Posti-Matti, Matti Aikio, Pekan Mikko, Mikko Paltto sekä Elli-Katri Paltto. Siida Anni Sarren arkisto.



The first historical record of reindeer husbandry in Scandinavia is from 870 A.D. when the Norwegian peasant chief Ottar, who was a wealthy merchant from Hålogaland in northern Norway; he owned 600 reindeer. His ownership of the reindeer was perhaps not actual and the real owners of his reindeer seem to have been the Sámis in his area of tax jurisdiction. Reindeer husbandry was certainly, however, practiced in an earlier time. How much earlier, we do not know, but e.g. Chinese sources tell that reindeer were milked in the Baikal region already 500 A.D. According to T. I. Itkonen, there had to be a long period of development before reindeer husbandry, as milk production belongs to one of the early achievements of the occupation.

According to Norwegian sources the Inari Sámi were obliged to transport Birkarlians to the Arctic Ocean. The Sámi had to have lead and drawing reindeer bulls for this. The first written mention of the Birkarlians is from 1328 when the powers of the kingdom wanted to have the northern regions divided up and added to their spheres of advantage. The Birkarlians were not pleased with this decision, protested and won. Therefore King Eric XII confirmed the privileges of the Birkarlians in 1358 by which they had undisputed control over the trading regions of the north. The Birkarlians shared these areas between themselves and the privilege of taxation was passed on from father to son. The vastness of these taxation districts can be seen as “Lappmarker” on maps. The easternmost district was nearly the size of the Province of Lapland and included e.g. the whole of the Inari region and half of Varanger Fjord. The Birkarlians’ taxation privileges lasted until1554 when Gustaf Wasa had rights of taxation transferred to the crown. Trade in Lapland remained the right of the Birkarlians. Practically speaking, the situation did not change at all since the privileges of tax collection were transferred to Lapland bailiffs who were the progeny of Birkarlians and they became the officials of the crown. The collected taxes in Inari until the Inari Sámis became subjects of the Principality of Finland in 1809. Evidently, the Inari Sámis escorted the King’s bailiffs to the Ocean during the whole era from the 1300s to the 1800s.

Inari Sámi Reindeer Husbandry

It is not exactly known when reindeer husbandry in Inari began but it evidently happened before the first mention of Birkarlians. At number of reindeer were probably rather small because the main source of livelihood was fishing and meat was obtained primarily from deer and other forest creatures. Reindeer were used only as beasts of burden and deer as bait in hunting. Some scattered information about the numbers of reindeer is in existence. For example, one Inari Sámi kept five reindeer bound up and shifted them every day in the winter of 1724. In 1750 there were 62 reindeer herders who owned 500 reindeer between them. In 1805 there were 64 families in Inari of which only 30 had reindeer. The number of reindeer had grown to 1700 which meant that there were between 15 – 20 reindeer per owner. In 1867 the number of reindeer to each Inari family was 20 – 60; even up to a hundred head.

In the old days the year of the Inari Sámi began during the last week of August, the “first week”, which belonged to a ten week long period, each week a “name-week”. During that time, it was time to go out and find lead and pulling reindeer, as well as peski-coat skins. The lead reindeer period ended by the end of the 1960s at the arrival of the snowmobile and thus a century old tradition was ended. Due to the technolization of reindeer management many other aspects of reindeer husbandry were relegated to history. The latest advances of technology are being used in modern reindeer husbandry like the computer, mobile telephones, GPS-devices, helicopters, airplanes, trail motorcycles, four-wheelers, snowmobiles and cars.

The peski or coat made from a reindeer pelt is still used, although it is starting to become a rarity in Inari Sámi and even North Sámi circles. In the case that it is deemed necessary to acquire a peski-coat, the old way of making it must be practiced: going out with gun over shoulder in the beginning of the old reindeer year (at the end of August) into the forest to find suitable calf pelts.

The Year of the Reindeer Begins

Nowadays the year of the reindeer is considered to begin with the birth of the calf or in May, which is named in honor of the calf. Some reindeer herders put female reindeer into corrals built temporarily for calving where calves are marked when they are born. Some herders have so-called marking corrals nearby the calving corrals to which calves are led with the females until the calving period ends and the calves are marked. Some reindeer herders are confident that they will find their calves during the coming separations where they then mark them. In the old days, the Inari reindeer herder bound the female halfway through April when the calves were born they were marked and then set free. Some Inari Sámis marked their calf in summer in June and July when the reindeer herders’ “hired hands”, or mosquitoes, gathered the deer in bog openings and on the fells.

In the last week of September, which is the fifth name-week, “Michael’s Week”, the rutting season of the reindeer begins. The strongest bulls gather varied sized female deer harems and herd them jealously during the whole rutting period. This season lasts about six weeks and end on the last name-week, “All Saints’ Week”. Lasting snow comes during this time to the Inari region and the reindeer separations begin. And though the days get shorter and the sun disappears for the two month long “kaamos” (dark season) break, the workday of the reindeer herder just gets longer. The most intensive period of the separations happen around Christmas and nowadays the attempt is made to have the slaughtering done by the arrival of Christmas.


Christmas time breaks up even the busy projects of the reindeer herder. If there are not enough reindeer separations in the autumn because of warm weather or little snow, the remainder of them are held after Christmas until the necessary functions are performed. After this the reindeer are released to their winter pastures. Each herding district has their own winter grazing lands and grazing circuit. If the separations continue long after Christmas, a bunch of reindeer herders carry their female deer straight to the corrals meant for calving. There are Inari Sámi reindeer herders nowadays in the Muddusjärvi, Näätämö, Vätsäri, Paatsjoki, Ivalo, Hammastunturi and Muotkatunturi herding cooperative districts.

At the end of a reindeer separation, the herders continue the processing of the reindeer products, like butchering, drying, smoking, canning, etc. As the reindeer year nears its end, some of the reindeer herders prepare for calving, while the others allow nature to take care of the calving and they wait for the coming winter to mark their calves.

Ilmari Mattus

Siida Reino Nikulan arkisto
Matti Sarre ear-marking reindeer at the Pahtajärvi corral of the Hammastunturi herding district.





Photo: Veikko Aitamurto
A reindeer herd being herded.





Photo: Veikko Aitamurto
Reindeer separation at the Tsiuttajoki corral in Inari.





Photo: Kirsi Ukkonen
Reindeer herder Petri Mattus marking calves.



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