What are the origins of kuksa ?

Have you heard of kuksa? Do you own one? You have in mind to make your own? Let's start by explaining the origins of kuksa and why it is important to preserve this Scandinavian tradition.

Anne-Laure CompainAnne-Laure Compain

Anne-Laure Compain

Nature Lovers
Published on 1 March 2022 (Updated on 16 May 2022)

How were the kuksa born ?

Originally, kuksa were used by the Sami as a personal container. They could be used for drinking, eating, and even berry picking. This multifunctional cup had to be durable and strong to meet all the needs of its owner.

Kuksa are part of Duodji, a Sami craft that focuses on creating functional and useful everyday objects. We are talking about the creation of cups, knives or even bags to collect food. These everyday objects are not the same for men and women. The objects for women are made from reindeer skin and wood while those for men are made from reindeer horn and wood.

peuple sami

Who are the Sami people?

The indigenous Sami people are an indigenous people who live in northern Europe, in the Sápmi. Sápmi means Lapland in Sami, the language of the Sami.

💡 There are 10 dialects of Sami in the world and none of these variants are alike.
sami people

The Sápmi extends from northern Sweden to the Kola Peninsula in Russia, passing through northern Norway and Finland. Today, there are about 75,000 Sámi in all countries. However, only 9,000 live in Finland, the vast majority of them living in Norway.

In Finland and according to the Sámi parliament, the main criterion for belonging to their people is language. Indeed, the law states that a Sami is a person if he or she or at least one of his or her ancestors has learned Sami as a mother tongue.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

The history of the Sami

The Sámi are the direct descendants of the people who settled in northern Fennoscandia after the end of the Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago. The Sami were essentially hunters and fishermen. They lived from what nature gave them to exploit in all seasons. Thanks to the hunting of deer and fur-bearing animals, they were able to sell their products to the markets of Central Europe.

It was only at the end of the 19th century that the Sami people took their place in the institutions with the creation of the first Sami newspapers and associations. In 1953, the first Sámi conference put forward the right of the Sámi to exploit natural resources and express themselves in their own language. This right had been taken away from them a few years earlier following the adoption of a policy that favored the interests of the dominant population. At that time, this policy was the linguistic and cultural alienation of the Sámi.

The Sami flag

The Sami flag was designed by the Sami artist Astrid BAhl. It represents :

  • The drum of the shaman
  • The sun and the moon as told in the poem Paiven parneh which describes the Sami as the daughters and sons of the sun.
The red circle represents the sun while the blue circle represents the moon.
sami flag

The Sami Parliament

The primary mission of the Sámi Parliament is to ensure that the autonomy of the Sámi people in matters of culture and language is respected as guaranteed by the Finnish constitution along with their status as an indigenous people.

The Sami Parliament is the highest political organization of the Sami people. It is responsible for

  • Defending the rights of the Sámi people
  • Deals with matters related to language, culture and the general status of the Sámi people
  • Formulates proposals
  • Issuing opinions on matters relating to the Sámi
  • Decides on the distribution of financial resources to the Sámi
The parliament is composed of 21 members elected from the Sámi population every 4 years.
Sami Parliament

The Sami language

In Finland, three variants of the Sami language are spoken:

  • Northern Sámi: spoken by more than 2,000 Sámi in Finland and by a total of 20,000 people in Finland, Norway and Sweden
  • Inari Sami: spoken only in Finland
  • Skolt Sami: spoken in Finland and Russia

Sami has been taught in Finnish schools since 1970. And by the way, it is also possible to pass your baccalaureate in Northern, Inari or Skolt Sami.

The good thing is that the number of students who speak Sami is gradually increasing!

→ On the map below you can see the distribution of the 10 Sami languages in the Sápmi territory.

  • Sámi South
  • Sámi Ume
  • Sámi Pite
  • Sámi Lule
  • Sámi North
  • Sámi Inari
  • Sámi Skolt
  • Sámi Akkala
  • Sámi Kildin
  • Sámi Ter
In Finland, three variants of the Sami language are spoken, which means that two people who do not speak the same Sami language have difficulty understanding each other.
sami language

Sami crafts

Sami handicraft, also called duodji, is the creation of practical objects to help in daily life such as clothes, tools, traps or other hunting tools. These objects are not meant to be beautiful but useful and practical.

The duodji was developed because of the nomadic lifestyle of the Sami people, who had to be economical with natural resources.

The traditional materials used by the Sami are :

  • Horns, bones and skins of animals
  • Wood
  • Tin
  • Fabrics
Authentic Sami handicrafts are protected by the international Sami handicraft trademark "Sami Duodji".
sami-duodji

The Sami costume

The traditional costume called kofte is a tradition still in place today. It is a real symbol. It is a very visible symbol that gathers the whole identity of the Sami people.

The decoration and the style of the costume indicate the place of birth of the person who wears it. But, we can also know the civil status and the family of the person.

There are 4 commonly used costume styles, which you can find in the picture below:

  • Teno costume
  • Inari costume
  • Enontekiö costume
  • Vuotso costume
Nowadays, the wearing of the costume remains for a festive use and not daily as before.

Sami activities

Traditionally the Sami have activities related to the fauna and flora. They have always opposed the excessive exploitation of natural resources. It is important to know that even if the Sami have evolved in their way of life, they still have a deep connection with nature. The Sami culture is based on what nature can give and not on exploitation.

Indeed, they practice :

  • Renniculture
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Agriculture
  • Collection of natural resources

Even if these activities are ancestral, a part of the Sami still lives from these activities, in parallel with tourism activities. While others practice modern professions.

It should be noted that these ancestral activities have little importance in the turnover, but they are important because they are part of a way of life.

The renniculture

Nowadays, reindeer husbandry remains at the center of the Sami culture and, it should be noted that a single herder can have more than a thousand reindeer in his herd.

The reindeer, this central element of the Sami culture allows :

  • To feed itself thanks to its flesh
  • To make clothes and shoes with its skin and coat
  • To make tools, kitchen utensils and art objects with its horns
Lapland has 183,775 inhabitants compared to 200,000 reindeer, which is quite a number, isn't it?

The reindeer, ruminant of the Arctic and feeding on lichen, is a beautiful example of domestic animal intimately linked to the Sami culture. It is an animal that is satisfied with small amounts of water and is therefore very well adapted to the snowy and icy plateaus that extend to the north of Finland. Unfortunately, due to logging and soil treatment, lichen is becoming scarce. This means that the reindeer have to be fed supplementary food, which makes the breeding more expensive.

peuple sami renne
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A little history about the Sami

In 1886, as a result of the industrial revolution and the high demand for minerals and coal, Sweden passed a law prohibiting the Sami from owning land and using water. This law also states that a Sámi is a person whose income is derived exclusively from reindeer husbandry.

In 1920, following the construction of a railroad linking mines in Sweden to ports in Sweden and Norway, the Sámi were forbidden to take their reindeer herds across the border between these two countries. This is inconceivable, as the herds migrate from one country to the other.

In 1989, Norway officially recognized the Sami people as the oldest inhabitants of the northern regions of Scandinavia.

Since then, Sami parliaments have been established in Norway, Sweden and Finland. The 21 Sámi representatives are elected every 4 years and are in charge of defending the rights of the Sámi people to the different governments.

The architecture of the Sami parliament is shaped like a lavvo, the traditional Sami tent.
parlement traditional Sami tent

Traditions related to kuksa

Concerning the kuksa, the tradition is to make your own kuksa or to offer it to someone. To offer a kuksa is to offer happiness. Moreover, the parents will pass on their kuksa to their children to keep the tradition alive. It is also to follow this tradition and this heritage that the kuksa must be robust and durable.

Another tradition is that you should never wash your kuksa, at the risk of losing its lucky side! You should only rinse it in a stream or a river, but not sure that everyone is one near you! So we will just not put it in the dishwasher and not wash it with dishwashing liquid!

sami traditions kuksa

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