In the morning, on the last day of our class trip we prepared traditional Norwegian “matpakke” and we continued our journey. Next stop was Indre Billefjord in Porsanger Muncipality. We visited there Mearrasiida Competence Centre. In Sámi languages mearra means sea and siida, in this context, means home. It is a Sea Sámi organization founded in 2002, which goals are to protect, preserve and collect information about their language, culture and traditions.
Social anthropologist, Svanhild Andersen, who is the chairman of the Centre, presented the tasks undertaken in this place and explained why development of local tourism is still a big challenge for them. The diversity of culture is often a tourist’s interest. For it to be interesting, it must be characterized by something special. The culture of modern Sea Sámi is not very different from the average Norwegian life. The contrast is less visible than, for example, in Sámi reindeer herder’s lifestyles. In addition, the long period of Norwegisation process, the assimilation policy, which began after the mid-19th century and lasted for almost 100 years, also contributed to the disappearance of their culture.
That is why the existence of this place, the center where elements of their heritage are collected and knowledge about them disseminated, is extremely important. Thanks to this, the awareness of the uniqueness of their tradition is growing, also among people who have Sea Sámi roots.
Later we could see an exhibition of their handicrafts – costumes, toys, everyday objects and decorative elements. The material culture of Sea Sámi people is characterized by colorfulness and diversity. The materials from which these works are created come from natural sources – the wood of locally growing trees, the wool of their sheep, bones, skins of aquatic mammals and fish. Their outfits are decorated with beautiful designs that are more important than just being an aesthetics aspect. Their design is a unique and special sign of their regional culture which distinguish them from other Sámi cultures.
We had the pleasure to meet a local artist – Ove Stødle – who created many of the items shown at the exhibition. Among them was beautiful bone jewelry, wooden decorations, e.g. a wooden bow tie, wooden dishes and furniture. But the largest project Ove currently had was building a traditional Sámi boat. In a room filled with a smell of pine wood and tree resin, he explained how working on it looks like and what challenges still awaits him. There was only one man who had such valuable knowledge about building these traditional boats and if Ove wouldn’t learn from him, knowledge could have gone forever.
This place showed me that if there are suitable people who want to take care of the valuable knowledge of their ancestors and pass it on, it gains stability and strength over time. Thanks to this, the region acquires the uniqueness and authenticity that can be lost so easily in the modern globalized world.