Scandinavian farmer and Sámi nomad

- It is remarkable that in the Swedish-Norwegian section at Paris World Fair in Paris in 1867 and 1878 puppets clothed in Northern-Sámi and Lule-Sámi costumes were displayed together with puppets dressed in peasant costumes from Dalarna, Hardanger, Telemark and other rural regions. Sámi nomads and Scandinavian farmers were presented side-by-side, together representing idyllic countryside lifestyles. Regions like Dalarna or Hardanger are often used to represent the entire culture of Sweden and Norway respectively. For a short time in Paris it seemed as if the image of the Scandinavian farmer and the Sámi nomad were portraying aspects of the same national identity. However, critical voices of the time soon expressed a concern that “proper Norwegians” were being identified with Sámi culture, particularly on an occasion when Norway was on display to the world. (Brenna 2002: 289-295)

The stereotypical image of Sámi culture that evolved in the second half of the 19th century may be summed up as follows: The Sámis are the last nomads in Europe. They have lived a hard and simple life since centuries. Together with their reindeer they wander over snow-covered plateaus north of the polar circle. It might be sad but in our modern times their way of live will be condemned to extinction. It will not develop and can only degenerate further. It is ironic that the proponents of these Euro-centric ideas failed to recognize that reindeer-husbandry was a well-adapted way of life! What could have been a perfect illustration of adaption to changing environment was wrongly regarded as a static state of existence doomed to extinction. The Sámis were regarded as “leftovers” of civilization instead of the creators of their own history. Indeed they were regarded  as examples of a more primitive stage of human development.


Julia Keil (“From Cabinets of Curiosity to Counter-Culture Sámi Musems”)


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