which means ‘scraps of cloth’ in the Scandinavian language. Many Sami people find it derogatory and that’s why they prefer to be called Sami. They are also called Laplanders.
Sami & Reindeer
It is considered very rude to ask a Sami how many reindeer he has, since it is equivalent to asking how much money he has in his bank account.
Reindeer are an integral part of the Sami lifestyle and culture. It would not be wrong to state that their life revolves around the reindeer. Apparently, Sami people have been herding Reindeer since 800 CE and since then it has been a central aspect of their survival.
The life of a Reindeer herder is tough as they travel miles after miles with their herds in search of grazing land in extreme arctic weather conditions, spending months in the wilderness in the traditional Sami tents known as Lavvu, and mostly lead a lonely life away from their families. It’s their deep passion for Reindeer herding, a pure and emotional connection with Reindeer, and deep-rooted love for nature, which makes them continue their tradition in the toughest terrain.
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Every Reindeer in the Sapmi region belong to the Sami People. Reindeer husbandry is their primary source of income. In earlier days, they used Reindeer for transportation in the harsh winter. The biggest revolution that happened in Reindeer herding was in 1965 when the Snowmobile became a part of their lifestyle. It changed the approach towards Reindeer herding.
Nowadays, no one stays in Lavvu for a longer period as the distance to the wilderness can be covered in a few hours, albeit, the older generation of Sami thinks that it was much better before the new age Snowmobile came into existence.
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It is also believed that every Sami is required to carry a knife and match in the forest as they say that one must know how to make fire in the forest. With the changing time, there is only 10% of Sami population is involved in Reindeer herding as the younger generation has moved to cities and got involved in other professions.
Traditional Sami Way of life
Being nomadic herders, they dwell miles after miles with their herds, and hence there is no permanent settlement for them. In earlier times, they used to live in tents, popularly known as Lavvu, which is made out of a circular framework of poles, leaning inwards like an American Tipi, but less vertical and more stable in high winds.
The Lavvu is a temporary dwelling of the Sami people of northern Scandinavia. The tents and huts are arranged around the central fire. Today, most of the Sami people live in a typical Scandinavian house with central heating, though Lavvu is still used by the herders in the deep forest.
With the fast-changing time, the Sami tents are typically constructed to attract tourists and to give them a glimpse of a Sami way of life in Finland, Norway, and Sweden as well.
The Sami languages are Fenno-Ugrian languages, most closely related to Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian. They are widely spoken by the Sami people settled in Scandinavian countries. There are several dialects within the Sami language, based on the geographical locations, though 10 Sami languages can be distinguished and out of which 6 of them have written standards.
The Sami language is said to be a nature-based language and it is extremely detailed with regards to the description of nature. There are about 300 words to describe snow and ice. Some of the dialects are on the verge of extinction which has become a threat to their rich cultural heritage.
In the year of 1973, the Nordic Sami Institute was founded to promote the Sami language and culture. Following that, Sami College was established in 1989. Today, the Universities of Tromsø in Norway, Umla in Sweden, and Oulu in Finland have Sami departments in which Sami languages and topics are taught.
Traditional Sami Clothing
I first saw the traditional Sami costume in the Siida Sami museum in the Inari district of Lapland. I found it the most colorful and attractive traditional costume. I was so fascinated by the entire outfit that I decided to wear it. The Sami people look absolutely adorable with their colorful costumes in the white expanse of snow.
Gákti is what they call their traditional costume in general; though in different places people call it by different names. Interestingly, the colors, patterns, and jewelry of the costume can signify a person’s marital status and geographical origin.
The length of the Gákti also differs from place to place. Sami men apparently wear a bit shorter Gakti than the one worn by Sámi women. This Sámi piece of jewelry is known as a Risku or Solju and it comes from the Sami wedding tradition.
It is considered one of the important pieces of jewelry which are beautifully decorated with leek flowers. It is a symbol of the Sun.
The Sami wear traditional furry shoes, made out of reindeer skin, and are especially worn during winter to bear the extremely cold weather conditions in the Arctic Circle.
Traditional Sami Food
If you are in Sami homeland, you have to sample the traditional Sami cuisines. I still remember the night when I was taken to the middle of the snow-covered forest to a Lappish wooden log hut – “Kota” where I was welcomed by Mrs. Armi, wearing her Sami costume.
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It’s a traditional log hut where they serve authentic Sami dinner to their guests. With a central fireplace in the middle of the hut, symmetrically placed wooden sitting arrangement, and illuminating candles, it was nothing less than a fairy-tale lone hut in the middle of the forest.
Soon I was served Cold smoked reindeer blue cheese soup, Glow fried Salmon with mashed potatoes and salad, Berry pie, and coffee. The Salmon fish is also an essential part of their cuisine.
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Though the Sami are associated with Reindeer, only a small part of their population is solely into Reindeer herding. The majority of Sami survive hunting and fishing along the coasts, lakes, and rivers. In summer, Salmon fishing becomes central to the dining scene.
Do try the creamy salmon soup, smoked or dried reindeer meat, willow grouse sausage, sautéed reindeer with Lappish potatoes and fried arctic char or salmon or Lappish bread and cheese with cloudberry jam.
It’s been a long journey for Sami People from being nomadic to finally getting recognized and accepted in the Scandinavian countries. From being the people with no country to getting identified as the remaining aboriginal people of Europe, having separate Parliaments in Finland, Norway, and Sweden, and attaining the right to cultural autonomy, it’s incredible how the Sami people feel utmost pride talking about their rich cultural heritage, how their eyes glitter when they speak about Reindeer and how their yoik (light-hearted, unaccompanied song) celebrates the rich tradition of storytelling. I couldn’t have asked for more in Lapland.
How I wish to wander with the Reindeer herder covering a large area of land in the white expanse of snow in the Arctic Circle. Maybe someday!
I did not see the Northern lights but met the Sami People.
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How to reach Lapland
You can fly to Finland with Finnair, which has direct flights to Helsinki from Delhi thrice a week. It takes 7 and half hours to reach Helsinki. There are other airlines like Air France, Air India, Aeroflot Russian, and Lufthansa.
To reach the Finnish Lapland, the main gateway is the Helsinki-Vantaa International airport.You have to take a direct flight to Ivalo, the northernmost airport in Lapland, approximately 250 kilometers above the Arctic Circle.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the northernmost spa hotel and holiday home resort in Europe named Holiday Club Saariselkä in a village with the same name. I made Saariselka my base to explore the Finnish Lapland. I highly recommend this hotel for everyone who is planning to visit Lapland because the hotel is located at a gorgeous location, but also for their world-standard services and warm hospitality. Holiday Club Saariselka is a part of Club Mahindra now as the company acquired Club Resorts Oy, Finland and it allows Indians to have their family vacation possible in Europe through their membership.
Also Read: Why You Should Consider Holiday Club Resorts for Your Vacation in Saimaa, Finland
- All the used Non-Watermarked photos have been provided by Visit Finland and have been used with permission.
- The Watermarked photographs are owned by the writer and are copyright protected. Reproduction of any of the contents, including the photographs without prior consent/permission of the writer, is strictly prohibited and a violation of the same will attract legal action.
Pin It For Later
I found out about the Sami people when my partner told me his mom’s father (maternal grandfather) was a reindeer herder who came from Oulu in Finland before moving to Northern Ontario. I looked up Sami in the library and the people in the photo and illustrations looked a lot like my George! George’s first language was Finnish, and he went to the sauna as a child. Now that we are realizing he is probably partly Sami, we are excited about discovering what that culture was about, and learning about the language and traditions and very happy to learn about the reconciliation process going on there, and recapturing of the Sami languages. I hope we can visit that area some day, but meanwhile blogs like this are very informative and educational. Thank you for sharing.
You have provided an insightful information. You have really done a thorough research on this topic. I have learned a lot from this post. Thanks for sharing with Us.
Nice Blog and it is really very knowledgeable…keep posting blog like that.
Thanks a lot for this awesome article.
This is interesting. Nice and it is very informative.Thank you for such a delightful article.
I’m curious as to how you came to the conclusion that the Sami are Europe’s “last indigenous people?” I’m unclear as to what your definition of “indigenous” is? By indigenous do you simply mean living in a pre-industrial society? Or are you implying that speaking a pre-Indo-European language marks them as “indigenous?” If so the Basque people, Finns & Georgians are all indigenious as well. Uninformed title
Totally in agreement with you and came here to comment. Where does the author think other European ethnic groups are indigenous to, if not to Europe? There is of course the out of Africa theory, but that theory would apply to the Sami people just as much as any other ethnic group. The fact of the matter is, as far as we currently understand, most modern ethnic Europeans are descended from very early migrants to Europe. Germanic, Celtic, Slavic, etc. ethnic groups are all just as indigenous to the continent, even if they have shifted their exact location within Europe over time.
Glad that there is still an indigenous tribe in Europe. Their clothes are very beautiful and colorful. Sami people should be proud!
Wow..What a fabulous experience to interact with them. I love their pieces of jewellery, clothing and colours. I had no idea that they were the last remaining indigenous people. Cheers!!
This was a very informative read on the Sami. Those portraits of the people you’ve photographed tell a story on their own, without any need for a description. I also enjoyed the play on light in the photo with the Reindeer.
And this is why everyone should travel more – to meet people of different cultures, learn about their traditions and realize how alike we all ultimately are. I loved reading this, especially because I had gotten an amazing Nordic Sami Zen spa treatment at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge and now it all makes sense! What an incredible experience you had!
The Sami people of Europe remind me of the Ainu of Japan. Both live in very cold climates and have done so for many years. It’s sad that many indigenous people have been driven out of their traditional lands and have dwindled in numbers because of lack of access to resources.
This is the first time I’ve heard of the Sami people. I hope they will continue and preserve their culture and traditions.
Thank you very much for such a delightful article .
This is new to me, totally enamored by the Sami people, their culture and costumes. Reindeer and bank balance what a comparison! Thanks for opening the window to their world.
Ooooh, I really want to go here. It has been on my bucket list for awhile now!
That Sami couple looks so cute, Parnashree! This is the first time I ah hearing about these people and I am so happy I stumbled upon your informative post. Adding Lapland to my bucket list! 🙂
Its always a great experience meeting the local people of a place and more so when they are backed by so much of rich culture and history. I had read about Sami people a bit, but got to know a lot more and better through your post. I especially loved the traditional dress, the neck piece and the shoes look amazingly beautiful
This was a fascinating read! Like you, I’ve made it a mission to go visit indigenous populations on my travels to truly learn this culture from there. After reading this article, I definitely what to go to Lapland and visit the Sami!
What an amazing experience! No shame that you’d rather meet some amazing people than see the Northern Lights. We all travel differently. I love their outfits with the bright colors. I’m very intrigued by their cuisine as well, since they have to be more creative when it comes to food. I can’t see too many vegetable gardens growing through the snow and ice. I wonder if I’d be brave enough to try the reindeer soup!
I didn’t even realize Europe had an indigenous people left. What an amazing read and interesting adventure to experience. It almost reminds me of where the Santa Claus story comes from with the brightly colored people and the reindeer. A nice flight of fancy! And sampling smoked reindeer blue cheese soup. I hope it was fabulous because it sounds so yummy.
These are such incredible photos, and so vibrant too! it’s lovely to read about these tribes in Europe; usually it’s about the people from the Amazon or Africa. It’s also encouraging to read there are plenty of Sami people who still keep their traditions alive. Their way of life sounds magical!
What an informational post! I had no idea about the Sami people being the last of the indigenous tribes in Europe. I love their local costumes, how colourful. And that fact that the reindeer is part of their life so much so that its considered rude to ask how many one has, that’s quite an interesting fact to know. Thanks for sharing!
this is is interesting and insightful. I love learning about new cultures and traditions. You have a new subscriber!
A very fascinating read. Did not know so much about the Sami tribe. They sure are elusive and look quite hospitable too. Love their outfits – I am sure they were pretty warm too. You look sweet in that. Cheers
This is such a fascinating article! I wouldn’t have really guessed that there were indigenous people still there, since it’s practically never mentioned compared to other indigenous groups. It’s amazing how much you were able to learn about their history, culture, lifestyle, language and more with your interactions with them. And what a treat to hang out with the reindeers!
Amazing places, some I have visited and some I want to visit, this is really the post which is worth reading. Thanks for sharing this post.
How amazing! I have never heard about the Sami indigenous people in Europe – what a fascinating piece of history to learn about. Wow to think they are over 4,000 years in existence…since after the ice age. And incredible to learn that there is over 80,000 population alive today. I think it is such a unique experience you had to meet them and learn more about their culture. I love learning about the reindeer! I will be sure not to ask a Sami person how many reindeers they have!
Amazing! Finland’s lappland has always been on the top of my list so it was very interesting reading all about the Sami! I grew up in Stockholm and use to live in Helsinki for 3 years but never made it all the way up! As you, I think I rather have an encounter with a Sami rather then the northern light (both seeing both would be awesome!). I am pinning your post!
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That sounds like an enriching experience. I have Lapland on top of my wishlist but it was solely for the Northern lights. But now after reading your post, I would definitely love to visit the only remaining aboriginal people of Europe, the Sami. Their dresses are so intricate and love the giant jewellery you are wearing. And who wouldn’t love the reindeers?
One hell of an interesting and informative read. Never knew that Sami people were the last remaining indigenous people of Europe. I did follow your updates during your trip to Lapland, but never knew about such history. You are indeed lucky to have gotten a memory, right in the middle of a white wonderland with the Sami people.
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Thank you very much for such a delightful article. It is very informative and I came to know so much about these beautiful people and their land. Thanks once again.
What an incredible experience! It’s always interesting to hear the stories of indigenous people, and I think their way of life needs to be respected. Unfortunately, here in Canada, the remaining indigenous population is still suffering and there are many issues to sort out. We are still striving for reconciliation everyday.