Saturday, June 15, 2019

Gone Fishing

What does a culture suggest when life’s inevitable curve balls knock you down? 

For some, it is a trip to the priest in the confessional booth. In others, you head straight to the bar and weep in front of the bartender or seatmate. Some send you to the therapist’s office, with the clock ticking as you pick apart your miseries. Some get you singing in the Gospel Choir or dancing to drums in the ring. And so on.

In a fascinating conversation with some of the indigenous Lapland Sami people here in northern Finland, I found out that there are very few words for emotions in the Sami language. The basics of happy, sad or angry, but not all the nuances of bored, disappointed, melancholic, anxious, lovestruck, confused, joyful, depressed, etc. There are many, many words for snow, for the nuances of eight seasons, for stages of reindeer development, for the flow of rivers. In short, the linguistic imagination is tuned to the natural world. 

If you’re a Sami person and you’re sad, you go fishing. If you’re happy, you go fishing. If you’re angry, you go…well, fishing. No therapists, priests, 12-step programs, identity groups and so on—whatever the affliction, Nature is the cure. 

Or at least it was before the typical signs of the invasion of mainstream, “Christian,” “civilized” governments that stole lands, forbid the native tongue in indoctrination schools, forcibly converted “the natives” to the religions of Jesus and economic development and rape of the land. The same sad story of Native Americans in the U.S., First Nation people in Canada, Aboriginal people in Australia and beyond. First destroy the culture and then introduce alcohol to get the people to drink themselves into a stupor to bear up the pain of losing one’s land, culture, language and identity. So though Nature was the preferred cure, alcoholism is a real problem. And still today, even as Sami are struggling to reclaim their heritage, there is a proposal to invade and destroy their land with a railway designed to move oil, there are no Sami representatives in government, there are only 3 or 400 remaining native speakers in two of the nine Sami groups. Again, the same sad story.

And sadder yet, going fishing won’t bring the full cure. Dear reader, if you ever see a petition calling for help to protect the Sami’s land and culture, please sign it. 


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