"Sámi ceremonies - Confirmation and Baptism"

In the Sámi ceremonies, Confirmation and Baptism, there are skills and knowledge that I have gained during my lifetime. It is not only a matter of managing the technique, but there is also a spiritual aspect when acquiring the profound idea of the culture. It comes about in the centre of life, in observations and experiences. The culture is present in many levels. Duodji comprises values and recounts the physical abundance and diversity of the culture.
To coin words to the experiences is central. Naming things and make life become real. Emotions and ideas are not to be forgotten. I am grateful to the gift that was given to me: to build competence, courage to live and to accept my fate.
It is not only a question for me as an individual, as a duojár. I am only a pawn in the long line of generations and I represent my culture. Everything is bestowed upon me. I mediate things I have learned, the comprehension of the world and values; I honour the ones that have walked before us.
As it has been my fortune, this task has been given to me. Right now, like this.

Maarit Magga design
Maarit Magga design


Duodji is a weighty burden

Now it is only one year to my daughter’s confirmation day. As many times before she has tried on her gákti which has become too small and I measure it to see how much I have to enlarge it and adapt its style.
The confirmation gákti becomes just like the one adults wear. With longer ribbon covered hems and more panels for width.
Choosing blue cloth for the gákti has been a tradition for a long time. I cannot really choose which ribbons to use. Nowadays white is often used but my eyes are, like all of my generation’s, more used to red.
It is important that my daughter voices her opinion. She has her own artiality and I have been dressing her since she was small. Being the mother and dressmaker, I finally decide. I guess, in the same as way my mother did in her days.
In this integrality both of us have started to fancy aniline and light red. It is the scarf that to a large extent dictates the colours of the ornaments. For some years now we have looked over the jewellery, acquired some silver and let our decisions mature. We have been preparing for the ceremony for two or three years by now.
The meaning of confirmation seems to be different for the Sámi people. In the In Sámi tradition, people prepare for the ceremony for a longer time. This tradition might be more vivid and demanding. A Sámi mother has a great responsibility continuing the culture. I feel this is like carrying a weighty burden.
Times and traditions are constantly changing, a culture that is continually evolving should do so too.

Preparing for the confirmation

I want to make everything myself, it is a value in itself. As early as two years before the confirmation I weaved the shoe bindings. I want to keep the patterns of the bindings as close to the patterns which instructor Mortena Iŋgá taught me. I just made small changes in colours. Weaving is calming, I get time to concentrate on crafting and think in my own questions and spiritually prepare myself for the upcoming confirmation ceremony and my daughter becoming an adult.
Normally I renew clothes for certain occasions. I sew gáktis for my husband and I that look alike. This reflects a long life together. I have been fortunate to build a life hand in hand with a spouse and family. I dress up our child in clear blue, displaying youth.
Duodji is a skill that women keep and perform. Many times I have to find solutions myself, but if I need them, there is a group of women who are close relatives of mine. My late mother, my elder sister and my aunt, only observe pictures of my work. I guess they are more present now than in life.
I am the one who is passing down their knowledge and making it become real.
I am passing down my knowledge and ideas to my daughter. My two children’s eyes have seen duodji, they are able to judge, regard and see. Somebody asked them if they are aware of how lucky they are? I don´t think they know, but some day they will realize the importance of deep knowledge.
I have saved the shoes my mother made for my confirmation ceremony, 35 years ago. Today they symbolize safeguarding and blessing when my daughter is wearing them. The same love as I have been given. All this gratefulness I pass on to my daughter. I miss my mother so much. I was just a teenage girl when I lost her. But in my mind, she is with me at this moment.

Maarit Magga design
Maarit Magga design

Training the duodji- eye

Training the duodji- eye
Consciously I have invited women of different ages to come and work together. If men were to participate they might feel somewhat inferior. Only women joined the workshop, they were strong and committed. In this field they were competent. The men acknowledge the skills in duodji the women have, and there is equality between the genders.
During the meetings we are all devoted with working with duodji. We work with it together, we learn from each other and share our thoughts. We listen to experiences and tales. We strengthen our fellowship and duodji- identity. We evaluate fashion and inventions. We stay hidden and feel that we belong to a small fellowship.
In order to develop the duodji- eye of the children it is important for them to see and experience duodji. I am happy to pass on my knowledge and skills to children and young people. In these times it is a privilege to be a part of the fellowship and communicating with relatives.
I am happy that we have an older generation. They are so talented and have so much knowledge to share. But even so I explore things by myself and I am concerned about preserving and protecting the culture of duodji because this is not explicit to everyone. But at the same time, I am happy and feel that I am blessed because I have been able to learn so much.
It is true that cultures coming from the outside have robbed us. But the duodji that they try to produce is entirely without soul. The gákti is a dress, it does not have any soul, no life nor history.

This has no future.

My eyes are at rest

Káren-Ánne and Susan will dress you on the confirmation day. How beautiful you are my child! How beautiful youth is!
But at the same time, I realize that it is not only a matter of worldly things, jewellery and silver. You dress in the gákti that I have made and with the jewellery and with the ceremony you transfer into the world of adulthood. Towards a fearsome world where I, no longer, can watch over you.
You have chosen what silver to wear. Uppermost on your chest is a brooch that your beloved aunt Marjatta gave you, that is why you want her to be with you on this day. There are so many people close to you that are watching over you today, even those beyond time. Two big, new brooches symbolize your confirmation day. As a baptism gift you got a little silver brooch – now it attaches the silk ribbons to your hat.
The silk rustles, the silver tinkles. There is excitement in the air. Fix the hat ribbons by burning their ends. The scent of sulphur is mixed with the scents of hairspray and perfume.
The room is filled with tension, but also with a feeling of deep serenity.
The performance can begin.

The spirituality of moving art

The church in Heahttá is not merely a building for us. Inside it we have experienced many turning points for people; Christian ceremonies, changes of cultural roles, performing rites. Joys and sorrows.
Our relatives, and people close to us, are sharing our joy. We are sharing this event with friends and loved ones. Communion is a sacred moment. The personal starting point for spiritual life.
For the Sámi people, confirmation is not only a Christian ritual. My daughter is on stage now. The performance can begin. A big part is the presentation of dresses and jewellery. The meaning of each piece of cloth.
When the young take over the arena and perform, the hand of the duojár is there, a moving art. My daughter is completely in her role, and as her mother I am deeply affected by this. I feel that my long and hard work is worthwhile. My duodje- eye comes to rest. The clothes have a blessing in their creation, and now also holds a Christian blessing. On many levels there is spirituality in the air, Sami and Christian spirituality.

Maarit Magga design
Maarit Magga design

Everyone has their own destiny and blessing

During the confirmation day the Godparents plays an important role. In the church I realize how many Godparents Sámi children have. The Godparents provide safety and guidance. The tradition of Godparents among the Sámi people is important in the social order. The Godparents are carefully selected. The choice shows respect for them.
Relatives and friends gathered to celebrate and rejoice with us. The party lasts until late in the evening. The following day me meet with our closest friends, and together with guest from far away, we rejoice, recall and repeat what has been unfolded.
For the young, there is also a sense of longing for the world of the adult people. I do wish that our child can live a good life, and that she finds her place. That her initiation will stay with her and that she remains guarded throughout her life. With a silent wish inside me I plead that she will have the courage to accept what is determined to become a part of her life. Because this is how life their fortune, everyone gets their share.
We can never tell who will be next to go, what life has intended for us. The day after this day of joy, we receive sad news, my uncles’s wife has left us for the world of eternity.

Saamelaiset Seremoniat
Maarit Magga design


Born as a Sámi child

Baptism is the child’s first ceremony. Many traditions and values are connected to it. The child is given a name and a position, she becomes a member of the society, she receives a collective identity. She has many godparents, a common number is twelve. It is the duty of the Godparents to support the child and strengthen her connection to relatives and society.
The child incorporates kindreds and the area she belongs to. The child´s baptism water is brought from Suttesája well near Gáresgasnjárga by her Godmother Liisá. The water, brought from the land were her mother Ánne´s relatives on her mother´s side live, connects, in a symbolic way, the child to the land.

When choosing the name for a child it is common to take the names of her kindreds into account. By doing so, strengthen her ties to the society of her kindreds,a way of honouring them. A namesake can give desirable capacities to the child. This is because there is a believe that they are inherited by the name. There is power in a name- one way of honouring the bearer of the name is to give the child the same name. Ánne´s words: “If you protect and treasure the ties to generations before you it strengthens everything that is god in life”.
The parents, Ánne and Nils-Heaika, want to give the child baptism clothes from her father’s side. It is a great fortune and blessing to join in in the preparations and rejoice the family’s third child. We, two grandmothers- me and my sister Ristiinná, were given the honour to make the baptism clothes. During the preparations for the event we rejoiced for many weeks. In the jewellery we put all our good intentions, blessings and love for the child. Clothes are not only protecting the body, in them there are also profound symbols and signs of good intentions.
The tradition of the majority cultures is that the child should wear white clothes during the baptism. According to the duodji tradition white baptism clothes mirror the Sámi way of thinking and the adaption based upon our culture. White symbolizes the child´s purity and innocence. Anne has inherited tiny shoes made of leather from her late grandmother Njárrejávre-Risten, these are to be given to the child.
Later, the child will also receive clothes (čiŋat) according to her mother´s tradition. The Sámi identity is diverse and it is important to honour and treat both parents and their kindreds’ traditions equally. Nils-Heaika´s parents would have been very happy about their fifth grandchild, but their days were counted. In spite of that they are present at this moment of joy. It is our duty, as adults, to teach the children to love the ones that have passed away and share the spiritual inheritance that they left behind.
The child is baptized on a Saturday in November, at her home in Njunnás. The baptism ceremony is performed by priest Heli Kinisjärvi, and the ceremony is held in Sámi language. The infant is surrounded by many kindreds. Ánne´s parents, Bertta and Viljo, are guests of honour at their granddaughter´s moment of joy.
The Icy roads have not stopped grandmother and grandfather, all relatives and godparents to drive hundreds of kilometres. Before the ceremony, people are whispering, anticipating what will happen. What name will the child be given? The room is filled with silent joy.
The big sisters seeks solace in her father. Per-Jovsset riffles the hymn book and in the beginning of the ceremony Ánne Káre slumbers in the lap of her father. The grandparents take seats near the parents and the star of the day is peacefully sleeping for the moment.
There are many godparents but all of them have not made it to this moment of joy. When choosing godparents, the parents wish them to be people that will be close to the child, throughout her life. It is a wish that this connection, between godparents, as confident adults, and the child, will consolidate the child´s life.
Maren Elle who was confirmed at midsummer got her second godchild. I wish that they will create a close connection, not only being related but also by the godmother´s duty. As a gift Maren Elle gave the child a brooch. Silver will protect young Inga Eleana. Jewellery and clothes (čiŋat) is a sign of social status. The child is baptized and blessed, and with this ceremony the child has been given her position in society. She could become a godmother herself.
It is not possible stop life. The will of people is not the will of the almighty. The fellowship between Liisá and Inga Eleana was far too short. In the midst of the joy of the beginning of a new life, the summer after the baptism ceremony, we received news of Liisá´s eternal journey.

Visualists & Makers

The project Prepare for Confirmation begun in 2016, a time when I was preparing for my daughter, Maren Elle’s, confirmation ceremony. Since I wanted to document the process I invited photographer, Nilla-Máhtte, to join me. He is my late cousin Máhtte’s son. With his camera he followed my duodji work for one year.
During this time I left my job as a teacher, and started my doctoral studies in duodji. At that time my sister´s son family expected a child. All these parts were a part of my life. I begun with artistic studies, with all questions connected to that, of Sámi ceremonies, confirmation and baptism.
Nilla-Máhtte has been interested in photography since he was a child. When he got his hands on a film camera for the first time he filmed everything he saw. A mobile phone camera was his first digital product. “One day my late father and I were herding our reindeer on Muottáhasoaivi. That was the first time I tried to use a mobile phone cameraI took a picture of a border fence in gloomy December. This became a very special photo.”
The picture taken in the Winter of 2006 was the starting point and in the years after, the quality of the cameras have improved and the variety of lenses have become greater. Nowadays, he works as a professional photographer. We can often see Nilppi with his cameras documenting events, nature and people. He has the ability to see and comprehend.
A third member in our working group were the visualist and maker too. The graphic form for this exhibition is made by Hannu Tikkanen. Hannu´s propounding, goal oriented and professional way of working have poured oil on troubled waters in the artistic process of creating. Throughout this time we saw the same things and made same kind of reflections.
The Finnish Cultural Foundation has supported the Sámi Confirmation process when we worked with a scholarship in the Spring and Summer of 2018. The Sámi Council helped us later –we are going to publish a book about the exhibition. Than you all for your financial support!

Sápmelaš seremoniijat –Sámi Confirmation ceremonies is a part of Maarit Magga´s doctoral studies at Lappi university’s artistic faculty for artistic productions.

 “Sámi ceremonies
Confirmation and Baptism”

Enontekiö 2020
Siida, Inari 2021

Photos Nilla-Máhtte Magga