Wednesday 4th February 2015
Bizarre day today. Started with a vague plan to go up north in horse Satu’s car and see the reindeer round-up. However Horse Satu, who was driving 8 clients to the roundup, spoke to Boss Satu and she said it was a working day for everyone and Seb and Stef were going to the farm and me and Daz would be given chores by Erkki at 10am. So Horse Satu left the apartment and then rang us about 10 minutes later. There were too many clients to fit in the mini bus so would we take the extra to the roundup in her car. So something we weren’t fit to do, suddenly became acceptable because there was clients (therefore money) involved! We think “exploitation” at its best or perhaps I mean worst!
So we got Horse Satu’s car ready and off to see Boss Satu. She gave us our briefing. What we should tell the clients about the roundup and what we shouldn’t tell them – “we’ve no idea we’ve never been before!”. And if all else failed to give them a long complicated explanation which they wouldn’t understand because they’re Spanish!
So off we went following the minibus. In our car we had a young Spanish couple. And we shared all our newly found knowledge with them and we will share with you too. On the way north it’s possible to see the vegetation change from Taiga to Semi-Tundra where the trees are much smaller and more shrub like than the birch and fir forests we’ve left. There are 8500 Sami in Finland divided into 3 tribes; reindeer Sami, fisherman Sami and skull Sami (well it sounded like ‘skull’ – and they are the vagrant Sami from when a part of Finland was originally annexed by Russia). Each group has its own culture and language. The site of the reindeer roundabout is very close to a very distinct hill, Ailigas, the 2nd most holy site for the Sami in Finland.
The roundabout: there are about 14000 reindeer in Finland all owned by Sami Reindeer herders. It’s fairly common to see them out in the countryside, riding their skidoos (the herders, not the reindeer!) with trailers of hay, looking for, feeding and checking the animals. But remember all 14000 reindeer run loose (in the Karigasniemi area)and aren’t held in areas by fencing. At the roundup (which occur several times a year) 3000 reindeer had been herded to this site. They need to be checked, counted and marked by their owner. Each ‘mark’ is a special cut in the ear of the reindeer, there are about 30 different marks to represent each family. The new calves (born May 2014) which haven’t been marked yet, need to be done.
There’s a round corrall about 15metres in diameter and off it are gated shutes that lead to small paddocks. Approximately 50 reindeer are herded into the corrall where there are about 30 Sami and some tourists (us) stood waiting. The reindeer run around the corrall and the Sami identity their own deer, grab it by its horns and man handle it to their own particular gated shute. This continues until the corrall is empty. In some cases there are calves without markings. They have a tag hung from its neck and are sent to their own paddock. When the day is done, these calves will be released into the entire herd and will find their mother and then it will be clear who owns them. All the Spanish tourists and us entered the corrall and watched the action. The reindeer are running around us madly and although we have been told they will not run into us their antlers look extremely sharp and close at times. We stay inside the corrall for a few rounds of the selection process and enjoy the earthiness and splendour of the reindeer at close proximity. Truly memorable!
When no one could stand the cold any longer we went to Uncle Hansi’s cabin to get warm. If I’ve understood correctly Hansi’s nephew owns (and races) reindeer and is cousin to Boss Satu. Hansi must be around 70 and is clearly an absolute charmer and flirt and whilst we totally depended on Horse Satu for translation, there are some messages that are conveyed without language. Hansi has diversified and has a hotel and recognises the value of the tourist and their interest in reindeer.
He wore (as do most Sami) reindeer moccasins with a pointed toe ( I thought this was some quaint affectation) but it’s so the point can be hooked into their skis. In these shoes they used to have hay instead of socks; it needs to be specially prepared before use.
An Arctic fox fur hat, seal skin gloves and over his coveralls a hand crafted belts with 2 knives. The Sami now use top of the range skidoos (approx £15000) but once used herding dogs and skis. Hansi told us that as a young man (1959) he was at a reindeer roundabout and there was a young girl there from Helsinki who caught his eye. She returned to Helsinki and there was no emails or texts or phone lines so Hansi couldn’t stay in contact but instead sacrificed a white reindeer to the Gods. And in 1962 he came home after a day working the reindeer and a car was parked under his bedroom window and ‘the girl that had caught his eye’ was inside chatting to his mother having finished her degree in Helsinki. And they’ve been married ever since.
We got back to Inari about 6, Daz said his eyes were bleeding from the long drive with nothing to look at except snow snow snow and maybe if he was lucky the van in front appearing from the snow spray in time to brake if it needed to stop suddenly for reindeers on the icy snowy road!
At least tomorrow is a day off!