Joik

A moment lived in Norway by Christie, a traveller from USA

Have you ever sung in the shower before? How did you feel? For me, I feel like I’m not trying to impress anyone. I am just singing because there is something I need to get out of my system. It’s pure expression of how I’m feeling and in a way, who I am. Now imagine you had some watching you, listening to you as you sung in the shower (let’s say for this you are wearing a bathing suit). That is the closest description I can think of to describe a ‘joik.’
Let me back up. In mid March 2016 I went on a solo trip to Tromsø, Norway, an island town with a population of 70,000 in the arctic circle. I stayed at a little bed and breakfast on the side of hill overlooking the city below. I ate waffles every morning (and on some evenings). My mission was to see the Northern Lights, get a selfie with some reindeer, and go skiing in fjords. Well, fortunately enough I did get to do all of those things, but I brought back with more with me than just a selfie while visiting the reindeer.

The sun was shining and the temperature was just above freezing when I arrived at the Sami reindeer farm in the fjords of nearby Tromsø. The Sami I should explain, are the indigenous people of Lapland -the arctic region of Finland, Sweden, and Norway. They have their own language, and own unique culture. For years they have been a nomadic society, living from the land and on the reindeer, letting nothing go to waste. Most Sami people these days have normal jobs and houses like any other person, but 10% are still reindeer herders. For them, it’s not a necessity, but a lifestyle they’re endeavouring to preserve against the tide of the 21st century.

The farm was a field covered in snow, surrounded by water and the mountains of the fjords. After feeding the reindeer, taking a short sleigh ride, and of course getting many selfies. The group of visitors strolled into the lavvu (a kind of Sami tipi) to warm up and sample some reindeer stew. The in the center of the lavvu was a roaring fire with steaming kettles hung over it by iron rods. Surrounding the fire were wooden benches strewn with reindeer pelts. When we were seated, Eidnár (a tall young man with big fuzzy fur hat) and Jaská (a slightly older woman with fiery red hair) joined us. Both were wearing their traditional bright blue Sami clothing,

After explaining some Sami history Eidnár started to talk about joiking. Every Sami has their own individual joik, or song. One might compare to yodelling or a native American chant, with no ending. By listening to someone’s joik, you can tell what kind of person they are. Some have happy, boisterous joiks, others have longing, soft joiks. To share your joik with someone is to honor them, and it is equally an honor to hear it. Eidnár soon announced that he would share his joik with us. But asked that we not take any videos. This joik was for inside this lavvu only he said, not for the internet or youtube. He sang for a minute or two, with his hand clutching his chest and his eyes closed. It was like he had shared a deep part of himself with us.

Soon after we left the farm, and I had some time to reflect on the experience. The cynical side of me thought maybe this guy Eidnár just didn’t like the idea of a video of him singing floating around cyberspace. Then I considered more carefully and realized maybe he genuinely thought of his joik for us a private moment, one that he wanted to keep to himself. We are a part of this world where everyone posts everything on the internet. Whether it’s the moment you get engaged to be married, the meal you just ate, or a selfie with a reindeer trying to show off how adventurous you are. Maybe we shouldn’t share everything. Maybe when we share our most cherished moments with everyone, a part of what makes them special, because they are just ours, gets taken away. We live in a world where you can google anyone and in a few minutes know their life story. Maybe it’s time to add a little mystery to things again. So when people ask you “how was your trip to that exotic place?” you can tell them a story they don’t already know.

credit photo : Christie

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