Eyes on Barents

My lake. If you follow traditions, Nature will continue to feed you

February 18, 2019
On Lake Muddus, the world shines all white. The sky is separated from the ice only by a pine forest. It is late January. After the real cold spell of mid-January, the temperature keeps at –20 degrees Centigrade. The polar night is over, and the rays of a rising sun begin to color the sky.

Text: Linnea Rasmus

Photography: Vesa Toppari

Layout and technical realization: Antti Hämäläinen & Henry Lämsä

 

 

Anna Morottaja drills holes in the ice and, sawing from one hole to another, makes a bigger hole. She is preparing to fish under the ice with a gill net. You need to do many things before you can pull a fishing net under the ice.

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Morottaja attaches a long rope to a board that she pushes under the ice. With the ice jigger, or “otter” in the local language, she steers the rope into water, and then, using the rope, she pulls the fishing net under the ice.

 

Photo: Vesa Toppari, Yle

 

When she pulls the rope, a spring in the jigger jabs into the ice, moving the board slightly forward.

Anna Morottaja drills holes in the ice and, sawing from one hole to another, makes a bigger hole. She is preparing to fish under the ice with a gill net. You need to do many things before you can pull a fishing net under the ice.

Morottaja attaches a long rope to a board that she pushes under the ice. With the ice jigger, or “otter” in the local language, she steers the rope into water, and then, using the rope, she pulls the fishing net under the ice.

 

Photo: Vesa Toppari, Yle

 

When she pulls the rope, a spring in the jigger jabs into the ice, moving the board slightly forward.

«You could call this a Sámi dance, in line with chopping wood. Both require very accurate movements,» Morottaja says as she pulls the rope.

 The lake has been generous toward me.

In the old days, net fishing under the ice guaranteed that the Sámi also had fresh fish in winter. Anna Morottaja, or Kuobžâ-Piäká Ánná as she is called in Sámi, cultivates this tradition. Her family has lived on Lake Muddus for two generations. Her father came from an island on Lake Inari. After being orphaned at the age of eight, he was first sold to and made to work for another family, but eventually ended up at Riutula Children’s Home on Lake Muddus. Later, as an adult, he built a home for his family on the same lake, herding his reindeer and fishing in the area.

 

Photos: Vesa Toppari, Yle

 

Anna Morottaja, 49, is the younger child of the family’s two children. Culture and nature are close to her heart. She has an artisan’s degree in Sámi handicraft and she is a teacher of the North Sámi language. About ten years ago a window of opportunity to study her father’s native language, Inari Sámi, opened for her.

«It’s strange that before that I couldn’t even say takkâ (thank you) or pyeri iiđeed (good morning).»

Morottaja did not study in vain: after learning Inari Sámi she began to teach it at the Sámi Education Institute in Inari. At present, she works as an artist, reviving the Inari Sámi music tradition livđe. In addition to being engaged in the field of culture, she lives an industrious life: like many Sámi who still keep up traditions, she tries to make use of the resources of her environment.

 Climate change is a topical theme in the world today. Food, housing and transportation use more natural resources than other spheres of life. More and more people are trying to figure out how to reduce their ecological footprint. Sámi culture and traditions may show ways of doing this for everyone.

 

Photo: Vesa Toppari, Yle

 

The bounties of nature in the Land of the Sámi 

When still a child, Anna Morottaja went to pick cloudberries with her parents and brother. The two children used to sit by a campfire close to the bog while their mother and father picked berries. Morottaja got used to berry-picking trips, and, by the time she was an adult, picking berries had become a habit. 

You can go nuts in the berry season. After a few days, you only want to pick berries.

Morottaja likes to go berry-picking until she has enough berries to last all winter. She also makes juice and jam from her berries.

«You can go nuts in the berry season. After a few days, you only want to pick berries. You put other chores off, as there’s still time to pick berries.»

If there are not many cloudberries, Morottaja prefers to do something else.

Morottaja grows her own potatoes, but also cabbages, carrots, onions and parsley, for example. The potatoes, jams and juices make it through the winter in the cellar of her mother, who lives next door. From her mother, Morottaja has learned to use the many edible mushrooms of the area, though, traditionally, local people have left the mushrooms for the reindeer to feed on.

 

Photos: Vesa Toppari. Yle

 

In the autumn, Morottaja fishes and fills her freezer with whitefish, and, in winter, she catches fish from under the ice. She prefers not to buy fish from the store, and the same applies to meat now that she is part of a group of elk hunters. However, she has not yet participated in the elk hunt, as one of the members of the group is a very enthusiastic hunter. 

«It’s easy for him to go hunting, and he’s also a skilled hunter. He has a good dog, so they two are the ones that catch our quota of elks.»

After an elk has been shot, Morottaja participates in butchering and cutting up the meat. 

«Getting food from my neighborhood means not using natural resources for transportation and preservation.»

 

Photo: Vesa Toppari, Yle

No need to be hungry

Even before the Sámi started to herd reindeer, they hunted, fished and picked berries. In terms of food, reindeer herding further improved the situation.

Thanks to the bounties of nature, the famine of the 1860s was not the kind of ordeal for the Sámi as for the Finns, who lived on agriculture. On the basis of the minutes of the municipal meetings of Utsjoki, historian Ritva Kylli concludes that the famine years had no effect on the Sámi of Utsjoki, as they lived on fishing and reindeer herding. Kylli has written an article, in which she looks at communities in Northern Finland in the 1700s and 1800s on the basis of death causes in three villages. According to the article, the inhabitants of Utsjoki were told to mix lichen with flour in order to have enough bread. The members of the municipal council considered this unnecessary, jeering that there was no need to start eating the food of reindeer. 

 

Photo: Vesa Toppari, Yle

 

At present, people are, of course, used to a more diverse diet. Anna Morottaja also buys things from the store, for example, flour and other grain products, milk products, rice, eggs, macaroni, spices and tea. Sometimes, it is also nice to buy bologna to put on sandwiches, but, after a successful elk hunt, Morottaja decided to replace bologna by self-made meat jelly. You get it by boiling the head of an elk. Naturally, she also eats bread with roe and salt-cured fish. 

But why does Morottaja choose to work so hard for her food, when she could buy it much quicker from a store?

«Of course, I save some money, but it’s also a challenge to be able to do everything yourself. I also know what my food contains. There are no poisons and preservation or coloring agents in it. 

Natural fast food and slow traditional food 

Anna Morottaja often makes meat soup, boiled fish and potatoes, or fried fish. If you split and cut the fish into filets before freezing them, it is easy to fry them when you get hungry.

 I also know what my food contains. There are no poisons and preservation or coloring agents in it. 

«In a way, it’s the fast food of the Sámi: the meal is ready in ten minutes.»

Every now and then Morottaja makes sausages. For it, she needs reindeer intestines and blood, but also time and skill.

«Of course, I also eat a lot of spaghetti with Bolognese sauce.» 

When you have filled you freezer with fish and berries, you do not need to buy things from the freezer in the store.

Life before ecological principles

On the shore of Lake Muddus, two houses stand by one another. Anna Morottaja’s 80-year-old mother lives in one of the houses, while the other one is the home of Morottaja herself. First, she moved in it together with her spouse and two children. When the couple divorced, Morottaja continued living in the house with her dog Jieŋâ.

«This is far from being ecological: one person living in a house with three bedrooms, a big living room, a sauna and even a guest room. Keeping it warm requires natural resources: I burn a lot of wood.»

In winter, the cold creeps in by the corners of the 40-year-old house. You can apply weather strips to doors and windows, but you can also keep the warmth inside by a means that dates back to when the Sámi lived in turf huts: cover the exterior walls with snow and the cold stays out.

Nevertheless, Morottaja has no plans of giving up the house. The rooms that were left empty at divorce have a new function: she now has both a room for sewing and for making music. It is not her childhood home that ties her to this place: she stays here mostly because of her mother and the lake. 

 

Photo: Vesa Toppari, Yle

 

She really talks about the lake with love. My lake. This is where she used to row together with her father already as a child. When her father grew older, he could no longer stand and handle the fish nets in the boat, nor start the motor. Thus, he began to row and the daughter began to handle the nets. Before he died, he taught the daughter where the good fisheries are and how you find exactly the place you want on the lake.

«The lake is very important for me. It’s the only body of water I really know. I know where to catch fish with nets in the spring and where the fish spawn in the fall. The lake has been generous toward me.» 

What can you give up?

In the end, you have to reflect on what is reasonable when making ecological decisions. The closest village Inari is twelve kilometers from Morottaja’s home. It is easiest to cover the distance by car. It would take an hour or two to walk to the village, and half an hour to ride the bike. 

«I’ve thought about how I’d end up restricting my life if I gave up my car: then, I wouldn’t go anywhere without a good reason. I could, for example, take a taxi to the store and buy things for a whole month, but the idea doesn’t appeal to me. It sounds more like torturing yourself.»

 

Photo: Vesa Toppari, Yle

 

As concerns traveling, Morottaja has decided that she will not drive to Inari every day unless there is a real need – especially not just for a carton of milk. But the possibility of getting to the village must be there, for the sake of security if nothing else. 

Morottaja decided a while ago that she would quit flying in Finland. The distances in Finland can be covered by car or train. But she might consider flying if she was invited to sing livđes in Paris or give a speech in an indigenous seminar abroad – and if she knew that her speech could help other indigenous peoples.

Though Anna Morottaja does not always live and travel in an ecological way, she tries to reduce her carbon footprint through her small choices. She composts her organic waste and recycles bottles and metals. To save energy, she keeps the temperature at home at 18 degrees Centigrate. It just means wearing more clothes, and, in winter, she can burn wood to keep the house warm. 

Naturally, Anna Morottaja knows that her ecological choices alone will not save the world. However, she is confident that there is power in setting an example, and she will at least affect the people around her. 

 Anna Morottaja livđe (sings) her aunt Ristin

Irritated by plastic

One thing that irritates Morottaja today is plastic. There is plastic or other synthetic materials that do not decompose even in modern winter clothes. If you get a hole in them, they will no longer be as water- and windproof as they were as new.

Anna Morottaja has reflected on the possibility of replacing modern winter clothing with warm Sámi clothes. However, you need both time and skill to make such clothes.

«One solution would be to learn to use old materials so that it would be profitable to make the clothes. It would be a big step toward getting rid of garbage cans that are full of clothes made from plastic. It could be a small improvement in our world.

However, Morottaja has a practical solution: she no longer buys clothes unless she really needs them. She has a heap of clothes, and it will take a while until they start to wear. Furthermore, she has never been very interested in following the newest fashion.

 «I haven’t bought clothes for several years, so my clothes are what they are. Someone may consider them old-fashioned, but I don’t care.»

 But when the snow turns wet nothing beats rubber boots – not even the Sámi clothes.

 «Reindeer fur boots are not waterproof. Today there’s always water on the lake when you go fishing under the ice.»

Anna Morottaja’s fishing nets are now under the ice. They are also made from plastic. The fish could see the old cotton gill nets better than the modern nets so the catches used to be smaller.

Sometimes plastic and other modern innovations do make life easier, but we need to be careful that we do not pollute our world with them.

«We only have this one planet. We don’t know when we have polluted it too badly. Therefore, even every little thing that might improve the state of our natural conditions is important,» Kuobžâ-Piäká Ánná says.

 

Photo. Vesa Toppari, Yle

 

Translated from Sámi by Kaija Anttonen

 


This story is originally posted by Yle Sapmi and translated and re-published as part of Eyes on Barents, a collaborative partnership between news organizations and bloggers in the Barents region