If you’ve spent any time in Seattle’s Nordic community, you will recognize many people (and horses) in this lovely video. Although gávttiid (plural form of gákti, North Sámi for traditional Sámi clothing) are not bunads or costumes, and differ significantly in origin and purpose, it’s great that Christine included them and noted their location. Most gávtiid in the video are worn by Sámi visitors; some worn by locals may need a pass akin to the “Ballard bunad,” which I’m told is the concession given by bunad police to nonconforming ensembles.
Bunads were inspired by 19th century Romanticism and Nationalism. Wearing beautifully crafted folk dress demonstrated pride in Norway’s independence, in one’s own region, and in the common citizen as a “nation builder.” Paradoxically these same urges stigmatized the gákti, which was associated with work not leisure, ethnic pride not national pride, and obstacles to nation building.
The proto-gákti — tunic, pants, shoes, and shoebands — originated centuries before as workwear, made of fur and leather. Increased trade brought wool, silk, silver, etc. initiating the variations we see today.
My hunch is that the gákti was feared as powerfully pagan, like the drum and joik (Sámi vocal music tradition) which the church had already banned. Like other duodji (craft), gákti design embodies a worldview that locates people in relation to one another and the cosmos, not the nation.
Every gákti — cut, color, pattern, embellishments — speaks volumes. An informed observer, even from a distance over a snowfield, may be able to ascertain an approaching person’s home area, gender, marital status, age, family, and even where they are headed.
Unlike the drum and joik, gákti remained in continuous use in some places, although for many families it is a broken tradition and not easy to restore. Certain elements were banned as sinful, e.g.: the ládjoghpir (a tall curving headdress thought to house the Devil), the color yellow (said to represent Beaivi, the goddess), and risku (brooches encouraging excess pride).
If you’d like to learn more about gákti, be sure to follow @astudesign on Instagram. Anna Stina Svakko is a master duojár (artisan) and born teacher whose talks highlight the many joyful aspects of her craft.