Loving Lapland

Well, today brought some highs and lows. Just like life, you win some you lose some. We have found ourselves in that place of having to work ourselves out of disappointment and find the fun and love that gets us through every time.

We opened our curtains at 8am to a grey dark morning. The sun had not really appeared although it was there somewhere behind the thick clouds. There had been rain overnight so much of the snow had been washed away. It’s one thing for the landscape to look different, but with it brought slush and very slippery conditions.

After breakfast we set out for the only place open on Monday morning and that was an unexpected surprise. If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know we had a quick look at the Sami Museum as it would be closed today. What we didn’t realise until this morning, is that the Sami have their own Parliament which is held in the Culture Centre and it was open today. We found this out – again, with little time to spare, so we raced down there – racing through slush and ice, that was also part of the fun!

The lovely woman there – lets call her Anja – changed the tour times and a Finnish tourist couple agreed to do the tour in English so that we could complete the tour before the slippery race back for our bus to Kakslauttenan.

The design of the Culture Centre was a competition. The winning design resulted in a building that, when seen from above, is the shape of a reindeer pelt. The name of the place in Sami is ‘Sajos’ meaning -“a place to stay for a while that is not home”. Sajos is the home of a number of departments, including a broadcasting station, parliamentary chambers, cultural centre, language school, meeting and conference centre, multi use theatre/cinema.

The tour started with some information on culture, language and costume. We learnt so much in this time. I will try and summarise below:

  • There are 8000 Sami people in Finland in roughly 3 main language groups (although there are about 10 languages in total). However there are 5 different cultural groups in the Lapland area. This got pretty confusing, so please do not quote me here. The three main groups that were talked about are Northern, Inari and Skolt. Northern are the ones that cross over the Norweigan border and have a common language. Inari are from this lake region where Parliament is located and the Sholt are closer to Russia and their language is quite different. There were two other smaller groups, however I missed the name of these.
  • Each of the 5 groups have very distinguishable dress. They use clothing to present what group they are from, their marital status – both men and women, and also which family they belong to.
The Costumes of the 5 Sami groups found in Lapland
  • Within each dress style are the family variations. Families will use different scarves, shoe lacings and belts. The clothing must be made by a member of the family to ensure that the signifying features are retained.
  • Grandma is the head of the family group and makes final decisions regarding who can marry who and other family decisions.
  • Handicrafts are very important in Sami culture – not only to communicate their family through dress, but for their survival and livelihood. All parts of a slain reindeer is used. The skins are used for shoes, leather goods, to seal wooden baby cribs, winter clothing. Antlers are used for handles, knives and tools, utensils, inlays for decorating wood items. Baskets are woven from tree root fibres, and bowls are made from the knots from trees.
Baby Crib with silver trinket to ward off the underground dwellers
Knives and utensils using Antlers
Reindeer hide boots.
  • A special cup is presented at confirmation to young people (regardless of whether Lutheran or Orthodox) made from the burl of a tree and this cup is carried on the belt for life. It is used for drinking from the natural water sources available year round.
  • Baby cribs are adorned with a particular silver charm that is to ward off the underground dwellers so that they do not come and swap their ugly babies for the beautiful above ground babies. This is a centuries old ritual still held today.
Baskets and belts.
Hat style signifies married status of women. Belts are used for men.

The role of Parliament is for the Sami to self govern on matters relating to Culture and Language. Interestingly they have adopted a model for passing on and teaching language from the NZ Maori – (this is not something I’m familiar with). Language of course is quite an important aspect to maintaining the identity of the people and is quite complex due to the number of languages. Sami children at school would learn Finnish, Swedish and Northern Sami as compulsory languages. Optional languages would then include an international language such as English, German, French etc, with many learning the language of neighbouring countries such as Norway and Russia depending on their proximity to the border. Kindergarten children are learning their specific Sami language also.

Inside the Parliamentary Room. The art has significance relating to the Jewellery.

The ‘Solju’ is the name of the Parliament rooms. It is also the name of traditional jewellery that is deeply significant. It represents the sun and the legend of the birth of the Sami people. The story is that the son of the Sun came to earth and fell in love with a Reindeer girl. They married and their children became the Sami people.

The Parliament operates on a 4 year election cycle. Anyone of voting eligibility can be elected. To be eligible to vote you must be 18 and you, your parent or grandparent must have a Sami language as mother tongue.

The current members of the Sami Parliament.

The Parliament reports to the Finnish Minister of Justice. As I said earlier the official portfolios are Language, Culture (dress, arts, music, history etc) and also Education. Controversially they do not have power when it comes to issues of Land and Water Rights. There have been protests and tensions around this as the Sami people do not have a culture without the reindeer and fishing, and decisions are made in Helsinki by people who have never visited the north, such as opening mines and changing waterways, these impact heavily on the livelihoods of thousands of Sami who’s fishing and reindeer management in turn benefit the whole country.

They actively provide reports and opinions however they are not represented by an MP in the Finnish Parliament and therefore have less influence.

The Parliamentary meetings are held in all the native languages and a complex interpretation technology is set up in the Solju. The current president is a woman and the board members are evenly male/female although this is not deliberate it is just a reflection of the community.

My observation here is that this region has not attempted to wipe out the indigenous peoples, and the modern result is that they are living a traditional life within the modern world. Hmmm.

Today also was a day for some wildlife sightings. On our walk to the Sajos we saw our first squirrel. We later saw an eagle and also reindeer on our journey from Inari to Kakslauttenan. Anja had told us that the Sami word for the month of April means ‘hard snow’ due to the ice and ground. It is usually the season where they still skate and slide everywhere and can drive across frozen lakes and rivers. There has been a recent noticeable change though and the seasons are warming. November would usually be -7 and a foot deep in snow. At the moment it is 2 degrees and still rain. The snow is melting away. This has an impact on the wildlife and breeding cycles as well as the flora. Whether or not it is by human intervention or just another of the Earth’s cycles is a matter for science, however up here it is noticeable and having an impact.

Roadside pit stop.
Service Stop between Inari and Kakslauttenan

Our drive to Kakslauttenan was via a public bus service that operates up here. The driver dropped us off at the wrong village, so we had to wait for a while for the West Village to send a van out to collect us and 4 others in the same situation. We checked in, loaded our bags onto a sledge and went off to find our glass igloo!

The East Village – we should be in the West Village.

We missed the fine print that said our showers were in a separate block some slippery walk away from our cosy igloo. We have been fairly resilient when it comes to our accommodation changes so far, however, after the disappointing room on the ship, the hotel in Inari also placing us in the wrong room, we just weren’t ready to spend 3 nights traipsing across slippery ice to the shared shower block each night…so back to Reception to see if there were any igloos with showers available to upgrade to.

Cute, but just a little small and no shower.
Mush, Mush!

We were plum out of luck on that front…however they did have a Kelo cabin available. Now this is a cabin with an igloo room attached. It’s quite an upgrade, as it is their premium accommodation so we thought carefully about it for about 5 seconds and decided that a honeymoon required a honeymoon stay for 3 nights at least!

So off to our new digs and oh my did we make the right decision! Our own sauna, sleep under the night sky, cosy fireplace, kitchenette, log cabin. Perfect.

Our new digs…inside the cabin
Sleeping under the night sky!
Yep! This is better.
Antler chandelier

After a delicious dinner we went for a little night hike with our camera out into the bush. There are no Northern Lights to be seen, but we did enjoy hearing the dogs and being out in the forest. But not before a sledge race down the icy roads near our cabin! Oh what fun!

It’s a slippery trip to dinner!

The Resort has wonderful facilities, but it seems it is the beginning of an unusual season and the new staff are still finding their feet. It wasn’t easy to navigate and find our way around or get help that we needed, but in saying that they are very friendly and trying their best. The are also dealing with things beyond their control such as the weather. Many activities that we had booked to do here just are not available. There is not enough snow to do the snow mobile or husky rides. Usually they would have 30-60cms already, but it has been raining and early snow is being washing away. The strong Northern Lights activity is completely shrouded by the heavy clouds which is disappointing but something that all visitors to the area have come to see.

Our app telling us the lights are strong!
However, due to cloud…not likely to see them.
Night hike!
And again.
Still loving it.
Perfect cabin in the Arctic woods!

This is where Andy and I are grateful that we are able to encourage each other through and rather than focus on what we are missing, we have organised alternatives and will find fun and enjoyment. Firstly instead of a snow mobile adventure we are going to head out on a horse ride this afternoon.

We will still be able to go and spend some time with the huskys. They still need to be taken for a walks and exercise so we will spend time learning about the working dogs’ life here in the north. If by some fortunate change in weather we get some snow tonight we will still be able to go sledding with them.

In the meantime we are ready to spend our morning exploring this winter wonderland!

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