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The representation of the Sami in tourism
The Sami are an indigenous people living in northern Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Kola-Peninsula in Russia (Szilvási 2011). When walking through the streets in Alta, Finnmark, you usually do not recognize them as such, unless they wear the kofte, their traditional clothing. Nevertheless, they are present among the Norwegians living there even if there is no obvious cultural representation. Hall (1997) defines representation as “using language to say something meaningful about, or to represent, the world meaningfully, to other people” and says further that “representation is the production of meaning through language”. Thus, the meaning about something like culture is just constructed. In this paper, I will present what tourists expect from their visit at indigenous peoples at the example of the Sami people and why they expect that. This will be based on an analysis of tourism advertisements of the Sami. Finally, there will be shown some ideas of how indigenous peoples tourism could be improved.
This paper is based on research of literature provided in the lectures and self-found as well as on own experiences. There are also commercials being analysed.
The representation of the Sami in tourism
Firstly, I will have a look at the expectations that tourists have when they visit the Sami, an indigenous people in Norway. The main expectation is to experience the culture and the real life of a tribe in an authentic way. However, we can already ask ourselves the question what “authenticity” really means. Many people associate “traditionally” with authenticity in a culture (Mathisen 2004). Thus, can a word like “authenticity” be defined through the view of a lot of people? Yes, say the constructivists because the constructivist theory means that there is not just one reality. It is rather built up by the opinion of many people and through their agreement when they talk about a special issue (Wilson 2001). Hence, indigenous people are expected to act traditionally because the tourists want to see that, even if this is not their normal or rather modern way of life. A lot of people have also a romantic view on indigenous people. They see them as tribes close to nature, as “noble savages” with special knowledge and sometimes supernatural powers (Mathisen 2004; Kramvig 2017). These things make indigenous peoples interesting to them. Mathisen (2004) describes an example of how Sami are expected to be. In fact, they are seen as typical reindeer herders who live in the wilderness in a lavvu, wearing the kofte or rather gakti and live with aspects of shamanism.
There are also some rather negative points of view about indigenous peoples. Adjectives like; stupid, raw, primitive or uncultivated are used to describe native tribes (Kramvig 2017; Hinch 2004). Anyway, both sides show the difference and want to create distance between “us” and “them” (Mathisen 2004). This leads us to the topic of “Othering”. Hereby, people make a distinction between their own and an alien culture. The other culture is often seen as something negative and exactly the opposite to the own values. One reason for that is the colonialization where imaginations about different peoples were constructed. This is because people can only experience culture while comparing it to something known like their own culture. So, during the colonialization they saw everything new “through the eyes of the West” (Smith 1999). Stereotypes are also still created for example by the Sami Rights Commission. The Commission initiated to build a reindeer herding siida. There, the Skolt (East) Sami should live traditionally with “relatively small herds under collective ownership, intensive herding with milking of reindeer, and the use of reindeer for transportation”. However, nothing of this is today practised by the reindeer herding Sami. The only aspect which is modern in doing so is the tourism but again everything is constructed (Mathisen 2004).
Which means, if all the shown representations are constructed, there is the question how the Sami people really live today. Only ten percent are still reindeer herders and some others work traditional like doing handicrafts, hunting or fishing. However, most of the Sami live and work today like the Norwegian majority (Pettersson and Viken 2007). The reason for that is the Norwegianization which started in the mid of the 19th century. With the beginning nationalism in Europe minorities were also in Norway treated badly. In the year 1848 started the institutional Norwegianization with the aim of assimilating the Sami. After a rebellion in Kautokeino in 1852 it got even worse. Norwegians settled in Sami areas to align the Sami people. The children in school had to learn Norwegian and sometime later it was completely forbidden to talk the Sami language in schools. Therefore, the Sami assimilated to the Norwegians because of discrimination. There was also a law introduced in 1902 which allowed only these people to buy property who had a Norwegian name and could speak and write in Norwegian. This politics changed after the second World War and now the minorities are supported by the Norwegian state to preserve their culture and language. In 1989 there was also established the Sami Parliament after the great conflict about Altadammen in the 1970s (Szilvási 2011).
As we can see, the life of the Sami people in Norway today is because of the Norwegianization not that different from the life of the Norwegians and most of them share the Norwegian lifestyle and have usual jobs. However, commercials about visits at Sami people show a different reality. Hurtigruten GmbH (2016) provides on its homepage an information video about what can be seen when visiting the Sami people during a cruise. In this video you can see a Sami woman and man sitting in a lavvu, wearing the kofte and saying that tourists can experience the Sami “culture, history and way of living”. The tourists in the clip are shown drums, reindeer herding, clothing and handicraft and there is joik in the background. There are also some tourists talking about their experiences at the Sami site. They say that they like the crafts and the history and one man enjoyed seeing how the Sami people live and how they give their knowledge to the next generation. He also points out that “that’s where you come and travel to see what’s out there and the real people” (Hurtigruten GmbH 2016). When one is talking about reality in visiting indigenous people it is important to look at it critical since reality is as written about authenticity above something that is constructed and different for different kinds of people. What that man saw on his visit was what he would call authentic. He saw the traditional way of life of the Sami. However, the point is that he now thinks that what has been shown to him is the way how the majority of the Sami people really live. As mentioned before it is not like that and only a few of them are traditional reindeer herders. Though, the man’s expectations of an indigenous people that is wild or primitive were fulfilled. Why the indigenous people do that will be discussed later in this paper.
On the website you can also find information about two excursions to the Sami. One is called Sami Culture, the other Sami Autumn. These events are presented as visits where you can experience the everyday life of the Sami. Nevertheless, tourists are shown handicraft and reindeer herding. However, the positive aspect here is that they also talk about issues like the challenges of the reindeer herders today and how traditional procedures in the modern world work. So, the tourists have the possibility to learn about the traditional and historical way of life as well as about the matters of the Sami people today (Hurtigruten GmbH 2018a, 2018b).
Now, I want to discuss the reasons for indigenous peoples to show tourists more or less reality. One of the main aspects is that consumption determines the market. This means that the indigenous people must sell what the tourists want to see if they want to make money. Since that is difficult and degrading for the indigenous people because they sell in fact their culture, this might lead to a “gradual erosion of the cultural practices and activities of indigenous peoples as they are transformed into demonstrations, souvenirs, and experiences for the consumption of visitors” (Hinch 2004). Culture is also as described in the example of the Hurtigruten commercial often shown in a traditional context which can lead to false and romantic impressions of indigenous people that create then new stereotypes. Hinch (2004) says that Sami are expected to act traditionally because the tourists anticipate that. However, by trying to be authentic they exaggerate it and impel the expectations again. In addition to that the indigenous peoples do sometimes not show the true spiritual or rather sacred contents of their culture. This is because they want to protect it and not sell it to visitors. One example for this are the Sa people who live on Vanuatu. They have strict regulations about seeing the gol which is cultural ritual in which Sa men land dive from a height of 70 ft only hold by a rope fixed at their ankles. This intention of protection of the sacred contents of culture leads also to alternative and invented cultural offers that are “blatantly false representations of indigenous people such as the Sami in Finland, where pseudo-ceremonies have been invented to construct marketable touristic images” (Hinch 2004). However, this is understandable as the indigenous people must strike a balance between earning money with preferably authentic cultural tourism and the protection of their culture. Hence, they always must ask themselves the questions what secrets they should tell the tourists, which places should be shown and how deep the tourists are allowed to experience their culture. So, the indigenous people are in an ongoing dilemma of being attractive for tourists and their own feelings and have to find out what they are ready to sell (Kramvig 2017).