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Memorable Visit to the National Saami Center of Russia in Lovozero

Nowadays, there are 3,500 people living in Lovozero. Seven hundred of them are Sami. Other populations of Lovozero include Russians, Komi, and Tatars. However, it is very easy even for visitors to detect a visual difference between inborn Saami (undersized, thickset, with large features) and Komi-Izhort (statelier with “European” features). Saami people are usually occupied in reindeer herding. There are two schools, two kindergartens, a music school, a School of Arts, a Museum of Culture, and a Palace of Arts (working with non-indigenous population).

Two local tourist attractions are the Museum of Saami Culture and the National Cultural Saami Center, which is designed in the style of northern chum, the traditional aborigines living place. This site is not too far from the downtown area of the village. The third attraction is the “Covas,” a local hotel.

First is a National Saami cultural centre. I was surprised to see a large building constructed in the shape of a chum. Before Sweden invested approximately 1,215,000 Swedish krones in 2002, this was a famous local restaurant known simply as “Chum.” However, with the closing of many mines and companies in the time of “Perestroika,” most patrons of “Chum” disappeared.

Isn’t it such an irony, so common with the Soviet epoch? Isn’t it a paradox to sell alcohol to aborigines of Pola Arctic? Now, this is a community place not only for Saami, but also for all inhabitants of Lovozero where they can learn and benefit from a local culture center, offices of the Saami Association, a radio station, workshops for a traditional Saami craft, and courses of Saami language.

A National Saami cultural centre for a small community with a decreasing population is a home for Saami souls. The Saami Center has two departments: the department of folklore and the handicraft department. It offers language courses for working people three times per week. Besides that, it provides dancing and singing courses.

The Saami Center becomes more active after the first of October when all work is finished on the fields. The first event in the season is the Day of the Old Man. At the end of November is the Festival of the Bear. The Festival of the North is celebrated in the end of March, Saami Games usually take place in June, and the Day of Saami occurs in August.

Saami Public organization also has an office in this building. They’re helping the center by finding resources for improvements and assist the elderly in getting social service assistance. Personnel of the Center make attempts to be kept informed about situations among the Saami families, the tundra, and so on. The Center supports talented families.

I entered a large, slightly rounded hall with a circle under a ceiling. My hostess disappeared, and I start wandering around. Attracted by sentences in a Saami language and pictographs from the North Sea on the ceiling, I took several pictures. Simplicity is a magical type of art, and I like it. Later, I found out that a local painter created this piece of art, which is giving food for thought.

My thoughts were that a different explanation of this creation could be found in literature. However, the common description is that the circle symbolizes the Universe where Lappish gods live. In the centre is Pjajvy, the Sun deity, surrounded by a foremother of the Sun, the shaman, deities of fruitfulness, and the soul of the person traveling around the sun. The empty seat is left for the people still living on the earth. I noticed a sun on the floor, and I walked around a sun while looking up imaging myself in the empty place on the circle of the “world of people.”

Time was flying fast, and I decided to enter the left narrow hall with doors leading in from both sides. Several paintings were hung on the walls along the corridor. One of them in particular attracted my attention-a portrait of a Saami reindeer herder in the tundra, created by a local painter, B. D. Shavalov. Deep thoughts reflected on the face of middle age man.

As I continued wandering, I entered an open room, a small colorful souvenir shop. It surprised me. I browsed the room filled by Saami vibrant traditional crafts ready to be purchased by foreign tourists. The price (in rubles) was really high, clearly not intended for the locals.

The colors in the patterns of the decorated clothes and headdresses of the Saami are still the same. Green, blue, and red patterns appealed to the eye during polar nights and short, dull summers. The blue color symbolized a polar night; and by contrast, the other colors hinted at a long-expected summer. I had seen these nice things before and had some of them. Personally, I like footwear (such as boots) and sleepers made from deerskin for their warmness and lightness. There was a mask in the shop that was obviously not an authentic Saami craft. The shelves also stocked many interesting books and CDs on Saami language and their culture.

After my browsing the shop, I noticed that the building was still empty and quiet, and I realized it was time to look for my companion, who appeared from one of the other rooms.

There was no special presentation for tourists and no dancing. It should be mentioned that Saami don’t have old national dances. However, the Saami have a very interesting way of singing. Their improvised, highly spiritual songs are called “luvuyt.” Luvuyt do not rhyme and have no definite structure. They are typically about any subject that might be of personal importance to the singer and vary widely in lyrical content. The Saami were singing about their lives in general – the tundra, deer, and children – and they always sing solo. These traditional folk songs have declined in popularity over the twentieth century.

I would like to make mention about the four colors of the Saami flag. Water, Earth, Sun, and Fire compose the national flag of the Saami. Water is a blue color; Earth is a green color; Sun is a yellow color; and Fire is a red color.

The walls of the rounded hall were covered with posters and pictures. Near the window close to entrance was a large board with beautiful drawings by Saami kindergartens. To see signs in Russian in the Saami Cultural Center which was build to preserve their language and culture was quiet interesting. The goal of the center is the revival, preservation, and the development of Sami culture. The main requirement for people working in the Center is to belong to an indigenous community.

I recently received the startling and heartbreaking news that the Cultural Center of Saami is in grave danger of being altered. The Administration of the Lovozero District, Murmansk Region is planning to transform the National Cultural Center of Saami to the Tourist Bureau Center.

The new head of the local administration, Dmitri Pisarev, demands that all agencies leave the occupied building as soon as possible. The reason for the transformation involves economic difficulties. Despite the numerous efforts of foreign charity organizations to help, financial crisis has wreaked havoc on the tiny Saami community-due, in part, to the difficulty in supporting an indigenous Saami community in an environment where many uncounted individuals and groups are clearly trying to take advantage of others’ generosity for their own benefit.

Still, this transformation of the Saami Cultural Center is heart-wrenching and should, perhaps, be reconsidered. Instead of supporting the education and prosperity of the last indigenous tribe on the Kola Peninsula, the administration and local government are clearly following their own hidden agendas-to benefit and gain at the expense of their own neighbors’ culture and tradition.

The Cultural Center of Saami was opened after major repairs in 2003 and is an extraordinarily important arena for cultural activity in Lovozero, helping to protect and support to keep a national identity of Saami in Russia. The loss of such a facility will be a true shame.

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