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The tepee or turf hut was the natural dwelling-place in the sijdda. Photo: Carl-Johan Utsi.

The sijdda - the Sami community

Before the Sami were incorporated into the national states, they had organised their society into sijddas/siidas (groups of sameby families). These sijddas had set boundaries, and hunting and fishing rights were divided up within each sijdda.

What was life actually like in these sijddas? By studying the sijddas that retained their autonomy the longest - the Skolt Sami sijddas and in particular Suenjelsijd - we can get an understanding of life in the sijdda. In the Skolt Sami sijdda Suenjel, people lived from hunting and fishing right up to the start of the 20th century.

For several millennia, the basis for the supply of provisions was the family group. Two or three families stayed together, fishing and hunting together. When the hunting of wild reindeer became the most important way of supplying provisions around 1500 BC, a new type of society developed, the sijdda society. The size of the sijdda corresponded to an efficient hunting team, and consisted of around ten families.

Each sijdda had its own area, where only the sijdda's inhabitants were allowed to hunt and fish. The boundaries of these territories were known by everyone in both the individual and neighbouring sijddas. In the sijdda, the inhabitants found security and community. The members of the sijdda were expected to show solidarity and loyalty to the sijdda by helping with the procurement of food. For those who were unable to hunt for themselves, the people of the sijdda shared their haul.

Family areas
During the spring and summer, the members of the sijdda fished and hunted in families. The sijdda allocated the individual fishing waters and hunting grounds to individual families. The boundaries of these areas were not fixed, as the size and needs of the family determined how large an area it would be allocated. In practice, the same family often used the same land and water year after year, but if a family grew, the sijdda could transfer land and water from another family that no longer needed its entire area.

Pit trap hunting
In the autumn the families returned to their shared dwelling, the dálvvesijdda. The autumn was an important working period, as it was necessary to store food for the winter. The people hunted and fished intensively. They used every part of the animals they caught, and all the sijdda's members were required for the work. The important hunting of wild reindeer, bears and beavers was carried out jointly by the members of the sijdda. The creation and maintenance of the large systems of pit traps was also a joint affair.

In the dálvvesijdda - the winter residence
During the winter there was time for socialising, and joint affairs were managed at this time at sijdda meetings. These meetings were attended by the heads of the families, and functioned as a legal council, at which disputes between the people in the sijdda were settled. The sijdda meeting also managed contacts with the other sijddas. The Birkarls also came to the winter residence to collect taxes for the Swedish Crown and to barter. They paid a small charge to the Swedish Crown for this royal privilege, while at the same time being able to make a fortune.

Dissolution of the sijdda society
The increased interest in the Sami among the national states led to the Sami slowly but surely being drawn into Swedish bureaucracy, and the position of the sijdda was gradually weakened. In Sweden, King Karl IX decided in 1602 that the Sami should make an appearance at set marketplaces each winter. There they should pay tax to the Crown, as well as attending church services and participating in court sessions. To ensure that the Sami came to the new marketplaces, the Birkarls were forbidden to conduct trade with the Sami at the old dálvvesijddas as they had done in the past. The old sijdda meeting was not allowed to operate as a court either. Instead the Sami should enter the Swedish legal system. Despite this, the Sami continued dealing with their own affairs in the sijdda, although in the long run the old winter residences lost their position as the central location, in favour of the new marketplaces. Little by little, this also entailed a weakening of the Sami social order and its self-determination.

From sijdda to sameby
Today's samebys have their background in the old sijdda society. The term `Lapp village' as a designation for the sijdda first appears in the Swedish state's written documents from the 16th century. During the 17th century, reindeer herding became the most important trade for the Sami. For the Sami in the mountain regions, the old, circular sijdda areas were not suited to their reindeer's long annual migrations between the pasture by the Norwegian Atlantic coast in the west and the coniferous forests by the Gulf of Bothnia in the east. This led to an alteration of the territorial boundaries, and the mountain sijddas acquired a long, narrow shape in an east-west direction. When it came to reindeer herding in the forest Sami sijddas, the old, circular shape was still suitable.

The sijddas, or Lapp villages as the state called them, where in turn divided into tax land, owned by individual Sami. This arrangement lasted until 1886, when individual rights to land and water were removed through legislation. The rights to the Lapp village's land were instead converted to a shared entitlement for the members of the village to use the land. The 1971 Reindeer Husbandry Act changed the name Lapp village to sameby. At the same time, the sameby was converted into a type of economic association, in which the members have collective responsibility for reindeer herding.


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