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The Changes in an Indigenous Society

These women came with a new hope to a little Sea Sami village. Depopulation has been a huge challenge for this region, but now twelve women are giving a brighter future to Davvesiida.

Da damene kom!
Foto: Liv Inger Somby

Davvesiida (Lebesby) is a Sea Sami village, in Finnmark County, with only 85 inhabitants. For hundreds of years, this village has been and often still is isolated during long winters, because of powerful storms. Plus the center of the municipality is two hours drive towards the North. In this village there are few official working places.

Kaia i Lebesby

Quiet on the quay.

Foto: Liv Inger Somby

According to the official statistics in Norway many inhabitants have left villages in the fjord area called Lágesvuotna. Statistics are showing that 52% of the local young women have moved since 1970s.[1] They went out to get education and to find better jobs. The statistics also show that people in this area have low education. Only 8% have a university degree.

Women left the villages

Mari Sommverik is 55 years old and is from this fjord. She grew up in a little village called Irgevuotna. Mari is one of those who moved away, took education and then decided to move back to Davvesiida.

Mari Sommervik, the teacher who helps the women

Mari Sommervik, the teacher who speaks many languageas and she is also teaching about and socialrights to the women who has moved to their village.

Foto: Liv Inger Somby

Our community changed when women left. Most of them never returned back again and this has influenced our society in a negative way. Our men, young and old, they continued to live here. They took care of their old parents and they went out daily to fish in the fjords, Mari tells.

The houses seem few and small along the vast fjord. Even fewer of the houses have lights shining in the windows. The phenomena is called depopulation.

When Mari was a child, she recalls how the fiord was filled with small, local fishing boats. Today you barely spot boats on the sea. Few of the men are fishing. The fish factory is closed. The local people have lost their fishing quotas to big companies. Most of them owned by Southern Norwegians.

Why did it go this way with Davvesiida?

The Sami people went through a very tough forced assimilation, called “Norwegianization". The aim was to assimilate the Sami people and make them become Norwegian.

For a long period there was an official policy that made the Sami language forbidden in schools. The assimilation process was especially hard in the fiords.

Lebesby 100 years ago

Traditional way of living in Lágesvuotna or from Lebesby area 100 years ago.

Foto: Resvoll-Holmsen, Hanna Marie/ Norsk Folkemuseum

One building disturbs Mari and many others in Davvesiida. It is the boarding school, placed in the center. She calls it “the monster building”.

– I remember when I came to the Boarding School. From day one they told us that our identity and language had no value or future. Our parents started to communicate in Norwegian with us, so we could handle the years at school. As a result, the Sami language disappeared in our homes. It started already with my parents, they changed their language. So today it is only elders and few children who speaks Sami, explains Mari.

A Norwegian teacher in 1904 described children from this area as "weak and retarded", because he was unable to teach anything to them.[2] Many of the Sami children had tough years at school. According to Mari, especially the boys suffered.

– We still see that our men are carrying their traumas from their school experiences. They are carrying a "secret hidden pain", Mari says.

Taking back my language

Even though it was tough for Mari to be at the boarding school, she was a bright little girl. She learned very easily to read and write. After finishing school, she left her hometown and moved to the south to take education. She is now well educated as a teacher and she has studied tourism and many languages.

The Village Lebesby

On my way to Davvesiida.

Foto: Liv Inger Somby

– I decided to come back again, because I saw that our village needs educated people, especially local people, who have the traditional knowledge about our society.I also wanted to give my children a good and a safe home. When I moved back again I started learning the Sami language and taking back my Sami identity. I also started to wear our traditional clothing, gákti. This has inspired my mother to do the same, but some of my siblings don`t wear gákti.

Kitchens are getting warm again

A change has happened the last 15 years. Davvesiida has a new unexpected future filled with hope. A change that includes warm kitchens, working hands, new languages, and new inhabitants.

It all started when a Thai woman named “Na” or Laksanaporn Yabuha, moved to this rural village.

She wrote letters to her friends in Bangkok. She told about her life up in the North, about the frozen tundra and the long winters.

"Na" wrote in her letters about new possibilities, local jobs and high salaries. She also informed her friends about the lonely bachelors.

Pradit and Viggo with their children

Pradit and Viggo and their twins, Robert and Martha. Aree Pansawad from Thailand has also moved to this area.

Foto: Liv Inger Somby

– "Na" was the matchmaker. She phoned me about this young unmarried farmer, named Viggo, says Pradit Myhre from Bangkok in Thailand.

The local men went out to find wives. They travelled, they used dating sites, with help from an interpreter.

Twelve women from Thailand, Nepali, Russia, Kirgizstan, Lithuania and New Zealand have entered this little village. They are filling a key role there.

Mari is their language teacher, but she also has the responsibility to follow them up.

– We have already experienced some sad stories. Some couples are dealing with serious language problems, they don`t have a common language at home. A few of these marriages have had challenges, with alcohol addiction. Unfortunately some of our men don’t know how to treat women, says Mari. She calls it the price of assimilation.

But Pradit does not miss Bangkok.

I remember the evening when I came in December 2002. I saw many, many lights and I thought this is a big city. Next morning when I woke up, I could only see a few houses and a huge dark sea. The hundreds of lights I saw shining came from the ski trails. This is my home, hopefully our twins can combine their future with a touch of Sami identity!

Lebesby women

Aree and Pradit from Thailand, Kamala from Nepal, Sanomphan from Thailand, Anna from Russia and in front Debby from New Zealand and Panita from Thailand. Five of the women were not in Lebesby, when I was there.

Foto: Liv Inger Somby

Families are growing and more children are born. Despite this new hope, Mari feels that the Sea Samis are forgotten. She hopes that the Sami Parliament and Norwegian government starts dealing with their struggles and that they will manage to give a better future for this new multicultural society- and that the Sami way of living will be part of the development of Lebesby.

Back to Pradit. She calls this place "The Paradise"- and she is a busy hardworking woman. They are changing the structure in their farm, and in the future robots will start to milk their 17 cows.

- I am so happy that I met Viggo and we are perfect for each other, says Pradit.

Pradit Myhre
Foto: Liv Inger Somby