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Exotic Tribes
Be a responsible traveller. Show tribal people respect and meet them on their premises. Visiting people with a different lifestyle and culture could sometimes be a very rewarding adventure, but be aware of that many tribal communities are extremely vulnerable to outside influences. All tribal people need to be protected from tourists in order to preserve their unique lifestyle and cultures. Travellers should understand that some tribes would like to live undisturbed, and that visit would be an intrusion.

Where did the Samis (Laps) come from?

Little is mentioned in historical records about the Sami people's origin. It`s the same with the mighty Vikings. Where did the Sami actual come from? When did the Sámi populate the northern Scandinavia areas? Did they live together with the Vikings? Or are the Vikings really descendants from them?

Saemieh, the reindeer people

The Sámi are an indigenous colourful people who form an ethnic minority in Norway, Sweden and Finland. There is also a small population on Russia's Kola peninsula. The Sami's language, traditional clothing, handicraft, and music, are distinctively different from other ethnic groups in Scandinavia.


Photo. A young Sami girl is smiling, Hammerfest, Norway. She is holding Sami shoes (photo number 062000-99#107, photographer Kurt Hamann/NTR - www.ntr.no).


In more recent history, from about the sixteenth century, Sámi have inhabited nearly all the areas of the Nordic countries where they now have permanent settlements. The Sámi region extends from Idre, in Dalarne, Sweden, and adjacent areas in Norway south to Engerdal in Hedmark County. To the north and east it stretches to Utsjoki in Finland, Varanger in Norway and on to the Kola peninsula in Russia.


The size of the Sámi population is estimated to be between 60,000 and 100,000; a cautious estimate would be about 70,000. In Norway there are believed to be between 40,000 and 45,000 Sámi, largely concentrated in Finnmark, where there are some 25,000. Sweden has about 17,000 Sámi, Finland around 5,700 and Russia approximately 2,000.

Photo (image). Map over areas where the colourful and nice Sami people the live.



It`s believed by many scientists that long before the Swedish, Finnish or even the Viking culture had developed, the Scandinavian areas became populated by the Samis (also written and pronounced Saemieh). They represent one of the oldest living cultures in Norway, and possibly the world is that of the Sámi people. The Sami have survived in the barren landscapes of Sámi Land (the area commonly known as Lapland) for thousands of years. Some traces suggest as long as 4,000 years.


Some scientists believed that the Sami became mixed with Germanic tribes years ago, and that the Vikings are descendants of the Sami.  


Some other scientists believe that the Sámi and Vikings are to separate groups, have different origins, and settled permanently in northern Scandinavia at different time. Even they who believe that they both came from Russia believe that the Sami and the Vikings came from different places and different time.


Based on a legend the famous adventurer and scientist Thor Heyerdahl believed that the most superior Norse, Viking God, called Odin, could be a great Viking king the past too. This Viking God had two ravens, Hugin, meaning thought and Munin, meaning memory , which flew all over the world every day.  In the evening, they sat on his shoulders and whispered in his ears what they had seen and heard, and kept the supreme god updated. Could this explain why the Vikings had such huge knowledge about the word at that time?


In 2001 Thor Heyerdal started search for Odin. He has also wrote a book about his theory. Heyerdahl based his theory on ancient Icelandic texts. He believed that Odin may have been a real king in the 1st Century BC in what is now southern Russia, before his tribe was driven out by the Romans. Therefore he funded a major archaeological dig near the Sea of Azov, to find traces after Odin and his tribe.


Someone also believes that the Vikings were the first indigenous people in Norway, but this is a theory that it's not broadening supported.


It's said that the Sámi people have always lived peacefully and never been involved in any war. As known from the history from ca. 800 to 1050, the Vikings settled down in Norway and surrounding northern areas. This group came probably from the east and was not descending from the Sámi people as some scientists believe. Contrary to the Sámi the Vikings where fearful warriors. But it`s common believed that the Sami and Vikings have been trading partners in the past.


Lifestyle and culture of the Sami

Over half of their current population live in the part of Sámi Land that falls into Norway, the region called Finnmarksvidda, though the area covers the northern extremes of Sweden, Finland, and as far east as Russia.


Photo. Sami people on sledge dragged by reindeers - Finnmarksvidda - mountain plateau - tundra (number  042000-6#9, photographer Mimsy Møller/Samfoto/NTR- www.ntr.no.


The name "Lapp" means piece of cloth or patch, and is considered an outdated, and often derogative term. The name "Sámi" derives from their own name. Therefore it is a more acceptable term, and is their own preferred name. The "Lapp" name indicates that the Sámi are wearing patched clothes, a derogatory term and one that needs to be replaced. The word "Laplander" is also problematic since that could mean any person who lives within this region, also those that are non native. Finally there's a part of the Sámi population who always have lived outside the region of "Lapland".


As the Sámi always have done, they live today of fishing and hunting. In more recent years they have based their subsistence more on herding reindeer. The Sámi are a nomadic people, and in the summer months many still live in their tepee ("tents") like homes, known as Katas (Gamme), which are easy to move form one place to another.


Time will show what we will find out. Legends give us inspirations for more explorations about the world and the many mysteries. Maybe one day we get the complete picture of our own origin and life.


Stein Morten Lund, 3 April 2004


Additional information

Experience the Sami's unique lifestyle and culture. Then you should go to Kautokeino, which is the cultural capital of the Sámi people, right in the heart of Sámi Norway. It's also one of the oldest settlements in Norway, dating back about 5000 years. Here you can visit the open air museum, depicting details of traditional Sámi life, which also has an indoor section displaying traditional Sámi handicrafts.


Language and culture of the Samis:

There are 9 Sami languages spoken from Norway to Russia, although depending on the country where they live, they can speak Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish or Russian.


The most spoken of the Sami languages counts with some 30,000 speakers. The rest of the Sami languages count in general with less than 500 speakers. The Sámi languages belong to the Finno-Ugric family and share the same origin than Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian.


The Sámi language has some 400 words for reindeer, and one Sámi word has become known worldwide: Tundra. The Sámi religious belief is animistic, believing that everything in nature from animals to minerals have a soul.


Theory and ancient traces from the Vikings:

The legendary Norwegian adventurer and scientist, Thor Heyerdahl's theory about the Vikings origin is based on stories from the 13th Century Icelandic saga, which he says suggest that Odin and his tribe really did exist.


The Sami of Norway:

Odin - Detailed information about the Sami people, their history and way of life



Scandinavica.com (The Nordic community online):

Fact sheet about Lapland and the Sami people living in the north of Scandinavia.



The Sámi of Far Northern Europe:

Arctic Circle - extensive information about almost every aspect of the Sami imaginable.



Other links:



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