I spent several days with my Saami hostess and her family. She lived in the Revda, about eight miles (twenty kilometers) away from the Lovozero, the center of Russian Saami. I tried to learn from her something to share in the future with my readers about Saami culture, history, family values, traditions, clothes and other details from within. Even, maybe, to find out some interesting facts of the shaman’s art. Saami called these people Noaides, but it could happen only in a dream.
In spite of all they told me, I already knew far more than my hostess’s family and their friends. My impression was that there was an absence of knowledge in their family circle about Saami culture or history. I did research concerning the life of last aborigines of Europe before my journey to the Kola Peninsula. I really had only one desire, that being to make personal connections and hear real stories of the lives of their families and ancestors. Many hours were spent in studying the lives of the indigenous people of Northern Russia-the Kola Saami.
On my plea to see more regarding a Saami environment, history, culture, and meet other local Saami, Olga decided to make a trip to the “Capital” of Kola Saami. Her family owned a car, and Lovozero was only eight miles away. The village could be reached only by bus or car from Revda, Murmansk, or Olenegorsk. Our driver was a family friend, a nice young man who was a bodyguard from a secret service. He was here every time I was visiting her family.
On the day we traveled to Lovozero, the weather granted us good luck. It was a beautiful, bright, sunny cold but non-windy winter Pole Arctic day. On both sides of the road were stretches of tundra covered by low-lying shrubbery. Occasionally, undersized trees with bent trunks came across reminding us at what latitude we were. It was a true indicator of the tundra. I was surprised by the condition of the road connecting the two small settlements in this part of country. Even, as early in the morning, as we were traveling, the road was unexpectedly shoveled from the heavy night snow. It was Monday, and the road was empty-we didn’t pass one car or truck. Before we entered Lovozero, I asked to stop the car and took pictures in front of a sign with name of the village on it; behind me in the photo, you can see the five-floor apartment building. Behind me is seen a five floor apartment buildings.
The first known mention regarding the Lapps settlement was in 1574 by imperial copyist Vasily Agalin. According to a census of the beginning in the eighteenth century, Lovozero was home to around forty men. Soon, after an imperial census, Russians began move to the Lapps area. Komi-Izhems migrated to this region from the riverbanks of Pechora in 1888 with 5,000 reindeer. This was simply a matter of colonization by Komi-Izgems. In 1927, this region was renamed to “the Lovozero district.” Lovozero district is very rich with pure rivers, lakes filled with fish, woods with plenty of animals, and boundless tundra with grazing deer. It was definitely worth the visit.
In the Lovozero district is the world’s largest raw-material source of rare earth elements. This area has unique deposits of kianita, rare-earth metals, platinum, gold and semi-precious stones. The main industry of the area is nonferrous metallurgy. Lovozersky mountain-concentrating company is manufactured a loparite concentrate. The enterprise is in a difficult economic situation now. To pay a salary, a company was forced to disassemble a railway in 2007 to sell as scrap metal. This demolition of the railway “Ajkuven – Lovozero” in the tundra was an unspeakable crime-yet another paradox of “Perestroika.”
The local economy hinges on the agriculture presented by two co-operatives, “Tundra” (in the village of Lovozero) and “Olenevod” (in the village of Krasnoshchele, with branches in the villages of Kanevka and Sosnovka). Their main production is venison meal. There are also subsidiary enterprises and engage in manufacturing of fur products (footwear, clothes, and headdresses), souvenirs from wood and deer bones. The transport infrastructure of the Lovozero district is very poorly developed.
Lovozero district specializes in two industries not interrelated with each other and located in different parts of the region. Joint Stock Company (in Revda settlement) “Sevredmet” (north rare metals) is located in the mountainous part of the region and produces loparite concentrate, a raw material for tantalum, niobium, and rare elements, partially titanium. Before the collapse of the USSR, this company satisfied seventy percent of the country’s demand for rare metals and eighty percent of niobium. The raw material source is a unique Lovozero deposit, with subsurface mines in Karnasurt (since 1951) and Umbozero (since 1984). During the last decade, the facility has faced serious difficulties due to a crisis in product sales.
The Central Kola Expedition continues exploration works within the Lovozero district. It has obtained a license for exploration in the northwestern section of the Kolmozero-Voronino structure (Voronino tundra). In addition, a contest has been announced to exploit mineral resources, particularly for the development of Amazonite in the Ploskogorsky deposit located within the Lovozero district. This is an area traditionally used for reindeer pastures. No research has been conducted by scientists concerning the impact of mineral resources or the exploration and development of biodiversity in the Lovozero district.
The plain part of the Lovozero district is used entirely for pasture and reindeer breeding. The indigenous population has been engaged in this activity since the colonization of the Kola Peninsula. During collectivization in the 1930s, two reindeer breeding farms were created: “Tundra,” with the centre in Lovozero, and “Pamyat Lenina” in Krasnoschelie. Both farms have since been transformed to joint-stock companies “Tundra” and “Olenevod”. The Lovozero district is the only large territory in the Murmansk region where reindeer herding still exists, and the rest of the pasture areas have already been destroyed by large industrial enterprises or used for military purposes.
Nowadays, there are 3,500 people living in Lovozero. Seven hundred of them are Sami. Other populations of Lovozero include Russians, Komi, and Tatars. However, it is very easy even for visitors to detect a visual difference between inborn Saami (undersized, thickset, with large features) and Komi-Izhort (statelier with “European” features). Saami people are usually occupied in reindeer herding. There are two schools, two kindergartens, a music school, a School of Arts, a Museum of Culture, and a Palace of Arts (working with non-indigenous population). Three local tourist attractions are a local hotel, “Covas,” the National Cultural Saami Center and the Museum of Saami Culture.
© Rachel Madorsky