The management and transformation of traditional healing knowledge

Report from Anne Karen Hætta, Master Programme in Indigenous Studies, University of Tromsø Project 2009/1415-6

Financial support to the project: The management of the Sámi traditional healing institution in the Marke villages in Southern Troms and Northern Nordland. With financial support from the Centre for Sámi Studies I have conducted field work for my master thesis in the Marke villages in Southern Troms and Northern Nordland County. I wish to thank the Sámi Centre for supporting my field work by covering the travel and living expenses I have had.

In my master thesis I am examining the Sámi traditional medicine institution. Sámi medicine has been developed through thousands of years and it can be connected to the Sámi religion where the noaidi had a central position. The noaidi; also called the Sámi “shaman”, had many roles in the preceding Sámi communities and he was also a keeper of traditional medical knowledge. It has been argued that the noaidis did not disappear even though they gradually lost their vital place in the Sámi communities when Christianity was introduced. The knowledge of the noaidi was still passed on, and some would say that this is part of the knowledge the present day traditional healers possess.

The forms of treatment within Sámi traditional medicine are varied and diverse and a lot of the old practices are more or less disappearing. Some of the methods that have been in use is moxa burning, use of herbs, plants and different remedies as ash, bones, frogs, urine and blood. The methods that might be most used today are lesing (reading), laying on of hands, blood stopping and cupping. On a general basis you can say that most of the latter practices involve use of prayers and formulas, and that it is believed that the healing is done through a power beyond the human being. I believe most of the present Sámi traditional healers are working in the name of the Christian God.

Marit Myrvoll claims that when elders contend that traditional healing is dying out, it is because younger people do not want to take over. She suggests that one of the reasons for this might be the tough responsibilities following the knowledge. In my field work I have interviewed 15 Sámis about their relationship to traditional medicine and about transmission of the knowledge connected it. I have interviewed both elders; middle aged and young people, and have also talked to a few traditional healers.

I made three trips to the Marke villages during August and September 2009 and found a community with a close relationship to traditional healing. All people I spoke with had some kind of relationship to it and most people also reported that they had “been read on”. Several persons also told that they have or that they have had people in their family who “could more than their Lord’s Prayer”. Generally I am satisfied with the outcome of my field work and I am now eager to start writing my master thesis.

Read the thesis online – Munin

About Siri Johnsen

Hovedtillitsvalgt for Akademikerne UiT, Norges arktiske universitet, januar 2006-januar 2017
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