While most of the people have heard about the Vikings, it seems that not so many people have enough knowledge about the people who have been living in this region long before the Vikings arrived – the Sámi people. You are lucky to be living in northern Norway because you have the chance to experience the Sámi culture possibly in the most lively and vivid way in the world, at Riddu Riddu festival.
Text: Yeonwoo Baik
Sámi people are indigenous people of Arctic region Sápmi, which covers the northern Fenno-Scandinavia region and the Kola Peninsula. Today the area is divided by national borders of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Nowadays Sámi people are the northernmost indigenous group of people that have been recognised and protected by the international conventions of indigenous people.
The Sámi people have suffered severe discrimination as Sápmi began to be dominated by today’s Norse and Russians. Norway, among all countries, was strongly criticised by the international community for its forceful Norwegianisation on the Sámi people and the discrimination against them. Today Sámi in Norway have its own parliament, which enables them to work with issues concerned with Sámi people. However, it is still reported that the Sámi people are exposed to discrimination, and their languages are considered by UNESCO to be threatened to extinction.
Riddu Riddu Festival
Riddu Riddu («Little storm on the coast») festival is an indigenous cultural festival that is annually held in Kåfjord, a part of Sápmi. Lasting for five days, the festival is packed with concerts, seminars, workshops, literature sessions, exhibitions, film screenings and many more. It celebrated its 25-year anniversary in 2016, and for those 25 years it has worked all the way through to promote Sámi culture. Now it is one of the major indigenous cultural festivals not only in Norway but also around the whole Europe.
It all started when some Sámi youths gathered together and talked about their ethnic identity one day in 1991, when Sámi identity was still looked down on and ridiculed in a more overt way than it now is. They talked about how Sámi identity was associated with the feeling of shame, how it was dealt with silence. They decided that things needed to be changed – they decided to turn their Sámi identity into something to be proud of, to turn their cultural heritage into something to be celebrated. Thus, Riddu Riddu festival began.
The festival was openly met with resistance, the youth working for the festival facing a lot of hardship put upon them. The youth did not give up, though, and the festival continued. At the same time, the society was changing and the oppression on Sámi people was beginning to lessen over time. The festival grew larger and larger, and the local authorities, the public and artists expressed their support. In 2009 it got national recognition as one of the 12 festivals in Norway, receiving status as a hub festival and a part of state budget scheme.
Even though the biggest part that makes up Riddu Riddu festival is Sámi culture, Riddu Riddu today is inviting indigenous people from all over the world in an attempt to make the festival as a site for revitalisation of various indigenous cultures. In Riddu Riddu 2016, for example, Ana Tijoux from Chile, Hanggai from Mongolia, and Summing from Taiwan participated, presenting their music that beautifully blended their tradition and modern elements together. Riddu Home, the activity area lined with lavuus (traditional Sámi tent), provided the visitors with rich indigenous cultures not only from Sápmi but also from other different parts of the world, such as Greenland and Taiwan.
Riddu Riddu is also an exciting venue in that you can experience what Sámi culture made by today’s young Sámi people is like. There are lots of sources where you can see and read about traditional Sámi culture, but it is harder to be exposed to modern Sámi culture if you are not involved in the scene yourself or actively look for it. Riddu Riddu festival is the place where you can experience up-to-date Sámi culture along with the traditional one. You can see how young Sámi artists of today express their Sámi identity in diverse ways, sometimes similar to those of older generation and sometimes very different, and it will definitely help you gain new insight into Sámi culture. Do not forget to check who the Young Artist of the Year is, which was painter Inga-Wiktoria Påve this year.
You can participate in the festival as a visitor, but there is also another way – to work as a volunteer. The running of Riddu Riddu festival is depending much on volunteers making and selling food, cleaning the festival site, providing information to visitors, taking care of other volunteers, et cetera. Get to know even more about one of the most significant events in indigenous cultural scene, and meet new people!