Matti Musta and his wife at Lusmaniemi in Junnas in 1925. Samuli Paulaharju. Museovirasto.




The storytelling tradition is similar for all Sámi peoples. The framework for the story is often the same but the milieu and other details lend local flavor. Thus the old tales of origin and belief are more or less the same in different parts of the Sámi region.

Among the fairy tales told are animal fables, accounts of miracles, tall tales and stories making fun. Mostly they are borrowed from elsewhere, as most fairy tales are. In the anthology "Inarinlappalaista kansantietoutta" (Inari Sámi Folklore) published in 1917 there is an abundance of stories. Their subject matter and things dealt with are mostly foreign to the people of Inari; kings, noble deer, horses, logging work and acorns. The animal fables appear to be imported because reindeer or other deer do not appear in the stories much at all. The stories have nevertheless a lot of local color and events are dealt with from the Sámi point of view, e.g. Menes-Antti’s adventures in France.

Among the tales concerning belief the most common are stories of staalo, nature spirits, treasure guardians, sacred sites, as well as ghost stories, stories of premonitions and doppelgangers.

Admonitory Stories
are ways of emphasizing what happens when you do the wrong thing.

Tales about persons and history
are more connected with place and particular times.

tell of a particular person’s experiences. They include elements of tales of folk belief and many details which do not necessarily take the story forward. The purpose of detailed narratives is an attempt to prove some event to be true, but it also becomes apparent that the event described is fresh. The persons, time and place, as well as what happened, are described meticulously.

If the story teller forgot the plot of a story or did not want to tell it, he could contract it into a sentence or a mere comment. Children could be warned: If you go to the shore, vuáŋŋáš will pull you under. Or if a child was naked, he/she could be told: Piettemesčáhálig! Čáhálig was a tiny, naked treasure guardian-sprite.

In Inari Sámi there were no terms for fairy tales, tales or narratives, just maainâs and the verb mainâstiđ. There was also the word muštâlus, which means a narrative, a memoir. Muštâlus, a narrative and often even a tale is told as if it were fact, a fairy tale as fiction.

Various Examples of Storytelling

The plot of the fictitious fairy tale, according to the book ”Inarinlappalaista kansantietoutta” (1886) (Inari Sámi Folklore), tells about Menes-Antti’s travels in the world and his going to France. In Paris he went in shabby clothing to a building where there was a party. They tried to drive him away at first, but he later heard a man agree with the daughter of a king that they would go to bed together. But Menes-Antti could speak French. By pretending to be the suitor, he got to where the girl was on the fourth floor. However Antti was found out in bed when he had to vigorously scratch himself because of lice. The king’s daughter gave Menes-Antti three thousand gold talers before she got him to leave. The king’s daughter evidently became pregnant…

Stáálu is a big, strong, ugly and lonely creature who challenges a person to wrestle. If the human wins he has to kill Stáálu with his own knife. Stáálu offers his own knife, but is not killed by it, rather he gains in strength. Stáálu’s dog, which could become invisible, also had to be killed, otherwise it would lick Stáálu’s wounds, wake him to life to become even stronger. The person gets Stáálu’s money and gold for himself.

Kufittâr or kuhvittâr is a benevolent creature. It lives underground, but could sometimes become visible to people unless for some reason it wanted to move about invisibly. Kuhvittârs are beautiful, rich and well-dressed. Even their reindeer are exceptionally colored. In tales about kuhvittârs people usually see a large herd of strange reindeer that do not leave tracks in the snow. But if someone throws a knife or some piece of iron over the reindeer, he gets all of the reindeer which were between the place where the object fell and the person. Some people have actually gotten rich this way.

The sieidi was a god or at least the dwelling place of a spirit. The tale of the sieidi of Iijärvi Lake is well-known. A woman and her daughter once went to tell the sieidi that they would no longer give sacrifices to it. When she stepped into the boat, the girl’s foot got so stuck on the shore that she had to shout for the sieidi for help and promised to continue to offer sacrifices: “Don’t take my unworthy, smelly leg,  take the ram’s neck!”. Then her leg was released and they had to continue offering sacrifices to the sieidi.

An ovdâsâš or a “false arrival”, or premonition, appeared some time before the person actually arrived. Some people’s premonitions came a day beforehand. This was the way it happened at least for Jouni Kaapi. It was so accurate, that the housewife would make coffee a day after the appearance of the premonition. A premonition accurately resembled actual people. Akun Jouni who lived at Paksumaa had a premonition that several people saw simultaneously. These cases were numerous and one was such that Jouni saw and spoke to his premonition at the same time. One wonders if the premonition was late, or if Jouni was too early.

A typical tale about foes is one in which these assailants, or čuđeh, come to destroy the houses, kill and plunder the Sámis. The Sámi hero Lavrukâš destroyed them with his resourcefulness. In one tale, the foes paid Lavrukâš for guiding them at Lake Inari. He tricked them onto an island to eat cloudberries. When the enemies had gone far enough away, Lavrukâš pushed all the boats into the water and left them on the island. After two weeks, the foes had died of hunger despite having eaten the bark from a hundred pine trees. The name of the island is Satapetäjäsaari (Hundred PettuTrees Island – the kind of trees one takes the bark from for eating). Lavrukâš was the McGyver of his own time.

An example of a historical tale is the tale of Sigga. Sigga was a girl who had two suitors. When she was not able to choose between them, the suitors went to the opposite sides of a narrow strait and shot arrows at each other. Both boys died. The channel got the name Sigá čiärrumčuálmi  Sigga’s Weeping Strait. The story has two ends, as if to allow one to choose. In one version, when Sigga buried them she said to herself, “Since you didn’t reject either of them, now you have them both.” The other ending is where Sigga moves to live at Karlebotnwhere she married and lived her life there. On the southern side of Isoonvuono there are localities called Sigákieddi (Sigga’s Field) and Sigákuolbâ (Sigga’s Moor).

The most common of tales are of course tales about persons. The juiciest stories deal with persons who are, due to their characters, ways and actions, special. In telling them, however, there is due cause to take into consideration the sensitive nature of these tales. One must know the background to the stories, as the persons of whom one is telling are often still alive or at least their relatives are. One must know in what context and to whom one is telling the story. One cannot always tell about such an event, for example, in which a shaman is trying to cure a mentally deranged person.

Sometimes it is possible to tell, however, about a reindeer thief if the added aspect of a rascal-hero who deceives the Finnish police. An example of this is in the narratives about Menes-Jussa. In one, Jussa gets away by getting the chief of police and his policemen lost in a depression by reindeer digging for lichen. In another, Jussa escapes his jailor by digging into the hay in the barn where they are spending the night. In a third one, Jussa escapes a wooden jail in Kittilä by pretending to have leg trouble.

Matti Morottaja

Photo: Martti Rikkonen
Illustration from Aune Kuuva’s book “Riävskánieidâ” (Willow Grouse Girl).






Matti Morottajan kotialbumi

›› Kuobžâ-Saammâl (Sammeli Morottaja) narrates: Jaakon Yrjö
From YLE Sámi Radio’s series “Someone I’ll Never Forget”(.mp3 900kb)






Compilation of Inari Lappish folklore published in 1917.




Photo: Voitto Viinanen
Nitsijärvi seita.




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