Sami sightseeing in Trøndelag

After leaving Alta, we took Hurtigruten (the coastal steamer) from Skjervøy to Brønnøysund, to avoid some of the long drive home. After getting off the boat, we spent three days on the way home, stopping off to see some South Sami sights on the way.


We visited the South Sami museum in Snåsa in  North Trøndelag. There is a small exhibit here about the South Sami and Sami political history, made for the 100 year celebration of the Sami Conference 1917-2017. A new museum is being built in Snåsa and is due to be opened next year. It will be interesting to come back and see how they have expanded their exhibits. Below are examples of silver work on the South Sami traditional costume:

On the way down to Trondheim, we stopped briefly to see the “Bølarein” – a 6000 year old rock carving of a reindeer. What was most impressive is how big it is – 180cm long and 136cm high.


We stopped for a night in Trondheim. Trondheim was founded by Olav Trygvason and is more of a Viking than a Sami city (in terms of sightseeing), but there a few interesting  things to see there anyway. Just off the main square is the old centre of the Christian mission to the Sami.


In the museum, there is a small exhibit about the Sami in Trøndelag. Perhaps most interesting to learn was that Sami remains have been found in Valdres and Hallingdal – far further south than areas with a Sami population today.


Finally, we stopped by Røros. Røros is a UNESCO world heritage site due to its copper mine. The old town is beautifully preserved and well-worth a visit.


The area around Rorøs also has a reindeer-herding Sami population. There was at one time many sitje (siida in South Sami) in the district, but reindeer herding became unsustainable for many Sami due to new settlers, the working of the mine, etc. There are still reindeer herders there today, but in much smaller numbers than in past times. For more about the Sami in Røros:


The traditional Sami costume for Røros. This one was made in the 1930s.


Rock Art in Alta

The rock paintings of Alta is one of eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in Norway. The rock paintings are found in several locations along the coastline, but only a small part of the total area is available to visit. The rocks paintings date from approximately 5000 BC to the year 0. They show different hunting and fishing scenes that are recognizable from the cultural practices used into modern times.

The majority of the shapes are of reindeer or moose. Below you can see moose and people (most likely hunters).


Below you can see wild reindeer being captured in a fence where they would be killed. There are no longer wild reindeer in Norway, but the herding techniques used today have notable similarities to those shown in the painting.


The photo below shows a number of different hunting techniques. On the left is a hunter with bow and arrow facing a herd of reindeer. On the right is a fisherman in his boat, with a fish on his line coming down from the boat. At the bottom of the photo is a man hitting a moose on the head. Exactly what this figure represents is uncertain, but it might be a noaidi (shaman) hitting a moose with a ceremonial moose head club as part of a sacrifice. The lines underneath the moose may be a trapping pit.


There are a number of bears depicted in the painting. Bears had a special place in Sami culture. They were killed in special ceremonies and their bones were buried carefully afterwards. Bears were believed to have special powers meaning that they could move between the “real” and the spirit world. You can see bears and bear tracks in the middle of the photo below.


The style of boats changes in the paintings, depending on when they were made. Some of them have moose heads, as seen in the photo below.




Lakselv – Hammerfest


Walking towards Trollholmsund


On the way from Lakselv to Hammerfest, we stopped at Trollholmsund – a group of dolomite rocks by the fjord. There is a story that trolls had come down from the mountain plateau with a chest of gold and were crossing the fjord with it. They failed to make caves to hide in before the sun came up, and when the sunlight hit them, they were turned into stone. The stone pillars are surprisingly big. You can see the size of them compared to the person below:


Further on up the fjord towards Hammerfest, we stopped briefly at a Sea Sami farmstead. Traditionally, the Sea Sami lived off fishing and farming of cattle and sheep. Because of living along the coast, they have come into closer contact with other settlers – both Norwegians and Kvens. This means that there has been more intermarriage and cultural assimilation than in the Sami areas inland.


In Hammerfest is the museum of the rebuilding of Finnmark after WW2. The Germans followed a “burnt earth” policy as they retreated. This mass-destruction of homes and villages along the coast, is also a reason why it can be hard to “find” Sea Sami culture today. Many of the Sea Sami, whose cultural affiliation was weakened due to assimilation and Norwegianization, then lost their last surviving connections with their home.


Hammerfest before WW2



Hammerfest in 1945


In the first years after the war, people had to live where they could until their homes were rebuilt. Some people made shelters out of boats. In 1945, seven people lived in the hut on the right:


The museum in Hammerfest is also worth a mention because I think it has one of the best portrayals of the Sami that I have come across. Instead of being in their own section, set apart from the main exhibitions, as is the norm, they are included throughout the museum as a natural part of the local population and of events described. Among other things, the museum has made up some example homes from different periods in time and taken photos of people living in them. One of these sets of photos is of a Sami family, living in a modern house. It might seem odd that this would be worthy of comment, but so often indigenous peoples are portrayed as people living in the past, living in turf huts or tents. It is important to also portray them as modern people, whose culture is living and evolving, but it is rare for it to be done so well.





Looking over Hammerfest from the mountain behind.

Wilderness and Witchcraft


Hurtigruten (Coastal Steamer) entering Vardø harbour.


After Kirkenes, we headed westwards to Varangerbotn and then eastwards again around the Varanger Peninsula to Vardø. The Varanger Peninsula is an area of wilderness, except along the coastline, where small fishing villages have existed for hundreds of years. The fishing brought the first Norwegian settlers to the area, as well as tradesmen from Russia (the Pomors) and from Finland. These Finnish immigrants, along with those found elsewhere in Northern Norway, form the Norwegian national minority called the Kvens (

On our way to Vardø, we visited the archaeological site at Mortensnes. This area was inhabited from stone age times by the Sami.  On the left below is a sacrificial site. The large standing stone is surrounded by circles of small stones. This stone circle has inspired the painting behind the speaker´s chair in the Sami parliament. On the right above, is a Sami pre-historic grave, and on the right below, are circles that mark the boundaries of dwellings.


Vardø is a  Norwegian rather than a Sami town, first settled in the 1300s. It was built for the fishing industry, and for defensive purposes. The fortress in Vardø dates from 1738. In 1940, when the Germans invaded, it was the last place in Norway to fly the Norwegian flag.



Vardø is also known for the witch trials. From 1598 – 1692, 91 people were burnt here, accused of being witches (around 300 “witches” were burnt in Norway altogether). About 25% of those killed in Vardø were Sami. The Steilneset memorial was opened in 2011, on or near the spot where they were burnt to death. The memorial is a long corridor with information about each of the “witches” on the walls as you walk along. The sound of the waves outside is magnified, to give it an earie but also peaceful feeling.


For more on the memorial and witch trials: 

Below you can see a couple of the stories hanging on the wall (English translation to come…)


At the Russian border


View across the Varangerfjord from where Grense Jakobselv joins the sea.

About 60 km east of Kirkenes is Grense Jakobselv ( Translated: Border Jakob River). The border with Russia runs along the middle of the river, at the deepest point. The border is heavily patrolled on both sides and crossing the river is strictly prohibited, as is making contact with anyone on the other side. Those in boats have to be careful not to cross over the border, as the deepest point is not always in the middle of the river.

The Norwegian border posts are yellow with black tops, while the Russian are red and green. As you can see, they are placed on opposing sides of the bank. I found the river surprisingly small. It was odd to see Russia only metres away and know that you were forbidden to go there.


Norwegian border post with Russian in the background on the other side of the river, and Russian watch tower further away.


At one point, the river was small and shallow and Russia was just metres away on the other bank.


The border between Russia and Norway was agreed on in 1826. At that time, the communities on either side of the border had close contact and worked together. In the 1900s, after the Russian revolution and then with the Cold War, the border became more strictly controlled and contact between peoples was prohibited.  Nowadays, after the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, travel is easier, and people living within 30km of the border can get a border pass to cross over. Other travelers need a visa before crossing into Russia.

Oscar II´s chapel is a well-known sight in Grense Jakobselv. Opened in 1863, it was built to mark the Norwegian territory, as the state was concerned about the extent of Russian interests in the valley.


When the border was made in 1826, it deeply affected the local Sami population, the Skolt Sami. Their traditional territory was divided by the border between Russia, Finland and Norway, and when they were no longer allowed to migrate during the seasons with their reindeer herds across the borders, they could no longer follow their traditional way of life. As you can see in the map below, the border cuts through the  areas used by the Pasvik and Neiden Sami siida.


The Pasvik siida had special fishing rights in Norway after 1826, but these were abolished in the 1920s. The Skolt Sami in Norway now number about 700 individuals. The language has all but died out in Norway, but is still spoken in Finland. Recently, a Skolt Sami museum opened in Neiden, to teach about and help revive Skolt Sami culture and language in Norway (


St. Georg´s Chapel in the old Skolt Sami village at Neiden. The Skolt Sami converted to the Russian orthodox faith.



Group portrait of Skolt Sami family, by Ellisif Wessel (1866–1949)





Kautokeino and Karasjok

Previously: Reindeer and religion in Northern Sweden



Juhl´s silver gallery, Kautokeino


We spent a few days in Kautokeino and in Karasjok, two small Sami towns.

I´ve visited Kautokeino before to go to a conference at the Sami university college ( It´s not a very big place, and in July when all the reindeer and their herders are out at the coast for the summer grazing season, it is fairly deserted. An essential visit for Kautokeino is the Juhl´s silver gallery, as much an architectural and artistic as a shopping experience.

We also stopped by the church in Kautokeino. This was where the uprising against the Norwegian state happened in 1852, as mentioned in the previous post.


In the museums at Kautokeino and Karasjok, we saw many traditional Sami costumes and head-dresses. When Læstadianism became popular, converts were not allowed to dress in such ornate clothing. At one point the women on Kautokeino gathered to throw their traditional headdress into a pond near the church, as a symbol of them giving up the old ways.


We also drove up the valley towards Alta to stop at the small Sami village of Masi/Máze. Máze became well-known as the government planned to flood it in creating a huge dam on the Alta river in the late 1970s. The plan was that damming the river would create hydroelectric power. Huge resistance was mounted against the plans. Although the dam was eventually built, Máze was not flooded. The Alta Controversy, as it became known, was a key event in the raising of political awareness of Sami affairs in Norway, which led to the foundation of the Sami parliament in Karasjok in 1989.


The original plan for the dam would have led to Máze being flooded to 2m above the church tower. You can see the river in the background.


In Karasjok, we visited Sami Parliament. The parliament meets four times a year to discuss issues of relevance to the Sami. Thirty-nine representatives from 7 areas meet to discuss in the plenary hall.  Its main role is in holding consultation meetings with the Norwegian government to protect Sami interests. Norway has signed ILO-169, a legally binding agreement to protect and respect indigenous people´s rights (for more information on ILO-169, see

The Sami plenary hall is designed in the shape of a lavvo (Sami tent). The whole building is filled with contemporary art works.

The painting on the left (La elva leve!, Rolf Goven, 1980), symbolizes the struggle against the Norwegian government to stop the damming of the Alta river. In the painting, the dam is the Norwegian parliament building (Stortinget). “La elva leve” means “Let the the river live”.


Plenary hall at the Sami parliament from the outside.



Inside the plenary hall.


Reindeer and religion in Northern Sweden

Previously: Sami town – Jokkmokk

Kiruna is an ore mining town in Northern Sweden. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is that it is in the process of being moved 2km to the east as the mining under the town is causing subsidence. Not much has been done so far, apart from a new town hall being  built. It´s not the most attractive town I´ve ever seen – it looks a little like no-one can be bothered with painting and other maintenance as they might have to move soon.

We visited the Nutti Sami Siida ( at Jukkasjärvi, just outside Kiruna, and were given tour around their park, with examples of different sorts of Sami housing, storage and an introduction to handicraft, but most importantly of all, with reindeer to be fed. The reindeer are in the middle of shedding their coat, so they don´t look in prime condition at the moment. The reindeer in the park were all male reindeer. Apparently they aren´t so bothered about migrating to the mountains as the females (who want to got here to calf), and they are happy to stay closer to home all summer.


Reindeer grow their antlers from May to September, after which they shed them and begin anew in the spring. At the height of their growth, they increase by about 1cm per day. The antlers are for attracting females, and after the autumn mating season they have no use for them. The female reindeer keep their antlers as they need them for protecting themselves and their calves. It takes 7 years for male reindeer to achieve the maximum growth of their antlers, after that they gradually get smaller but more complexed. Female reindeer reach maximum growth of their antlers after four years, so they are never as large as the male antlers.


The reindeer on the left is younger and has simpler antlers than the older reindeer on the right.


Moving on towards the north, we stopped at the small village of Karesuando, right on the Finnish border. Karesuando is known for being the place where Lars Levi Læstadius started the Læstadian movement in the mid-1800s. Læstadianism spread throughout Sami communities in northern Scandinavian and is still common among Sami people. In 1852, a group of Sami rebelled against the Norwegian state  and killed the priest and the state official in Kautokeino. These Sami were Læstadians who had been converted during a visit to Karesuando. While compared to rebellions worldwide, the Kautokeino rebellion seems very minor, but it has become symbolic in Sami history of the fight against the Norwegian state to maintain Sami culture and way of life, and is a key event in Sami history.



The photo on the left above is from Læstadius´cabin, where he lived and led worship. It is still a small religious meeting house today. On the right is the Læstadian church in Karesuando.

At the front of the church above the altar is the wood carving shown below. In the middle is Mary, portrayed as a Sami woman. She is looking towards Læstadius, who is on the left. On the right is Johan Johansson Raattamaa, who succeeded Læstadius as preacher in Karesuando. Læstadianism appealed particularly to the Sami as they were permitted to worship in their own language, and they could hold religious meetings in private homes with a lay preacher, which suited the Sami lifestyle well.