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Marking the Reindeer

For Sami, the people who live in Northern Lapland, reindeer means life itself


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Sami are a native population scattered all over Sweden, but most settlements are located in the North of the country. During different parts of history they were decimated and restricted in many activities. The earliest mention of Sami and the way they hunted deer dates back to 9th century. However, during the 16-17th century, Sami began their transition to domesticating reindeer instead of only hunting. Nowadays there are around 51 Sami communities of around 20,000 people in total, out of whom 900 are reindeer herders.

The herding of reindeer is of a nomadic type, which means that they graze from season to season in different pastures. The year for reindeer is divided into eight distinct seasons, one of them is especially spectacular. During the spring months of April and May, the reindeer cows give birth to their cute calves. Typic​ally, each of them has one calf every year. The mothers care for their children for some time but eventually reject them. They mostly graze alone with their kids, and it is most important not to interfere.

Later, around June-July herders need to distribute calves among themselves. The only way to do this is by the calves' attachment to their moms. The calves that recognise their mothers are captured by a long wooden pole with a loop and then pulled down to be marked with a knife mark on the calves' ears, which is believed to be painless for the animal. Every group of Sami has their ​distinctive way of marking the calves. This spectacular tradition is important for Sami se​lf-identification.

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