Sunday, January 10, 2010

Unstitched ethnic revivalism

I came across this interesting observation in Pelto's rare book about the impact of snowmobile on the Skolt Sami in northern Finland in the 1970s and 1980s. He describes craft training as ‘employment’ training, for people who did not previously necessarily define themselves as ‘unemployed’. He writes:

“De-localization and reactions to it, are also evident in the increased ethnic revivalism among the Skolt Sami, beginning in the middle of the late 1970s. Curiously, the ethnic revivalism is in part linked directly to national unemployment policies. Two important changes occurred in the unemployment patterns in Sevettijarvi which reflect aspects of Finnish government policies. Housewives became eligible for unemployment benefits, and the well-organised system of vocational training was expanded to include instruction in traditional handicrafts. Skolt women had already embarked on a program to revive traditional weaving of woollen wall hangings. Women on the unemployment rolls were given per diem allowances plus transportation to participate in weaving classes, then leatherwork (using reindeer and sheep hides), beltwork, and constructions of the highly ornate, complicated married women’s headdresses. Basketry made from roots was added in the late 1980s, as well as the making of the traditional male headwear. As a result of these training programme, some Skolt women have begun to make these items for sale to the tourist trade, as well as for local sale and use in connection with ethnic revivalist activities.”
Pertti J. Pelto. (1973/1987) Preface.

Reintroducing traditional craft as 'ethnic revivalism' as process of de-localization is an interesting concept. Today we might think of this process as re-localisation, especially if the materials are sourced locally and the craft enables people to stay in their locales. However, the reality is that craft is usually poorly paid work, and is rarely carried out for purely economic benefit. I wonder about Pelto's definition of 'ethnic revivalist activities', and the way in which tradition is maintained and developed within a community, especially one that has been so severely oppressed. Of course it's impossible to make generalisations about Sami culture across different lands and locations, but ethnic revivalism could be re-read as ethnic continuity.

A few days later I saw some worn out Sami shoes and shoe bands for sale were in a second hand shop in Umeå, with the stitching coming undone, apparently due to animal rights activists entering the shop and damaging the shoes. Another layer of Umeå history is un-stitched into the fabric.

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