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Saami Museum

by Tara

We stayed at our hotel late into the morning, sleeping restfully in the novel darkness afforded by closed curtains. When we finally roused ourselves around 10AM, our overpriced, stingy hotel redeemed itself somewhat by providing a multi-buffet feast. Thankfully, in spite of yesterday's ordeal, my appetite had already returned.

As we prepared to leave, the weather seemed to be asserting its northerly-ness, acknowledging our entrance into the Arctic Circle. It was downright chilly. In response, we dug out our jeans and long-sleeved shirts, unearthed our jackets from the bowels of the trunk, and donned our hats too! We were actually pleased about the temperature change—it was nice to be chilly again, especially with the knowledge that it wouldn't last for an entire season.

On the docket for the day was a museum about Saami culture. I have been fascinated with the native, nomadic reindeer-herding people of Lapland ever since I read about them as a little girl. On our way to the museum, we spotted an impressive looking reindeer. Though they are pretty commonplace up here, I'm not sure I'll ever get over the sight of them! I love how majestic this one looks with its white antlers!

White Reindeer

Following a short drive, we arrived at Lake Inari (where Serafina Pekkala is from in His Dark Materials series…), and I slowly drove up a 27% grade hill following a sign entitled: Panoramic View. Steadily inching my way in first gear, I was grateful to have such a reliable car. Steep inclines like this are frequently the stuff of nightmares for me. I always imagine the car stalling and us somehow careening down the side of a mountain.

At the top, we found an outdoor exhibit on traditional daily life around the lake, along with the promised panoramic view. For a small fee, of course. Tyler opted to sit this one out, so I went up and paid the five euro entrance fee, while he waited in the car reading. While doing so he met a friendly family who gave us some pointers on places to visit up here!

I saw how locals made tar to seal their boats:

Tar Making Lake Inari Boat

…and the inside of a small fisherman's cabin, with a kettle hanging in the middle of room over a fire:

Saami Cabin

I was pleased to collect another edible arctic plants poster:

Arctic Forest Mushrooms

…and to read about how a rogue Russian missile crashed near frozen lake Inari right after my first Christmas on earth:

Russia 45 km THE MISSILE SKANDAL Russian Rogue Missile Crash Russian Rogue Missile Crash

I saw this pair of fur boots and wished they could be mine:

Fur Boots

…and took photos of other odds and ends at the indoor museum:

Steel Otter Trap Corks & Net Reindeer Skins

Finally, I stepped outside into the cold, onto the balcony to snap this photo of lake Inari. Ta da.

Lake Inari

Walking back to the car, I met this happy, regal husky waiting patiently in a crate while its owner explored the museum:

Happy Husky

…and collected a silly face for Tyler, which I knew he would appreciate.

Motor Face

From Lake Inari, we drove into the nearby town of the same name, which is the center of Saami culture in Finland. There, we visited a museum that I've been looking forward to since we planned our route in this country. This being "my" attraction, the plan was as follows: I would go inside and have a look around. If I deemed it "too awesome" to miss, I would run back to the car to get Tyler so he could join me.

It was definitely worth the price of admission. I grabbed Tyler to come with me almost immediately.

The first exhibit was about Saami drums. A modern local artist had made the ones on display—their decorations illustrated old religious tales. Many of the drums featured shamans, and, unsurprisingly, reindeer.

Saami Drum Saami Drum Saami Drum

Towards the end of the exhibit, we saw a photo series on how the drums were made from reindeer skin and wood. Here are a few of the steps:

Saami Drum-Making Saami Drum-Making Saami Drum-Making Saami Drum-Making Saami Drum-Making

Before we left, Tyler tapped out this beat with his fingertips:

Tyler Recording Saami Drum

The second exhibit was about re-incorporating reindeer fur and bones into modern fashion. While interesting, I wasn't nearly as excited about these items as I was in the traditional outfits.

Reindeer Vogue Fashion Reindeer Vogue Fashion

Third, there was an exhibit of Saami life, which far and away my favorite. I loved the care with which they handcrafted everything using what little materials they had to work with in the Arctic. Their attention to detail shined through (usually with bright colors) from clothing to cookware, to this baby's cradle:

Saami Cradle

It was mind-boggling to me, imaging what it must've be like trying to survive up here in the winter, to say nothing of creating a rich and thriving culture in the meantime!

Winter in Lapland Traditional Saami Family

Even in the summer, northern Finland with its midnight sun is a harsh place to live. We are becoming quite aware of one particular hardship of Finland's north: the 'Räkkä' season. Bloodthirsty insects abound, it feels like a war just to be outside at times. Apparently small animals regularly die of blood loss at the hands of the vicious insects, while reindeer often herd to the windy fells, huddling in groups to avoid a similar fate.

Bloodthirsty Mosquito Season

Traditional Saami clothing is what originally captured my imagination as a child; it is so intricate and colorful. It was an honor to see some of the garments in person and I have so much respect for the women who spent countless hours weaving and embroidering the detailed designs! Most of the clothing was behind glass, so it was hard to photograph. A photo of the clothing will have to do!

Traditional Saami Outfits

Talk about hand-made, they even rolled reindeer sinew on their cheeks to make thread!

Women Rolling Sinew Thread

After we'd seen most of the exhibits, it was time for a 5PM viewing of a show about the Northern Lights. As we sat back in the darkness (a novelty these days), we watched ethereal photo after ethereal photo of the Aurora Borealis on the big screen. Paired with some relaxing, ambient Saami music, we watched the swirling colors in awe and wonderment.

After that experience (which was moving to us, and it wasn't even the real thing), we decided that someday we must return to the far north for winter. We left the theater feeling inspired, simultaneously glad we had come to the museum, and a little sad it wasn't the right time of year to see the auroras for real.

Film complete, we walked outside to the museum's 17 acre nature park and open air exhibit! By this time we were reaching our daily threshold of sightseeing, so we wandered briefly through the closest cabins, and then called it a day.

Lincoln Logs Tara in Cabin Window Log Cabin

Leaving Inari, we headed even further north, slowly making our way in the general direction of Nordkapp, one of the northernmost points in mainland Europe! When we were ready to be done for the night, we pulled off the main road into a nature reserve. There, under cold grey skies, by a rushing Arctic river, we made our home for the evening.

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Oh man, this is one of my favourite blog posts from you guys of all time! I looove the design on the drum Tyler's using! And that tune he's beating out is so atmospheric. And oh my god, that Saami music - it's beautiful. I've wanted to see the Aurora Borealis for some time now and just imagine listening to that music while watching it for real! And that body jewellery thingamagig is hot!

Oh, and I've read the Golden Compass but didn't persevere with the series - should I? Does it get better?
Posted by Katherine on July 20th, 2010 at 10:21 PM
Love that music (and Tyler's drumming). Do you know who the musicians were?
Posted by Mary Niedenfuer on July 21st, 2010 at 2:24 PM
Katherine - That museum was really awesome and I'm so glad we went. I loved the music too, and I wished we could have seen the northern lights for real! Someday. RE: Golden Compass. I loved the first one, and liked the second one, and petered out on the third. But I have friends who love them all, so who knows? I'm going to re-read them at some point.

Mary - I wish I knew!
Posted by Tara on July 28th, 2010 at 4:37 PM
WOW!! Than Saami music is awesome. I am sure I will be returning to listen again and again. Thank you for the recording Tyler and Tara.
Posted by lynn on April 25th, 2013 at 8:15 PM
We're so glad you enjoyed it, Lynn! :-)
Posted by Tara on April 26th, 2013 at 3:31 PM