Reindeer Racing and Lasso Throwing // All About Sami National Day in Tromso

First of all: Happy Easter everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday playing in the snow or enjoying the first signs of spring! I am writing to you from the future today - or is it the past? Anyway, I'm coming home from my vacation in Swedish Lapland today (if I didn't broke my leg when learning how to ski for the first time - in that case, I'm probably in a hospital somewhere, haha).

Anyways, I finally want to tell you all about Sami National Day in Tromso today! Those of you following me on Snapchat have probably already heard about my attempts (successful might I add) at lasso throwing and my time watching the reindeer race right in the city centre.

Now, what is the Sami National Day all about?

The very first thing you need to know is that it's actually not a National Day as the Sami people are indigenous to 4 different countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. They traditionally inhabited the northern parts of the Nordic countries and the North-Western part of Russia and call this area Sapmi. Their "National Day", which is actually called Sami People's Day in Norwegian, has been introduced for the first time in 1992 and takes place on the 6th of February each year.

The Sami people also have their own flag which consists of 4 different colours: yellow, green, red and blue. The red stands for fire and warmth, the green for nature, the blue for water and the yellow for the sun. The circle in the middle of the flag represents the sun on the one side and the moon on the other side. Also, if you have seen a traditional Sami costume (here's the boyfriend in his one), you might have noticed that these colours are often used for those too.


Copyright: Nordiska Museet, Stockholm

As you can imagine, the area of Sapmi is quite big and therefore it is divided in many smaller parts where people have developed their own distinct dialect of the Sami language, and people from the area around Bodø (aka the boyfriend) therefore cannot automatically understand people from the very Northern parts of Norway. Nonetheless, the Sami people are united in their culture and traditions and share a past of oppression in all the 4 countries because of their heritage.

The Sami people were oppressed by the state and times were especially rough before and right after World War II. The Norwegian state for example, tried to "Norwegianize" the Sami by sending Sami children to boarding schools and force them to learn the Norwegian language and Norwegian traditions. This resulted in a generation of Sami people who refused to be associated with anything Sami.

Their children however began to stood up for their rights and in the 1960s, a great protest and kind of revolution was a wake-up call for the Norwegian government to change things. In the 1980s then, the Sami Parliament was established in Norway which, from that time on, was responsible for the rights of the Sami people and their education in the Sami language. Today, there is a Sami College in Kautokeino and many kindergardens and schools across Norway offer Sami language instruction.

How is it celebrated in Tromso?

Sami National Day is celebrated with a "Sami Week" in Tromso which is a week full of cultural events, such as film screenings and reindeer meat tasting, all over Tromso. The highlight of this week, however, is the weekend around the 6th of February, where the National Championship in Lasso Throwing and a Reindeer Race take place on the market square.

There also is a winter market where you can admire (or buy) traditional Sami handicraft, such as knives, gloves, hats, shoes or jewelry. In the middle of the market square you can then also find a so called Lavvo, a traditional Sami tent, where you can sit around a fire and taste some reindeer meat.

Sami handicraft
Sami handicraft
Inside a Sami Lavvo
Inside a Sami Lavvo

There also always is a concert at the Town Hall where people are yoiking. Don't know what that is? Well, the yoik is the traditional form of singing in Sapmi and if you haven't heard of them yet, you should definitely check out Mari Boine and Sofia Jannok who combine the traditional yoik with modern musical elements.

National Championship in Lasso Throwing

Every Saturday of Sami Week, the National Championship in Lasso Throwing takes place on the market square. The Sami people, who traditionally survived on reindeer herding, used lassos in order to catch their reindeer. Nowadays, they use more modern techniques but the lasso throwing is still an important part of reindeer herding.

Now, of course, there are no actual reindeers being caught on the market square during the championship - that would be a total chaos! Instead, they simply use reindeer antlers on props. If you now think that's boring - think again. It sure is easier to throw a lasso at an immobile object but lasso throwing surely isn't easy per se!

In fact, it's incredibly interesting to watch and so action-packed! And of course, I have pictures to proof this!

Now, first you gotta locate your target...
... and then you need to put all your energy into the throw! This girl clearly knew what she was doing and won the women's competition in the end!

Can you see how much fun that championship was? Well, and you haven't even seen the best part! In the break between semi-finals and finals, the audience got to try lasso throwing too. And when I say audience, I mainly refer to children under the age of 10. That didn't stop me from trying it out myself though! I mean, when would I ever get the chance to try lasso-throwing again?

Okay, my boyfriend's family could surely provide me with a chance like that but they couldn't provide a whole market square with people watching my attempts, could they? I best work under pressure, you know.... Anyway, luckily I can announce that I didn't make a total fool of myself but that my attempts were in fact successful. The last one at least!

Yep, that's my competition right over there...
That's how you shouldn't do it...
Yeah, that's better! Grab the rope and....


Honestly, the lasso throwing was so much fun and I enjoyed that day so much! We did have plans for the evening though, so we didn't watch the yoik concert at the Town Hall but I'm sure I'll get the boyfriend to yoik for you once!

The Reindeer Race

The National Championship in Reindeer Racing took place on the 7th February this year and although this is the highlight of the whole Sami Week, I didn't enjoy it as much as the lasso throwing. For once, there were way too many people around. The market square was packed and people were pushing each other to get a glimpse of what's going on.

I generally don't feel comfortable in crowds - there's something about the noise and little space that makes me feel anxious - and when a stupid tourist then almost destroyed my tripod by pushing it out of the way, I knew that the day would become exhausting. I mean, the race was to start at 1pm and we arrived at the track shortly after 12 for exactly that reason - we were hoping to not having to fight with people about a place!

Anyway, the crowds were bad enough but then the reindeers were treated incredibly rough too so I can't say that I enjoyed the race too much. Before the race started, all racers and reindeers were presented to the crowd and the poor animals just seemed horrified by all the people around and just wanted to escape. It was horrible to watch and made me feel really bad for paying an entrance fee to support this.

Sorry, but who on earth could think that it would be a good idea to have children lead wild reindeers?
See, even this guy struggled to get a hold of them...

I didn't like the way, they dragged the reindeers over the track and didn't like to watch them being all panicky. And the boyfriend, coming from a reindeer herding family himself, agreed with me. Sami reindeer herding of course revolves around slaughtering animals in order to sell their meat and every Sami herder tries to care for his/her animals as best as they can - but sometimes you can't prevent them from feeling stressed. That's just the way it is.

BUT, there are ways to control their level of stress. You can let them life their life in the wilderness without interfering too much. You can tame them so that they become totally used to humans and use them for reindeer sleigh rides with tourists. OR you can take an untamed and uncastrated reindeer from the wilderness, put it into the market square of Tromso and expect it to race.

My point here is that the reindeers that were used for the race, clearly were afraid of people and were stressed out unneccessarily. Which basically is the whole point cause if they weren't afraid, they wouldn't try to run. And that clearly is the whole point of a race. But when I heard that one of the reindeers got hurt during the race, I couldn't help myself thinking that I paid for a ticket to see animals get exploited and hurt. And for what? To attract tourists and earn money?

And it wasn't even a fun event. The different races lasted for about 30 seconds and then you had to wait for about 15 minutes for the next one. The whole event took 2 hours plus the time we invested in securing a spot in the first row. It was just an incredibly long, cold and stressful day for me as a viewer and I don't even want to think about how much fun the day was for the animals.

Oh, and you know what else they did? In between the official championship races, they let two "famous people from Tromso" compete against each other - two hotel directors and two soccer players. Now, how ridiculous is that? Don't get me wrong but this event didn't feel like something to celebrate the Sami culture - it felt more like a commercial thing to attract tourists and earn money, and if you listened closely to the comments of the (non-Sami) host and his attempts at yoiking, it felt more like a mockery of Sami culture than anything else.

Should you visit Tromso during Sami Week?

YES! Despite the reindeer race being absolutely weird, I think you could learn a lot about Sami culture by visiting Tromso during Sami Week. The Sami National Day itself with the winter market and the lasso throwing, is a great opportunity for tourists to actually get to know authentic and traditional Sami culture and Sami people themselves. I mean, you will meet Sami people and can ask them all kinds of questions and they will happily answer you!

Normally, you'd need to go on one of those "Sami Culture" tourist tours which cost quite a lot of money but during 6th of February, you can learn so much without having to pay anything. I mean, you can admire Sami handicraft and traditional costumes (but please don't take pictures of random people just because they are wearing a Sami costume - ask them first), listen to Sami yoik or try reindeer meat. It really is a fun day and you can get it all for free.

Now, the reindeer race clearly is something they came up with to attract more people and make money and it's not a part of Sami culture at all. I leave it up to you to make up an opinion about it but just so you know, that's the only event of the festivities during the week, that you have to pay for...

Anyway, if you want to learn more about Sami culture, Tromso is a great place for that anyway, but even more so on the 6th of February!

All About Sami National Day in Tromso - From Lasso Throwing to Reindeer Racing
All About Sami National Day in Tromso - From Lasso Throwing to Reindeer Racing

Linking up with Bonnie for Travel Tuesday!

Would you like to try lasso throwing? And is there anything else, you'd like to know about Sami culture?