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"An Introduction to Antiphony" by Charles Peterson

Sami are the indigenous people traditionally living in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and even in Russia on the Kola Peninsula.  Many Sami now also live in the south, especially in capital cities.

The current populations are approximately:

            Norway           28,000-60,000

            Sweden           14,600-36,000

            Finland            9350

The Sami are not sure where they came from when they migrated to Northern Scandinavian thousands of years ago.  They were not really accepted by international indigenous groups until the 1960s through the representation and promotion by Nils-Aslak Valkepää, the leading Sami cultural figure who died in 2001.

As happened in the United States and Canada, dominant cultural authorities attempted to “civilize” Native Americans, Eskimo, and Sami by sending children to boarding schools and by forbidding native traditions including dance, drums, yoik, and even native languages.  In Scandinavia, dominant culture continued this repression until the 1950s.  Led by academics, theologians, and politicians, these efforts were half-way successful.  Since the 1950s, the Scandinavian countries have given better support to the Sami to encourage language development and political engagement with some level of self-government especially in Norway.

I became involved in Sami cultural research while living in Norway making contacts in Tromsø, Skibotn, Umeå in Sweden, and Ivalo in Finland.  That experience helps me better to understand the significance of the text of Antiphony.

 The author, Laila Stien, is a Norwegian novelist and poet.  She is married to Mikkel Gaup, a leading Sami professor and politician.  Their son, Ailo, is a motocross competitor and actor.  The translator is John Weinstock, retired Scandinavian Studies professor at U of Texas in Austin.

The narrator in Antiphony is a journalist and sociologist, 18 years old, who is challenged to take more initiative in advancing her research.  The narrator travels to Finnmark, Samiland, in Northern Norway where she meets three Sami women:  an old woman living in a nursing care facility, her niece who spends her days sewing reindeer hide purses to be sold in Sami hemslöjd buttiks, and that woman’s daughter who was a student at the University of Oslo.  The text in the three sections of Antiphony reminds me very much of my own journals written during my times visiting Samiland.  The journals contain quotations and observations collected through qualitative method in-depth interviews and participant observations.  The style may make it hard to follow, but the text is clearly reflecting the sociologist’s research method.

I especially appreciated how the author described her travel experiences and feelings finding her way into Sami culture through the three women.  References to religion, yoik, anthropologists (including a reference to the Uppsala University Professor Hugh Beach who wrote A Year in Lapland: Guest of the reindeer herders, and a reference to the first Sami secular author, JohanTuri, who wrote An Account of the Sami.

I am happy to respond to any questions about the text and give more information about Sami culture.


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