The only time most of us ever talk about reindeer is around Christmas time. But for the indigenous Sámi people in Northern Lapland, Finland, the reindeer are most important creatures for everything from food to transportation to clothing. So important that the Sámi have some 100 different words referring to reindeer.
On my recent trip to Northern Lapland, Finland
, I had the opportunity to visit the Inari Reindeer Farm, a family-owned operation that's been in business for 29 years. Interestingly, Jani is the son of the original owner and his previous job as a camera man and a marketing specialist, didn't seem a background that would serve him well to run this reindeer business.
But he is native Sámi. In fact, his father and mother are from two different tribes and he was of the generation that almost lost their language -- because speaking the Sámi language (each tribe has a different language) -- was forbidden. Luckily, he learned the language when he was a teen and he eventually and happily returned to his roots.
A visit to this farm is a welcome learning experience for the entire family. Here, you can take a leisurely one- to three- reindeer sleigh ride through the forest, or opt for a safari where you overnight in a hut. You can learn to lasso a reindeer -- a useful skill should your animal wander into your neighbor's herd, or even have a reindeer gently pull you while astride cross country skis.
Set on the property are several wooden teepee-like structures, referred to as kota, where you'll be able to sip coffee or tea from the birch cup (a kuksa) and nibble on biscuits beside a roaring fire -- the Sámi always have a fire burning
in the center of their kota because fire represent life to them -- as you listen to indigenous songs (joiks). (I will post a video of one of these next week.)
Jani, wearing his colorful native dress including leggings and shoes made of reindeer hide with a handmade birch burl cup dangling from his waist, introduced himself to us and explained that when we feed the reindeer, we needed to watch out for the antlers. (Stick your head too close while you're admiring these creatures and you'll accidentally get poked in the eye!)
Jani is a wealth of information as he gave us the run down on reindeer facts as well as factoids about the Sámi people. Here's some of what I found out:
* They get the reindeer used to the sled when they're a year old. But some 30% don't or won't learn how to pull a sled.
* Once the reindeer are five years old, they can pull visitors around the forested property.
* They eat lichen all winter and, in the summer, they forage among some 200 different plants in the forest, but they also munch on grass and hay.
* Both male and female reindeer have antlers and they both shed they every year, though at different times of the year.
* The female weighs about 110 kg while the male can weigh 160 kg.
* Eagles prey on the babies, but the adults have predators too, including bears, linx and wolverines.
* The reindeer can pull three times their weight.
* The reindeer are trained to pull the sleigh at a leisurely 5 km/hour so the visitors can enjoy nature.
* Every Sámi carries four things with them, especially when they travel in the forests: salt (for fish they might catch), a cup, matches, and a knife. The knives are all hand made with the handle constructed of antler and birch, the sheath of reindeer hide, and the blade of carbon steel.
* The drum used to accompany the songs is also made of birch along with a skin of reindeer leather. The stick is of antler bone.
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So interesting to learn about an animal that only has a presence as Rudolph. You travel to the most exciting places! Love to learn about your adventures along the way.
Hi Sheryl, Yes, it's most curious that reindeer only seem associated with Christmas in in the U.S.
Wow. This is fantastic. I can't believe how long those antlers are! I remember learning about the Sami when the Olympics were held in that area. I would love to go there!
Hi NoPotCooking, Their antlers are serious business. But I don't know why I never knew about the Sami before. What an education, and a fun way to learn, to boot.
Wow - looks like something straight out of a Christmas movie. How fun!
Hi Susan, The entire Lapland trip felt like I stepped into a magical wonderland.
A musician I know -- a composer from Denmark-- has done work with Sami musicians. Good to hear about your expereiences traveling there.
Hi Kerry, That's very cool. I'd like to hear more Sami music.
Christmas in April? Well, any time of year, I'd be excited to see reindeer. There is a lady that lives up the canyon from us who has some that she uses in educational programs and such.
The reindeer look so gentle - I'm sure that's not always the case, but it's impressive that they've been trained to pull the sleds and have so much human contact. What great photos!
Hi Roxanne, I adore reindeer. And it's especially nice to have such a great venue to provide loads of learning experiences for children and adults alike. That's great that your neighbor uses reindeer for educational purposes. I find that there are so many things that most people don't know or misunderstand about reindeer.
Hi Casey, I think it's interesting how 30% of the reindeer won't learn how to pull the sled. He thinks they could learn but they seem to choose not to. As to gentleness, I never heard of a reindeer charging the way moose do. But who knows?
Such beautiful creatures. I had no idea they shed their antlers - and in seeing your photos really can see how absolutely HUGE they are (both the reindeer and their antlers!).
Hi merr, I had no idea that the female had antlers. There were plenty of "who knew" experiences here. Hope to return some time for more reindeer adventures, especially an overnight sled trip.
What wonderful photographs! What an amazing opportunity. This was fun to read about. I too love reindeer (don't we all since Rudolph wasn't allowed to play?)
This is so cool! A few years ago, a local reindeer farm brought their reindeer to our neighborhood and we were able to take a picture with them. It ended up being our Christmas card that year. Love reindeer.
Hi Jennifer, Glad you enjoyed my reindeer photos and the post too. This is such a great place for kids and the kid in all of us too.
Hi Jane, How cute that you had reindeer in your neighborhood. And what a unique Christmas card that must've been.
To think they get that big just eating lichen. I've seen reindeer at Christmas festivals but to see them in their real habitat would be so cool.
Hi MyKidsEatSquid, I found it curious as well that during the winter they live on lichens. An unusual food for so large a creature. But it seems they can find lichen easily in the snow.
So cool! I must admit... I have always wanted to visit this area of finland and see the reindeer. I saw a program on tv once and always wanted to go back! Very cool
Hi Steve, Glad Lapland has been on your radar. I've had it on my list for years.
I've always wanted to visit Lapland. It's interesting that reindeer subsist on lichens. Enjoyed your photo story of an experience that many will never have.
Hi Donna, I know, I was surprised that reindeer ate nothing but lichens in the winter. Who knew? Thanks so much for your comments and I'm glad you enjoyed viewing my images.
I'd love to go and meet the reindeer, would be an amazing experience.
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