In the Arctic, Reindeer Are Sustenance and a Sacred Presence

In the Arctic, Reindeer Are Sustenance and a Sacred Presence

The New York Times-Travel·2020-11-12 06:06

IN NORTHERN SAMI, a language spoken in the uppermost reaches of Norway, Sweden and Finland, eallu is a herd, or more precisely, the herd — of reindeer, always, on whoselives the speakers depend. Between 400 and 500 words may be used to single out each animal within the herd, by coloring, girth, stance, stage of life, branching pattern of antlers, even temperament, from the truculent female who resists the rope (njirru) to the plodder whose hooves hardly leave the ground (slohtur) to the one that keeps its own counsel, hovering at the fringes (ravdaboazu). That this is poetic is incidental; it is knowledge first, essential to survive. Etymologically, “eallu” is kin, via the proto-Uralic root ela, to ealat, which encompasses both a pasture and the conditions that make it good for grazing, and to eallin: life, which the eallu and ealat make possible.

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