A Lapp Family And Sled-dog, Outside Their Summer Home
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Direction--We are facing west. Surroundings—Barren, open heath, like what we see.
These aboriginal people are to Norwegians proper what the North American Indians are to the white people of the United States, though these have rather more in common with the dominant people among whom they live. They are shorter in stature than most Norwegians, and darker in complexion, belonging to the Mongol race, instead of the Teutonic. Many of them speak Norwegian, besides their own language. At least a part of the year they live near to some settlement, so that the children may go to a. country school and learn to read and write ; at the usual age this boy and girl will pass an examination with little Norwegians in the church catechism and be confirmed. Without much doubt this substantial matron was formally married by some Lutheran pas-tor, and the children will decorously follow parental example when they grow up. It is, however, not probable that they will marry Norwegians. Though mixed marriages do occur every now and then, instinctive race-feeling on both sides usually draws a line at wedlock.
When these children were babies they spent several months tied into cradles of reindeer hide on a wooden frame, and hung up inside or outside the tent, somewhat like an American Indian "papoose" in its own cradle of birch-bark.
The boy and girl now are dressed so nearly alike, it would be difficult to guess their identity, but for the custom of sewing a big rosette on the crown of a boy's cap. It is the badge of masculine superiority.
These summer coats and frocks are of coarse blue woolen homespun, bought from some farmer or at a country store, and probably paid for with reindeer meat or cured hides. The ornamental bands of trimming are red cloth. The men's caps may also have been bought, like the checked stuff of the mother's apron and shawl, but the shoes worn by the whole family are the traditional homemade articles, of tough reindeer hide, that will bear an almost limitless amount of tramping over rough ground and rocks. The seams are sewed with reindeer sinews into wonderful closeness, so that they are practically waterproof. In win-ter a pair is worn large enough and loose enough to admit of packing soft, dry grass and moss around each foot, the best practical protection yet known against the intense cold of this high latitude. Nansen used this sort of foot-gear on his Arctic explorations.
Do you notice that both men have knives, one stuck picturesquely into the belt, and the other out, ready for some use? A knife like that serves every sort of purpose you can think of—skinning a reindeer, carving horn-spoons, cutting tobacco—it is the owner's most valued personal possession. Quite possibly he made it himself, grinding the blade into its present finish, and setting it in a handle of bone or reindeer-horn. He sells such knives sometimes to Norwegian village people and to foreign tourists.
The tent is made of coarse "burlaps" canvas, obtained by barter, like the homespun clothing stuff. It would seem more natural to do cooking out-of-doors during summer weather, but in this case, at least, the woman has her dinner kettle hung inside the tent, suspended by a chain from a cross-bar between certain of the supporting tent poles. (The photographer was invited inside the tent, and kindly offered a piece of reindeer meat, which had been cooked in the kettle and then carved on the leaf-strewn floor of the tent.) The opening in the top of the tent does, of course, carry off smoke very well.
This family own a considerable number of rein-deer, now feeding over the desolate heaths in this vicinity. The animals would appear to a stranger to be quite wild, but they have marks, on their ears or. elsewhere, which signify definite private ownership, and, in some way quite mysterious to most Norwegians, the Lapp owner can succeed in catching any animal he wishes to milk. The quantity yielded is small, and the creatures are milked at longer intervals than domestic cattle (twice a week, perhaps), but the milk is exceedingly rich and nutritious, so it goes far as food. This woman makes cheese from it for winter food, somewhat as Norwegian housewives make theirs of cows' or goats' milk ; these youngsters consider the thick scum which rises on boiled rein-deer milk the most delicious of dainties.
As usual, boy and dog are good friends. This is vacation playtime for the shaggy dog, and no doubt he appreciates leisure. In winter he has to do his share of labor, drawing a sledge, somewhat like that of the Greenland Esquimaux. Reindeer are also made useful as beasts of burden. The winter season is, however, not spent here where we are now. The cold weather location will be probably somewhere considerably farther inland. The winter home will be made of stones and clayey earth, over a timber frame-work, and banked high with earth to keep out draughts. Overcoats of reindeer hide, with the hair inside, will keep everybody warm. Tobacco and rather too lavish supplies of spirits will keep them in good humor. The reindeer need no barns for shelter and no store of painfully gathered hay for food, as they find all the moss they need by digging under the snow. When purchasable supplies of any sort are needed, there is always a market for reindeer meat or skins. Why should a Lapp worry, if only he owns a small herd of these valuable creatures? The fact is, he doesn't worry at all. If he is so fortunate as to own a couple of hundred deer, whose maintenance costs him nothing, he counts himself rich, and his children are treated respectfully when they go to town.
We saw one herd of reindeer over on Hardanger Vidda, at Position 45.
Paul Du Chaillu, the American traveler, who wrote The Land of the Midnight Sun, became personally acquainted with a number of Lapps, staying with them in their cabins, eating with them, and learning a great deal about their life, which is chronicled in his celebrated book. Like the American Indians, they combine with some unsavory details in their personal habits and mode of life a curiously fascinating element of weird poetry. Though many individuals are as commonplace and uninteresting as can be imagined, the race to which they belong is popularly credited with all sorts of occult powers. Sorcerers and witches used to be found among them, and not so very many generations ago, for the Lapps did not generally adopt the Christian religion until long after that faith was established among the Norwegians. The Norse people themselves usually call them not Lapps but Finns. Some of the stories of Jonas Lie, the famous Norwegian novelist, have to do with the traditions of this ancient people. The Visionary (Den Fremsynte) is full of the queer atmosphere of Lapp ideas. In one of Lie's volumes of northern sea stories there is an awful tale (Finneblod) of what happened to a Norse fisherman, who thought himself too good to marry a Lapp sweetheart !
It is a far cry from the spells and charms of an ancient race to the work of up-to-date civil engineers, but such are the contrasts suggested by the sights of our journey. Near the extreme right-hand edge of our map, our route turns sharply westward at a fork in the roads, where the inn of Grjotlid stands. Our next proposed standpoint we find by tracing the high-way approximately westward till we come to the point marked 83. The zigzag lines of the highway prepare us for seeing some unusual grade.