Reindeer and religion in Northern Sweden

Previously: Sami town – Jokkmokk

Kiruna is an ore mining town in Northern Sweden. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is that it is in the process of being moved 2km to the east as the mining under the town is causing subsidence. Not much has been done so far, apart from a new town hall being  built. It´s not the most attractive town I´ve ever seen – it looks a little like no-one can be bothered with painting and other maintenance as they might have to move soon.

We visited the Nutti Sami Siida ( at Jukkasjärvi, just outside Kiruna, and were given tour around their park, with examples of different sorts of Sami housing, storage and an introduction to handicraft, but most importantly of all, with reindeer to be fed. The reindeer are in the middle of shedding their coat, so they don´t look in prime condition at the moment. The reindeer in the park were all male reindeer. Apparently they aren´t so bothered about migrating to the mountains as the females (who want to got here to calf), and they are happy to stay closer to home all summer.


Reindeer grow their antlers from May to September, after which they shed them and begin anew in the spring. At the height of their growth, they increase by about 1cm per day. The antlers are for attracting females, and after the autumn mating season they have no use for them. The female reindeer keep their antlers as they need them for protecting themselves and their calves. It takes 7 years for male reindeer to achieve the maximum growth of their antlers, after that they gradually get smaller but more complexed. Female reindeer reach maximum growth of their antlers after four years, so they are never as large as the male antlers.


The reindeer on the left is younger and has simpler antlers than the older reindeer on the right.


Moving on towards the north, we stopped at the small village of Karesuando, right on the Finnish border. Karesuando is known for being the place where Lars Levi Læstadius started the Læstadian movement in the mid-1800s. Læstadianism spread throughout Sami communities in northern Scandinavian and is still common among Sami people. In 1852, a group of Sami rebelled against the Norwegian state  and killed the priest and the state official in Kautokeino. These Sami were Læstadians who had been converted during a visit to Karesuando. While compared to rebellions worldwide, the Kautokeino rebellion seems very minor, but it has become symbolic in Sami history of the fight against the Norwegian state to maintain Sami culture and way of life, and is a key event in Sami history.



The photo on the left above is from Læstadius´cabin, where he lived and led worship. It is still a small religious meeting house today. On the right is the Læstadian church in Karesuando.

At the front of the church above the altar is the wood carving shown below. In the middle is Mary, portrayed as a Sami woman. She is looking towards Læstadius, who is on the left. On the right is Johan Johansson Raattamaa, who succeeded Læstadius as preacher in Karesuando. Læstadianism appealed particularly to the Sami as they were permitted to worship in their own language, and they could hold religious meetings in private homes with a lay preacher, which suited the Sami lifestyle well.