THE KAERU KID: Visit to Samiland (Pt. 2)


I left Stockholm to fly to Gällivare in northern Sweden in order to visit the Sámi people. The town of Gällivare is rather small and it is noteworthy for having a large iron mining operation. I arrived on a Sunday, so mine tours were not operating. The town is so small that one can see everything by walking around in an hour.

My stay was at the Gällivare Bed and Breakfast, which is run by the cheery Marita Johannson. She is not a Sámi, but she knew many of them. Her price for a single with shared bath and an ample breakfast cost less than $60, a real bargain after the high prices everywhere else.

The car rental cost more than $120 a day and gas cost $9 a gallon. There are buses, but a car provided greater flexibility, especially since there was so much is to be seen in so little time. I made a reservation at Saltoluokta, where the summer camp of the Sirka Sámi is located on Lake Langas. The only lodging there is a mountain lodge run by Svenska Turistföreningen (STF). STF has 300,000 members and provides accommodations that include youth hostels, hotels, mountain stations, and alpine huts throughout Sweden. One does not have to be a member to stay at one of their facilities, but members receive a discount. Much of northern Sweden consists of protected national parks that have been designated a UNESCO site for its natural surrounding inhabited by the Sámi people.

The cost for a single with a shared bath that included breakfast, lunch and dinner cost slightly more than $200 a day, but blankets, sheets, pillow and towel had to be rented separately for $30. It is called a lodge, but is rather spartan. Wi-Fi was supposed to be provided, but it was not working.

The Sámi are an indigenous group of people who inhabit the most northern areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. They have been called Laplanders but consider this a pejorative term much like calling native Americans Indians. The treatment the Sámi have been subjected to is similar to the experience of Native Americans. Their lands have been confiscated, the Sámi religion deemed pagan and were forced to convert to Lutheran Christianity and their children were removed and pulled out of their schools in an attempt at assimilation.

TO HAVE AND TO HOLD — The Kaeru Kid stumbled upon, and was invited to observe a wedding ceremony. photo by the Kaeru Kid

Recent enlightenment by the present government due to younger Sámi who organized into protest groups have allowed the Sámi to have their own flag and more rights restored as far as grazing rights but there is still much progress to be made.

A Sámi group lived about 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) away from the lodge and a larger group about 5 miles away. The closer one was chosen because of ease of access. There were several large teepee-like structures called lavvus, which are similar to ones used by the Plains tribes. There were also dirt mound structures with openings for windows and a small door. Grass grew on the dirt. A larger mound had a cross on top, that turned out to be their church.

While I rested on a log, a gentleman came up and introduced himself as the best man for a wedding that was to be held in the church. He thought I was an invited guest, but upon learning otherwise, he asked if I would like to observe the ceremony.

Inside the church, a fire was burning in the center. Branches and bark lay on the ground on top of which reindeer skin hides were placed. All the guests were dressed casually and squatted on the fur hides. The ministers were a couple and both of them participated in the ceremony. There were two musicians; one played a fiddle and an accordion-like instrument and the other played the guitar. There was a recitation of wedding vows by the wedding couple much like weddings in the United States and an exchange of rings.

One of the female guests was dressed in Sámi garb that was made of reindeer skin, much like buckskin. After the ceremony, I asked the best man if he could introduce me to her. He said she was Laila Spik, a Sámi who owns the property. He said that she was going to prepare the food for the wedding reception. The groom selected this site for the wedding because he admired the Sámi culture and the beautiful surroundings.

After being introduced to Laila, I mentioned my Nevada friend who had befriended a young singer named Sofia Jannok. Sofia is a well-known Sámi who specializes in a unique form of singing called “yoiking,” which resembles Sámi folk songs. (See one of her videos here:’v=Qq3WEB_DTO8.) Laila says she is related to Sofia, who she once taught.

Laila was extremely hospitable and gave me a booklet about the Sámi culture. She took me around to see all the structures and told me how they were built. She confides to me that her real name is Njarka and that her grandparents were forced to change their name to one that was acceptable to Swedes. Her father made her promise to never forget her real name. Laila made a DVD about natural remedies found in this area and also how to select edible plants. The DVD cost $50 and the purchase was well worth the price.

She took me into her home to observe how the food is prepared. There was reindeer meat, goose and salmon. She said she had served bear the night before to the guests and that the meat was not at all gamy because the bear had been feeding on berries. There was potato salad, mixed salad of wild greens, olives, many types of bread, homemade jam, fancy butter, cheeses, two local fish roe appetizers and soup made from birch bark. In fact, one of the breads was also made from birch bark and tasted wonderful. Alice Waters and the Gochiso Gourmet would have a wonderful time here. Dessert is an icy mixture of some green plant, lingonberries and salmonberries and a creamy sauce. She insists I stay for the reception so I can taste everything. I feel hazukashii (embarrassed) because I am not really a guest, but when others learn that Laila insisted, it is deemed acceptable. This is one of those peak moments in life.

The next day I drove to the town of Jokkmokk to visit a famous Sámi museum called Ájtte, which is located close to a meandering river. A very popular winter market by the Sámi people is also held here. Noriichi Fujinawa, a Japanese chocolatier, visited this town and ate a buttery cookie. He loved the taste as much as he loved this beautiful city and friendly people that when he returned to Japan, he concocted his own recipe and in 1969 formed a cookie company called Yoku Moku, named after the town.

The museum cafe’s specially priced $15 lunch was delicious and a bargain that included meatballs, potatoes, salad bar and an elderberry drink. The museum was well organized and explained the culture well. Sámi knives, reindeer skin, knitted woolens were for sale, but the prices were high and the burden of added weight for the next week deterred any purchases.

I returned to Gällivare in time for dinner at the Gällivare Lodge Hotel, where hamburgers cost $25 and the rest of the menu was proportionally higher. Instead, a $15 stop was made at a pizza shop for an unusual and not very tasty pizza.

Fond memories of my time with Laila made up for the sad last meal in this town as the early morning flight sped me to Bergen, Norway.

The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at

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