From Lapland to Sápmi

Collecting and Returning Sámi Craft and Culture

2022
Author:

Barbara Sjoholm

A cultural history of Sápmi and the Nordic countries as told through objects and artifacts

The story of the Indigenous Sámi living in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia unfolds across borders and centuries, in museums and private collections. Deftly written and amply illustrated, From Lapland to Sápmi brings to light the history of collecting, displaying, and returning Sámi material culture, as well as the story of Sámi creativity and individual and collective agency. 

An important contribution to Sámi stories of loss, recovery, and the struggle for equality, as well as the right to manage one’s own cultural heritage on one’s own terms. As Barbara Sjoholm charts the transformation of Lapland to Sápmi in objects, joiks, and storytelling, Sámi voices emerge to share essential aspects of their history. As we say in Sápmi, ‘Čálli giehta ollá guhkás—A writing hand reaches far.’

Káren Elle Gaup, coeditor of Bååstede: The Return of Sámi Cultural Heritage

Material objects—things made, used, and treasured—tell the story of a people and place. So it is for the Indigenous Sámi living in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, whose story unfolds across borders and centuries, in museums and private collections. The objects created by the Sámi for daily and ceremonial use were purchased and taken by Scandinavians and foreign travelers in Lapland from the seventeenth century to the present, and the collections described in From Lapland to Sápmi map a complex history that is gradually shifting to a renaissance of Sámi culture and craft, along with the return of many historical objects to Sápmi, the Sámi homeland.

The Sámi objects first collected in Lapland by non-Indigenous people were drums and other sacred artifacts, but later came to include handmade knives, decorated spoons, clothing, and other domestic items owned by Sámi reindeer herders and fishers, as well as artisanal crafts created for sale. Barbara Sjoholm describes how these objects made their way via clergy, merchants, and early scientists into curiosity cabinets and eventually to museums in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, and abroad. Musicians, writers, and tourists also collected Sámi culture for research and enjoyment. Displays of Sámi material culture in Scandinavia and England, Germany, and other countries in museums, exhibition halls, and even zoos often became part of racist and colonial discourse as examples of primitive culture, and soon figured in the debates of ethnographers and curators over representations of national folk traditions and “exotic” peoples. Sjoholm follows these objects and collections from the Age of Enlightenment through the twentieth century, when artisanship took on new forms in commerce and museology and the Sámi began to organize politically and culturally. Today, several collections of Sámi objects are in the process of repatriation, while a new generation of artists, activists, and artisans finds inspiration in traditional heritage and languages.

Deftly written and amply illustrated, with contextual notes on language and Nordic history, From Lapland to Sápmi brings to light the history of collecting, displaying, and returning Sámi material culture, as well as the story of Sámi creativity and individual and collective agency.

Cover alt text: White canvas image with delicate cross-stitched and hand-applied elements depicting a wintry outdoors: a stretch of snowy pine trees across the top; trees, wildlife, and sledders below, with onlookers.

Barbara Sjoholm is a writer, editor, and translator of Danish and Norwegian literature. Her translations include By the Fire: Sami Folktales and Legends, also from Minnesota. She is the author of several works of fiction and nonfiction, including Black Fox: A Life of Emilie Demant Hatt, Artist and Ethnographer.

An important contribution to Sámi stories of loss, recovery, and the struggle for equality, as well as the right to manage one’s own cultural heritage on one’s own terms. As Barbara Sjoholm charts the transformation of Lapland to Sápmi in objects, joiks, and storytelling, Sámi voices emerge to share essential aspects of their history. As we say in Sápmi, ‘Čálli giehta ollá guhkás—A writing hand reaches far.’

Káren Elle Gaup, coeditor of Bååstede: The Return of Sámi Cultural Heritage

Barbara Sjoholm’s From Lapland to Sápmi chronicles in vivid words and images the colonial encounters of Sámi and non-Sámi as told through the objects, images, and recordings that eventually became sequestered in Nordic museums and archives. It also tells the inspiring story of efforts to recover and return these items to their rightful communities as part of Sámi decolonization and self-determination.

Thomas Dubois, coauthor of Sámi Media and Indigenous Agency in the Arctic North

Fascinating and important, From Lapland to Sápmi presents a nuanced and enlightening look at the cultural history of objects and collections originating in Sápmi. With rich detail and riveting storytelling, Barbara Sjoholm presents a diverse picture of the north and its entangled histories of collecting in Sápmi. I heartily recommend it for students and scholars.

Trude Fonneland, The Arctic University Museum of Tromsø

Barbara Sjoholm's new book takes you on a remarkable journey. What emerges from this insightful study is an important cultural history of the Indigenous Sámi people in northern Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Russia. This book traces how scholars, clergy, and other collectors actively worked to shape how we understand (and misunderstand) the Sámi people and their world. By exploring how the materials crafted by the Sámi have been gathered, studied, and displayed, Sjoholm offers a glimpse into how knowledge has been constructed, controlled, and disseminated over time. People have been writing about the Sámi since the 1500s, but as From Lapland to Sápmi demonstrates, the Sámi culture became a testing ground for emergent sciences like ethnography and archaeology, fields that encouraged participants to gather objects for museums across Europe and beyond. This is a story with important ramifications for the world today.

Samuel J. Redman, author of The Museum: A Short History of Crisis and Resilience and Prophets and Ghosts: The Story of Salvage Anthropology

Contents

Map of Sápmi and Scandinavia {~?~TN: book pages vi–vii}

Sápmi’s Geography and Languages {~?~TN: book page ix}

Introduction {~?~TN: book page xi}

Part I. Northern Curiosities {~?~TN: book page 1}

Lapponia {~?~TN: book page 3}

Curiosity Cabinets

The Magic Drum

Mr. Bullock’s Exhibition of Laplanders

Part II. Collecting

A Model Prisoner

Autumn Migration in Lule Lappmark

Razzias

The Lappish Department

Making Histories

Roots and Spirals

Wax Cylinders, Sámi Voices

Opening the Blue Chest

Part III. Two Directions

Recentering: Sweden

Returning: Norway

Recollecting: Sápmi

Acknowledgments

Notes

Selected Bibliography

Index