About Lapps

Lapland is the most northern country in Europe. It has more than 70,000 inhabitants and its surface, comparable to that of France, is barren and lacks vegetation.Physical appearance. The Lapps are short and thin, their legs are short and curved and they seem smaller than they really are as they are round-shouldered and their shoes have no heels. There are exceptions to this rule: in a museum in Stockholm I saw a Lapp's skeleton that was 2 meters tall.Their hair is dark brown, short and straight, their nose is flattened. Due to their small eyes and their frowning forehead, the Lapps give the false impression that they are melancholic; their nature is in fact that of a cheerful child. Their feeble and pitched voice lacks sonority. The women are barely distinguishable from the men, because of the reddish costumes made of reindeer leather.Life and work. The Lapps' occupations are fishing and reindeer breeding.The reindeer breeders depend on the habitat of reindeers. These animals feed on moss which, once grazed from the stone, grows back so slowly that the animals can come to graze in the same place only ten years later. Consequently, Lapps are forced to become nomads. They cannot afford travelling as tribes because each family needs a large piece of land, able to feed 2-3000 reindeers; another family's neighborhood would be disturbing.The animals become thus the cause of Lapps' miserable life. In spring they travel through snow, in spring they have to face swarms of annoying flies, in autumn they have to walk in the mire, in winter they have to resist the cold and the ever-lasting polar darkness; in spite of all this, the journey has to go on ceaselessly and every halt is very short; after about three weeks, the moss becomes scarce. The reindeers give them milk, meat, leather for clothing; they are also a means of transport. A reindeer is tamed starting with its third year of life; it lives for 15 years and gives a small quantity of milk: one and a half liter a day.Lapps' nourishment. Lapps feed on reindeer milk blended with whale oil, and wild plants. During winter, this marmalade is frozen in reindeer stomachs and is sliced together with its cover. They also eat butter and cheese; bread is unknown to them, and it is replaced by a sort of blood soup. During winter the most common food is reindeer meat. The meat is sliced, boiled in a pancake, and the grease is put aside; then each Lapp takes a piece of meat with his wooden fork, dips it in grease, eats it and drinks whale oil at the end. Lapps eat all kind of game but abhor pork. They don't boil the fish they eat, they simply dry it. Young children are fed mostly on fish; their mothers chew the food and then they make the babies swallow it. This is a custom that one may come across in Romania, as well.Lapps'drinks. Lapps drink water or melted snow. Alcohol had been poisoning this people for long when the Norwegian government passed prohibitive laws in order to stop the abuse; as a consequence, Lapps gave up alcohol in favor of coffee. It so happens that nowadays coffee is Lapps' favorite drink. They add salt, grease and blood to it. Sadly enough, they have nothing else as appetizer but smoked fir tree bark, which they suck. Their only dessert is tobacco, which they chew and smoke avidly.Lapps' dwellings. These poor people live in huts which, if compared to convicts' cells, would make the latter ones seem palaces. The dwelling conditions of those living on the seashores are even more miserable than those of Lapps living in the forests.Instead of huts, the former ones have conic leather tents with an opening in the middle that allows for the smoke to go out. It is in such shelters that at temperature of – 40 degrees, Lapp women give birth to their children, with no help whatsoever. Children's upbringing. The baby's swing is made of a tree trunk, lined in reindeer leather, hollowed in the shape of a clog.Excerpted from: Journey to the Northern Polar Regions (1897), in Extraordinary Journeys, CD Press, 2001

by Basil Assan