Traditional ecological knowledge among reindeer herders in northern Sweden

Source: OAI


The present thesis analyzes the traditional ecological knowledge about the plants reindeer graze upon among reindeer-herding Sami. The study was carried out by means of interviews with a total of 22 Sami reindeer herders from four Sami reindeer herding communities (in Sweden the term "sameby" is used) in northern Sweden: Gabna, Laevas, Girjas and Udtja. The subjects of the interviews were the plants reindeer graze upon during the summer season (Paper I) and the lichens reindeer feed upon during the winter season together with the reindeer grazing of mushrooms (Paper II). The informants were given the following tasks: a) to identify and name plants either in the Swedish or the Sami language, b) specify which plants the reindeer eat, c) specify which plants are used during different seasons, and d) describe a good winter pasture. The nomenclature for vascular plants in the Sami language is limited to a few species, many of them are traditionally used in the reindeer herder's own fare. Other fodderplants the herders have knowledge of are plants that are eaten by reindeer in seasons of sparse pasture, as during the winter, spring and autumn. Accordingly, lichens have a detailed nomenclature in Sami, where the different species are categorized according to their appearance and habitat, such as jeagil, lahppo and gatna. Grasses in the Sami language are generally called rássi, but some species of grass are called sitnu. Rássi is the name used for grass and sedges, and also for forbs. Rássi is grazed upon during the summer, while sitnu is grazed upon in the winter as well. The Sami nomenclature for known fodderplants sometimes have a uniform nomenclature, and this occurs for especially important plants or plants that indicate good pastures, such as Equisetum fluviatile which is grazed upon when summer forage is passed, or utilized under the snow during the winter. Apart from these functional groups, Sami nomenclature for vascular plants is very sparse.

When the reindeer herders characterize good winter pasture they first pay attention to the snow conditions, rather than the amount of lichens. The reindeer herders choose to let their reindeer graze in moist ground areas during early winter, while dry areas are saved until later in the winter. Dry areas are expected to have thinner snow cover than moist areas. Snow quality is of cardinal importance for winter pasture, and the Sami language has about three hundred words for different snow conditions. This thesis concludes that knowledge about the plants that reindeers graze upon in the summer is sparse among the reindeer herders, but that there is a highly functional terminology for winter pastures conditions. Not only actual forage as lichens are described by a detailed nomenclature, but also snow conditions play a major role in the evaluation of the pastures. It is probably important that the herders preserve their collective traditional knowledge. It is also important that they seek to increase and deepen this knowledge to keep up with the growing demand for more rationalized reindeer herding, and to be able to communicate effectively with other parties in an increasingly arronded reindeer herding pasturage.

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