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Duodji

Saami Duodji

My small collection.

On my return from Jokkmokk in 2017 I produced this image as part of my trip report. Since that time it has provoked a number of enquiries so I thought I would put up an article here to address some of those questions.

First of all, I would define a couple of terms I will use. The Sami people, also known as Sámi or Saami ( Archaically referred to in English as Lapps or Laplanders ) are the indigenous Finno-Ugric people inhabiting the Arctic area of Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of far northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. In this article and elsewhere on my web sites I will prefer the term Saami as it is more distinctive to web search engines.

Duodji is a general term for the traditional handicraft of the Saami. To be correctly described as duodji an item should not be just a tourist souvenir but a functional item used in the traditional life of the Saami which involved nomadic reindeer herding.

Furthermore, the materials used in duodji also tend to reflect that traditional lifestyle as well. For my own collection, both the form and the function are of great importance. These are not just artefacts that will reside in a showcase, they will also find use in my own outdoor life.

Now that all that has been set out properly let me tell you about my small collection.

I had admired duodji for many years without knowing much about it. In fact the first item that I acquired I did not even realise had been made by the Saami.

The pipe pouch hanging at the back centre of the picture caught my eye many years ago at a car boot sale in England. I didn't know what it was for but it had obviously been well made in a manner that was more than just functional. Someone  made it to look good as well as just contain something. I had never seen it's like before and it was many years later that I saw a similar pouch on display at Ajtte, the Saami museum in Jokkmokk.

The first item of duodji that I set out to purchase was my antler knife, front left in the picture. Deb's and I were working for part of the Summer of 2005 at Lofotr, the Viking museum at Borg on the Lofoten  Islands in the North of Norway.

To get there we drove the length of Norway in my old van, taking in as many museums and sights as we could see on the way. We also took every opportunity to visit handicraft traders on the route and although we saw many beautiful knives on the journey, I could not find one that pleased my hand as much as my eye.

We took a slight detour to visit the Saami museum at Karasjok and without  hoping for much we also visited the Stromeng Knivsmed where they made  the utilitarian knives that we had seen many times on our route.

The knife factory was interesting but a small cabinet with a few antler knives in it caught my eye. These were different from their normal stock in trade and when I enquired about them I was told that they were the  sort of thing they made when they got fed up of mass producing the other kind. I suspect that may have just been a line for the tourists but it  was clear these were a cut above the usual blades they were selling. I  asked if they had any more and they opened a drawer with two more like  this. I chose the one that fitted my hand best. It's egg shaped handle profile meant that I could tell immediately, without looking, which side the edge lay on, which is important if you use a knife in the dark.

Lennart Samelin

Researching sometime later with a friend gave me the name of Lennart Samelin as the maker of the knife hilt, horn and leatherwork sheath.

This is a picture of him engraving at his workshop in the village of Vettasjärvi, which is situated in the North Eastern part of Gällivare municipality of Sweden.

Altti Kankaanpää 2nd from right

The blade was made by a very well respected blade smith Altti Kankaanpää, One  of the last old school puukkoseppä from Kauhava in Finland.

Here he can  be seen, second from the right in a picture I found online.

He was apparently almost eighty when that picture was taken which would suggest he was born around 1921.

Although he works less regularly now I believe he still produces a few blades  even today.

Here is a picture of him in younger days.

Altti Kankaanpää
Altti Kankaanpää at Iisakki Järvenpää workshop

I believe this may be a picture of him working at the Iisakki Järvenpää workshop where he learned his trade before setting up his own workshop at home.

The famous Iisakki Järvenpää workshop is still running today as it has since 1879.

This trip also provided us with our first reindeer skin coffee pouches and a couple of small, but unremarkable mass produced kuksas.

Buying the coffee pouches gave me the opportunity to work out how they were  constructed which led me to make one or two of my own, including the one with the sealskin panels shown next to the old pipe pouch in the  picture above.

The next item came to me by pure chance. A competition run on the Bushcraft UK forum netted me the first prize from Bushcraft Expeditions of  another antler knife, this one made by XXXXX you can see that one  hanging at the back of the picture.

Apart from a couple more mass produced kuksa bought in between, it would be  2013 before I really got another chance to add to the collection. This was my first trip to the Winter Market at Jokkmokk.

The Winter Market was originally set up by the King of Sweden in order to  be able to tax the nomadic tribes more effectively. Over the years it became an opportunity for the Saami to trade and socialise amongst themselves and these days trade with a growing customer base of tourists and collectors of duodji.

On my first visit I was particularly looking for a fine kuksa and I was interested in a needle case for Debs and anything else that caught my fancy. At the Nordiska museum in Stockholm on the way and the Ajtte in Jokkmokk I had seen a few match cases which I added to my  shopping list.

Jokkmokk Market - Reindeer Caravan
Saami Match Case

As it happened, it was a match case that I found first.

Tucked into a little cabinet of treasures from various makers, this one was  made by Per Erik Nilsson has a plain concave channel down it’s back where I have attached a striker with simple latex cement that can be peeled off and replaced when  necessary.

As you can see, it featured some exquisite engraving in what appears to be a more Southern Saami style.

 

My next find was a needle case made by this fine gentleman, Tyko Harald Lampa, another well respected craftsman who has been trading here since 1984.

The needle case is another item with differing names in different places. Nålhus appears to be the Swedish name, nállogoahte (Lule Saami) and nállogoahti (Northern Saami). All of these basically mean “Needle House”.

The idea is simple but effective. A peice of cloth is attached to a cord that is drawn up into a hollow tube of antler protecting the needles within it.

I was also fortunate enough to find a traditional reindeer skin needlework pouch with woolen patches to hold more needles.

Both of these items are now regularly used as part of Deb’s embroidery equipment where they function perfectly as you would expect.

Jokkmokk Market - Tyko Harald Lampa
Saami Sewing Kit

At this point, my original objective, a fine kuksa, had so far eluded me. I thought I had looked everywhere and although seeing some good examples, non of them felt quite right in my hand.

I should mention here that the Saami word for such a cup is actually Guksi and the Swedish word is Kåsa. In Northern Norway they are usually  called Kokse while in the South they are simply known as Turkopp (  hiking cup ) or Trekopp ( wooden cup ). In America similar cups are  often referred to as Noggins which seems to come from Europe in trapper times. I tend to think of them by the term I heard first which is Kuksa, the Finnish name for them.

There was one stall at the end of the market that we had not paid much attention to. It seemed to be selling mostly black leather jackets and heavy metal tee shirts but on our last day I caught sight of a glass topped cabinet near the back of the stall.

Saami Guksi

On closer examination it turned out to be another little trove of fine works by various craftspeople. I spotted another match case by Per Erik Nilsson amongst them but right in the middle was this lovely kuksa by Roger Grönlund.

Apparently better known for making knives, I have not been able to find out much about Mr Grönlund but I wouldn't mind betting that he and I share exactly the same size of hands. Every curve of this cup felt like it was made for my hand. Every way I hold it the dimensions were perfect. I had found the cup I was looking for almost at the eleventh hour.

Jokkmokk Trip 600-27

In 2017 we returned to the Winter Market at Jokkmokk, this time Debs was with me.

I was rather more open minded about what I wanted to buy, with no particular objectives, just going to see what we could find.

As it turned out the weather was much warmer between -2°c and -13°c as opposed to the more normal -20°c to -35° as we had experienced last time.

Many of my purchases were for my business. Materials for making things that are difficult to source in Britain for example.

Jokkmokk-Old-Duodji

One trader was selling a variety of older pieces and in a box to one side were a number of items which looked as if they might have been found in charity or thrift shops. A nosey through the box turned up this nice little kuksa and a lonely looking shoe band with an interesting pattern that Debbie thought she might like to copy.

Debs has been experimenting with some of the Saami weaving methods and the bands top left and right in the first picture on this page are examples of her work.

Jokkmokk-Leatherwork

I also found another needlework pouch, this one for some of my leatherworking equipment and a nice bag made from Salmon, Eel and reindeer skin made by Isse Israelsson

Our next two purchases came from this gentleman, Anders Sunna from Aitijokk near Kiruna. (b.1937) 

Another highly respected craftsman steeped in the tradition of this art form

Anders-Sunna
Anders-Sunna-Needlecase

Debs spotted another nállogoahte which she liked and I took a fancy to another matchcase. ( tändsticksdosan ? )

The picture below shows both sides of the same matchcase by the way.

Anders-Sunna-Matchcase
Per-Stefan-Idivuoma-Buckle

Another nice find by Debs was this antler belt buckle by Per-Stefan Idivuoma, A fine young man with a bright future ahead of him if the work he is producing now is anything to go by.

Jokkmokk-Skop

My personal favourite find from this trip has to be this large skop by Johan Borgstróm, caught the corner of my eye as I was buying something else. Tucked in a corner of the stall, I almost missed it completely.

When I turned it over in my hands I  was simply blown away by the quality of workmanship.

Jokkmokk-Skop-Base

I’m not 100% sure about what this actually is. It’s large enough to be a naphie or milking skop but it seems shallower than the usual vessel of that type that I have seen.

For my own purposes it will be used as an eating bowl and for that it will be perfect.

So, that is our little collection so far. All useful and all a real pleasure to handle and behold. In my opinion, a perfect blend of form and function.

I hope as time goes on we will acquire more of this wonderful duodji, we may even add to the collection with some of our own crafts, although our skills still have far to develop.

But then, if a collection like this does not also serve as inspiration, that would be a sad thing indeed.

 

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Bushcraft skills complement many outdoor living pursuits such as walking, mountaineering, canoeing, hunting, fishing and in my case at least landscape photography. In fact I find the equipment suited to bushcraft often far exceeds the specification and usefulness of other high tech outdoor equipment.

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