The Isogaisa Shaman festival took place for the sixth time in Lavangen, North of Narvik. Utropia was present at this unique meet-up.
For the past twenty-thirty years, Sámi culture has been experiencing an unprecedented Renaissance in Norway. Going from a culture which was shunned and considered at best an odd remnant of past times, Sámi culture has now reestablished a solid footing in North-Norway. Isogaisa, which was founded in the scenic municipality of Lavangen in 2009, is very much a symptom of this new-found Sámi renewal but with a an interesting twist: the festival focuses on Sámi traditional Religion and ancient Shamanic practices.
Over the course of five days at the festival grounds, situated just by the Fjelkysten Hotel in Lavangen, various courses, workshops, concerts and sales took place, catering to a diverse crowd of Sámis, Norwegians, but also numerous visitors and artists from all over the world. One more specificity of Isogaisa is that it strictly prohibits any kinds of alcohol or drug consumption. This makes for a much more welcoming atmosphere than most North-Norwegian festivals where people tend to end up dead drunk every evening. As a result of this welcome clause, it felt completely safe at Isogaisa, as witnessed by the hordes of enthused kids constantly running around.
During the days, most events took place in one of the multiple tiny Lavvos raised around the festival ground. Some were very much on the spiritual side with various ceremonies and ritual drumming while others were more ´worldly´ like the various crafting and musical workshops. The most interesting presentation Utropia had the chance to attend was probably the one given by this year’s special guests from Latvia. In just under two hours, the attendees were able to witness traditional Latvian singing and harp-playing and even take part in various dances and games linked to ancient Pagan spiritual concepts. This Latvian workshop was a lot of fun and the numerous participants, hailing from places as varied as Russia, England or Finland all left the Lavvo equally happy.
In the evening, the festival-goers gathered in the main festival venue, a huge tarp tent connecting four no-less huge Lavvos, in order to enjoy the festival’s musical program. This year, the main performers were the Russian-Karelian band NOID and the Latvians of TAI TAI which drew quite a crowd before leaving the stage for a night of open-mike performances where Joiking and drumming took the lion’s share.
All in all, the greatest force of Isogaisa must be the positive atmosphere permeating the whole festival. Most attendees and event performers themselves seem to really look forward to learning from others and sharing what they have. This inviting feeling was most clearly seen during the festival’s closing ceremony where Shamans and artists alike succeeded one other with songs, dances, and touchingly, systematic words of praise for each other. This closing ceremony very much embodied the positive and constructive Isogaisa spirit and showed that with a bit of work and a few eager participants, the Old Ways will still be around for a while.
Text: Lyonel Perabo