What the Gunmen of the Wild West Had in Common with the Reindeer Herders

KarasjokWe had just driven into Karasjok, the administrative capital of the Norwegian Saami people. Karasjok is an important village on the Santa’s Road and the Midnight Sun Road to North Cape. We had made a very short stop two years earlier. We visited the Saami Parliament. In 2012 Angelo and I, travelled along the Midnight Sun Road. Karasjok is also along this road between Piteå and North Cape.

In 2012 we also made a stop in Kautokeino. Here we met the company that is manufacturing modern lavvus. Lavvus are very practical housing for people on the move outdoors. It is easy to assemble, it is light and easy to transport. We didn’t spend any time in the elaborate open-air part of the Finnish Sámi Museum Siida in Inari. But now, after being introduced to Saami garments, we stepped into the open-air part of the RiddoDuottarMuseat.

Our guide Ms. Maren Inga Bær told us that she and her family are reindeer herders. She was working at the museum for the summer. She was, therefore, familiar with what type of housing the reindeer herders used. Today, of course, the reindeer herders do not live in lavvus or gammer. Everybody have modern housing or cabins. The traditional alternatives, however, are still in use, whenever appropriate.

Back in the old days, which are not so long ago, the lavvu was a very convenient shelter on the Arctic tundra. It kept the wind, most of the rain, and the snow outside. It allowed having a fireplace and most of the heat inside. The smoke escaping through the top could be used for conserving reindeer meat. On the move, selected reindeer would pull the lavvu and the trimmed birch poles to the next camp.

On sites where the families would stay for longer periods of time, they would build a peat Goahti. When the reindeer were set on summer or winter pastures a stationary building structure was possible to build. Thicker wooden poles would be used, a layer of bark were laid, and peat on top for the grass to grow. This construction was very insulating. There was a fire place in the middle. Depending on the size of the Goahti, furniture could also be used.

In the lavvu, things were organized. Everybody had a definitive place where they could sit.

  • Opposite to the entrance, the head of the family sat: The wife to the right and husband to the left. The space directly behind the fire place to the back of the lavvu was sacred. This is where tools, food and other things were kept. So the husband couldn’t jump directly to the wife. He had to walk around the fire place if he had any tactile objectives.
  • The kids had their seat next to the parents,
  • Then the elder next to the kids
  • Near to the entrance any guests would be seated.

The seating arrangements were the same for the peat Goahti.

The head of the families were seated so they had control of the whole lavvu and goahti. Just like the gunmen would sit at the very end of the saloon in the Wild West.


Maren Inga talks about the traditional seating arrangements in a lavvu


We are in Karasjok


Maren Inga outside a peat Goahti

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