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Sami literature: everyday life making its appearance

Paul S. Amundsen

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What traces have the history of the Sami as an oppressed minority left in their literature? And what directions will this young literary movement take now?

Sami writings – and everyday life – will be high on the agenda when the second Bergen International Literary Festival opens on 6 February, which is the Sami National Day.

One of the top personalities at the next LitFestBergen is 29-year-old Niillas Holmberg, who describes himself as coming from “Finnish occupied Sámpi [Land of the Sami]”. Despite his youth, a meteoric career has already brought him prizes and translation of his works into several languages. He is not only a poet, actor and musician, but also strongly engaged in the fight to secure justice for indigenous peoples.

"My poetry and other literary works have direct political thematics and motifs", says Holmberg. "I express phenomena that remain silenced in the structures of mainstream society and decision making, mostly issues regarding Sámi struggle and ecology."

The Kautokeino uprising

Norwegian-Sami Risten Sokki, who has written poetry, short stories and children’s books, will also be present in Bergen next February. Her debut collection, Bonán bonán soga suonaid, was nominated for the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize in 1998. Its subjects include her great-grandfather, Aslak Jacobsen Hætta, a leader of the 1852 Kautokeino rebellion in northern Norway. Sokki’s most recent short-story collection, Geadgeloddi, is currently being translated by Laila Stien from Northern Sami to Norwegian. One of Norway’s leading short-story writers, Stien will also be at LitFestBergen. Sigbjørn Skåden, who writes in both Sami and Norwegian, is another person the festival is particularly pleased to be able to present today.

The Sami as exhibits

It is not long since the Sami were regarded as mere exhibits. But does the unilateral view of this as a repressive practice accord with how the nomadic Sami experienced it? Researcher and author Cathrine Baglo has won much attention with her book on the Sami as exhibits, and will be giving a presentation based on this study at LitFestBergen.

The government-appointed truth and reconciliation commission for the Sami and Kvens (north Norwegians of Finnish descent) has started its work. But what is actually needed to restore trust between peoples after several centuries of conflict and repression? And what role can literature play in such a process? Harald Gaski, professor of Sami culture and literature at the Sami University College in Kautokeino, will be addressing such issues at LitFestBergen. His participation includes a meeting with South African literature professor Njabulo Ndebele for a conversation on the roles of literature and law in the work of reconciliation.

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