Norway – People Of The Frigid North Lapp Home And Family In The Tromsdal

To reach here from the island town one rows across a channel to the mainland at the east, then walks or rides in a pony cart for some distance through a rather low, marshy valley.

These people live in winter farther inland, across the Swedish frontier, but come over here for a while every year to take advantage of the fresh pasturage for their reindeer, and to have a chance to sell fur boots, horn spoons, and such things of domestic manufacture to tourists that land at Tromso.

Remembering what has already been said* of these aboriginal people and their ways, we can readily tell which of the children are boys and which are girls, in spite of the close resemblance of those clumsy clothes of skin and coarse homespun. The hut here is quite different from the one we saw before; it is more like what these people live in during the winter on Swedish territory. Inside this evil-smelling cabin, a dinner pot hangs from a cross-bar over a fire on a stone hearth in the middle of the one room, and the whole family eat from it with spoons of wood or horn. If they are particularly fastidious of their class they may use individual wooden bowls, but, as to the manner in which the dishes are “cleaned,” the less said the better.

The man at the left has just lassoed that reindeer while it was feeding some distance away up the valley. They have near here a sort of “corral” or yard surrounded by wooden pickets into which the animals can be driven and penned when necessary.

The transportation of this family’s belongings from summer to winter location, or vice versa, is made while the ground is snow-covered, by means of rein-deer pulks and dog sledges. A pulk is a canoe-shaped affair, with a wooden frame and a covering of rein-deer hide, usually about five feet long, a foot and a half wide and in the center a foot deep. The deer’s harness is very simple—just a collar made of the hide of one of his own relatives, a single trace leading from the collar along under the belly to the for-ward end of the pulk, and a single long rein of deer-hide attached to the left horn. A loop at the end of the rein passes around the driver’s right thumb, and a good deal of slack is wound about the wrist. It is no easy task learning to drive a reindeer with that rig, and if you want to hear some graphic accounts of the ordeals suffered by a novice, you should read Du Chaillu. He did, after a good many rough-and-tumble experiences, learn to be almost as expert as the Lapps who taught him. Under the most favor-able conditions of snow and weather one can, with such an equipage, cover one hundred English miles in twenty-four hours.

Some Lapps who come over to this part of the coast in the spring join the crews of fishing boats, and spend the season at the island “banks,” but the seafaring members of the race are fewer than those who get their living from reindeer herds on terra firma. From time immemorial this aboriginal people have been credited by their Norse neighbors with occult influence over the Powers of the air. In former years it was no very uncommon thing for a good Lutheran skipper to cross with silver the palm of some locally famous Lapp, in order to secure favorable winds for an outward voyage !

As we proceed on our own route we pass—according to circumstances—by, or up-and-down, one of the most picturesque of all Norway’s innumerable fjords. Its location is marked 97 on Map 1, just east of Tromso.