Book look: Image of Sápmi

L’image du Sápmi – Études comparées (Image of Sápmi - Comparative studies)

Kajsa Andersson editor, Humanistica Oerebroensia. Artes et linguae 15

(Humanistic Studies at Örebro University 2009)

While there are 18 articles in French and 10 in English, we will focus on one: "Seventeenth-Century Images of the True North, Lapland and the Sami" by Rune Blix Hagen, associate professor at The Department of History of the University of Troms . It is based on a book Voyage des pais septentrionaux which was published in Paris in 1671. The following excerpts start on page 139:

In late August, 1671, a book entitled Voyage des pais septentnonaux was published in Paris; its literal translation means "Journey to the Lands under the Seven Plow-Oxen (or under the Plough [i.e. Big Dipper])". The North had been called the septentrionale region since ancient times in Europe. Based upon an expedition that the Frenchman Pierre Martin De La Martini re, from Rouen, had undertaken the previous year his 1671 travel narrative would become one of the most famous from the far north. The book was apparently a great success; it was often reedited and translated into several languages. The narrative is certainly unequaled in its drama and suspense. La Martini re was the first Frenchman traveling to the northern latitudes, and his trip paved the way for later and famous scientific expeditions to the high north by the French. According to the 1671 report, he penetrated into a region devoted to all kinds of wildness and bestiality. His attempts to portray foreign lifestyles and his encounters with the extreme Other illustrate how the north was typically depicted in the early modern era. For centuries the far north was traditionally considered to be the realm of strong, evil magic and demonic forces. His travel narrative is one of the first of many marking the rise of the fashion for the North at the end of the seventeenth century.

The company of travelers came into face-to-face interaction with the Sami in the area close to Nesseby "which seem'd to us to be very Wild". The strangers astonished the local inhabitants. It was maybe because the Sami met men who were "less barbarous than themselves", La Martini re tried to explain. With spirits and tobacco the travelers bought benevolence and conveyance by reindeer, the last of which led them "thro' all Lapland, both Danish, Swedish and Muscovite". The Sami spoke to their reindeer as if they were human, and the animals ran so quickly "...that we thought we were drawn by so many Devils". Then they were frequent witnesses to "the Ceremony of muttering in the Ears of the Beasts". The French visitor noticed that "these Barbarians" became wilder and increasingly more vulgar as they progressed toward the interior. In the middle of Lapland "we heard terrible Howlings and Cryings, but saw nothing". After having crossed large parts of Lapland, they arrived back in Varanger 21 May 1670. The Sami were given more liquor and tobacco to avoid having the ships cursed by their contrary winds, and to cheer them up. These people were unreliable. They could quickly enslave by their speech and spellbind their victims at a glance. The liquor helped the Sami to raise a fair wind for La Martini re's company away from Varanger Fjord. On 26 May, the vessels anchored at Vard 's sterv gen, which was called "the chief Town of the Government of Danish Lapland". The captain of Vard hus Fortress boarded the ship and was warmly welcomed.

The Frenchman made drawings of a man and a woman who were returned to Copenhagen, to be exhibited as exotic creatures from the wilds of the far north. The kidnapping caused a lot of commotion: "...when they found they could not escape us, they set up a hideous Howling, the most horrid Noise that I ever I heard in my Life". The traveler-narrator suggests, too, that "of all the Creatures I ever saw, of the Race of Man, the most unlike the Image of that Creature." As we have seen, they kidnapped four natives on the request of the Danish king.

The Sami missionary, Knud Leem (1696-1774), who published a monumental work called Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper (A Depiction of Finnmark's Lapps), in 1767, wanted to correct many of the misconceptions that he found in La Martini re's book. Large parts of his introduction were aimed at discrediting the Frenchman's views. Leem was particularly annoyed knowing that La Martini re's depiction of the Sami had been incorporated in encyclopedias and other reference material of the 18th-century. La Martini re "finds joy in letting his imagination run riot" wrote Leem, who also meant that any contention of northerners having conjured magical winds was offensive. Item by item, Leem refuted the Frenchman's portrayals of the Sami. "I have lived as a missionary with the Sami for several years, but I have never heard or seen such things as those which he has on his northern voyage", Leem wrote. Regarding the story about devils disguised as cats, Leem dryly replied that the Sami nomads did not own cats. He also disputed the notion of moral laxity among Sami women when he wrote "I can truthfully attest to never having heard an obscene word from any Lapp, arid illegitimate children have not been born for years". The Frenchman was more interested in entertaining – than imparting reliable and useful knowledge of northern Scandinavia, according to both Leem and Schefferus.

Another Frenchman, the comte Georges-Louis Leclerq de Button (1707-1788) could profit from the travel writing of La Martini re in his impressive 44 volume encyclopedia Historic Naturelle (published in 1749-88), hailed as one of the enlightenment's most highly esteemed works. In the volume containing the natural history of man, we can find a section called Of the Varieties of the Human Species. This section begins with Button's account of the peoples of the very far north: These people not only resemble each other in deformity, in smallness of stature, and in the colour of their eyes and hair, but also in the dispositions and manners: They are all equally gross, superstitious, and stupid. The Danish Laplanders have a large black cat, to which they communicate their secrets, and consult in all their important affairs; such as, whether this day should be

employed in hunting or fishing. Among the Swedish Laplanders, a drum is kept in every family for the purpose of consulting the devil; and, though they are a robust and nimble people, such is their pusillanimity, that they never could be persuaded to face a field of battle. Gustaphus Adolphus endeavored to embody a regiment of Laplanders; but he was obliged to relinquish the project.

Three other papers in the book outlined the careers of three painters of the Sami:

Painting 1 (above top): "Ill Sami" painted by Anna Nordlander (1843-1879)

Painting 2 (above middle): "The Duke of Orléans receiving hospitality in a tent of the Lapps – Louis-Phillipe at the North Cape, Autumn 1795" painted in 1841 by François August Biard.

Painting 3 (above right): "Sami Mother with her Child" painted in 1908 by Juhoo Kustaa Kyyhkynen. 1908 exhibit reviewed in Helsingin Sanomat: "In the paintings there are the Sami moving from one place to another, the Sami the little ugly human beasts at whom we here in southern Finland can sometimes look for payment." Reviewed also in Huvudstadsbladet (Helsinki): "Northern lights, red sunsets and ancient Sami people, which travel on the tundra covered with snow, are so strange that they spoil the whole artistic enjoyment."


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