Stunning Lifestyle Photos of the Sami People Living at the Top of the World

Nikola Budanovic
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Across the northernmost tip of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and northwestern Russia live a people who for thousands of years have survived on reindeer herding, hunting and fishing, while living in relative isolation from their neighbors and avoiding assimilation.

Evidence indicates that the Sámi People are indigenous to the region, as they have been present in the Fennoscandian area since the Stone Age.

Their language belongs to the Uralic group and is related to the history of Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian languages. Their culture, on the other hand, is completely autochtonous, as they have forever lived on the margins of countries which they inhabit.

A Sea Sámi man from Norway by Prince Roland Bonaparte, 1884


Three Sámi women


‘Finnegut from Vadsoe’


A Laplander family and sledge dog outside their summer home. Photo by Nasjonalbiblioteket CC BY 2.0


Lappegutt og Isbjørn (Sámi boy and ice-bear). Photo is very likely from inner Finnmark, Norway c. 1929. Public postcard. Photo by Øien Kunstforlag, Tromsø – Øien Kunstforlag Postkort CC BY-SA 3.0


This is a public photo postcard published in 1939. Sami man: Ole Hætta. Photo by G. Hagens Forlag, Hammerfest Norway CC BY 2.0


Laplanders Milking the Reindeer, Norway

Throughout history, a large portion of the Sámi population which inhabited the northern coast of Norway, known as Sea Sámi, mostly relied on fishing as their main source of food and income.

Due to their specific geographic position and resilience to Arctic cold weather, they enjoyed a fruitful period during the Middle Ages, when the bubonic plague epidemic hit Norway in 1349. Due to the high mortality rate among Norwegians caused by the epidemic, Sámi fishermen were relieved of taxes and were provided with economic incentives, for they had become an important food provider for the Kingdom.

The Mountain Sámi, on the other hand, were traditionally involved in reindeer herding and hunting, often leading a nomadic lifestyle synchronized with reindeer migrations.

In the 19th century, a significant number of Sámi accepted the Christian Lutheran religion, therefore denouncing their traditional polytheistic and animist beliefs.

A photo of the Sámi man Mikel Mikelsen Hetta from Kautokeino, Norway


Girl and goat at a Sámi camp by lake Satisjaure (Satihaure) in Lapland


Sámi woman with white reindeer. Photo by Anthony Randell CC BY 2.0

Although they were long known as Laplanders or Lapps, the term has been abandoned in more recent times, as it is considered pejorative and offensive by today’s standards.

A history of discrimination which followed the Sámi throughout their history ― and across the lands they inhabit ― has left a standing mark. Laws prohibiting their language were enforced across Scandinavia and assimilation was conducted on several occasions, most notably in Norway.

The practice of Norweginization was in some cases applied even to the 1950s, depriving Sámi people of education, use of their own language and other forms of discrimination.

A Sámi family in Norway around 1900


Nordic Sámi people, Lavvu, c. 1900


A Sea Sámi man from Norway by Prince Roland Bonaparte, 1884


Mountain Sámi. Lyngen, Troms, Norway, 1929. Photo by T. Høegh CC BY SA 3.0

Nowadays, the small ethnic group that numbers around 80,000 who still identify themselves as Sámi struggles to keep their customs, their language and culture alive. Reportedly some 10 percent of them are still involved in traditional reindeer herding.

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Nevertheless, one can still see Sámi communities in the northernmost tips of Europe, dressed in traditional fur clothes and practicing an ancient way of life, which proudly resists modern influence.