- Nation: Saami
By Tamara Kula
Saami traditional sewing, weaving, and storytelling are not merely hobbies for Larisa Avdeeva; they represent a way of life instilled in her since childhood that she continues to lead to this day. Living in the village of Lovozero in the Murmansk Oblast, she is one of just 2,000 Saami living in Russia. However, she reaches across borders to forge relationships, connecting with the Saami population in Finland, Sweden and Norway to preserve their common heritage.
Larisa Avdeeva, born in Lovozero in 1962, has always had a close connection with her Saami roots. “Since childhood, I have listened to many stories and legends of the Saami people,” she said. Her father was active in spreading cultural awareness by organizing museums and recording ages-old stories and customs. He and her mother, who worked in a bank, both spoke their native language at home with Larisa and her two sisters.
Holding onto Tradition
Avdeeva seems to have inherited her father's passion for sharing and preserving her culture. In her professional career, she has been both a teacher and an active member of cultural institutions. She has worked in schools and museums and directed the Saami Cultural Center in Lovozero. Now, she spends her time leading an organization for Saami artists, planning exhibitions and courses for traditional handicrafts. She gives lectures and conducts projects for Saami history, culture and crafts. She also works with different cultural committees to introduce Saami artists from Russia to Scandinavia, a task for which she is well-suited as she speaks Russian and Scandinavian languages.
The Hands of an Artist
Larisa herself is well-versed in Saami traditional arts. For her multitude of sewing projects, she uses skins, fur and wool that have long served her people. She prepares traditional costumes by hand, adorning them with beads and leather. In addition, she knits and weaves, creating beautiful works of art – among them, baskets woven from roots of pine trees. One of her current projects involves tanning fish leather as she traces the history of the sea-faring Saami.
Art and Folklore
The stories, songs and legends that dazzled her as a child provide inspiration for her handicrafts. “I draw many of my ideas from the stories of our people,” she said. One of her favorite legends tells the adventures of the Saami hero Lyaine, who had the strength of a bear, the cleverness of a fox, the speed of a reindeer and the agility of a squirrel. In this epic, a horde of Chude people invade Lyaine's people on the Lovozero island of Salma and kidnap his wife. When the hero returns from a fishing trip to find his wife missing and his camp in ruins, the hero vows revenge. Taking four reindeer and riding in the direction indicated by his young son, Lyaine tracks the Chude leader through the winter until he finds his lair. Hiding patiently on the outskirts of the camp, he catches sight his beloved wife, who is kept on a thick leash of one thousand pine roots braided with one thousand fir roots. After an epic battle with help from his brother and wife, Lyaine is victorious. To ease his nearly-fatal battle wounds, he coats himself with powerful bear fat. Another story dear to Larisa lies behind Lake Seydozero, or “sacred lake,” on the Kola Peninsula. Above this lake, the highest peak on the Lovozero tundra bears a distinct imprint of a blackened giant. According to legend, a huge evil sorcerer named Kuiva attacked the Saami people, who appealed to the gods for help. At their plea, a lightning bolt struck Kuiva, leaving nothing but a 100-meter silhouette on what is now Kuivchorr Mountain.
Art, folklore and history blend to create the traditional heritage of the Saami people, a powerful underlying force behind every Saami. Larisa Avdeeva and others like her are there to ensure their heritage remains for generations to come.