National Geographic : 1954 Aug
North with Finland's Lapps 249 Big in Heart and Hospitality Are the Little People of Lapland and a Taxi Will Take You to an Arm of the Arctic Ocean BY JEAN AND FRANC SHOR National Geographic Magazine Staff With Illustrationsfrom Photographsby the Authors TWO hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, the wind howled across the deso late fells of Finnish Lapland. It was 10 p.m., but the midnight sun burned bright above the horizon as we bent low to enter a reindeer-skin tent. A Lapp fisherman sat cross-legged behind a blazing fire in the center of the smoke filled tepee, studying a pile of metallic ob jects laid out on a reindeer skin. He was a very little man, with a dark, pointed face, wearing a gaily colored cloth tunic, breeches of worn leather, and tiny fur-covered shoes with curling pointed toes. Jean and I looked about us with satisfac tion. This was what had brought us north a strange and primitive people living in the ways of their ancestors and stoutly resisting the inroads of civilization.* The tent and its surroundings and the cos tume of our host exceeded our highest hopes. Here was something really remote. But what about that pile of metal? We knew that ancient Lapp superstition had endowed certain metals with supernatural properties. Could this busy little man be a shaman, preparing a charm? Looking up, he spoke to our Finnish companion. "He says it's no good," our friend trans lated. "He's had to repair it four times this month. It's the carburetor for his new out board motor." Machine Age Invades Reindeer Land Lapland is like that. Here herds of rein deer roam watersheds that feed modern hydro electric projects, and gleaming amphibian planes disturb wilderness lakes accustomed only to Lapp canoes. The region called Lapland sprawls across the boundaries of four countries-Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia-as shown on the 10-color map, "Northern Europe," which supplements this issue.t There are about 34,000 Lapps in the world today. Almost two-thirds live in Norway, nearly a fourth in Sweden. A scattered few are still in Russia. But the most interesting, because they have had less contact with mod ern ways, are the 2,500 who inhabit Finnish Lapland. They live much as their fathers lived, close to nature. Most are reindeer herdsmen and fishermen. And, as Jean and I found in a summer spent in their tents and cabins and in their long, narrow river boats, they are a warmhearted, friendly people. "Contrary to a popular illusion," says a report of the Finnish State Commission on Lapp Affairs, "the Lapps are not a disappear ing remnant of a dying race.... There are more Lapps now than ever before, and their number will probably increase." Lapland Warmed by Gulf Stream Shaped like a giant mitten with the Arctic Circle for a drawstring, Finnish Lapland covers 38,300 square miles, almost a third of all Fin land (page 251). With a population of only 170,000, it is the fastest growing area of the country. It is rolling and rocky, its thin soil covered with reindeer moss and scanty forests of pine and birch. Two-thirds of its area lies within the Arctic Circle. But an offshoot of the Gulf Stream System, known as the Norwegian Current, brings a warmth that makes Lapland one of the few places in the Arctic where rye, barley, and potatoes grow. Jean and I came by plane to Rovaniemi, "capital" of Lapland, a city of 15,000. With us on the 430-mile flight north from Helsinki rode Prof. Dr. Paul Soisalo, head of Finland's largest hospital, whose passion for fishing has taken him to Lapland so many times that he has become an expert on the territory. With a generosity we were to find characteristic of * See "The Nomads of Arctic Lapland," by Clyde Fisher, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, November, 1939. t For articles on the Arctic regions, see the 2-vol ume NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE Cumulative Index, 1899-1953.