The Sami people are sometimes referred to as Lapps, but prefer to be called Samis. Their culture has been developing in Northern Scandinavia since the arrival of the first people 11,000 years ago. The Sami were at one with nature, and lived in tents (lavvo) and turf huts whilst they followed the reindeer.
Reindeer herding is still central to Sami culture, even to this day, and crucial to the subsistence of the Sami, providing meat, fur and transportation. Reindeer sledding is popular in Finnmark in winter.
The first encounter with Sami culture for most travellers, however, often takes place by the roadside. Sami selling souvenirs, including colourful local costumes, shoes and hats, reindeer skins, wooden and leather handicrafts and the likes, are not an unusual sight in Northern Norway.
Karasjok - the Sami capital
Experience the culture and history of the Sami people at Sápmi Culture Park. A great place to hear the Sami joik, eat Sami food, meet Sami people, purchase Sami souvenirs, visit Sami dwellings and get acquainted with the Sami’s best friend - the ubiquitous reindeer. Sápmi is located in Karasjok, at the edge of Finnmarksvidda.
With its recognised Sami institutions and living Sami culture, Karasjok is the Sami capital with almost 3,000 inhabitants. You will find a thriving Sami culture here, as well as the Sami Parliament of Norway… and some 60,000 reindeer spending the autumn and winter months in Karasjok. Karasjok's nearest airport is Lakselv, approximately 75 kilometers away (an hour's drive).
Kautokeino is the other big centre of Sami culture in Norway.
Sami National Day: The Sami celebrate their National Day on 6 February - the date the first Sami congress was held in 1917. The day is marked differently in different places. Sami week in Tromsø, for example, features reindeer racing, lasso throwing championship, a Sami market and more, while in Oslo, the carillon in Oslo City Hall plays the Sami national anthem as the Sami flag is raised. In Finnmark, the day is celebrated in schools and kindergartens during the day, followed by a church service and cultural activities, and of course Sami food.
The Easter Festival: Traditionally Easter was the time of year when the reindeer-herding Sami gathered in the towns of Karasjok and Kautokeino to celebrate the end of winter. Easter was also a time for weddings. Today celebrations are still religious in character, but Easter is also a time when Sami culture takes centre stage, with many events in both Karasjok and Kautokeino. The Sami Grand Prix and the annual reindeer race are two of the highlights, but other events include concerts, theatre performances and exhibitions.
Riddu Riddu Sami Festival: This Sami festival taking place in Kåfjord, Troms, every July puts on an extensive programme featuring music, film and art from around the world, attracting some 200 artists and 3,000 visitors every year. There are many activities for children too. A platform for various indigenous and non-indigenous people to meet, Riddu Riddu celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2011.
For a long time the Sami were an oppressed people and their culture was in danger of dying out. Today the Sami stand stronger than most other aboriginal people in the world. They have their independence day, and their own flag and parliament.
Other important elements of the Sami culture are its language (the various Sami languages are very distinct from Norwegian) and the joik, the Sami traditional song.
Mari Boine is a famous Norwegian artist of Sami descent who has helped to strengthen this trend. She is a proud symbol of Sami culture in urbane, modern Norway. She uses her Sami background and the folk music of Northern Scandinavia in creating her music.
Sami people live nowadays in an area which spreads from Jämtlands Län in Sweden through Northern Norway and Finland to the Kola Peninsula in Russia. There are some 100,000 Sami living here, about half of them in Norway.