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A Reindeer Herd On The Move

Multifaceted artist Nils-Aslak Valkeapää (1943-2001) is no doubt the most renowned contemporary Sami artist. He made his debut as an author in 1971. As a poet, as well as a painter and musician, Valkeapää reaches for the special quality in that which is Sami.

In Valkeapää's view, the time has come to renew the Sami traditions through innovation in traditional artistic forms and genres. One example of his many-levelled linguistic play is poem No. 272 in The Sun, My Father. The poem spans seven and a half pages, where the words spread out more and more on the pages till they finally are scattered all over pages 5 and 6. On pages 6, 7 and 8 are found some dotted lines that, at the end, form one dotted line. The poem is a typographical play as well as a linguistic challenge to every Sami with a high proficiency in the specific terminology regarding reindeer names, because the poem in fact represents a reindeer herd on the move. The herdsman is leading the flock in the opposite direction of our reading of the book, that is, we meet the herd on our wandering on the tundra (read: the pages of the book). We pass the herd, which has spread all over pages 5 and 6, because the reindeer are resting and grazing on those pages. When we further continue on our trip, we meet with the tracks and the footprints of the passing reindeer. The text in italics consists of onomatopoetic sounds from the moving herd, as well as of descriptive poetic echoing sounds of the natural surroundings. The plain text represents different reindeer, according to their age, their appearance, whether they are male or female, whether they are spotted or have any other kind of special marks and so on.

Nils-Aslak Valkeapää

View the animated version of Valkeapää's No. 272 (FLASH Player Required)

Read Harald Gaski's complete introduction

Glossary of terms in No. 272

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