Sami people | sleeping on a bed of glowing embers | Sapmi

When there were no makeshift or permanent dwellings nearby, the Sami hunters and herders sometimes slept under the open sky.
LA Dahlmann | talk NORWAY
Sami man and woman - feeding the dogs. Finnmark, Norway. Hand-coloured photo. | Photo: Alf Schrøder co - digitaltmuseum.no FBib.01005-052 - Public domain.
Sami man and woman - feeding the dogs. Finnmark, Norway. Hand-coloured photo. | Photo: Alf Schrøder co - Finnmark fylkesbibliotek cc pdm.

This is ancient Sami wisdom – passed on by Ola Omma – captured by Yngve Ryd –

An ancient Sami method to keep warm during particularly cold nights was to sleep on a bed of hot, glowing embers. This was, however, not an undertaking without danger.

Warning! Sleeping on glowing embers can be highly dangerous and is not for the inexperienced.

Only the alpine willow will do

For this particular purpose, only fresh alpine willow – a woody shrub – will do as fuel. Old Sami wisdom says that glowing embers from the freshly cut willow stay evenly warm for a whole night and a whole day.

When the time came to rest, the hunters looked for a large willow thicket – a råhto in the Lule Sami language. Towards the centre of the thicket, they cut away enough willow to create a sufficiently large sleeping spot – but no more. Here, the willow can be as tall as a man. The remaining wall of shrubs gave protection from the wind.

The initial big fire and the subsequent bed of glowing embers require a large number of thick willow branches – and take more than a couple of hours to prepare. The final layer of embers must be some 15 centimetres in hight, and must cover the entire width and length of the sleeping area.

When the fire starts burning out, fine ash is created, covering and protecting the glowing embers. It is essential to leave the cover of ash intact – and not to poke around with a stick as the fire dies down.

Recommended read
Sami people | the Coastal Sami and their homes | Sapmi

Building a mattress of twigs

The next step of the process is to cover the ember bed with an ample three-layer thick mattress of fresh, slim, and straight willow twigs – the twigs being about 25-30 centimetres long. It is crucial that they are freshly cut and not dry – and they must be prepared in advance and be ready to be spread out across the whole area immediately and in one go. If adding the twigs slowly and in sections only, air and wind may lead to flames flaring up, and they will start burning.

The twigs are gently laid down so as not to disturb the ash – with all the twigs pointing in the same direction – and with the longer side facing the wind. The layer should be particularly thick around the sides – and stretched a bit outside the edge of the bed of embers – interwoven and dense so that the wind does not get access. The mattress must be as windproof as possible. The concept is to get the underlying embers to glow all through the night, without too much oxygen finding its way in – based on the same principle as a charcoal kiln.

A good night’s sleep

When the bed was ready, a reindeer calfskin was often put on top. The skin didn’t cover the full length of the body – but at least the back area of the person sleeping. The knapsack was the pillow – and an extra piece of clothing or canvas the cover.

It should be noted that it is important to sleep on one’s back, with the face out into the open air. Toxic fumes from the embers may otherwise pose a risk.

The old Sami hunters often had a dog with them, tied to either their leg or around the chest. Should the willow twigs catch fire during the night, the dog would likely wake its owner when trying to get away.

Preparing a bed of embers was hard work – but it gave a pleasant and warm night’s sleep – under the mighty sky – in the freezing Nordic winter.

The Sami people

  • The Sami is an ancient people of hunters, fishers and gatherers, particularly associated with the reindeer and reindeer hunting – and in more recent centuries also reindeer herding.
  • Historically, the Sami settled across the mid and northern parts of Norway and Sweden, in northern Finland, and on the Kola peninsula in north-western Russia. Sápmi is the name of the traditional Sami territory.
  • Today’s overall population is estimated at between 80,000 and 115,000, with the majority living in Norway and Sweden.
  • In Norway, around 3,000 people are currently actively working with the traditional reindeer herding.
  • Throughout Sápmi, there are 11 different Sami sub-languages.
  • The traditional Sami way of life is a fascinating gateway into the earliest Nordic civilisations, as they evolved after the last ice age, more than ten thousand years ago.

Recommended read
Reindeer | an ancient presence in the Norwegian mountains

Main source: «Bål – samisk ildkunst» by Yngve Ryd – Dreyers Forlag 2018.

Glowing embers. | Photo: dederer - adobe stock - copyright.
Glowing embers. | Photo: dederer – adobe stock – copyright.

Advertisement

End of advertisement

Our most recent posts

Advertisement

End of advertisement

My Norwegian heritage

With the High middle ages came expansion and progress. But everything was about to change, in the most brutal way imaginable.
In this post, we take a look at the layout of the Norwegian farm and its surroundings - and how the land and its resources were utilised.
Myrmelk is a Norwegian noun that means milk conserved in a container buried in a mountain peat bog, left there for herders or others to drink at a later stage.
Some of the beautiful Norwegian wooden stave churches are almost 1000 years old. Today, there are 28 of them left.
With this old photograph in my hand I have set myself a task: how much information can I find in Norwegian online archives based on what the photo tells me?
Per O. Rød wrote the history of the Stornæve farm and its inhabitants back in 1968. Decades earlier, several children of Stornæve had emigrated to the US.
There are many types of cheese slicers, but Norwegian furniture maker Thor Bjørklund invented the Norwegian version in 1925.
When the ice melted after the last ice age, herds of reindeer followed in its wake. And with the animals came their main predator: the humans.
Mead and beer are both alcoholic drinks known from Norwegian history. The Norwegians call them «mjød» and «øl». But do you know the difference between the two?
Are you looking for a Norwegian-to-English dictionary that includes old-fashioned words and dialect words? Then Einar Haugen’s book is your best pick.
Skigard is a Norwegian noun that means wooden fence. It is made of split tree trunks, using simple tools. Fence making and mending was a task for early summer.
The most significant sections of Norwegian productive soil can be found in the counties of Trøndelag, Hedmark, Oppland and Rogaland.
On 18 November 1905, after a supportive referendum, the Norwegian parliament unanimously elected the Danish Prince Carl as the country’s new king.
17 May 1814 is regarded as the birth of the modern-day Norwegian state. But it took almost another hundred years before the Norwegians could declare complete independence.
In 1836, milkmaid Kari Moen from the community of Sauherad in Telemark, Norway, was attacked by a bear. She almost lost her life that day.
The word ski comes from the Old Norse language, with the meaning cleft wood. The old Norwegians were master hunters, and have been skiing for over 5000 years.
A kjenge is a drinking bowl used in the old Norwegian farming society – usually with two handles - carved and hollowed out from one piece of wood.
In the coastal districts of the old Norway, a strandsitter was a beach dweller - who rented a small piece of land - but owned the house he built on it. His livelihood was usually connected to the sea.
The horse settled in the Scandinavian landscape after the last ice age. Let us meet this majestic animal - and follow in its footsteps.
Kløvhest is a Norwegian noun that means packhorse. Well into our own time, the Norwegians used horses to help transport goods through a challenging landscape.
The Norwegian landscape is wild and beautiful. And it is a lot more than just fjords and mountains.

Follow us on social media

Norwegian history