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The Stallo Throughout Sámi and World History

By Andrew F. Besa

Stallo are big, dumb villains of Sámi myth and life.  They play many roles within Sámi myth and I believe that they are vital in several ways to Sámi culture.  In the most primal sense, stallos give body to Sámi myth.  Their existence helps to flesh out a pantheon that has been under concerted assault, showing it to be at least as rich as the mythology maintained by the majority.  Also, stallo stories are teaching tools, exhibiting desired activities and behavior on the part of the Sámi characters and the savage and brutal ways of the stallo.  The parallels between Sámi stallo stories and the biblical account of David and Goliath show that these stallo stories may be versions of an archetypal human story.  This last fact is important because it illustrates the connectedness of humans throughout the world. 

            Like the Pathfinder myth, stallo stories strike something deep within the human psyche.  They touch and speak to a world view within us that predates the current Judeo-Christian world view and is universal in appeal.  These are archetypal stories.

Origins of Stallo – A Biblical Parallel

            According to Johan Turi, “Stallos are those folk who are half human and half troll or devil” (Turi, 1931: 173).  I found it quite interesting that Turi’s explanation of the origin of the stallos parallels a story depicted in the Bible in the Book of Genesis.  The biblical account states that there were giants in the land and this had occurred “when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them” (The Holy Bible, Genesis 6:4).  The “sons of God” referred to in this verse are the angels that fell with Lucifer (Pember, 1876: 133).  These fallen angels are then the fathers of giants the “the mighty men who were of old, men of renown” (The Holy Bible, Genesis 6:4).

            When David faces Goliath we see a story unfold that sounds similar to a Sámi stallo tale.  A young boy, armed only with the tools of a herdsman, outsmarts and kills the giant.  By Goliath’s description we see the indicators that he is in part the devil.  His armor is described as scaled, like that of a snake (The Holy Bible, 1 Samuel 17).  In Lapland Legends, Potto-Podnie beheads Stallo with his own sword (Cambrey, 1926: 183).  This is reminiscent of David’s act in cutting off Goliath’s head with his own sword.

            In the biblical version of the tale, like the Sámi stallo stories, a smaller, but quick and intelligent man kills and beheads the giant.  Further parallels in the story include the fact that Potto-Podnie takes the severed head of the stallo to a siedii (Cambrey, 1926: 183) and David takes Goliath’s head to Jerusalem, the holy city of his faith.  Both David and Potto-Podnie invoke the supernatural in the course of their combat with their respective giants. 

            Whether Turi’s version of the stallo’s origins is the original Sámi version or a post contact Christianization of the stallo’s origin is unknown.  If it is the original explanation then it indicates the age of the stallo tale archetype and the age of Sámi culture.  In a sense, this makes study of the Sámi all the more vital.


Stallo Parallels in European Myth

            The Stallo falls into a category of or are derived from a larger group of giant/ogre/troll creatures that appear in European myth.  These creatures as a whole share the attributes of being large and malevolent, often feeding on humans.  In some aspects they are treated as a part of the natural world.  In other aspects they are very clearly from the spirit world or at least, capable of operating in it.          

            Sámi Stallos in Turi’s Book of Lappland are sometimes noaide or troll-cunning.  The stallo operating in this way is clearly capable of operating in the supernatural world or manipulating the natural world in a supernatural manner.  Stallos use this skill to foretell the future (Turi, 1931: 177) and stall enemies (Cambrey, 1926: 179).  In light of the shamanic Sámi worldview before Christianization, the perceived reality of this and the reality of the supernatural world and phenomenon were probably clear and absolute to Sámi people.  So, the possibility of a stallo that was noaide would likely be considered a real threat.

            Considering that the Sámi themselves were versed in the practice of shamanism, magic, and power words, it seems expected that a stallo would use noaide arts. 

            The magical giant or the giant who is also a magician is not unique to the mythology of the Sámi.  Examples of myths featuring giants using or associated with magic can be found throughout Scandinavian, Germanic, and Irish legends and folklore.



The Tschudes and other Stallos

            As we saw in Pathfinder, Stallo can be a descriptive term as well as a specific term.  The Tschudes in the film Pathfinder, have many of the attributes of Stallos.  They are bigger than the Sámi, they are ruthless and cruel, and hate the Sámi seemingly without reason.  This concept is in line with the disposition of the Stallo as described by Turi in his Book of Lappland.

            The pattern of the Pathfinder story is a common theme in stallo stories.  A physically smaller yet capable Sámi tricks a stallo to his death.

            Additionally, the Tschudes are but one in a long line of human stallo that have assaulted the Sámi people over the last few centuries.  The fact that other groups of men have assaulted the Sámi does not alone qualify them as a form of stallo.  Rather, it is the fact that the Sámi endure and outwit their oppressors that makes them fit the role of stallo.

            The Christian missionaries of the nineteenth century can be viewed as a type of stallo.  Because they claimed to be representatives of God they can be viewed as being capable of operating in the supernatural realm and thus reflect another characteristic of stallos.  Whether the missionary stallo was fully defeated by the Sámi is unclear.

            Missionaries conducted a focused mission to destroy the noaides and their drums.  Because the noaides served as the intermediary between God and man, their destruction would have meant the severing of contact with the traditional Sámi gods.  By eliminating the spiritual power basis of Sámi traditional society, Christian missionaries substantially weakened Sámi society.  Noaides probably served as the Sámi people’s source for tribal medicine and by focusing on their destruction, the missionaries effectively dismantled the Sámi health care system.  Sámi culture has survived the onslaught of the missionaries but they were quite thorough in destroying the Sámi noaides and their drums and thus destroying the infrastructure of Sámi religion. 

            Stallos in their various incarnations also serve as a counter point against which the ingenuity and craftiness of the Sámi people can be displayed.  Often in Turi’s chapter on Stallos bright Sámi people are portrayed as outwitting the dim stallos.

            The stallo’s behavior at times echoes the description given by Raste of the man who has forgotten that he is connected to the rest of humanity.  Aigin is told by Raste that when one forgets that he is connected to the rest of the world’s people he becomes a Tschude.  Raste says that the man who has forgotten that he is connected to others stumbles on blindly to self destruction.  This is exactly the behavior and result of the stallo youth in the story of the disapproving father relayed by Turi (Turi, 1931: 182-184).

            Turi makes a distinction between the Stallo and the Giant.  He says that the two groups alternately fought against one another and worked together.  He notes however that the Giants did not “hate mankind like the stallos did” (Turi, 1931: 173).  Perhaps this can be traced to the fact that some Sámi are descended from the Giants.  This is depicted in The Son of the Sun’s Courting in the Land of Giants.

            This fact of descent, men descended from the giants and the Sun, while stallo are descended from men and the devil indicates the fundamental difference between the stallos and men.  Men are descended from the light and good, while stallo are descended from the dark and men.  By nature of their origins stallos are fallen beings.

            It may be possible to explain the stallos hatred of men in terms of good versus evil.  Men (Sámi) being good and stallos being evil, the stallo – Sámi relationship is a microcosm of the cosmic relationship between God and Satan. 

            This line of logic also explains the Sámi reactions to various invasions by groups of human stallos.  Clearly, from the standpoint of the Sámi, the Christian Missionaries, Liquor Peddlers, Norwegianizers, and Nazis were all evil invaders and therefore a type of stallo.  In these confrontations, the Sámi people were always the underdog, the David against the stallo Goliath.

            The concept of the Stallo also serves as a cautionary tale in many ways.  The stories warn children to avoid certain dangerous areas by naming them as the haunt of Stallo.  Young women can be warned against courting the wrong or an undesirable suitor.

            Interestingly, Turi mentions that while most of the stallos are gone there are still people who are half stallo.  He mentions that this would have happened when a stallo married a Sámi woman (Turi, 1931: 184).  This statement indicates that the possibility existed of marrying a half stallo Sámi.  The implications of this fact are clear, a young woman might choose a man who was a stallo and therefore unacceptable as a mate.

            These tales, especially The Stalo and Potto-Podnie, suggest that a good Sámi girl should have the approval of her parents before she agrees to marry in order to insure that she does not marry the wrong boy.  It also encourages the girl to make an approved union and avoid the pain and upset that a bad marriage would cause.  These stories encourage the girls to choose a partner like Potto-Podnie himself, a quick and resourceful Sámi. 

            Stallos and the things that they have done in the past were used in stories to explain odd or troublesome features of the landscape.  Turi outlines this in his Book of Lappland.  Also, the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia states that “in Sweden, a large stone lying about seemingly randomly in the country is called a jättekast or giant throw.” Like giants stallo are often associated with features of the landscape (Turi, 1931: 175). 

            Stallo and their deaths and burials help explain natural features of lakes such as color “green like rotting meat.”  The lack of fish in a lake was explained by the fact that a stallo body was buried in the water (Turi, 1931: 179-180).

            Stallo are never described as bright, very intelligent, or even smart.  They are described as cunning which is a word that is usually associated with animal intelligence rather than human behavior.  They are given to fits of rage.  It would seem that the combination of these attributes and the addition of noaide arts has the potential to produce some disastrous and unfortunate incidents.  Yet they are depicted by Cambrey as quite skillful and effective when they turn their magical skills against Sámi people (Cambrey, 1926: 179).

            The mythical concept of the stallo has served the Sámi people as an educational tool.  It allows them to understand and deal with the pressures applied to their society by the encroaching groups.  The stallo concept has served as a focus point for the Sámi people in their struggles against the encroaching powers.  It allows them to categorize the particular encroaching group as stallos.

            The recurrence of stallos throughout Sámi history has also probably served to preserve stallo stories as Sámi people used them to recount previous encounters with stallo and how they were defeated by Sámi.  By preserving the stories in the Sámi language the stories serve the purpose of preserving the language.  As we have established, the language is the most fundamental building block of culture and preserving stallo stories serves to preserve Sámi culture and language.


Works Cited

Broderius, John R., The Giant in Germanic Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Libraries, 1932.

de Cambrey, Leonne, Lapland Legends. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1926.

MacCulloch, J.A., The Celtic and Scandinavian Religions. London: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1948.

Pathfinder. Dir. Nils Gaup. Perf. Mikkel Gaup, Nils Utsi, Nils Aslak-Valkeapää. 1987. VHS. Fox, 1987.

Pember, G.H., Earth’s Earliest Ages. Grand Rapids: Kregel             Publications, 1975.

The Holy Bible. Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982.

Turi, Johan, Turi’s Book of Lappland. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd.