The home of the Sami
Sápmi and Laponia
Above the Arctic Circle, in northernmost Swedish you will find the home of the Sami people. It is one of the last and largest areas of the world with an ancestral way of life based on the seasonal movement of their traditional livestock; the reindeer.
This beautiful and sparsely populated region actually stretches over 4 different countries and this is the home of the Sámi people who are indigenous to this area with their own language, culture and customs. These people have been living in this area named Sápmi since prehistoric times.
Sápmi spreads throughout the northern part of the North Calotte, from the Russian Kola Peninsula in the east, to the Swedish Landscape Dalarna in the South. Sápmi as a concept includes both the country Sápmi and the Sami people.
Whilst Sápmi spans several countries, Laponia, with it’s beautiful nature and strong cultural roots, is located only in the Swedish side above the Arctic Circle. Laponia was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List in 1996 to protect this amazing area. According to UNESCO, Laponia is one of the best-preserved examples of nomadic areas in Northern Scandinavia.
About the Area
What is Sápmi?
It is the Sámi name for the area traditionally inhabited by the Sámi. Sápmi is a nation without country borders but within the area, there is a language, history and culture that ties the area together. The reindeer is intertwined with the human and nature, and the Sámi culture is rooted far back in time. The word Sápmi can loosely translate to The land of the Sámi.
Sápmi is the land and its people, nature and the reindeer. The wildlife and the light. The midnight sun and the northern lights. The warmth of the open fire on a glistening winters day and the cooling water of a mountain stream after a long days hike. Sápmi is the food and produce. But also their indigenous rights and the Sámi names. Duodji (the handicraft), fishing and the Sámi tourism. The flag and the Sámi colours. The wanderlust and respect for the surroundings. And everything in between.
The National Parks
There are four national parks in Laponia. ‘Sarek‘ has beautiful landscape of huge mountains and nearly 100 glaciers. ‘Muddus‘ offers a stunning summer hiking trail of circa 50km. ‘Stora Sjöfallet‘ National Park is the home of Áhkká, with its 13 summits and 10 glaciers. Last but not least, ‘Padjelanda‘ is home to the Badjelánnda Trail which is easy to hike and follows dry ridges and plateaus created by the inland ice cap.
Laponia is an amazing place to visit all year round and the beauty of this location is you could go several times within the year and see a totally different landscape to admire.
Whilst traditional seasons for many are just the main 4; The Sami have chosen to divide their year into eight seasons, according to changes in nature and the reindeer’s life cycle.
Late summer and early autumn, when the berries and mushrooms are ready for picking, is the best time to hike. In the winter, skiers can glide over the iced-over wetlands and marvel at the Northern Lights.
Sami cuisine is fresh, traditional and delicious. It is also extremely seasonal with ingredients that are naturally available depending on the time of year. Game and reindeer meat are naturally common staples here, usually served with mashed potatoes and fresh lingonberries. There’s also a wide variety of fish that can be caught in Sápmi’s pure waters which is often cooked over open fire or smoked. The forests offer an abundance of mushrooms and berries including the cloudberry, a local delicacy.
Reindeer husbandry is a central and very important trade in Sami society. The trade is not only a way of achieving an income – it is also the bearer of a long cultural tradition and a Sami identity.
Reindeer herding is intimately connected with Sami culture, and is a tradition that extends a very long way into the past. Over thousands of years it has developed from the hunting of wild reindeer to modern-day reindeer herding. Even today, however, the rhythm of reindeer husbandry is governed by nature, as the reindeer follow the natural pasture all year round. People in general and reindeer herders in particular have to give consideration to the reindeer and to nature, not the other way around. The job of the reindeer herder is to be the reindeer’s protector and to create good conditions for earning a livelihood from his trade.
Where is Laponia?
Laponia is a stunning cultural landscape area within the Arctic Circle in Sweden. Dense forests that have been growing for centuries, mountains, glaciers and enormous wetlands spread over thousands of square kilometre area.
All of the Laponia area is used for Sámi reindeer herding and 95% is protected for future generations. Sápmi Nature Camp is located in the second largest nature reserve in Sweden – Sjávnjá nature reserve. 285,000 hectares approximately 60km north of the Arctic Circle.
Staying at Sapmi Nature Camp is sure to give you an amazing experience and insight into the life and culture of the Sami with your host Lennart however if you are eager to learn more there are lots of ways to add to your visit to this amazing area.
Jokkmokk; If you fancy taking a break from exploring the National Parks and want to experience a Sami town; you can visit the town of Jokkmokk. Purchase some Sami-designed handicrafts and jewellery made from silver and reindeer horn or colourful embroidered garments and bags or why not pick up some local food and ingredients to take home? A visit to the Ajtte Museum is well worth a visit to discover more. If travelling in winter, there is also the winter market experience which has been held in Jokkmokk for over 400 years.
Another place to visit for your cultural discovery to continue is the Naturum Laponia. At Naturum Laponia they tell stories; such as why this place was decided to be one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. These stories will also tell you about the mountains and their secrets, or how reindeer find their way here every year. The exhibition is about the entire World Heritage Laponia and gives you an insight into the living Sámi culture and the captivating nature all around you.