Photo: Lyngsfjord Adventure
Fjord Tours Articles / 4 Feb 2022

The Sami People of Northern Norway

The Sami people of Northern Norway are an ancient indigenous people with their own culture and traditions. The strong heritage of Sami culture in Norway is something to be celebrated, and there are plenty of opportunities for learning about the Sami way of life on a trip to Norway. Let’s have a closer look at what Sami culture is all about!

Who are the Sami people?

The Sami are the indigenous people of Northern Europe. They are counted among the Arctic indigenous people. The Sami people of Norway have a unique culture and traditions and speak ancient languages.

Where are Sami people from?

The Sami are descendants of nomadic peoples who have lived in northern Europe for thousands of years. The origin of the Sami people is to some extent unclear – some historians believe they were Paleo-Siberian, while others have suggested that their origins were in central Europe.

Where do Sami people live?

Historically, Sami people were nomadic. Until quite recently, reindeer herding was the basis of the Sami economy and way of life. They would migrate with reindeer herds, living in tents or huts. There are about 80,000 Sami people in the world today, and they are spread around Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. About half of the Sami people live in Norway, and the Sami people have traditionally been reindeer herders.

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Photo: Ørjan Bertelsen / Www.Nordnorge.Com

What is the history of the Sami people in Norway?

The Sami culture is the oldest in northern Norway, and Sami people managed to survive the harsh Arctic environment for centuries.

These days, few Sami people in Norway live the traditional reindeer-herder lifestyle. Many Sami people have moved into big cities like Oslo, and many work as fishermen along Norway’s long and rugged coast. Though the Sami people have seen a fair amount of changes to their traditional way of life, Sami culture and traditions are alive and well today.

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Photo: Lyngsfjord Adventure

What is typical of Sami culture?

Though the traditional Sami way of life has changed over time, the Sami community is still going strong in modern Norway, and many aspects of Sami culture are being celebrated these days.

Historically, Sami people wore clothing that was well-insulated and warm so that they could withstand the harsh climate and cold temperatures in the north of Norway. They’re well-known for their colourful, intricate clothes and costumes, which usually feature the traditional Sami colours of red, green, blue and yellow. The ‘kofte’ is an example of their traditional dress, which is now mainly used for special occasions similarly to the traditional Norwegian bunad.

Certain aspects of Sami culture, such as crafts, music traditions, and language, have seen a recent peak in interest in Norwegian society. Crafts are a big part of Sami culture. Handicrafts and arts have always been central to the Sami way of life, and they have unique and interesting craftwork traditions that have endured to this day. Plenty of Sami artists and craft makers sell their wares, so there are plenty of chances to pick up some unique pieces during your trip to Norway.

Music is an important cultural aspect of the Sami people. Joik is the folk music of the Sami, and it’s one of the oldest known song traditions in Europe. The ancient joik singing style has seen a resurgence over the past few years – in fact, Sami singer Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen made history in 2018 when she won the prestigious televised singing competition Stjernekamp, showcasing her Sami roots and performing a joik. The hit Disney franchise Frozen drew inspiration from the customs and traditions of the Sami people for the animated movies. The creative team behind the movies collaborated with local Sami in Norway, and several songs by Sami artists were included in the movies.

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Experience the Sami way of life

For many travelers, experiencing the unique Sami culture and traditions is at the top of their list when visiting Norway. The Sami people are keen to share their history, traditions, and way of life with others, and there are plenty of opportunities for exploring these on your trip to Norway. In Tromsø and other areas in Northern Norway, travelers can visit a Sami family to learn about Sami culture.

If you’d like to experience the Sami way of life, you can try reindeer herding, go dog sledding, sit around the fire in a traditional Sami tent known as a lavvo (also known as lavvu), and of course get a taste of Sami cuisine can’t be missed. Trying traditional Sami food is a must if you’d like to get to know the culture and people better – reindeer stew is a typical Sami meal that you can sample during your visit.

Several Sami festivals are put on every year, with musical concerts, art exhibitions, and you can also take part in fun and traditional Sami activities like reindeer racing and lasso throwing. In Tromsø, there’s a week-long Sami festival held annually to celebrate the Sami National Day on February 6th.

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Photo: Monika Nutz, all rights reserved / Hurtigruten