Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

International day of the most ancient people of the European North

How the holiday of the Sami people is celebrated in Russia

6 february 2023

International Sami Day is celebrated every year on 6 February in Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia. These people are the most ancient inhabitants of the European Polar region, having inhabited the harsh lands near the North Pole several thousand years ago. They are few in number, only about 31,000 people remain in four countries. In Russia, they live on the Kola Peninsula in the Murmansk Region. As of 1 January 2018, they numbered 1,599, or 0.2% of the region's population. Preserving their culture and identity is part of government policy for indigenous people, and the holiday is widely celebrated in all localities in the region.

A Sami holiday for every town

The distinctive culture of the Sami is a cherished treasure of the Russian North. International Sami Day is celebrated throughout the region, from the region's capital to small settlements. According to the list of events planned for 2023, schools, libraries, cultural centres, museums and other institutions will take part. Exhibitions of photographs and artwork, classes for schoolchildren, thematic exhibitions and lectures at museums, master classes and meetings with Sami bards—every year, visitors and residents of the region get a chance to see the world through the eyes of the Sami.

The Lovozero settlement, which is also called the 'capital of Russian Lapland,' becomes the central point of the celebrations. It is the focal point of Sami cultural life in Russia, and it is there that the flag of the Sami Peiiv festival is hoisted solemnly. A rich cultural programme, interesting workshops and, of course, the unique northern nature that surrounds the settlement attracts tourists from all over the country. In 2023, visitors to the festival will enjoy a performance by the folk group Tavvyal Innk, a children's game programme 'The Reindeer of the North,' traditional handicrafts workshops and several photo exhibitions.

The Sami themselves have several traditions associated with their people's holiday. They usually celebrate it dressed in their national clothes. The colourful, bright, hand-woven and decorated traditional costumes can be admired on this day in the streets of towns and settlements of the Murmansk Region. Lovozero also hosts an annual meeting of community representatives to address pressing issues and remember all those who have come to or left this world. It is only accessible by special invitation, an honour that is rarely afforded to outsiders.

So who are they?

The unique Sami culture bears traces of ancient times. A comparison of linguistic and archaeological data suggests that their ethnogenesis dates back to 1500–1000 BC when they formed a single group of hunters and reindeer herders of the sub-Arctic tundra in northern Europe. Their language, mythology, culture and even appearance are isolated from the rest of the Finno-Ugric peoples—an effect of both the isolation of the region and its harsh climate. It cannot be said, however, that the Sami tribes were 'on the edge of the world,' as contacts, trade and even tributary relations are mentioned in reports dating back to Tacitus' Germania (98 AD). They were traded with and fought against by the Vikings, furs were fetched by Novgorodian expeditions, they were taxed by the Swedes, and in the 19th century, they were investigated by Russian ethnographers. They left impressive research documenting Sami's life and religion. This is particularly important because today their traditional ways of life have partly changed.

Until the 1930s, the Sami were nomadic people, involved in hunting, fishing and reindeer herding. After the coming of full Soviet power to the Kola Peninsula and the collectivisation that followed, they were merged into 11 collective farms. This was done to increase productivity. This is how the Sami became sedentary reindeer herders. During the same period, however, Soviet scientists were also studying the Sami language, which made it possible to shed light on their history and preserve it for future generations. Scientists created a written form for the Sami language in 1982, and so far, more than 30 books have been published in it.

In today's Russia, the Sami are still employed in agriculture. Many, like their ancestors, are involved in reindeer herding, hunting and fishing. Others have taken up promoting their native culture—there are several ethnoparks in the Murmansk Region, where the Sami are ready to introduce visitors to their customs and traditions. International communication is also an important part. Divided by the borders of four states, the ethnos holds regular conferences and meetings aimed at increasing ties between communities and sharing experiences.

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