Wende 16 January 2009 – Sweden 4

Sorryfor my last post and it being all in Swedish. I met some Swedes and wehung out for a long time and they bet me I couldn’t write all inSwedish. Anyways, it pretty much was describing the people I was with.It was pointless. Today however was amazing. We got up and drove aboutan hour north of Jokkmokk it was a beautiful drive, up here the borealforests are starting to give way to Arctic Tundra, and sometimes wecould see miles and miles of snowy rolling hills, and sometimesbeautiful forests of towering pine trees, covered in snow. About halfway in we saw several hundred reindeer running near the road beinghearded by Saamis on snowmobiles, it was beautiful to see them allrunning through the snow. I had no idea what was in store for us next.We pulled off the road and onto a side trail, after about ten minutesof driving on this trail through the woods we came to a huge openingwith a large circular pen in the middle. There were about 20 Saamireindeer herders there and several hundred reindeer, the Saami hadhearded  them into the corral from the forests and nearby area to cartthem to better areas of feeding, they said there were about 600reindeer there. Using snowmobiles they started the reindeer running ina circle (reindeer always run counter clockwise, no one knows why) thenthey took long ropes with slip knots on the end and lassoed thereindeers’ antlers and necks, after that they grabbed them by theantlers (or front legs if they’re wasn’t enough antler,) and draggedthem off to smaller corrals connected to the main one. They were beingdivided into herds based upon markings on their ear, which indicatedwho owned them. Some were going to stay in the area, others were beingloaded in vans and driven other places. They let us help out, which wasamazing. Not everyone in the group was strong enough to handle thereindeer, but a couple of us got to work them, it was great. We’d lassothem and then wrestle them down, pin them with our thighs, grab theantlers, take off the lasso, get off them and drag them to the corral.It took two reindeer before I could do it on my own and I was stillslower than all the Saami, but I was the only American who could handlethem on my own (and yes, I am bragging right now.) The hardest part wasgrabbing their antlers after they’d been lassoed; they would jump andbuck and throw their heads around but they didn’t mean any harm, andnone of them got hurt. It was a blast, probably the toughest workoutI’ve ever had because we were trudging through at least 2 feet of snow,but very rewarding. By the end I thought my arms were going to falloff, I feel much better now because I had a sauna.  Besides, now thenext time someone tries to tell me how hard hunting and stalking deeris I can reply with “not as hard as wrestling them.” Reading this orseeing reindeer sorting without understanding it might seem reallycruel, but if you understand the respect the Saami have for theirreindeer, and the way they care for them it doesn’t seem harsh at all.The Saami have a very unique art form called Yoiking (which I will talkmore about later) but it is in many ways a type of functional musicdedicated entirely to the reindeer, the Saami yoik to call theirreindeer, or to rejoice at finding a reindeer they thought they hadlost, it is very beautiful. The Saami are very misunderstood anddisrespected by many Swedes, and it is really sad that it all comes outof ignorance. The Saami have so much tradition and respect for the landand reindeer, it is hard to imagine that anyone could want to regulatetheir practices. Certain groups have pressured the Swedish governmentto stop the Saami from killing their reindeer in the traditionalmethod, a small knife at the base of the spinal cord, which killsinstantly. The groups say that it is cruel to kill using a knife, but Iwatched the Saami kill several reindeer today and they all diedpainlessly and instantly. Just as fast, and cleaner than a gun or metalbolt. Anyways, I have to go, my computer’s battery is about to die.Soon I will put up pictures and I will let you all know when I’ve donethat. They’re pretty cool!

Posted from Sweden:

posted Tuesday January 2009