Erika De Vivo

Where on Earth is Gállogieddi? Márkomeannu and the practices of decolonisation in the Markasami area

Erika De Vivo

University of Torino, Torino, Italy


Abstract: This paper aims at providing an outline of Márkomeannu, a Sami cultural festival held each July at Gállogieddi (Norland, Norway). Sami festivals are important cultural events, as they epitomize the current Sami cultural revival. After decades marked by a strong assimilation policy at the hands of nation states, the Sami are bringing back to the public dimension activities and practices which had long been relegated to the private sphere and, consequently, almost disappeared. Language has emerged as one of the most important features in Sami cultural revitalization processes. This paper aims at examining the linguistic landscape of Márkomeannu and the importance of the toponym Gállogieddi in the light of the region’s historical context. It will also explore the concept that characterized the 2018 edition of Márkomeannu. The home page of the festival reads: “It’s 2118 and the World is about to collapse”. According to this narrative, Gállogieddi was presented as the last safe place for the Sami people. This concept constituted the festival’s theme and was introduced to the public through the display of art, the use of language and the physical construction of a stage merged with the festival location. By setting Márkomeannu in a dystopian future, the organizers employed a wide range of concepts and approaches, spanning from the promotion of ecological awareness to ethno-political claims in the form of decolonisation. Based on the data collected during my fieldwork, my analysis addresses the display of material and non-material Sami cultural heritage. The analysis of Márkomeannu 2018 narratives provides a unique insight into contemporary Sami ethno-political activism and into the means employed to develop and convey a shared Sami identity. Such an analysis provides a discussion of the interplay between cultural belonging, language proficiency, the symbolic value of cultural practices and ethno-political aspirations in a North Sami context.

Keywords: Sami festival; Márkomeannu; toponymies; dystopia;

1. Introduction

Márkomeannu is a Sami festival held each summer in the Markasami area. It’s located on the border between Troms and Nordland counties in Northern Norway and it celebrates the music, customs and art of the Sami, the indigenous people of the sub-Arctic regions of Europe.

Márkomeannu is one of the numerous Sami events taking place in the region. Nevertheless, it is a unique festival in the cultural scene of Northern Norway. Its peculiarity lies in its history, its aims and its relevance in the development of local Sami identity formation. Throughout the years, Márkomeannu has grown in importance and has served an increasing number of purposes. It has had a political and an innovative function but it also fostered the formation and consolidation of a local Sami identity. It is beyond the scope of this paper to investigate all these functions in detail and hence I will limit my analysis to the political undertones of Márkomeannu 2018.

Despite its importance, and unlike other Sami Festivals held in the same region, Márkomeannu has received little scholarly attention hitherto and there is no systematic study of this festival. Berg’s Master Thesis on the food served at Márkomeannu (Berg, 2014) is the only work dedicated to this festival. In this paper, I aim to address some of the characteristics of Márkomeannu. I shall devote a brief section to the recent history of the Sami people in Norway and in the Marka. Given the nature of this paper, it will not be possible to address all the features which have characterized recent Sami history and I will limit myself to summarising only the main elements relevant to the discussion on Márkomeannu. In providing an outline of the Sami languages, their links to Sami identity and the role of the media in fostering language proficiency will be highlighted. First I shall analyse the importance of Sami festivals as arenas of creativity and pride and then the history of Márkomeannu. I will also reflect on the meanings encapsulated in the name of the festival itself. An overview of theoretical accounts of power-relations embedded in place-names follows. This analysis will enable me to contextualise the importance of language at Márkomeannu and the political value of the Sami toponym Gállogieddi in the local linguistic landscape. The last two paragraphs of this paper will be devoted to the 2018 edition of the festival by dealing with the narratives that characterized the festival concept. These sections constitute a starting point for future analysis of the significance and implications of Márkomeannu as they constitute a preliminary analysis of the deeper meanings conveyed by the festival narrative. There follows an examination of how the dialogue between the festival location and the scenography contributed to the enactment of the festival concept, with particular concentration on Sunna Kitti’s works of art and on the message they convey. Her art constitutes a powerful visual articulation of decolonising aspirations similar to those embedded in the Márkomeannu linguistic landscape.

2. Methods, Methodology and theoretical frameworks

During summer 2018, I took part in the Márkomeannu festival as a volunteer while carrying out fieldwork in Northern Norway as part of my PhD research on Sami spirituality. That experience informed me about the context and contents of the festival and led me to develop a strong interest in the local Markasami culture. The reflections presented in this paper are based on the empirical data I collected during my fieldwork. I also availed myself of primary sources issued by cultural institutions (festivals websites, museums websites and brochures), documents and interviews either available online or carried out by myself while in Norway. I also resorted to secondary sources and bibliographic materials.

In addressing Márkomeannu, I have adopted an anthropological perspective. In particular, I have availed myself of the analyses of festivals as cultural events carried out by Falassi (1987), Pedersen and Viken (2009), Picard and Robinson (2006). In order to demonstrate the importance of indigenous place-names in the contemporary Sami ethno-political struggle, I have resorted to Myrvoll’s (2017) and Helander’s (2009, 2014) works. They both have evidenced that Norwegian toponymy in Sami contexts is a form of colonisation. In particular, Helander draws on Harley’s analysis of toponomy as an act embedded in colonial practices. To demonstrate the political implications of the 2018 edition of Márkomeannu. I have also applied the conceptualisation of dystopia developed by Claisse and Delvenne (2015).

3. The Sami people and the Sami languages, a historical overview

In order to understand the cultural relevance of events like Márkomeannu, it is important to address the historical premises leading to Sami current ethno-political activism. Sami festivals epitomize the current Sami cultural revival in those northern coastal areas where local Sami communities had been profoundly affected by state-led assimilation policies.

The Sami people are a transnational community living in the northernmost regions of Europe. They refer to the territories they have traditionally inhabited with the emic noun “Sapmi”. Sapmi is as a multicultural region, divided by state borders and characterized by a complex cultural and linguistic situation. It encompasses the northernmost regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Even if this transnational region is considered to be the "Sami core area” (Bull, 1995), there are many Sami who now live outside Sapmi. Conversely, many of those who reside in Sapmi are not Sami. in the Norwegian part of Sapmi for instance, Norwegians and Kvens (a minority group whose ancestors migrated from Finland to Norway in the 1700s and 1800s) have lived side by side with the Sami for centuries, contributing to the creation of a northern, multicultural and multilingual society.

The Sami are today the only ethnic group to enjoy the status of indigenous people in Europe. They have a shared history and used to have similar cultures, sets of beliefs and social structures (Henriksen, 2008). Nevertheless, the Sami are a heterogeneous community: they speak different languages, wear different traditional costumes and are engaged in different productive and economic activities. In the past centuries, they used to be fishermen, farmers and wild-reindeer hunters. Linguistic and archeological evidence shows that, since the eleventh century a mixed hunting-herding economy has emerged and, in the last few centuries, reindeer herding has gained importance as a subsistence system among the inland Sami people (Bjørklund, 2013). Not all Sami though were involved in reindeer herding: the subsistence of the Sami living on the coastlines or close to lakes (like the Lake Inari in Finland or the Ume area in Sweden) was fish-centered (Norstedt & Östlund, 2016). The sea Sami lived on a mixed economy centered on seasonal fishing and small-scale farming (Nilsen 2003).

It is very difficult to estimate how many Sami live in and outside Sapmi: depending on the sources, the numbers tend to vary between 50,000 and 100,000 individuals. Current estimates are based on outdated censuses and are deeply flawed by the methods employed to record ethnic affiliation (Pettersen, 2011b). According to the voting registers for the Sami parliaments, the Sami are deemed to be around 80,000 or 95,000 (Henriksen, 2008). Not all the individuals who could be enrolled in the register are actually listed. Hence, these registers can provide only a partial picture of the size of the current Sami population (Pettersen, 2011b). Language proficiency cannot be considered a good criterion to estimate the number of Sami people since, due to historical reasons, only a small percentage of Sami speaks one of the various Sami languages. The loss of language proficiency among Sami people is part of a wider phenomenon of deculturisation.

Modernisation, wars and migrations are among the numerous and multifaceted historical causes which led to the gradual erosion of Sami languages and cultures. During the evacuation of Finnmark, at the end of the Second World War, Sami people had to flee from their homes, leaving everything behind. German troops employed the scorched earth tactic, destroying everything they found on their way. Families were separated, many children and elders died of diseases during the evacuation and some people never returned to their home villages once the war was over. Moreover, at least in the Norwegian case, the reconstruction led to a strong incorporation of the Sami area into the Norwegian society (Bjørklund, et al., 2002). A few years after the war, internal migrations further hindered Sami cultures: by moving from the rural areas to major urban settlements, many Sami lost contact with their families, preventing them from passing on their culture and language to their offspring. In many cases from then on, migration contributed to severing ties between individuals and their background (Evjen, 2007). Moreover, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish settlers had immigrated to Sami areas, contributing to spreading and imposing a way of living fostered by the nation states. Modernisation, through media like the radio and, later, the television contributed in weakening the position of the Sami language, at least in the public sphere.

Despite the strong and long-lasting negative consequences of the aforementioned phenomena, forced assimilation represents the strongest and most violent factor of deculturisation. During the 1800s and up to the second half of the 1900s, Sami people suffered a determined process of assimilation into mainstream society at the hands of the Nordic nation states. These assimilation policies constituted a strong pressure on Sami cultures and were the consequence of complex historical circumstances: they were motivated by nationalistic policies and influenced by theories inspired by social Darwinism and ideas of race purity (Evjen,1997). In Norway, this assimilation process lasted until the 1950s and it is known as Fornorsking. Fornorsking led to strong stigmatization of all Sami cultural expressions, from languages to clothing. Slowly, all visible features of Sami cultures became a source of shame. Norwegian education, through the boarding school system, constituted the means by which the State forced Sami children to become Norwegians (Minde, 2003). Generations of Sami were educated into rejecting their own parents’ cultural traditions, regarded as “primitive and inferior” (Nymo, 2015, p 159). Henceforth, Sami people avoided displaying their identity in front of outsiders. Many refused to pass on their own culture to their children and grandchildren, breaking the chain of cultural transmission in the attempt to prevent the younger generations from the sufferance and stigma associated with being a Sami. By the end of the 1900s, in some regions, old practices, costumes and local dialects had almost disappeared.

Recently, considerable effort has been devoted to counteracting the effects of Fornorsking. Thanks to the determination of Sami activists, scholars and artists, over the recent decades, the Sami have started to fight against the institutionalised discrimination implemented by the nation states. In the course of the last decades, and especially after the revolts against the damming of the Alta River in Finnmark in 1978, Norwegian authorities have started to change their attitude towards Sami cultures to the extent that, in 1989, Norway ratified the ILO (International Labour Organization) convention 169, recognizing the Sami as Indigenous and allocating them specific rights. As a consequence of these mobilisations, the Sami are bringing back to the public dimension activities and practices which had long been relegated to the private sphere. They have started to re-evaluate those visible elements of identity that articulated the difference between Sami and Norwegian cultures, and transformed them into symbols of ethnic pride. Language was one of the first and most important cultural features to be addressed by cultural activists and it is also one of the key issues of Sami politics (Hilder, 2015).

Sami languages, which constitute a language-continuum (Valijärvi & Wilbur, 2011), have indeed emerged as one of the key elements in Sami revitalisation processes (Seurujärvi-Kari, 2011). Because of fornorsking, many Sami currently are not proficient in their ancestors’ languages. This is especially true outside of Sapmi while, in the regions considered “Sami core areas”, a growing number of Sami children are native speakers in a Sami language. In these areas, the implementation of specific policies enabled the establishment of Sami kindergartens and Sami-speaking schools and academic institutions aiming at fostering Sami language proficiency among the local population (Szilvasi, 2016). There are Sami language pockets in Fennoscandian capitals and other large cities. The history of Sami-speaking communities in these major, mostly southern, cities can be traced back to recent migration phenomena from the rural areas to the major towns (Valijärvi & Wilbur, 2011). Pietikäinen (2008) has outlined the leading role the media are playing in preserving endangered Sami languages. Traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) make communications among indigenous peoples in their native languages easier, especially in vast, sparsely-populated areas like Sapmi. Media are also useful tools in sharing information across Sapmi and are extensively used to advertise and document events like festivals, concerts and conferences. In particular, given its multifaceted functions, Internet is becoming one of the most important media in the Sami cultural landscape. By providing tools like glossaries, grammars, texts, interactive exercises and audios, websites can encourage language (Cocq, 2013). Currently, Internet is also the most important medium in the present creation and negotiation of Sami identity. Cocq has highlighted how internet represents a virtual space where identity formation is a constant ongoing process and, according to Pietikäinen (2008), the media are assuming a growing importance in raising ethnic consciousness among young Sami. Similarly, Seurujärvi-kari (2011) has noted that the media foster a sense of unity and shared identity by enabling indigenous people to stay connected and speak their own language.

4. Sami festivals as sites of cultural pride

Cultural assimilation, stigmatization and, subsequently, a renewed interest in Sami cultural heritage constitute the historical premises that led a group of young Sami to organize the first edition of Márkomeannu. Founded in 1998, Márkomeannu was first held in 1999 in Stuornjárga, in the Marka area, between Evenes and Skåland. The Sami from the area had suffered the harsh consequences of assimilation and Sami identity had become a source of shame. Already in the 1970s and 1980s, some Sami families fought to revert this paradigm and to valorise their Sami roots by bringing the local Sami language to the schools. Growing attention was also focused on the local expressions of Sami culture. Nevertheless, throughout the 1990s, it was difficult to be publicly Sami. In the intention of the founders, Márkomeannu was supposed to be a celebration of local Sami identity in a time when being a Sami was still a forbidden topic in the Marka villages. Sigbjørn Skåden (private conversation14/2/19), one of the founders of the festival, acknowledges that, in 1998, Sami identity was still a source of stigma, associated with reindeer herding and joiking. The people from the Marka wanted to distance themselves from those cultural features they did not recognize as their own. By the end of the 1900s, both practices were no longer part of the Markasami culture and the Sami from the area did not want to be associated with these stereotypes nor with Sami identity tout court. To be accepted and supported, Markomenannu had to be a festival revolving around local and familiar features. It was to focus on farming and fishing rather than herding. No reference was made to reindeers or other “external” elements. Even the food or the sport competitions were focused solely on specific local traditions. The main purpose was to provide all the village people with a possibility to be part of a public Sami event. The older generations, who had suffered fornosking at its peak, were the more reluctant to embrace the display of their ethnic background. Hence, in the first years of activity, the festival included events aimed at involving older people by valorising their Sami identity within a context they could appreciate (Sigbjørn Skåden, private conversation, 14/2/19).

As Skåden explains (Sigbjørn Skåden, private conversation, 14/2/19), the inspiration for this festival was encouraged by the founders’ attendance at another Sami festival based on similar premises: Riddu Riđđu. The Riddu Riđđu festival was founded in 1991 inOlmmáivággi/Manndalen, Troms County. As for the Marka, the area had been deeply affected by the fornorsking and many members of the local community refused to acknowledge or accept their Sami background. Nevertheless, a group of young activists decided to bring back to the public dimension their ethnic identity and they organized the first edition of what would have later been known as Riddu Riđđu. In the years to come, this small gathering became one of the most important festivals of Norway, contributing in raising awareness concerning coastal Sami communities (Pedersen & Viken, 2009). This festival enabled the young local Sami to reflect upon their roots, the history of their village and of their Sea Sami culture as distinct from that of the Norwegian and the Sami form the inland. By celebrating it, they showed the resilience of Sea Sami culture that, despite the assimilation policies, managed to survive. Riddu Riđđu provided the young Markasami with a source of inspiration: if the Sami heritage fostered a sense of pride for the young Sami from Kåfjord and Manndalen, the same was possible in the Marka too. Despite springing from a shared need to express Sami culture, Márkomeannu and Riddu Riđđu developed in diverging directions and today differ greatly one from the other. Throughout the years, the latter has developed into an international indigenous festival while the first has highlighted its function as a celebration of local identities. Márkomeannu aims at promoting the differences within the Sami cultural landscape.

Among the various Sami festivals taking place in Troms County, Riddu Riđđu and Márkomeannu are probably the best known. Both these festivals are important musical and cultural events. Today, the former hosts Sami as well as indigenous artists from all over the world. The latter revolves mainly around Sami culture. Another important gathering in the region is the shamanic festival Isogaisa. Held in Loabák/Lavangen, this festival celebrates contemporary expressions of Sami non-Christian practices (Fonneland, 2017). Both Isogaisa and Riddu Riđđu have an international outreach, attracting visitors from all over Sapmi, Europe and beyond. Foreign performers and visitors have attended the Festivals in Olmmáivággi/Manndalen and Loabák/Lavangen for many years. Márkomeannu, on the other hand, tends to attract visitors mainly from the Norwegian part of Sapmi.

Even if these events partially differ from each other in origins and purposes, they share a similar structure. They are 4-day long events and, during the day, a series of workshops, conferences and performances takes place. A duodji (Sami handicrafts) market, workshops and conferences are also held. The evening concerts constitute the most important moment in the festivals daily routine. The vast majority of the visitors and of the volunteers are accommodated on the festival’s site, in areas designated for camping. This camping experience, combined with the music and laughs, contributes to creating a feeling of merriment and excitement among the partecipants. The activities at both Márkomeannu and Riddu Riđđu are hosted in temporary (lávvu, market stands) and semi-permanent buildings (the stage, the kitchen) as well as within some of the local museum buildings (the barn at Márkomeannu, the polyfunctional centre at Riddu Riđđu). In both cases, the relationship with the local cultural institutions represents the strong bond between the local community, or at least part of it, and the festival. Isogaisa on the other hand takes place close to a hotel and is hosted in a large, semi-permanent structure known as Oktagon. Due to the controversial role of contemporary shamanism in Sami milieu (Christensen, 2015), it has only marginal links with local cultural institution.

To outsiders, these festivals may appear as events characterized by happiness, cheerfulness, music and amusement. To the people who organize or attend them though, they are much more than just entertainment: they are the result of year-long hard work and constitute a celebration of identity, resilience and resistance. Moreover, in the first years of activity, both Riddu Riđđu (Leonenko, 2008) and Márkomeannu (Sigbjørn Skåden, private conversation 14/2/19) have met with resistance from that segment of the population which did not welcome the open expression of Sami cultural features and their association with the local community. On the other hand, resistance also arose out of fear that these festivals would spoil “local traditions” or make them available to a public of outsiders (Leonenko 2008). These festivals hence are the result of discussions, compromises and negotiations between different social actors. Nonetheless, as in the case of Riddu Riđđu and Márkomeannu, they can also enable minority groups (like the Sea or the Marka Sami) to develop a celebratory moment (Pedersen & Viken 2009) where it would be safe to expose themselves as Sami. Given the importance local history and traditions play in these events, these festivals can be regarded as heritage-related. During festivals which draw on traditions, these traditions are not simply taken for granted by they are studied, revised, adapted to the new context and brought back to practice, albeit only for the time of the festival. Hence these events constitute moments of great cultural creativity. Riddu Riđđu and Márkomeannu have also contributed to the consolidation of a modern way of being Sami among the young generations. They have ensured the transmission and the sharing of local knowledge and traditions as well as their reinventions. Nevertheless, it was only by becoming annual gatherings that these events managed to support cultural continuity (Smith et al, 2010).

5. The event in the Marka

As presented on the festival webpage (Márkomeannu access on 14/9/18) Márkomeannu is described as “a small but big festival that is important for Sápmi”. Further in the webpage, it is stated that

“The festival will promote land [Marka] Sami culture as well as art and culture from all over Sápmi. It is important to preserve and revitalize the Sami culture with its traditional values. Equally important is developing art and culture and being innovative”.

It is clear that today the organizers want Márkomeannu to be a point of contact between traditions and modernity, the past and the future. They also wish to make Márkomeannu an international meeting place for young Sami: they refer not only to the Marka but to Sapmi as a whole, highlighting how, despite the cultural distinctiveness of each Sami group, the Sami are nevertheless one people.

Since Márkomeannu targets an international Sami audience, the vehicular languages are Northern Sami, English and Norwegian. Conferences and meetings, along with signs on the festival sites are usually in Norwegian and North Sami even if materials and information in English are easily available. The core of the festival, and the key to its success, is though its local basis: many of the organizers and volunteers are originally from the Marka or have strong ties with local Sami communities. Besides, the public is mainly from the Ofoten district of which the Marka area is part. During the first editions of Márkomeannu, the festival took place in Stuornjárga, an area close to the Evenes airport. The site was convenient with regard to transports and access to facilities but soon the festival organizers felt the urge to find a more suitable location for the festival. Since 2002, the festival has been taking place on the premises of the local Sami museum, which, in turn, has been established on an ancient Sami farm. Known in Sami as Gállogieddi, the farmhouse originated from a small settlement founded in the late 1700s by a reindeer herder, Jon Nilsen, and his family (Myrnes, Olsen and Myrnes Balto 2006). Nowadays the whole farm constitutes the bulk of the Gállogieddi museum.

It is not easy to reach Gállogieddi: the farm is situated in a meadow hidden behind the woods, up on the slopes of a mountain. Given its position, it is problematic to transport goods and instruments to the farm. Access is difficult also for visitors who have to walk from the parking lot up the hill to the festival site. Moreover, no bus connects the area with the airport or the closest urban centre. Nonetheless, the location is now one of the main features of the festival and, as Sigbjørn Skåden (Sigbjørn Skåden, private conversation, 14/02/18) has pointed out, Gállogieddi was chosen as the festival site for its intrinsic value in the local Sami history. Moreover, many of those involved in the first phases of Márkomeannu had some connection with the museum, having worked there or having visited it in their school years. The open-air museum is an important cultural point of reference for the local people: its buildings and its collections provide historical evidence of a local way of being Sami. This Marka Sami identity is deeply rooted in small-scale farming and fishing (Storm, 1993) and it does not correspond to the stereotypical and homogenizing image of the Sami people as nomad reindeer herders (Mathisen, 2004).

6. In the name of resistance

Sami festivals are public celebrations of identity but also of resilience and resistance as they embody the survival and continuous transformation of a culture that, for many decades, has been object of fierce opposition and persecution. Resilience is a complex concept which has been adopted also by the Sami themselves to describe their situation. In the case under examination, these elements are embedded in the very name given to the festival: Márkomeannu is a compound noun consisting of two North Sami words: Marka, referred to the region, and Meannu. According to the official website of the festival, Meannu can be translated into Norwegian as spetakkel. Spetakkel means “noise”, “party” but also “riot”, “scene”. Meannu can also be translated as adferd, the Norwegian word for behaviour. The name itself hence emerges as programmatic: “Party (but also Riot) in the Marka”. Resistance is also conveyed through the use of toponyms. In the section “How to get to Márkomeannu” of the English festival website, the caption reads:

“Márkomeannu is arranged at Gállogieddi, in the Márkasámi area, close to the border between Nordland and Troms on the Norwegian side of Sápmi. Some events [are] taking place in the region around Gállogieddi. Gállogieddi is 5 miles from Harstad, 8 miles from Narvik, 22 miles from Kiruna and 26 miles from Tromsø. The easiest way to get there is by car. Take off from E10 1.3 km east of Evenes airport, towards Narvik. From there it's 4.5 km to the festival area. Follow the signs to Márkomeannu or Gállogieddi.”.

By contextualising this caption within the north Norwegian linguistic landscape, the use of the toponym Gállogieddi emerges as a political stance. According to Norwegian maps, the festival is held on Øvermyrnesveien, in Liland, but this street name is never mentioned on the website. The Norwegian address was consciously omitted. It is important to reflect upon why the organizers have chosen to leave visitors to find out by themselves where, according to Norwegian toponomy, Gállogieddi is located. For many of the Sami who attend the festival, there is no need to further specify where Gállogieddi is as the physical location of the museum-area is part of common, local knowledge. For the people who are not familiar with the region though, it can be a bit of a challenge to locate the festival site.

As mentioned above, Gállogieddi is the original Sami name of the farm known in Norwegian as Myrnes (Myrnes, Olsen, Myrnes Balto, 2006). The Norwegian authorities consciously substituted the original Sami toponym with a Norwegian name on maps and documents. Since the 1800s, depriving places of their original Sami toponym has been a common practice in the northern regions of Norway. Norwegian toponyms became the standard place-names on maps, road-signs and in, many cases, also in the local oral tradition. Naming emerges here as an act of power and, as such, it is deeply embedded in the Western, Judeo-Christian worldview (Ramsey ,1988). By naming, we define and exert power over the reality of the object we name. Naming is also a political act. In the Norwegian case, the practice of changing names had profound consequences on the local, the national and the international levels. The political and cultural implications of the colonial process of the erasure of local names are manifold and can be better understood by examining them as consequences of asymmetric power relations. By changing the local names from Sami to Norwegian, the state authorities tried to claim cultural ownership of Sami settlements.

7. Toponyms as expressions of power

Helander (2014, p325) highlights how important language is in forming the social world we live in. In her words, language is indeed “used to construct and shape social and political reality”. Moreover, “power relations are also institutionalized in language, at the same time as [language] functions as a means of social contact and communication”. Toponyms are not just geographical references but they are particularly powerful linguistic tools as they carry meanings, encapsulate knowledge and are embedded in relations of power. All over the world, place-names, along with maps, have emerged as powerful colonial tools. Norway is not usually associated with colonialism but the action Norwegian authorities performed against the Sami are ascribable to colonial practices. The central power, located in the south of the Country, hundreds of kilometers away, was carved in the local landscape through names. The use of Norwegian toponyms instead of Sami place-names was a slow process which started at the beginning of the 1800s, a delicate moment in the history of Norway. Authorities were trying to pursue an ideal uniformity in language and practices in the pursuit of a homogenous nation. By being culturally distinct from the majority of the population, the Sami were perceived as a hindrance to the national identity. As Marit Myrvoll points out, “eradication of Sámi place names from official maps was a part of policy of Norwegianization of Sámi landscapes” (2017, p107). Similarly, Helander (2014, p330) notes that “Naming a place anew is a widely documented act of political possession in settlement history. Equally, the taking away of a name is an act of dispossession”. By replacing Sami names with Norwegian ones, the national state authorities were able to claim the ownership of those places they had re-named. Implicitly, this process conveyed the idea that those places had no names and, hence, were terra nullius prior to the Norwegian appropriation (Helander 2014). Once Sami names were erased, Sami cultural ownership of ancient Sami dwelling places was no longer officially recognized by Norwegian communities. According to Myrvoll (2017, p108), the “inscription of Norwegian names as linguistic signs of landscape can be understood as a symbol of Norwegian occupancy”. The practice of formal toponominic substitution can be traced back to the end of the 1800s, when it had been established that Norwegian names were to be used on maps. Myrvoll (2017, p107) identifies the following variables in the Norwegian naming of Sami places between 1898 and 1905:

“Norwegian names [were to] be used, with the Sámi name added in brackets. If there was no difference between the Sámi name and the Norwegian translation, the Sámi name was not used on the map at all. If no appropriate translation of the Sámi name could be found, the Sámi name should be used without Norwegian translation, with a major exception: Sámi place names should not be included on maps if the place names were in use in both languages (Sámi and Norwegian)”.

Similarly, Helander (2009, p257) identifies three strategies employed by the Norwegian nation state with regards to Sami place names:

“(1) to replace [a Sami name] with a Norwegian name created by the authorities; (2) to choose a Norwegian name already in parallel use as a part of oral tradition; (3) to leave a place in question without any official name even though there existed a Sami name for it in local oral usage.”

In her analysis of power relations and place names in Sami contexts, Helander (2014) resorts to Harley’s locution “toponymic colonialism”. This expression indicates the colonial powers’ renaming practices according to which, localities that previously had indigenous names were given new names in the language of the settlers. Not only did the re-naming practice constitute a violent act of silencing, but it also had further implications for the transmission of Sami cultural heritage: Along with its name, the place also loses the histories, memories and meanings connected with it. By substituting the Sami original toponyms with Norwegian names, the knowledge embedded in the Sami placenames was lost. For instance, Sommerseth (2012, cited in Myrvoll, 2017) points out that “oral knowledge and narratives connected to the mountains disappeared as a result of renaming”. Sami toponyms may convey highly detailed information concerning the local environment, events or activities connected to a specific location (Conrad 2004) and sacred spaces such as sacred mountains (Myrvoll, 2017). Sami place names emerge hence as forms of “situated knowledge”, linked to space, time, and practices (Pettersen, 2011a). As indicated by Cogos, Roué, & Roturier (2017), Sami place names constitute an “oral way of mapping, built around narratives and the designation of specific landmarks” and are “forged into specific ontologies and express the indigenous ways of interacting with the landscape”. By taking these names away, preventing them from being passed on to future generations, government officials implemented what Harley (2001:99) calls “toponymic silencing”: a power strategy employed by the dominant society to erase the history and the cultural traditions of minority groups.

8. Gállogieddi: linguistic landscape and decolonisation

Given the aforementioned premises, it emerges that Gállogieddi is not just a Sami place-name with a Norwegian counterpart. The place-name Gállogieddi encapsulates a worldview and it enshrines information on the location itself: in the local Sami language, Gállogieddi refers to a great stone in a meadow. The toponym does indeed allude to a big erratic rock, which stands in what today are the fields of the farm. Hence, the name Gállogieddi comes from a natural element and constitutes an oral map in itself. The natural element, in turn, is deeply intertwined with Sami cosmology: According to the local tradition, beneath this boulder lives an ulddat, a creature from the underground. The ulddat are mythological creatures belonging to the vast Sami supernatural tradition. These are underground creatures who can be dangerous as well as kind and, to ensure their sympathy, they are to be respected. If we take into account Márkomeannu, it is apparent that the Festival organizers made a conscious choice when they decided to resort to the local Sami name Gállogieddi throughout the website and especially in the section “How to get there”. It was an act of resistance and decolonisation. The name of the location is not the only Sami element in the linguistic policy of the festival. According to the producer of Márkomeannu 2019 (M. S. private conversation. 6/2/19), the organizers try to resort to Northern Sami as often and in as many contexts as possible. This festival aims at becoming an event where Sami from the local Marka, as well as from all of Sapmi, can easily access their own language, speak it with their friends and use it with reference to both daily and special activities. This attitude makes Márkomeannu a site of “linguistic activism” (Salo. 2012). One of the consequences of assimilation policies is that many Sami have not learnt the language at home and do not speak Sami as their first language. For those who live outside the Sami core areas or who have not attended school in Sami, the festivals represent one of the very few opportunities to use Sami in an informal context. The importance of indigenous words at Márkomeannu encompasses all aspects of the festival. Even if they do not speak the language, many visitors address the Sami tends in northern Sami: lávvu. Sami attenders refer also to their own sleeping tends using the same word. The lávvu, along with the goathi, are traditional Sami dwelling places. In particular, the lávvu is a tent-like structure used during the seasonal migration. Contemporary versions of lávvus, made of modern materials, are used today as tents during festivals or exhibitions. The camping site at Márkomeannu was indeed covered with colorful lávvu of all sizes. The goathi, known in English as turf-hut, is a more stable structure, made of wood and covered with turf (Sjølie, 2013). Today, both the Lávvu and the goathi are considered part of a shared Sami cultural heritage. Goathi are often built for educational purposes on various museum premises. One goathi is also present at the Gállogieddi museum, at a short distance from the main festival area. Throughout the year, this goathi is used as a cultural space where, through storytelling, intergenerational transmission of knowledge is assured and protected (Finbog, 2015). The first Sami family who settled in the area used to live in a goathi and only later they built the wood houses that now constitute part of the Gállogieddi Museum. The ancient goathi has now disappeared due to the highly perishable materials it was made of. According to archaeological data and local knowledge, by the 1950s the Marka Sami had completely abandoned the goathi and moved into Norwegian-style houses (Finbog, 2015) like the main building on the Gállogieddi farmyard.

At Márkomeannu, Sami languages are not just spoken but they are also visually offered and used. They become part of the local “linguistic landscape” (Landry & Bourhis, 1997). When possible, buildings, signs and objects are marked in Sami along with the English or Norwegian translation. For instance, fountains are labelled čáhci/Vann (water in North Sami and in Norwegian). Interestingly, the semi-permanent building hosting the festival kitchen has been named boaššu. This word, painted on a big wooden sign, dominates the building. The use of the North Sami word boaššu is a relevant detail since, in this context, this noun works as a metaphor: it constitutes a transposition of the ancient Sami daily life into contemporary Sami cultural events. The boaššu is a delimited area within the lávvu or the goathi, opposite to the entrance and just behind the fireplace. The food was stored in the boaššu and this space used to have deep cultural and spiritual connotations since it was considered sacred and none could step onto it, women in particular. According to some accounts, it was in the boaššu that the sacred ritual drum was kept (Spangen, 2016). The boaššu was a sort of kitchen, even if the food was actually cooked on the fire. The North Sami word for kitchen though is not boaššu but kievkkan/gievkkan. By referring to the festival kitchen with the ancient word boaššu, the festival organizers have implemented a symbolic transference of the Sami traditional spatial organization to the festival area.

One further element contributes to decolonising Gállogieddi and its linguistic landscape: a signpost made of wood and positioned close to the main stage. This signpost bears the names of both the festival and the farm. Below, numerous arrows point in different directions. Each has a name of a village, town or city written on it, along with the distance from Gállogieddi in kilometers. All the placenames are in Northern Sami. The seemingly decorative and homemade signpost might go unnoticed but it works as a geographical and symbolic point of reference. It also carries a strong political stance. The waymark was erected in 2012 and it resembles a famous symbol of the nearby town of Narvik: a yellow, metal signpost indicating major localities in Norway and around the world, along with their distance from Narvik. Interestingly enough, most of the settlements indicated on the Gállogieddi sign are either very close to the farm or are small, distant localities of great cultural relevance for Sami people. Two exceptions to this pattern are Narvik and Bodø. Both are relatively big towns, situated not far from Gállogieddi and mostly inhabited by Norwegians. On the Gállogieddi waymark, they were indicated with their Sami names. This singpost represented as an act of protest and empowerment: By that time, the Sami names Áhkanjárga (ie Narvik, in Northern Sami language) and Bådåddjo (ie Bodø, in Lulesami languagr) were not yet officially recognized on maps and road signs. When this alternative waymark was erected at Gállogieddi, a fierce debate on Sami place-names raged in Northern Norway. One of the towns interested by the debate was Bodø. In writing the name in Lulesami, those who erected the waymark were expressing their political view about the issue. Similarly, they chose to include Narvik because the original signpost was the symbol of that very town. By appropriating of that symbol, they availed themselves of a colonial tool to claim back the cultural and symbolical ownership of Gállogieddi. Moreover, this waymark made Gállogieddi a symbolic centre and point of reference out of a small and, according to Norwegian standards, peripheral settlement. So politically and culturally charged was the signpost that it was chosen as the image for the poster for the 2012 edition of Márkomeannu.

This analysis of the Gállogieddi signpost leads to a reflection upon Norwegian minority-languages policy. Signposts and road signs are inscriptions in the territory, marking places and measuring distances. Road-signs in particular are expressions of authority: they symbolize the presence of the State in the landscape and constitute “a material object fixed in place, where the place-name itself meets the landscape” (Puzey, 2009, p1). The controversies revolving around the road-signs at Bådåddjo/Bodø were just one of the various episodes of a wider phenomenon. In 1990, the growth in importance and visibility of Sami cultural revival led to the introduction of the Stadnamnlova (language place name act). According to this act, in the “Sámi Language Administrative Area” Sami languages were granted a prestige equal to that of the Norwegian language. To show the “new acceptance of indigenous toponyms that were previously denied official status” (Puzey, 2009, p823), bilingual road signs replaced the old monolingual ones. The Sami languages change in status and visibility was among the primary causes of conflict within multicultural communities in northern Norway. Controversies related to multilingual road-signs resulted in acts of vandalism. In the 1990s, Sami place-names on road-sign were destroyed, painted over or used as shooting targets. This destructive practice was aimed at discouraging their installation and it constituted an act of protest against acknowledgment of local multiculturalism. Given their historical and symbolic importance, old vandalized signs are today on display in local cultural institutions like the University of Tromsø museum (Eidheim et al., 2012). One of these damaged road-signs from Kåfjord/Gáivuotna is exhibited in the nearby Manndalen/ Olmmáivággi, at the Centre of Northern People, the polyfunctional centre where the Riddu Riđđu conferences take place. Throughout the years, Sami road-signs became more and more accepted but, even as late as 2018, the proposal of adopting multilingual road-sign in Tromsø still generates harsh political debates (iTromsø 22 August 2018, access on 13/02/19). The reasons behind such strong opposition lies in the fact that, by using Sami and Kven languages along with Norwegian, the authorities openly acknowledge the presence of these indigenous and minority populations in the area, a fact that the detractors try to overshadow.

The importance of road-signs derives from in their power to show and shape a given linguistic landscape. All these signs are “textual entities” (Salo ,2012) that convey a message beyond the one conveyed by the words they carry. They symbolize the effort put into decolonising the local linguistic landscape.

Not only Northern Sami but also English is part of this decolonising strategy. Posters from past editions of the festival were hung on the rear walls of the market stands. The organizers had painted over the poster, in the street writers style, the following words: resilience, together we rise, #ČSV, #2118, #meannu2118, #Ráfi olggos (peace out). They used the posters to convey a firm political position against injustice and colonisation. Resilience emerges here as a key concept not just because they have written this word on posters but also in the use of the acronym ČSV. Even the Sami who do not master the language know the meaning of these three letters and the message they carry. ČSV stands for Čájet Sámi Vuoiŋŋa, i.e. “show Sami spirit”. The underlying idea is that, despite the oppression and marginalization endured by older Sami generations, today young Sami can and shall be proud of their cultural background. According to Stordahl (1997, p145), this acronym was developed in the 1970s as a “concept and a symbol for those who wanted to challenge the position of the oppressed as well as a label for identifying whose who actively joined and supported the Sami political movement”. From that moment on, ČSV become a symbol of the 1970s re-evaluation of Sami cultures.

Interestingly enough, many of the aforementioned words are marked with the hashtag (#), an invitation for the public to engage on the internet with the festival. The public is informed of the existence of these hashtags and asked to resort to these key words in the descriptions of pictures uploaded on social media. As Lindgren and Cocq (2017) have highlighted in their study of the use social media in broadcasting Sami indigenous discourses, these hashtags are becoming more and more popular. Besides their importance online, these words enrich the linguistic landscape of the festival and call for resilience and resistance. As Cenoz & Gorter (2006) have noted, linguistic landscapes reflect the power relations between different groups sharing a specific sociolinguistic context. At the same time, “the linguistic landscape contributes to the construction of the sociolinguistic context because people process the visual information that comes to them, and the language in which signs are written can certainly influence their perception of the status of the different languages and even affect their own linguistic behavior” (Cenoz & Gorter 2006: 67). By acting over the linguistic landscape, the aim is to bestow Sami language with the same dignity enjoyed by the Norwegian language as well as to bring back local toponymies and the knowledge they enshrine.

9. Narratives of resistance and resilience

As already pointed out, the emphasis of Márkomeannu on Markasami traditions helps to strengthen local Sami cultural expressions and challenges the normative view, which presents reindeers as iconic elements of Sami culture (Mathisen, 2004). Nevertheless, today reindeers are not excluded tout court from the festival, as they constitute an important identity marker for many Sami. Reindeers appear in two out of ten drawings displayed at the festival. Many Sami wear handmade reindeer-leather shoes and artisans sell duodji made of reindeer horn, bones, skin and leather. Reindeer skins are also used in lávvu as “mattresses”. It is possible to buy reindeer meat at the market and the festival menu comprises a variety of dishes prepared with reindeer meat and blood.

The strong link between past, present and future, along with concerns over possible violations of indigenous rights, was also part of the 2018 Márkomeannu festival. The concept of the 2018 edition revolved around the idea that the festival was taking place in the future, in a time when war and nuclear disaster had reduced the Earth to a post-apocalyptic and polluted desert. In this scenario, the Sami were facing massive violence at the hands of the dark powers who ruled the world. The organizers resorted to various narrative devices to introduce this story to the public. For instance, the caption of the home page of the 2018 edition of Márkomeannu reads:

“100 years have passed, and the earth is caught in unavoidable darkness. The year is 2118 and the World is about to collapse in power struggle, nuclear war, colonization and environmental crises. The indigenous peoples have found a way to create their own sanctuaries hidden from the dark colonial power led by the power-hungry world chancellor Ola Tjudi. The Sami peoples’ sanctuary is at Gállogieddi, where they are trying to build a new world for themselves”. (Márkomeannu access 14/9/18)

The powerful images presented by the festival-plot and encapsulated in the aforementioned captions, constitute a narrative scenario that had been reproduced on the festival premises through the display of art, the use of language and the physical construction of a stage merged with the festival location. The festival-plot presented the audience with a challenging experience: the gloomy tones conveyed by the caption clash with the convivial and joyful festival atmosphere that had characterized Márkomeannu thitherto. This text introduced the visitors to a dimension where past, present and future merge at Gállogieddi. In these few lines the fear of an uncertain future is conveyed through a post-apocalyptic scenario where the horror of a nuclear conflict is combined with anxiety about human rights violations and ecological disasters. The second half of the caption, though, revolves around hope and confidence in a better future for the Sami once they are able to live according to their values and away from interfering powers.

The organizers employed a wide range of concepts and approaches, spanning from the promotion of ecological awareness to ethno-political claims in the form of decolonisation. Moreover, here the connection between colonization and catastrophes like climate change is apparent. By setting the festival in the future, the aim was to denounce contemporary issues by exaggerating them and by providing the audience with a catastrophic, possible yet unlikely, outcome of contemporary policies. A dystopia is indeed the “depiction of a dark future based on the systematic amplification of current trends and features” (Claisse & Delvenne, 2015). In this case, the narrative technique made visible the dramatic consequences of violence, assimilation and asymmetry in power relations. Nevertheless, as Claisse and Delvenne (2015: , p 6) have highlighted, dystopias have a strong political stance since, by “anticipat[ing] the future, [they] eventually empower political communities to engage in further action”. Indeed, the concluding sentence of the festival concept is charged with hope as it both offers the future Sami an alternative in Gállogieddi and suggests what can be done now to prevent this catastrophic prediction from being fullfilled.

The political overtones have always been relevant at Márkomeannu. For instance, the 2017 edition was focused on the celebrations for the jubilee marking the centenary of the Tråante (Trondheim) meeting, an event of the uttermost importance in contemporary Sami history. Nevertheless, by setting Márkomeannu in a dystopian future, the organizers not only have focused on the past and the present but they also have had the opportunity to suggest potential consequences of the current geopolitical turmoil, threats to democracy and emphasizing the catastrophic impact of climate change. As stated on the festival website the aim was to create a

“fictitious reality that forces us to see our own time in another light by giving us the opportunity to create a society from scratch. The audience should be challenged to see their unconscious thought patterns and given truths in another light. The world we create becomes a mixture of a utopia and dystopia.” (Márkomeannu, access on the 18/02/19)

The scenography did not have a mere decorative function but was meant to force the visitors to face what might happen if we do not treasure and protect nature, peace and democracy. As in a make-believe play or on a stage, not only did the setting challenge the visitors but it also guided them through the festival plot, enhancing the feeling of being in a place removed from the present. For security reasons, the festival area was demarcated by fences. This physical barrier had a practical function (preventing people without a ticket from entering the festival area) but it also had a symbolic meaning as it creates the perception of the festival as a place out of space and time.

With reference to the temporal dimension within the festival area, according to the festival concept, members of different Sami communities from the late 1800s had managed to join the Sami living in 2118. The festival website describes this connection as follows:

“The combination of new quantum technology and the rediscovery of the ancient Sami belief have enabled society to return pioneers from ancient times. Over the years, much of the Sami tradition and wisdom have disappeared in the struggle to survive as people. The pioneers are retrieved from the Saivo to assist in the creation of a peaceful, well-organized society”. (Márkomeannu, access on 18/02/2019)

This paragraph is full of references to the “non-Christian Sami worldview” (Kaikkonen, 2018) which becomes a repository of inspiration and part of the festival’s narrative frame. By means of this caption, the Sami past and the Sami belief system are integrated into the Márkomeannu 2018 concept: the Saivo is the Sami non-Christian Land of the Dead or World of the Spirits. Three Sami “pioneers” are transported from the Saivo/Otherworld to the present 2118, thanks to the ancient Sami knowledge, along with hyper-modern technology. This encounter represents a “dialogical narrative between descendants and ancestors” (Whyte, 2018) albeit in a festival context. The three Sami who reached Gállogieddi from the Saivo are Elsa Laula Renberg (1877-1931), Anders Larsen (1870-1949) and Jaako Sverloff (1900s). They all are prominent figures in recent Sami history and they all contributed, albeit in different ways, to the promotion and the protection of Sami values and rights. In the intention of the organizers, they incarnated a political legacy contemporary Sami should honour and embrace since “each of the pioneers represents a social challenge and a possible solution to it. They should play the role of inspirers and mentors” (Márkomeannu, access on 18/02/19, my translation). Impersonated by three actors, the three pioneers brought the past to the future during a performance which took place on the opening day of the festival. It is not by chance that this temporal link was established at Gállogieddi. Just behind the boulder, the organizers had set some crystals to form a circle. It was in that specific location that the different points in time were presented as coming into contact. Gállogieddi emerges hence as a cultural place which epitomizes the past local Sami culture, embodied by the farm as well as by the Sami non-Christian religion and folklore, evoked by the gieddi (boulder) were the ulddat are believed to live. The crystals disposed in a circle might have been inspired by the New Age movement but they can also constitute a further reference to Sami non-Christian traditions: Turi (1910, in Ligi, 2016) recounts that special crystals were among the objects given as offerings to the seidi sacrificial rock. According to Ligi (2016), these special stones were most likely quartz.

On the dedicated webpage, it is explained that “The sanctuary Gállogieddi is to be a safe society that is protected from dangers” (Márkomeannu, access on 18/02/19, my translation). Gállogieddi is hence portrayed as the last safe place for the Sami people. This idea of seclusion perfectly fits the location and is enacted by the scenography: At the very entrance of Márkomeannu, those willing to attend the festival had to walk through a short tunnel where stereo speakers played strange sounds. To reach the other side of the passageway, people had to elbow their way through layers of plastic voiles and small wood branches. By going through this short tunnel, the festival attenders were supposed to physically enter the symbolically and materially delimited space of Márkomeannu. The same sounds audible in the tunnel were reproduced all day long throughout the festival areas. Speakers constantly repeated the piercing sound and the chirping of birds audible at the end of the tunnel, along with words uttered in North Sami. This soundscape contributed to the creation of a surreal atmosphere. Sounds were a constant reminder of the fact that, by stepping into Márkomeannu, visitors were removed from the present and were thrown into 2118. Márkomeannu is both removed from space and time, and it embodies/epitomizes the idea of festivals as “time out of time” (Falassi, 1987). The scenographer did not resort solely to the sonic dimension or the construction of a scenography to enact the narration of the concept: the post-apocalyptic scenario was made more vivid through the display of large, printed canvases reproducing works of art inspired by the festival concept.

10. Drawing the Future

In the festival area, reproductions of ten works of art were hanging on walls, lávvu and fences. As for the stage, these canvases did not have simply an ornamental function. They enabled the visitors to visualise the narrative of the festival, making it evident and tangible. The ten pieces of art displayed at the festival had been created by Sunna Kitti, a Sami artist from the Finnish side of Sapmi. Sunna Kitti accepted to work on this project because she regarded the concept as particularly interesting and in line with her concerns on environment and democracy (Sunna Kitti, private conversation 7/2/19). For the exposition at Márkomeannu, Sunna Kitti produced a series of ten digital images depicting apocalyptic scenes. Reproduced on big canvas, the drawings were displayed in strategical points on the Márkomeannu site. These digital paintings can be divided in three thematic groups: the first group deals with the bitter oppression Sami people are suffering at the hands of the tyrant; the second group hinges on the difficult escape from cruelty and persecution; and the third set of illustrations revolves around what is going on in the Sami sanctuary, highlighting the Sami ability to thrive in nature and resist the centralised power of the dictator.

Sunna Kitti had to create ten drawing powerful enough to convey both misery and hope. She also had to make sure that Sami identity was at the core of her paintings. In order to do so, she included Sami identity markers in all her drawings. Even if she regards language as one of the most important elements of her Sami identity, she was aware she could have not resorted to language to convey Sami identity in her visual art. She also acknowledges that, especially in a Sami context, it would be neither possible nor fair to reduce identity to language. Identity, in her view, is linked to participation in a given culture and support towards that very culture. Using duodji and wearing handmade Sami clothes is a conscious choice as it enables the display of personal identity but it also supports fellow Sami producers (Suna Kitti, private conversation 7/12/19). Cultural affiliation can be expressed by wearing a full gákti or through some specific details like scarfs and shoes or earrings and necklaces. Today, these items are designed by Sami artists and inspired by Sami cultural elements. They are easily identifiable cultural markers and, unlike language, they are particularly suitable to convey identities in visual representations such as the ten drawings being discussed here. Nevertheless, only those who know the meaning of those objects will be able to understand their cultural implications. For these reasons, in all ten illustrations the Sami characters were wearing a gákti or other elements of the Sami costume. In particular, the gákti, the shoes and other pieces of clothing, along with reindeers, instantaneously make apparent to the public the ethnic identity of the people depicted in the drawings. Reindeer are represented in two scenes: “forced slaughter” and “all is fine again”. These two antithetical drawings are centered on the reindeer as an iconic animal in Sami traditions. The author herself comes from a family of reindeer herders and associates her own identity with reindeer herding. Nevertheless, she acknowledges that the reindeer cannot be taken as a symbol suitable for all Sami cultures as this would constitute an act of cultural essentialisation. For instance, the Sami communities of the Marka villages have long ceased to own reindeers and, for two hundred years, have lived as settled farmers engaged in seasonal fishing. These economic activities are reflected in the museum collections at Gállogieddi: in the barn where “forced slaughter” was hung, the owners of the farm used to keep cows, sheep and a horse. These, and not reindeers, were the animals kept by the local Markasami. The second floor of the same building hosts other paintings: an old boat used for fishing in the nearby ocean dominates the wide room where the drawings are displayed. Among them, close to a fishing net and on the top of the boat, stands the picture of a Sami seal hunter. Sunna Kitti produced this drawing to show the different subsistence strategies the Sami have long employed and to demonstrate that there is no univocal Sami livelihood. These drawings then force the viewer to reflect upon Sami identity and its different manifestations, with particular reference to the Sea Sami and the Marka Sami communities. In her art, Sunna Kitti has also conveyed hope: happiness and joy are still possible for the Sami of the future if they are let to lead their lives autonomously, in their own land, according to their traditional lifestyle and away from the colonising power embodied by the tyrant or, in these visual representations, by robots and masked chasers.

In these drawings, landscapes play as important a role as the costumes in these drawings. For those who are familiar with the local region, it is easy to recognize some natural elements (the specific shape of the hills and mountains) or human constructions (the Arctic cathedral) which anchor the situations described in the pictures to specific locations. The drawings exposed on the festival site reproduce the very surroundings of the festival. By resorting to those elements, Sunna Kitti manages to link her paintings, and the story behind them, to the local area, in line with the festival concept. The strength of these drawings lies in the fact that, once removed from the festival areas, the stories they tell would still be inextricably tied to the Márkomeannu region and, implicitly, to the 2018 edition of the festival.

11. Conclusions

The primary focus of this contribution has been the Sami festival Márkomeannu. I have decided to devote my attention to the analysis of this festival because these events are “moments of visibility and concentrated celebrations of identity” (Picard & Robinson, 2006, p2). They also represent social loci where traditional culture is renewed, rethought, reframed and constantly reassessed. They constitute an opportunity for creativity and cultural experimentation. In particular, the heritage-related festivals emerge as modern phenomena and, according to Picard and Robinson (2006:2), they have been “created as a response to a myriad of social, political, demographic and economic realities”. Pedersen and Viken have described Riddu Riđđu (2009, p 185) as a heritage-related and “hypermodern play with traditions”, where these traditions are reinvented in the attempt to “interpret the past and create roots”. As emerges from the discussion presented in this paper, such an analysis can also be applied to Márkomeannu. This festival was indeed created to foster and valorise the local culture of the Sami from the Marka. Hence, it is definitely possible to categorize Márkomeannu as a heritage-related cultural and musical festival.

Even if Márkomeannu was founded to support the local Markasami identity, today it also attributes great importance to a shared Sami culture that transcends the borders of the Marka. The use of Northern Sami language, the availability of Sami food based on reindeer meat as well as modern Sami music foster a sense of belonging to a wider cultural and political entity: Sapmi. Moreover, despite differences among different Sami communities, all Sami can identify with the struggles the local Markasami have had to face. These cultural events are of particular relevance for the Sami people because they represent moments of cultural pride in a context where, until few decades ago, Sami identity was heavily stigmatized and, even if it has been many years since Norway has abandoned institutionalised policies of assimilation and stigmatization, the consequences of these phenomena are still part of everyday life for many Sami.

To provide information concerning the context in which Márkomeannu has been developed, I have examined the main features of contemporary Sami history in Norway. I have also explored the importance of indigenous toponymy and the political and cultural significance of road-signs and name-places on official maps. Harley’s (2001, p 99) concept of “toponymic silencing” has emerged as particularly suitable to describe the Sami-Norwegian place-names as well as the linguistic landscape embodied in road-signs and signposts. Given its importance, I have addressed the various expressions of the linguistic landscape of Márkomeannu. In my analysis, I have focused my attention on the toponym Gállogieddi by examining its meaning and its relation to both the local environment and the non-Christian Sami worldview. It has emerged that the name of the festival location encapsulates traditional knowledge as well as information about the local environment. With regard to the 2018 edition of Márkomeannu, I devoted particular attention to the political stances conveyed in the narratives of the festival concept. The political overtones of the festival concept are particularly strong since the dystopian future can actually be seen as a projection of the consequences of current political trends. By setting the festival in a dystopian future, the organizers have indeed denounced contemporary issues such as climate change, colonisation and the endangerment of political and personal freedom.

A further element examined in the paper is the interplay and dialogue between the landscape, the scenography and the ten pieces of art exhibited at Gállogieddi. Performances such as the one taking place on the opening day, along with visual art and the scenography, were meant to show how Sapmi and the whole world would appear in a dystopian future where nuclear catastrophes and despotism had brought our planet and our societies to the verge of destruction. In these terrible circumstances though, Sami people were portrayed as resilient and strong enough to resist and fight back against destruction and oppression. According to the festival concept, resistance was possible thanks to the help and the wisdom of Sami political pioneers who were brought from the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century to the future to help their descendants survive. This scenario was supported by a narrative device: a mix of quantum technology and Sami ancient knowledge had enabled the Sami from 2118 to establish a link between long-gone and “current days”, which, in fact, are days yet to come. Traditional Sami knowledge, endowed here with supernatural features, is portrayed as an important cultural element also for future generations.

The blending of the material and symbolic elements described above created a peculiar atmosphere which helped generating the feeling of being in a time removed from the present of 2018. In an interview available on the website of the Norwegian television channel NRK (nrk access on 18/02/19), the festival leader has indeed stressed how important the work of artist Sunna Kitti and that of the scenographer Mari Lotherington were in creating “the feeling of being in the Sami sanctuary in a post-apocalyptic world”. The art exhibition and Gállogieddi were engaged in a dialogue as the drawings guided the visitors through the physical location as well as though the story they conveyed. By juxtaposing crude images with the peaceful Marka landscape, Sunna Kitti’s art became a visual counterpart to the festival concept and was indeed an integral part of the setting, along with sounds and objects such as the crystals behind the gieddi or the tunnel at the entrance to the sanctuary/festival area. An examination of Sunna Kitti’s drawings has enabled me to reflect upon the themes she had addressed as well as upon the identity markers she resorted to in order to convey Sami identity through visual art. The elements she has employed are the same cultural elements (gákti, joik, reindeers…) that,according to Kramvig (2008, p 47), were selected during Sami cultural revival as symbols of Sami identity. These elements proved effective in conveying identity because they “‘worked’ both internally within the Saami population and externally vis-a-vis the Norwegian government and public”.

Given all these premises, it has emerged that at Márkomeannu 2018, narrations, history and performances along with language and placenames have been merged to create a unique and challenging experience for those who attended the festival. Márkomeannu has developed as a locus of negotiation and experimentation where the past has become a repository for a modern Markasami identity.


I would like to thank all the people who shared their time and their memories with me, and the professors, researchers and staff members at Centre for Sami Studies at UiT University of Tromsø. I would also like to thank Professor Trude Fonneland and Professor Rossella Ragazzi (Tromsø University Museum), Marit Myrvoll, Gunn Tove Minde and my Supervisor Lia Zola for their support and encouragement.


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