I knew we were in Norway when I saw the reindeer skins for sale at the Tromsø Airport gift shop.
Tromsø is in the northern part of Norway and it was at the last leg of our journey. We just needed to drive two hours to our final destination in Kåfjord. My wife Catherine and I were in Norway to present some of our films at the arts festival Riddu Riddu.
Riddu Riddu has a couple of meanings; the way it was explained to me is that it’s the soft breeze that comes off the sea to the shore. The pronunciation on the second word is with a very soft “th” sound. The festival is in its 15th year and is organized by the Sami people. The Sami are known worldwide as reindeer herders and have had their share of problems with assimilation and others that would be very familiar to native people worldwide.
The two-hour drive to Kåfjord from Tromsø revealed a landscape of mountains with streams cascading down towards the sea. There was also a familiarity to the passing landscape with its tundra-like features and groves of birch and fir trees. We passed small, sod-roofed fishing villages with fishnets hanging on drying racks. We also saw teepees, which they call Lavvos.
We finally arrived in the late evening of Tuesday, July 11. Our hosts Johnny and Tova fed us a nice welcoming meal of homemade bread, different types of cheeses, one of which they call “Brunost” – a sweet brown cheese made of goat’s milk. That was my favourite. We also had some salted and smoked fish, some pureed fish eggs and some homemade raspberry jam made of raspberries picked from the mountain side. To top it all off we had some nice warm tea. After a long journey, a welcome meal indeed.
Since we arrived on a Tuesday it was a slow start and we were able to explore while waiting for the events to start toward the weekend. Catherine and I were able to introduce ourselves to the organizers who were busying themselves with small details before the crowds arrived. While walking around, we noticed the sun wasn’t going down. We went to the camping area to see their Lavvos up close. I noticed that they were manufactured and the poles were made of aluminum and fitted canvas. Most of the canvas on the Lavvos was very dark, which I guess is in consideration of the midnight sun.
As we walked around the camping area there were a few crowds throughout the field setting up camp. We stopped at one group to introduce ourselves and started talking to Per and his campmates.
We talked of traditions and the similarities between the Crees and the Sami, the usual political stuff and hunting stories. As we continued talking I noticed it was around 3 am but the sun was still up. It was strange to experience the midnight sun after hearing so much about it. We called it a night and as we walked home the similarities between the cultures was driven home when I saw a Lavvo with a touch that we have back home. A stick was standing against the door flap to show that no one was home
We were there to present some of the Dab Iyiyuu shows. Dab Iyiyuu shows the Cree elders and traditional knowledge they pass on. As well we presented Heavy Metal: A mining disaster in northern Quebec. The Dab Iyiyuu episodes we presented featured Elijah and Marianne Cox in “Keeping our Culture Alive,” Johnny and Clymie Weistche in “Where the Fish Are,” and Matthew Mukash in “The Feast Master.” The comments we received from a couple of Sami elders were very heartening. One of them said that they reminded them of life growing up on the land. Another added that the tool Elijah and Marianne used to make a net was the same as the one his grandfather and father used to make nets.
On Friday we screened Heavy Metal. One of my favourite movies we saw was Pretty Dyana, a movie about Gypsies in Montenegro who transform old Citroen Dyana cars into vehicles that are shadows of their former selves. They do this so the cars will be regarded as farm vehicles so they can drive them with out papers, collecting what ever they can for recycling.
During the weekend we saw some singers and musicians from as far away as South Africa, New Zealand, Siberia, Japan and Brazil, but the ones who really touched me were the ones from Sapmi, the name for the Sami lands. Marie Boine was my favourite. Her magical voice rang out throughout the valley in the midnight sun. She combines the traditional singing called Yoiking with the modern sounds of her band.
On Saturday the filmmakers met in an earthen lodge called a Goati. Again this dwelling will be very familiar to the Crees. It is made of birch logs with a layer of birch bark and on top of that is sod and earth to keep it insulated. The film makers came from Australia, Finland and Sapmi – all showing the issues that face their people.
After the showings of the movies people were invited to vote for their favourites. They added up the votes during our little get together. They started by announcing third and second place and when they got to first they announced Heavy Metal as the winner. Catherine and I did not expect to win and we were in shock because there were so many others that deserved it. It was a real honour.
We met so many new friends there like Henrik and Camilla the main organizers. Johhny and Tova who let us stay in their camper. Annfrid and her daughter Henrietta who took such good care of us. Harold who kept the café open way past midnight. Geir who provided stimulating conversations and the others who took us in and made us feel very welcome and received us as friends. We hope to go back to take in the midnight sun again.