Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sami People: Northern Europe's Aboriginals

I often get poetry books from poets from all over the world thanks to being the editor of an ezine. I carefully read every one and try to pay special attention to the titles because I think titles mean a lot. One of the recent collections to come through the mail was from an Irish poet and had a one-word title in a word I'd never seen before. I curious about it, so I sent an email to the poet and received a response the very next day. The title, I came to find out, was a word taken from the Sami Language. What were the Sami and where in the world did they live, and why had I not heard about them before now. Well, I headed to Google and found out about their interesting history. I shared it with my students and now I'll share it with you:

The Sami People are an indigenous people of northern Europe that once lived in the kingdom of Sapmi, which today covers parts of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia in an area once the size of Sweden. The Sami people are among the largest indigenous groups in Europe. They speak the Sami languages which are classified as Finno-Ugric.

The Sami people have intermarried over many years with people in the four countries where the Sami once lived so it is hard to just how many people there are left today. However, the population is estimated to be between 80,000 and 100,000.

The Norwegian government considers any Norwegian as Sami if he or she has one great-grandparent whose home language was Sami, but Norway has never kept records of things like that. Roughly half of all Sami live in Norway, but many live in Sweden as well. Finland and Russia are also home to smaller groups located in the far north. The Sami in Russia were forced by the Soviet government to relocate to a collective (reservation) called Lovozero, in the middle of the Kola Peninsula.

For hundreds of years the Sami had a variety of livelihoods; fishing on the coast and in the inland, trapping animals for fur, and sheep herding. The best known livelihood is reindeer herding, but only a small percentage of the Sami have been mainly reindeer herders over the last centuries. Today, many Sami lead modern lives in the cities inside and outside the traditional Sami area, with modern jobs. Some 10% still practice reindeer herding, which for traditional and cultural reasons is reserved for Sami people in some parts of Nordic countries. Today Sami people are usually called Laplanders. Find out more about their culture at:

Research gathered at:

Now, here's one of my poems that actually eats reindeer meat:

The “Standby Ticket” Sonnet

Start with a fish hook stuck in your lip. A
lunar eclipse at dawn. Blood on the
dance floor. A queen’s handbag.
Minty toothpaste. Gauze
bandages. Add the
oldest building in Oxford.
Crows feet. A cleft chin. Smudges
on the tapestry. Smokehouses. Cardboard
boxes. An orange nylon jacket knotted
on the pier. Carnival rides. Cotton
candy. Flypaper lit with a zippo.
Ether. Lemonade. Artichoke
or parsnip? A leaky
burlap sack of
eels. No
sundial. No suitcase.
No sushi. No difference.
Just make sure all the cabins
have linoleum floors.

Poem first published at:
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Poem Copyright 2008 by Maurice Oliver. All Rights Reserved.


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