The Power of Joik

This video was posted today on Facebook, and despite my inability to understand the Swedish in it, the joik (at 2:40) knocked me out with its emotional power. This guy clearly has talent. He also has a cultural identity that should make the most hardcore essentialist reconsider what it means to be Sàmi. The comments below the post include:

Jon Henrik Fjällgren on Sweden’s Got Talent joiking his friend Daniel, who died four years ago.

Fjellgren, who is 26 years old, was told since his youth that he came from a small indigenous tribe in Columbia . . . he was adopted by a Sàmi family and has since grown up in Mittådalsfjällen. As a little boy he helped his father with the reindeer and as soon as he left school, he has worked actively as a reindeer herder.

In another version on Youtube, a poem is included:

Are you still walking with me, my dear friend,
Though I no longer see you?
Are you still here on earth,
As you are still in my heart?
I continue to lie here and brood,
It is desolately quiet around me.
Tears burst out and fall,
In memory of you.

An angel that was forgotten here,
Has now received his wings.
Where are you flying to now, my angel?
Where are you flying to now?

Are you flying through the pearly gates?
Or to the ends of the earth?
Are you flying beside me?
Or am I alone now?

Wherever are you now, my friend.
Wherever the road leads you.
Promise me you’ll wait there,
Until I meet you.

I hope you’re happy now.
As I was with you.
And the pain you have suffered,
I hope is forgotten.

Float freely, my dear friend.
You are free now.
And until we meet again,
Farewell, my angel.

The joik is a unique form of cultural expression for the Sàmi people in Sápmi. This type of song can be deeply personal or spiritual in nature, often dedicated to a human being, an animal, or a landscape as a personal signature. Improvisation is not unusual. Each joik is meant to reflect a person or place. The Sàmi verb for presenting a joik is a transitive verb, which is often interpreted as indicating that a joik is not a song about the person or place, but that the joiker is attempting to evoke or depict that person or place through song – one joiks their friend, not about their friend (similarly to how one doesn’t paint or depict about a flower, but depicts the flower itself). –Wikipedia

Celebrate Sámi Day

Celebrated every February 6 since 1993, Sámi National Day (Sámi Álbmotbeaivi) commemorates the first international, pan-Sámi organizational meeting held in Trondheim in 1917, considered the beginning of the Sámi rights movement.

It will be celebrated locally from 4 pm to 8 pm this coming Thursday at Pacific Lutheran University’s Scandinavian Cultural Center in Tacoma. (See link for directions.)

Sámi National Day (Sámi Álbmotbeaivi)
Thursday, February 6, 2014

Scandinavian Cultural Center, PLU, Tacoma

4 pm Opening and Anthem
4:30 pm Exhibit Tour
5 pm Concert by Risten Anine Gaup
6:15 pm Sámi Documentaries

The celebration will open with welcoming remarks and the singing of the Sámi national anthem, followed by a guided tour of the new Sámi exhibit and time for refreshments and socializing. The talented Sámi joiker Risten Anine Gaup (above) will perform around 5 p.m. Two short documentaries will be screened beginning around 6:15 pm, followed by a short discussion.

Props to PLU professor Troy Storfjell and the Scandinavian Cultural Center for arranging the celebration. I plan to be there and hope it is well-attended!

Here is a taste of Sámi music and art for those unable to attend. For many outside Scandinavia, their first time hearing joik, the long suppressed folk music of the Sami, was when Nils-Aslak Valkeapää (1943-2001) performed at the 1994 Lilyhammer Olympics. His friend the Sámi scholar Harald Gaski said “it is in the totality of his expression that you understand Nils-Aslak best.” Listen to his haunting joik from “The Sun, My Father” here as you contemplate the paintings below.

In describing Valkeapää’s poetry (the man was a creative force!), Gaski mentions parallels to Chief Seattle’s apocryphal but famous speech of 1854 in which he asks rhetorically: “How can you sell or buy the air? If we do not own its freshness and the glimmer in the water, how then can the White man buy it from us?”

It’s a question that haunts, given the continued ravaging of resources in the name of profit, in Sapmi and everywhere. But there is hope. The indigenous worldview or cosmology that prioritizes beauty, balance, and harmony over individualism, competition, and materialism never went away and still offers a future on this planet. I love the abstract tension in these two paintings by Valkeapää and the way they suggest both the power of nature and lightness in which the people and animals appear on the land.

Lihkku Sámi Álbmotbeivviin (Happy Sámi National Day!), wherever you find yourself.