The Sámi people live in Lapland, a region that stretches along the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in northeast Russia, with a population of approximately 80,000. Archaeologists have found evidence of settlement along the Scandinavian Arctic coasts from around 11,000 - 6000 years ago, which suggests people lived from fishing and hunting wild reindeer. They have also found pottery from Sámi forebears that date from 3500 years ago. The Sámi are currently considered to be Scandinavia's indigenous population, and they claim to be recognized as such, demanding that authorities in European nations respect their rights and autonomy.

The majority of Sámis are Christians and use Western clothing on a daily basis, meaning that foreigners find it hard to tell who is Sámi and who is not. Nevertheless, they are a very close-knit group who are very proud of their cultural heritage, their knowledge of nature and the environment, of reindeer herding, and of their traditional dress. But above all they are proud of their language.  

 

Language has a profound influence on how we see the world. In fact, our thoughts are made up of words and the richness of a language is in a sense manifested in the number of terms that allow us to differentiate subtleties between states of being or things that resemble one another.

 

Given the importance of language in forging cultures, and its particular importance for the Sámi people, this project is based on the richness and expressive force of their language. However, I do not only focus on spoken language, but also the symbolic language of traditional clothes, that the Sámi defend as vehemently as their mother tongue.

Antonio Briceño

March 2011

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