restricted access "The Same Nature as the Reindeer": Johan Turi's Portrayal of Sámi Knowledge
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"The Same Nature as the Reindeer":
Johan Turi's Portrayal of Sámi Knowledge

Sápmelaččas lea goit seammálagaš luondu dego bohccos. Soai háliideaba golgat lulás ja davás dan mielde go soai láveba ge golgat dál nai. Ja soai leaba árggit goappašagat. Ja soai leaba šaddan árgivuoða dihte ballát juohke guovllus. Ja dan dihte dal sápmi ferte orrut doppe gos ii oro oktage iežá olmmoš go sápmi. Beare alla duoddariid alde son orošii vaikko álo jos bivašii—ja ealášii su gárji—bohccot.

Ja sápmi dovdá dálkkiid—ja son lea juoidá oahppan bohccos nai dovdat dálkkiid—ja sápmi lea bivvil ja deaivil. Son deaivá seavdnjadin nai ja mierkán ja guoldun—goit soames oassi sámiin. Ja mii gullá čuoigamii ja viehkamii—dat lea su luonddu mielde.


(The Sámi have much the same nature as the reindeer. Both want to be on the move east and west in the manner that they are accustomed to. And both are sensitive. And because of their sensitivity they have been scared away from everywhere. And because of this, the Sámi today have to live in places where no one else is living besides Sámi. The Sámi would live just up in the high mountains permanently if it were possible to keep warm up there and provide for their animals, the reindeer.

And the Sámi know about the weather and have learned about it from the reindeer. And the Sámi are hardy and sharp-eyed: they find their way in the dark and the fog and the snowstorm—at least some Sámi do. And that which pertains to skiing and running is part of their being.)

Johan Turi, secure in his identity as a Sámi, confident in his experiences as a sometime herder, healer, wolf hunter, son of a teacher, and godson of a minister, assumed in his Muitalus sámiid birra the authority to give an account of Sámi culture to the wide world. He chose to do so, not through the presentation of a single overarching narrative in the way of a work of fiction or an autobiography, not through the [End Page 519] construction of a rhetorical argument as in a political tract, but rather, through the creation of a compendium of Sámi knowledge, organized around specific livelihood activities and life situations, presented as occurring over the course of a year or in conjunction with certain key crisis or life-cycle moments: birth, illness, marriage, death. In so doing, I argue, Turi seeks to characterize a complex and valued state that he describes as "Sámi luondu" [Sámi nature]—a Sámi way of being. This luondu relies fundamentally on the acquisition, maintenance, enactment, and transmission of a particular body of knowledge. This knowledge in turn derives from and helps sustain a particular way of life: an evolving set of techniques for herding, hunting, healing, and human relations that Turi saw as critically endangered by the policies and social transformations taking place in early twentieth-century Sápmi. Crucially, luondu includes the aesthetic perceptions and emotional predispositions that result from this valued way of life and its knowledge base. In short, I argue, knowledge for Turi is the life-blood of Sámi culture, without which the Sámi way of being would be irreparably lost. Turi's project in Muitalus is to present that knowledge so that his contemporaries—Sámi and non-Sámi alike—can take stock of it and come to understand its usefulness and sophistication. In so doing, of course, Turi also helped preserve that knowledge, fixing it in a textual form that can still be read and appreciated a century later as a record of Sámi traditions and as a snap-shot of Sámi cultural life in one part of Sápmi at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In order to understand Turi's complex agenda, then, we should look carefully at the knowledge that forms the foundations of his text. In the following, I suggest six overlapping...