Norwegian Language Blog

Happy Sami Day Posted by on Feb 6, 2013 in Traditions

Sami flagGratulerer med dagen! (Congratulations [with the day]!) Today is samefolkets dag – the day of the Sami people. Did you know Norway had an indigenous minority?

”We feel like Native Americans,” two Sami girls told a Norwegian reporter. Like many Native Americans, samene (the Sami) are fully integrated in the mainstream society. They go i barnehage (to kindergarten), på skole (to school) and work. But some keep ancient Sami tradisjoner alive and many still speak samisk.

Some important bits of Sami culture:

  • samisk. Actually, there are several Sami languages. They’re spoken by 40-50.000 persons across Northern Scandinavia. The largest is nordsamisk (Northern Sami). Sami languages are distantly related to Finnish. Nordsamisk has some exotic bokstaver (letters), as in Gos mun oažžun juhkančázi? (Where can I get drinking water?) Pretty different from Norwegian, don’t you think? 🙂
  • kofte. This colourful drakt (dress, costume) is a powerful symbol of Sami identity. Sami people wear their kofter at important events, like 17. mai – the day of the Norwegian constitution.
  • joik [yoyk]. The traditional Sami joik sounds a bit like yodeling or Native American spiritual songs. A skilled joiker can almost make her listeners fall into a trance. The corresponding verb is å joike.

The Sami were the original inhabitants of the Scandinavian peninsula. In vikingtida (the Viking Age) there were still a few Sami hanging around in Southern Norway, but today most Sami live in Nordnorge. There are also Sami in Northern parts of Sweden and Finland, and on the Russian Kola peninsula.

If you’re a friluftsmenneske (”outdoor kind of person”), you’ve perhaps slept in a lavvo. This huge tent – which looks a bit like a tepee – was invented by the Sami. Traditionally, the Sami moved from place to place herding reinsdyr (reindeer). Only a small number of Sami still cling to this lifestyle.

There has been a lot of racism and discrimination toward Sami people. Sami children were punished if their lærer (teacher) caught them speaking their own language, and Sami adults were treated like idiots. For that reason, the historical name ”Lapps” is considered offensive by many Sami and should be avoided.

Fortunately, conditions have improved considerably for the Sami. There is a sameting or Sami parliament, and Sami languages have become officialized and are taught at schools in Karasjok, Kautokeino and other places in Northern Norway.

The winner of the 2011 Sami Grand Prix, Jan Ole Hermansen, joiks in a kofte.

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.


  1. Lena:

    good job! waiting for the next 🙂

  2. scharon de almeida adamson:

    Thank you for your posts; I enjoy reading and learning from them!