Sámiid Duodji

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The Sami are a minority of 40,000 in Norway, 17,000 in Sweden, 7,000 in Finland and 5,000 in the USSR.

In outlining some central features of contemporary Sami handicraft production, it is necessary to discuss Sami notions of "doudji", as it relates to more general concepts of "art", "handicrafts" and "home-crafts". The traditional Sami notion of "duodji" is: "...needlework, carpentry, solid; finished work, product, work;...". This term signifies actual work, as well as objects. It includes a whole range from careful "needlework" to heavy carpentry, and it means women's as well as men's work. While the term relates primarily to different types of handicrafts, it also designates manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

By contrast the Norwegian term "husflid" is translated as "home crafts, home industry, folk arts". This translation should also include a slight overtone of effort, disclosed by Haugen under the entry "flid": "application, diligence, industry, gjore seg flid: take pains with." In other words, "home-crafts", in addition to "husflid", also implies the idea of the work being done with great care and devotion for one's own people. In contrast, the activities referred to under the Norwegian term "håndverk" with the English equivalent "handicrafts" (manual skill, art of trade or occupation), tend to evoke more specialized or restricted production.

The notion of "husflid"/home-crafts is not restricted to Nordic countries; it is found all over Europe. It should be stressed, however, that this activity has special status in the rural parts of Nordic countries which lack the division of labor traditionally found in south European villages. Consequently everyone produces utensils or commodities for the household to the best of their abilities. This is still the case in many Sami communities; "duodji" differs from "husflid" where the tendency is to regard products as "art", rather than associate them with traditional uses. "Samiid doudji" is a type of home-craft which maintains unity between craftsman/woman-use-tradition- material-form-consumer in present-day society.

The traditional way of doing handicrafts and its persistent usefulness in their daily life constitutes one legitimate and aesthetically impeccable element in their efforts to establish complementarity and parity with Norwegian society. Yet "duodji" has been conceived of in very different ways within the Sami society. Communities that have acquired Norwegian skills and standards let "doudji" go out of use more easily than communities who maintain more traditional adaptations within the Norwegian nation-state. As the practice of "duodji" has very different connotations to different Sami settlements, attempts by Sami politicians to improve its standing have been problematic. As in many other fields of life where slightly stigmatized activities are revitalized, it is left to the new generation of Sami with formal training in social work, teaching, etc. to lure public monies for "doudji". From mid 1960 onward, public committees as well as Sami organizations have looked into the organization and economics of "doudji". Some significant contributions have been obtained. For 1983, the Norwegian government has granted different agencies involved in "duodji" more than $150,000. Some individuals have also obtained loans and grants for their private and home-based "workshop."

Seminal to the development of "duodji" in recent years, however, has been the work done by the semipublic, semi-private organization "SIIDA", who obtained a grant from the Ministry of Social Affairs in the mid sixties to set up a center for Sami handicrafts. From this developed a fairly successful organization for distributing instructors, designs, materials, etc., with the return of gradually more refined products for sale. Today many smaller centers and a handful of cooperatives based mostly on home-production are in operation, offering the producer extra income and the opportunity to see how objects of her or his everyday life are enjoyed by outsiders.

As a relatively large portion of the Sami people are linked to the primary occupations of agriculture and reindeer herding, raw materials are largely hides, horn/bones and to some extent cloth. The old tradition of pewter thread application has been developed into a skill of high quality at the same time as other traditional techniques have been applied to new materials and forms. By its ability to expand and grow, "duodji" demonstrates to the outside world how very much alive and modern the Sami people are, an opinion, however, apparently not shared by the Norwegian state, who, in 1983 will start building a gigantic hydroelectric power station on the Alta-Kautokeino River in the middle of Sami land, against the wishes of most of the Sami people. This event added to previous conflicts between the two peoples who inhabit the territory of Norway, has triggered a tendency among Sami artists toward political satire on the stage, in sculpture and painting, as well as in poetry and music. What role "duodji" will play in this conflict is hard to tell, but few sectors of Sami life will remain unaffected, if the dam is built.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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