Kodachrome Clothes, and a Wedding
The fjellstue which had been our midnight resting place on the all-night ride to Karasjok had been a crude one-room hut, little more than a shelter, without windows or furnishings of any kind. Fjellstue, in Norwegian, means “mountain hut.”
When our sleigh pulled up at the fjellstue in Karasjok, I rubbed my eyes—or I would have, if my mittened hands had permitted it. If my Lapp driver-guide could have spoken English he would have been smothered with questions. This long red-painted structure on a gentle slope overlooking the frozen river was an attractive inn—a hotel, or so it seemed to me. I had known that Karasjok had numerous visitors in summertime and apparently the Norwegian government, with these accommodations, was striving to make them welcome.
My Lapp guide awakened the household and a charming Norwegian hostess showed me to a room. It was Room Number One, a large double corner chamber which I soon discovered was the best in the house. I didn’t ask the price, but resolved that it might be better to change to a less pretentious room later on.
Subsequent inquiries provided my second surprise. The established fjellstue price, it seems, prevailed here, just as for the simplest mountain but that has an attendant. My room cost thirty-seven cents a day, and meals would range from thirty to forty cents.
Surprise number three came almost immediately. As soon as I was properly quartered, the fjellstue household members went back to bed. Karasjok, it developed, was not an early morning community—at least not in winter. No wonder my night guide had been in no hurry to rouse himself in the middle of the night in order to get me here at 6:00 A.M.
Personally, I was thrilled to be on hand at an early hour. Sleep could come later. Before Karasjok was astir, I would have time to survey my surroundings and get the lay of the land, preparatory to picture-taking.
The fjellstue was across the wide river from the village. Carefully I made my way over the slippery ice and was soon in the “main street, ” a narrow snow-covered rural dirt lane between fences, with one lone goat wandering along the path. There was a store and a steepled white church near a couple of two-story Norwegian-style homes. Most of the scattered Lapp houses were of hewn logs, unpainted, a few of the older ones revealing highly skilled workmanship, where the log ends were fitted and joined.
First signs of life came in the form of a vigorous welcome from the village dogs. Soon half a dozen of them, in various directions, were signaling the arrival of a stranger. The barking echoed along the deserted rural lane, but the welcoming committee quieted down when they saw I meant no harm.
It was sometime after eight o’clock before a few Lapp men began moving about in their barnyards. An hour later two Lapp women, colorfully attired, appeared from the edge of the surrounding forest, picking their way over the snow toward the steepled church. Then two more women. Then a group of Lapp men. Soon, from all directions, men, women, and children—singly, in couples, in whole family groups—were streaming across the snow toward the place of worship.
From the eaves of the church, and of the nearby houses, slender icicles were suspended like decorations. A stray ray of the morning sun broke through some clouds, touching and melting those pendants of ice, making them gleam and sparkle like jewels.
I liked what I saw of this village. Easter Sunday was officially getting under way.
Who Are the Lapps?
The Lapps are the world’s enigma. Today they inhabit the rather ill-defined section of northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland, extending into the Soviet Union, known as “Lapland.” But where they came from and how long they have lived in Lapland is hard to say.
Authorities at one time classed them as a Mongol race. They are not. They are of the white race. They were once thought to be Slays. This is not the case. They are as much a distinct people as the Germans or the Italians or the French. In my reading before coming to Lapland I learned that the Vikings, settling in Scandinavia fifteen hundred years ago, had found the Lapps already established in the north.
Through the years I have researched more widely, with ever expanding ramifications. A scholarly book, copyrighted by Abnordbok, Gothenburg, Sweden, titled People of Eight Seasons, The Story of the Lapps has been helpful. A Roman historian, Tacitus, in the year 98 AD, wrote that he had heard about the Lapps. Other writers in early days described how these northern peoples used snow “slides” or skis. Another historian has the Lapps inhabiting this northern land at least as early as the beginning of the Iron Age, 500 BC. This well-researched book tells of a culture existing here during the Earlier Stone Age, before 3000 BC. One writer even “propounded the somewhat astonishing hypothesis that the ice-free coastal strip along the Norwegian Sea… had been populated by humans throughout the Ice Age. ” He speculates that these were the forbears of the Lapps. Some pre-historic skis were actually unearthed in Lapland, dating back to 2500 BC.
Whatever their origins, the Lapps are a peaceful people. I found them to be extremely likeable. While their exact origin may never be known, perhaps it does not matter.
I soon found that the Lapps themselves are colorful. Since their land, in winter, is barren and white, they have used their attire as a means of enriching their lives. This is especially true of the women. Describing a Lapp woman’s dress would not give an adequate idea of its color unless I said that she looks like a walking rainbow.
Tight-fitting caps, or bonnets, worn by all the women and older girls, are bright red. Their shawls are patterned with red and green, and sometimes yellows and blues. Their heavy outer garments are trimmed in red. Their ankles are wrapped with red binding to keep the snow out of their boots. Red tassels are suspended from the men’s hats and from their boots. Both men and women wear colorful belts. Red trimming adorns the infant cradleboards, and decorates children’s sleds.
The religious ceremonies of the Lapps are colorful for the same reason as their clothes—to brighten up somber lives.
In the early afternoon of Easter Sunday I witnessed a resplendent wedding. But one even more colorful, I discovered, would take place late next day—on Monday, their “second Easter. ” This was well for me, since I soon found there were other religious activities needing my immediate attention.
Morning worship on Easter Day was nothing more than an
elaboration—two-and-a-half hours long—of a regular Norwegian Lutheran service. A brief evening worship also was held at the Lutheran church, but it wasn’t rich enough in emotionalism for many of them. Nor was it extensive enough. The Lapps are long-suffering. They had their own tiny meeting place and at five in the evening I went in with all the rest. The room was the size of a small country school in America, and soon it was jammed. More kept coming and the shoving was almost unbearable. At first the women sat on one side and the men on the other, but there was such an overflow that a complete scrambling eventually took place.
Two ministers up in front, on a raised platform, read Bible passages—one minister in Norwegian, the other in Lapp. At intervals the congregation sang—long dirges a quarter of an hour in length. Mountain Lapps from distant places kept arriving and they demanded standing room inside. There was shouting and much shoving. When darkness came, candles and lamps were lit. Occasionally one of the ministers would blow his nose without benefit of kerchief.
At 7:00 P.M.—after two hours—I went out for dinner and returned about 8:00. In the interval the real excitement had begun. Some of the Lapps—but not all by any means—were in a frenzy. Up at the front of the room they were dancing and weeping and laughing. Men and women—mostly the older ones—would go up and hug the ministers. Then they would come down into the aisle and dance and shout and cry. I left at 10:00 P.M., after the services had progressed for five hours.
During my first day in Karasjok, I stuck to European clothes and was a curiosity wherever I went. Then I bought a complete Lapp outfit and immediately became one of the people. Luckily, I discovered a Norwegian who spoke a little English. He told me that I was as typical a Lapp as he had ever seen. Most of the Lapps are just over five feet in height, as I am. I fit in perfectly.
I wanted to observe how the people lived, so would barge into a house, repeat the usual greeting of “Bouris, Bouris,” (the only words of their language I knew) and make myself at home. They would serve me with coffee, sometimes chuckle a little, and then go on about their business of nursing the baby or feeding blood-pudding to the dogs.
If circumstances required it, I would get out some brightly colored beads (from Woolworth’s three-pence and sixpence stores in London) and make a presentation to the woman of the house. After that, picture-taking was easy.
Feasting at a Wedding
Monday—the second Easter. It was late afternoon, time for the wedding of a young woman who, I learned, was especially well-loved among the Lapps. The bridal procession formed in front of a hewn-log Lapp home some five hundred feet from the church. At a strategic spot, halfway between church and bridal party, I set up my camera and tripod. It was as though I gave the signal for the procession to begin. No sooner was I established in my chosen location than the colorful column headed toward me.
Bride and groom led the way, followed by their attendants, a dozen couples, all young men and women, marching side by side. Streaming across the white snow, with their red-trimmed attire—the women with red bonnets and flashing shawls—it was the stuff for which color motion picture film was invented. Thirstily, my camera drank it all in.
Bride and groom had nearly reached me. Scarcely thinking what I was doing, I picked up my tripod and repositioned it directly in their path. The entire procession stopped, as I took close-ups of the bride. Now there was another touch of red. The blush on her cheeks nearly matched the hue of her bonnet. The manner in which the ruddy-cheeked groom smiled down on her lovingly, as all this was going on, made me realize that my brazen picture-taking would not get me into trouble. Again I perceived that the Lapps are a gentle and likeable people.
Removing myself from their path, the procession continued toward the church. The bridal party entered first, then nearly half the village followed.
The other half of the village (or so it seemed to me) for whom there was no room in the church, waited outside on the snow. From the point of view of human interest, this waiting crowd was as intriguing as the wedding itself—teenage Lapp girls giggling and whispering, probably wondering what their weddings would be like, aged women gossiping, youngsters playing in the snow, babies being cared for by attentive mothers. It was a variegated outdoor overflow congregation.
In half an hour the ceremony was over and the procession marched out, but now the bride wore a sparkling bauble-bedecked crown, with iridescent ribbons attached to it, which streamed down her back to mix with the hues of her shawl.
The richness of color created by that congregation of Lapp men and women streaming out of the church and spreading out across the white snow was a chromatic experience that made me forever thankful I had arrived in Karasjok on time. The landscape was stained and dyed with crimson. It was like a child’s imaginative, uninhibited finger-painting, with the red paint pot spilled gaily all over the sheet.
Up the village path to waiting sleighs the wedding party moved and, midst the shouting of well-wishers and the ringing of sleigh bells, they all drove off.
Many of the onlookers were drifting toward a centrally-located house nearby. I followed, and went inside with the rest. The Lapps showed great interest in me and we laughed and conversed (mostly by signs) as I was beleaguered by several men bringing me coffee and cakes.
After this had progressed for a time, one man had a brilliant idea, brought on perhaps by some questioning signs which I was making. I was trying to find out where the bride and groom had gone.
Leading me outside, he soon flagged down a sleigh and said something to the Lapp man who was driving. Merrily, with sleigh bells jingling, we headed off over the snow and, after a few miles, arrived at the home of the bride.
That coffee and cake affair in the village had just been for the overflow crowd. Here was the real wedding feast. It had already begun, with forty guests packed into a tiny room. I partook of the food too—reindeer meat, potatoes, fine sweet bread. And for dessert, to cap the climax, a great platterful of tiny Sunkist oranges from California. The Sunkist stamp was on each one. Almost more than anything else, this convinced me that the wedding I had filmed was an auspicious event. These oranges had been purchased for this special occasion from Norwegian traders, who had brought them up from the south.
I was dressed completely in Lapp clothes but, with large movie camera and tripod in hand, I was nearly as much the center of attraction as the bride. Light was fading fast so we interrupted the feast long enough to go outside for close-up pictures of the bride, the groom, and the entire wedding party.
The vivid festivities of the Easter season were among the episodes which I had journeyed nearly nine thousand miles to experience and to film. They were worth it. Darkness overtook us as the filming and the feasting were finished.