Inari Sámi Folklore

Stories from Aanaar

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Tim Frandy
  • Madison, WI: 
    University of Wisconsin Press
    , January
     344 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Inari Sámi Folklore: Stories from Aanaar is a reincarnation of an old book. In 1917, The Finno-Ugrian Society of Finland published an anthology called Inarinlappalaista kansantietoutta (“Inari Lapp Folk Knowledge”) in the Inari Sámi language with Finnish translations. The material had been collected in 1886 by the young linguist A. V. Forsman (later Koskimies). The second edition of the book, revised and compliant with new Inari Sámi orthography, was published in 1978 by Lea Laitinen. The volumes published in the Sámi and Finnish languages were obvious outcomes of ethnographic and linguistic interests. This English version, edited and translated by Tim Frandy and published more than a century after the original, has, of course, different aims and is addressed to different audiences.

The Inari Sámi have always been a small group among the Sámi peoples. Traditionally they have only lived in the area of one parish in Finland around lake Inari. One of their main sources of livelihood was fishing. The Inari Sámi preserved many characteristics of their traditional way of life well up to World War II and even later; however, their assimilation into Finnish mainstream culture had already begun in the mid-19th century. Today there are less than three hundred people speaking Inari Sámi as their first language.

The present publication opens a window to a living Inari Sámi culture and its oral traditions in the late 1800s. By its structure and content, the book follows, quite faithfully, the 1978 edition. The folklore texts are divided into fifteen chapters. Beginning with joiks and other songs, the reader is led through main genres of Sámi folklore: animal tales, fairy tales, anecdotes and humorous tales, belief and historical legends, hunting stories and oral history, and finally proverbs, riddles, and omens. From the viewpoint of Sámi folk belief research, the chapters on belief legends and omens and signs are the most rewarding ones. The former contains a good representation of numerous narratives about various supernatural creatures, sacred sites, and sieidi-worship, as well as shape-shifters and witches (noaidis). The chapter on omens and signs is brief but it brings forward a sample of vernacular ideas concerning nature, future, and good and bad luck. Then again, if Sámi folk religion is to be understood, not as a separate category, but as an integral part of their worldview and way of life (vis-à-vis as means to get along with the environment and other people), then the whole book is about it.

Factually, the book is more than just an anthology of folklore, and the editor’s scholarly approach is evident. Frandy has written an introduction to each chapter, giving important background information of the genre in question and often contextualizing the topic in relation to other Sámi and Nordic traditions. These introductions make the material more accessible for non-expert readers. He also clarifies, comments, and interprets individual texts in numerous footnotes. In addition to the original texts, an introduction to the collecting project and basic description of Inari Sámi culture, as well as a list of place names and a glossary of frequently used Sámi terms, have been added. The original introductions of both Sámi/Finnish editions have also been translated and included as an appendix. Thus, the reader can get acquainted with the  history and earlier phases of the present publication. Among other things, an important observation made by the author is that almost all of the narrators (and indeed all that are mentioned by name) have been male, which, without doubt, has biased the outcome of the collector’s work.

One of the editor’s indisputable merits is his underlining of the agency of individual narrators. During the time of the fieldwork conducted by Koskimies in the 1880s, and long into the 20th century, folklore narrators were considered to be merely “tradition bearers” and/or faceless reproducers of collective lore. From the mid-1900s folklorists began to pay attention to these individuals, in particular their different repertoires and the various personal and communal meanings communicated through their performances. In modern folklore studies this understanding is a matter of course. Frandy has put remarkable effort in order to identify and find out biographical information about all the named narrators and includes his findings in the form of short biographies. Cross references to the folklore items each of the narrators has contributed are helpful in figuring out the different individual voices.

Frandy’s English edition of the old anthology makes the folklore of a small and lesser known Sámi group available for the first time to international readers. As translations of 150 years old hand-written accounts, the texts can give only a slight idea of the communicational functions they had in their own time and in their own local communities. For academic researchers who are interested in topics and contents of Sámi folklore but are unable to access the original texts, the translations may still be useful research material for historical, comparative or interpretative approaches.

The main purpose of the book, however, is ‒ as explicated by the editor himself ‒ to support revitalization of indigenous cultures in general and especially that of the Inari Sámi people. The Inari Sámi language was about to die out by the end of 20th century. At present many members of the Inari Sámi community are unable to speak it; however, legislation and education have begun to make the situation better. Descendants of the anthology’s narrators are still living in Inari, as well as in other parts of Finland and abroad, and without doubt the book is of interest to the whole Sámi community in the Nordic countries and elsewhere. Inari Sámi Folklore can be considered an important document of intangible Sámi cultural heritage and as such it serves as a rich source not only for academic research but also present-day Sámi consciousness and activism.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Pasi Enges is University Lecturer of Folkloristics at Turku University.

Date of Review: 
November 14, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Tim Frandy is Assistant Professor in the Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology at Western Kentucky University. A member of the Sámi American community, he has been active in Indigenous cultural revitalization movements in North America and Scandinavia.


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