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  • From the Mountaintops to Writing:Traditional Knowledge and Colonial Forms in Turi's Hybrid Text
  • Troy Storfjell

Looking back at Johan Turi's book from the perspective of a century after its creation, we often tend to note its historic role as the beginning of Sámi literature, which is to say that we view Muitalus sámiid birra as marking the beginning of creative writing by Sámi authors in the Sámi languages, a creative production that has blossomed over the past century producing a vibrant array of memoirs, short stories, novels, poems, plays, and screenplays, and achieving international acclaim with the awarding of the Nordic Council Literature Prize to Nils-Aslak Valkeapää in 1991 for Beaivi, áhčážan (The Sun, My Father). Indeed, one thing that strikes anyone who explores Sámi literature is how much of it there is for something that is so young and is produced by such a small cultural and linguistic community.

As noteworthy as Turi's book may be for its place in literary history, though, it is also quite a remarkable text in its own right, representing an epistemologically hybrid vehicle for communicating Sámi perspectives and Sámi orders of knowledge to the ruottelaš and dáža reader in the colonizing metropoles of the south. Indeed, while the originary status of Turi's work is complicated by the contemporaneous and slightly early Norwegian-language novel writing of fellow Sámi author Matti Aikio, the two writers complement each other in the ways that they wrestle with the problems of producing Sámi art out of aesthetic [End Page 573] forms inherited from the colonizers. 1 Both early twentieth-century authors can be read as collaborating, perhaps unintentionally, to chart Sámi literary space and abrogate the forms of the colonizers.

In his opening paragraph Turi sets down the purpose for his writing and establishes his own authority to speak as a Sámi—and for the Sámi. As Turi's opening frames the situation, representation of the Sámi has to this point been dominated by non-Sámi perspectives, by a southern, colonial discourse from which the voices of the Sámi themselves have been excluded and in which their space has been superinscribed with colonizing significations. Tellingly, Turi links discursive power to place in a way that not only highlights the inequitable power relationships of Sámi-Swedish relations, but that also argues for a counter-discourse grounded in Sámi space and Sámi premises. The Swedish government does not understand the Sámi because it controls the space (and thus the discourse) in which the Sámi are interrogated and from which the colonizing truths about the Sámi are pronounced. This is because, despite the good intentions of the state authorities, "go sápmelaš boahtá moskkus gámmárii, de son ii ipmir ii báljo maidege, go ii biegga beasta bossut njuni vuostá" (11) ["when a Sámi becomes closed up in a room, then he does not understand much of anything, because he cannot put his nose to the wind"]. Turi continues:

Su jurdagat eai golgga, go leat seainnit ja moskkus oaivvi alde. Ja ii leat ge buorre sutnje orrut suhkkes vuvddiid siste, go lea liegga ilbmi. Muhto go sápmelaš lea alla váriid alde, de sus lea oba čielggas jierbmi. Ja jos doppe livččii čoakkánbáiki soames alla vári alde, de veajášii sápmelaš čilget oba bures su iežas áššiid. [End Page 574]


His thoughts don't flow because there are walls and his mind is closed in. And it is also not good at all for him to live in dense forest when the air is warm. But when a Sámi is on the high mountains, then he has quite a clear mind. And if there were a meeting place on some high mountain, then a Sámi could make his own affairs quite plain.

In other words, in order for the Swedes to understand the Sámi, they must first come to the Sámi and communicate with them on Sámi terms and in Sámi space "soames alla...


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pp. 573-590
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