REARING REINDEER IN FINISH LAPLAND
THE SAMI herdsmen of Lapland near the Arctic Circle herd reindeer.
And they don’t usually clamber down chimneys.
The Sami, previously known as the Lapps, are a minority indigenous group of the region. Today Lapland stretches across parts of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and even Russia.
In Lapland, there are more reindeer than people. The reindeer have long served to meet many needs of the Sami, from food to clothing to, of course, transportation. Even today, every single reindeer in Lapland belongs to someone, and is tagged accordingly.
In many ways, life for the modern-day Sami reindeer herder has not changed all that much. Many herders now manage the land with skimobiles.
Daily, the herders’ work still revolve around that of the reindeer, the seasons, and nature. Reindeer roam free throughout the majority of the year, and the herders must be continually monitoring them during this time.
If they find a reindeer with a tag that belongs to a neighbour, they notify them. If a reindeer has been killed from a bear or wolverine, or a more recent predator, the car, then they note it and tell the government, who in turn pays them a small amount for the loss. In May the baby reindeers are born and the herders must mark the calves and then move the reindeer to summer grazing land. In October there are herding round-ups that the entire village attends where some reindeer are selected for consumption. The life of a reindeer herder is always a busy one.
What’s fascinating about the reindeer culture was the way that the Sami use the reindeer as a resource in a healthy and sustainable manner. Reindeer are naturally a very healthy meat—they are low in fat, and have very low hormone levels from a relatively stress-free life roaming through Lapland. The Sami people use the reindeer, but only a number that is healthy for the reindeer population and the region. As it stands, the land in Finnish Lapland can only support an average of 200,000 reindeer; but during the summer months, the reindeer population increases to around 350,000 reindeer. Since there are not enough resources to support the extra population, they use the difference of around 150,000 reindeer for consumption.
The reindeer are not just used for meat. Traditionally the Sami would use every part of the reindeer, using their skin and fur for insulation and clothing, their veins for thread, their bones for tools, the blood for cooking—absolutely nothing went to waste.
Some reindeer were also selected to pull sleds. Though it is a dying practice, reindeer sleighs used to be a primary mode of transportation for the Sami people.
The reindeer sleigh is the only way to legally ‘drive drunk’ in Finland. If a bar patron had a little too much booze, the bartender used to put him in his sleigh and slap the reindeer to take him home—the reindeer already knew the way, so the inebriated person had only sit back and try not to vomit.
Today you’ll find it is primarily tourists who are taking the sleighs for a whirl. The herders are finding new and innovative ways to build their businesses and meet a demand, while also educating people about their culture and the reindeer.