Máttaráhku ládjogahpir –
Foremother’s Horn Hat
Rematriation of Sámi cultural heritage
In the Dahlem district of Berlin, in the cellar archives of the Museum of European Cultures, there is a collection of 980 Sámi objects. Among these objects are four ládjogahpirs (horn hats) and four fierras (wooden protrusions inside the hats that give them their appearance). A ládjogahpir is a crownlike, graceful headgear that was used by Sámi women until the end of the 19th century in the Sámi area in what is now northern Norway and Finland. This hat was prominent in appearance, as it had a high wooden protrusion, fierra, at the back of the head. There is a strong narrative, even folklore in the Sámi society, that the Laestadian priests forbade the use of this hat, since the devil lives in its wooden protrusion. The priests gathered the hats, and like the sacred drums, the hats had to be burned. Nothing was to remain of the old order of the world. As the use and making of the hat came to an end, all traditional knowledge and symbolism related to it disappeared. Today 58 of these hats remain in museum collections in Nordic countries and Europe, like the hats in Berlin, but only a few in Sápmi.
During the most industrious period of colonization, sanctioned and backed by practices of Western science, many of the then-existing ládjogahpirs were collected to museums in the Nordic countries and in continental Europe. In the zeal of gathering what was thought to be the vanishing elements of Sámi culture, very few hats remained in Sápmi, even though many of the collected ládjogahpirs were simply buried in storage, only referred to in museum narratives of how they were collected.
Iteration of the Miracle Workers-Collektive in Berlin. In the photo Sara Marielle Gaup Beaska, Outi Pieski and Lada Suomenrinne | Photo: Giovanna Esposito Yussif This is the paradox of museums. While they store the history of humankind and defend universal values of our past, they simultaneously turn cultural artefacts into prestigious national properties. The fact that a major part of Sámi heritage and cultural items are in the hands of outsiders indicates that Sámi heritage has not been and is not yet easily accessible to the Sámi themselves, severely limiting the Sámi’s capability to learn their own history. In the past, duodji (Sámi handicrafts) – now kept in museums – were necessary for survival. Even today, duodji is an essential element of Sámi culture, and one of the Sámi symbols. But it also has many other meanings. Duodji carries the traditional knowledge of the ancestors with it, forwarding messages across generations. For those who can read the language, the artefacts embody encoded knowledge. In addition, doing duodji today is one of the collective ways to deal with the painful colonial history the Sámi share, to get through the difficult times that the Sámi people still face.
This is the background for our project called Máttaráhku ládjogahpir – Foremother’s Horn Hat, a co-project by me and Sámi visual artist Outi Pieski. In this project we combine Pieski's art and my research, while also using research methods like visual research and making duodji. We have studied this Sámi hat, its history and in general the hidden history of Sámi women. Slowly the hat began to lead us to paths that we eagerly followed, towards the hidden histories of Sámi women and the ancestral cosmology, spiritualities, female goddesses, and Mother Earth. Our research and art project takes part in the discussion concerning intersectional indigenous feminism, which studies how colonialism and racism have shaped and still shape gendered and social relations and positions affecting the Sámi women today.
Installation Ovdavázzit-Forewalkers. Finnish Pavillon. Venice Biennale 2019 | Photo: Ugo Carmeni Among other activities we have held workshops for Sámi women where together they have learned to make a ládjogahpir with modern methods. In our work, communal knowledge is interlaced with knowledge of the visual arts and research.
In her artwork Outi Pieski uses principally the Sámi handicraft tradition of duodji and contemporary female duodji methods and materials. In this way she brings forward practices that have often been undervalued, invalidated, even demonized, especially in the context of art. Pieski approaches duodji as an empowering practice for Sámi women, often involving collective methods in the production of her artwork. The Berlin iteration was part of the art project shown at the Venice Biennale 2019, where Outi Pieski was presented as part of the Miracle Workers Collective at the Finnish Pavilion. Pieski´s installation Ovdavázzit – Forewalkers is inspired by Pieski's cooperation projects, Máttaráhku ládjogahpir – Foremother’s Horn Hat and Rájácummá – Kiss from the borders with Nillas Holmberg and Jenni Laiti. With this work, Pieski also pays homage to the Sámi ancestors, those who wandered before her and are thus her forewalkers, and whose legacy is alive in Sámi culture today.
Sámi researcher Rauna Kuokkanen has written that the contemporary Sámi society suffers from the consequences of cultural alienation and that it would benefit from a more matriarchal world view. Traditionally, Sámi women were not subservient to men, but that changed through colonialism and the processes of assimilation. Both Rauna Kuokkanen and indigenous researcher Bonita Lawrence have identified gender discrimination as a constituent part of the colonization of indigenous communities.
Cultural artefacts are agents that can provide consolation, security and a sense of belonging, as well as have a healing function. The spiritual meanings embodied in the symbol and the aesthetics of the ládjogahpir, the rehabilitation and revitalization of the hat itself, the knowledge engaged in both making and wearing it, and the emotions generated from being involved with the hat, signify nothing less than rematriation. As an affirmative manifestation of the power and vigor of Sámi women, the revival of the ládjogahpir may be understood as rematriation, the re-socialization of cultural artefacts in a social and communal context, aspects not attained in the processes of repatriation. The ládjogahpir has become a symbol of positive opposition and new decolonial feminism. The ládjogahpir is also a good example of how cultural belongings can truly be of influence and act as mediators and enablers in the decolonisation processes in Sámi societies.