I have to say that there were very few surprises in Sweden. Furnishings are both functional and creative, weather chilly and snowy, most people tall and blond, and political protests considered regular occurrences. But I did learn about one surprising component that overlaps with Sweden’s culture and history: an indigenous people known as Sami.
Who are the Sami?
Sami are an indigenous people and ethnic minority from Sápmi, an area of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and an adjoining area of Russia. Outsiders have termed this area Lapland and, in the past, referred to the Sami people as Laps or Laplanders.
The reindeer remains an important symbol of this culture, which developed around nomadic reindeer herding. Only around a tenth of Sami still depend on the traditional livelihood today, partly due to conflicting government regulations regarding land and herding. Traditional crafts include carved wooden reindeer milking pots, round on the bottom to prevent being knocked over.
As with many other indigenous peoples, the Sami culture historically relied on a predominantly oral language and celebrates a close relationship with nature. The colors of their flag, in fact, which represents Sami throughout the international Sápmi region, symbolize the interconnectedness between the elements of nature.
And, unfortunately, as an ethnic minority group, the Sami were subjected to discrimination and dehumanization during darker times in history. Before the end of World War II, for example, Sami people were measured and examined as part of eugenics research. Even in later times, many families stopped speaking their native language at home and encouraged their children to assimilate with mainstream Swedish culture.
The Nordic Museum in Stockholm has an interesting and, in my opinion, thoughtfully presented exhibit about Sami culture. Each section of the exhibit invites the visitor to reflect on the reciprocal exchange as well as controversy that occurs when cultures converge: Whose history? Whose land? Whose influence?
In addition, it includes voices, pictures and opinions of modern day Sami who identify with their sense of being Sami and Swedish in varying ways. One woman summarized her connection to each culture so: “Swedish is my nationality but Sami is my identity.”
Read more about the Sami on Sweden’s Official Site: https://sweden.se/society/sami-in-sweden/