Sami Folkloristics.

Author:Lindow, John
Position:Book review

Sami Folkloristics. Edited by Juha Pentikainen, in cooperation with Harald Gaski, Vuokko Hirvonen, Jelena Sergejeva, and Krister Stoor. NNF Publications, 6. (Turku: Nordic Network of Folklore, 2000. Pp. 280.)

When the great botanical systematizer Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) visited Lapland on a collecting expedition in 1732, he was fascinated by the indigenous population. Their simple reindeer-herding lifestyle, as he saw it, put them in a golden age, on an Elysian field lacking the complications of a society based on agriculture. Had he been inured to constant cold since childhood, Linne famously said, he would quite readily have changed place with one of the reindeer herders he observed on his journey. Linne even planned a book on these people, to be called Lachesis Lapponica, a work that never saw the light of day. But there was already a long tradition of informed writings about this indigenous population of Fenno-Scandia, going back to the Middle Ages in Iceland (in sagas placed in Norway) and even the Viking Age in England (interpolated into the translation of the Historia adversus Paganos undertaken at the court of King Alfred the Great). Description of the Sami people--an endeavor known in its earlier stages as "Lappology"--stretches back to humanism and shared Linne's view of the people as an exotic other. Besides description of the material culture, the emphasis was on religion, a religion lost or driven underground by the conversion of the Sami to Christianity and, one suspects, state and church vigilance and recidivism.

The research picture of the Sami has to some extent continued to emphasize the pre-Conversion cult and religion and has therefore been based on the older written sources. Although much folklore was collected and published over the years, and a type index of legends was produced by J. K. Qvigstad in 1925, Sami folkloristics has not exactly been a growth industry. Perhaps it is because many of the best workers in the field enter it, as do four of the eight authors represented in this book, from the discipline of history of religion. Certainly, as the essay by Stein Mathisen shows, even the folklorists recording Sami material in the earlier part of this century--a classic collecting period in Scandinavia--thought little of the originality and future of the materials they were documenting. For this and many other reasons a book on Sami Folkloristics is to be welcomed.

In the Preface, Juha Pentikainen writes:

This book...

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