Skinnväska med tennbroderi. Foto: Carl-Johan Utsi
Handbag made of reindeer skin with pewter embroidery by Christine Rensberg. Photo: Carl Johan Utsi

Tradition and modern thinking

Many Sami have links to handicrafts. Handicrafts have a strong symbolic value for the Sami identity and close ties with the lifestyle and the way of life.

The Northern Sami word for handicrafts is duodji. Duodji refers to the creative activity that is performed with the hands using various materials. Duodji has been and remains an important part of Sami society as a trade, a secondary occupation, a bearer of culture and a bearer of identity.

Created on the basis of need
The Sami have always made their own tools and clothes. These products have been created on the basis of the materials and requirements stipulated by the Sami's way of life. The Sami have had to make many of the everyday items they needed, such as knives, storage containers, clothes, etc. During the nomadic period, when the Sami families moved around with their reindeer, there was no room for unnecessary items. Everything they took with them fulfilled some function, and the design of the objects was adapted to a travelling life. The materials were taken from nature, such as roots, birch-bark, skins and reindeer antlers.

Examples of traditional duodji
Storage containers are everyday items that are used in the household. They were often made from birch burls or tubers. A náhppi, or milking bowl, was used when milking the reindeer, and had a small opening to prevent the milk from spilling. The knife was and remains one of the most important tools in the day-to-day life of a Sami. The knife was used for most jobs in the reindeer corral, as well as in the home. The knife is used just as much today, but the knives used by the highly skilled craftsmen are expensive works of art rather than everyday goods.

Traditions passed down
The handicraft traditions have been passed down from one generation to the next. However, the importance of and need for duodji has changed in Sami society in line with changes in society as a whole. Duodji is no longer the same as it was before, even though the products may be the same. The Sami have been influenced through encounters with other people, and this has affected the duodji. However, they have also held onto their traditions. The chain of tradition has now been altered. Many Sami children do not have the opportunity to learn handicrafts in the home, with the responsibility instead being placed with various institutions such as pre-schools, schools, training centres and universities.

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