The Lutheran church and the king worked together to Christianize the Sami people, sometimes with violent methods. Photo: Marie Enoksson

In God's service

In order to force the Sami to abandon their religion and instead come to the church's services and teaching, the church employed punishments of various kinds: fines, imprisonment or the death penalty. The Sami's holy places were desecrated and their drums were burned.

Religion and politics
For hundreds of years the traditional shamanistic religion lived side by side with Christianity. From the 17th century the attempts to Christianize the Sami went hand-in-hand with the kings attempts to conquer the areas in the north. When religion was used as a forcible means, many Sami were abused, just like indigenous peoples in other parts of the world.

Dilemma
For the Sami, the ban on practising their own religion in order to adopt the Christian religion instead, posed a great dilemma. Christianity put obstacles in the way of their traditional lives. They were forced to leave their reindeer herd in order to attend church and send their children to school. The ceremonies of their traditional religion, on the other hand, could be conducted wherever they were. The Sami gods also helped with their everyday lives, both at home in the hut, out in the reindeer forest and when hunting and fishing.

The forefathers
It was believed that the Christian God, on the other hand, did not concern itself with everyday matters. The issue against which the Sami reacted most strongly was when the priests attacked their relationship with their dead forefathers. In Sami society, the dead forefathers were an important part of the family. The forefathers were considered to share in the deeds of the living. They could cause trouble, such as illness, but were also a great help by protecting relatives or watching over their reindeer herds.

The Sami held their forefathers in great reverence. Priests and missionaries launched robust attacks against this notion. In the Christian world there was no place for the Sami belief about the dead. For the Sami, forced conversion to Christianity entailed a major encroachment on their own culture, as an important part of the family was suddenly considered not to exist.

Religious services under coercion
The Sami were forced to attend the church services. Some Sami adopted the Christian teaching, but many continued to practise their traditional ceremonies in secret. As there were only a few Christian churches and they were a long way away, while the Sami gods and rituals were close to the people, the two religions were able to exist side by side for a long time.

Fear
There was also a fear of being forced to abandon the beliefs of their forefathers. People thought that the forefathers had lived happily and healthily, free to use the old shrines, but that general poverty had grown after the church had begun to put obstacles in the way of the forefathers' beliefs. In order to avoid being forced to participate in the church's teaching and services, many Sami at first simply did not go to the church in their own village or moved away to other samebys, which were further from the influence of the church.

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