National Geographic

Photos: For Scandinavia's Sami People, Reindeer Still Reign

National Geographic

I'm grappling with words to introduce these photos; maybe they don't need words. I just can't stop looking at the magical, mysterious spread on Scandinavia's Sami reindeer herders in this month's National Geographic.

  • Nils Peder Gaup kneels calmly in the midst of the herd on which his livelihood depends.
    Hide caption
    Nils Peder Gaup kneels calmly in the midst of the herd on which his livelihood depends.
    National Geographic
  • Sami herders follow the migrations of the reindeer as they move across northern Scandinavia and Russia from their winter grazing grounds to cooler areas during the summer months.
    Hide caption
    Sami herders follow the migrations of the reindeer as they move across northern Scandinavia and Russia from their winter grazing grounds to cooler areas during the summer months.
    National Geographic
  • Frames of lavut are a common sight in Sami yards, where they are used for smoking meat. Sami have long used the tents as portable shelters — their wide bases and forked poles enable them to withstand winds of up to 50 miles an hour on the Arctic tundra.
    Hide caption
    Frames of lavut are a common sight in Sami yards, where they are used for smoking meat. Sami have long used the tents as portable shelters — their wide bases and forked poles enable them to withstand winds of up to 50 miles an hour on the Arctic tundra.
    National Geographic
  • Sven Skaltje was saddened to find the carcasses of two reindeer whose antlers had become entangled during a dominance struggle in northern Sweden. He estimates it took three days for them to die of starvation.
    Hide caption
    Sven Skaltje was saddened to find the carcasses of two reindeer whose antlers had become entangled during a dominance struggle in northern Sweden. He estimates it took three days for them to die of starvation.
    National Geographic
  • Sara Gaup, 14, is dressed for her confirmation. The garb that she and her father, Nils Peder, wear identifies their hometown as Kautokeino, Norway. The upturned tips of their reindeer-hide boots were designed to hook into skis.
    Hide caption
    Sara Gaup, 14, is dressed for her confirmation. The garb that she and her father, Nils Peder, wear identifies their hometown as Kautokeino, Norway. The upturned tips of their reindeer-hide boots were designed to hook into skis.
    National Geographic

1 of 5

View slideshow i

Photographer Erika Larsen started the project in 2007, exploring two families of reindeer herders — one in Sweden and one in Norway. She embedded as a "beaga" (a family housekeeper) in Norway, she explains. "I came here to understand the primal drive of the modern hunter, and to find a people who, when the land speaks, can interpret its language."

The Sami descended from nomadic people who inhabited northern Scandinavia for thousands of years. Until recently, herding reindeer has been the basis of their economy. The nomadism has all but disappeared, and today herders tend to reindeer while their families live in permanent homes.

In some cases, the younger generation is moving toward modern life. One of Larsen's more striking portraits shows a young Swedish girl; she's part of a new generation of Sami who were raised as herders but have plans to attend college. "I want to explore the world," the girl is quoted as saying, "but I always want reindeer to be part of my life."

Ella-Li Spik of Jokkmokk, Sweden

hide caption

Ella-Li Spik of Jokkmokk, Sweden

Erika Larsen/National Geographic

In Larsen's words: "With traditional roots intact, the Sami herders have managed to bridge into the modern world. I have observed nature being at once both beautiful and brutal, and it appears that the herding culture is still living in a rhythmic flow with nature. Through the Sami, I hope to better understand our role as stewards of the earth."

More on the Sami in National Geographic. More of Larsen's magical photographs on her website.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: