by Jungle Svonni
That we Sámis, my ancestors used to hunt bears with spear back in the old times is a quite well known fact in the Nordic countries. That we had a kind of bear cult. But that we also hunted wolf with spear is less known outside of Sápmi.
Modern rifles didn’t really arrive to Sápmi until about 1920. The old muzzle loaders that were fairly common in Europe during the 1700s and 1800s never became popular in Sápmi. They were very unreliable and simply didn’t work that well in our climate. This is very well illustrated in the book “Västerbotten”
with a quote from late 1800s: A father asked his son why he was going to bring his rifle when going hunting? It would only be in the way, he meant.
There are several texts from the first millennia AD and the first half of the second millennia, (for example Tacitus’ writings), that refers to the great archery skills of the Sámis. After that it’s hard to find any more references to archery in Sápmi. Why that is, we don’t know. But related to some historical facts: like that the reindeer herding started in that time. While the hunting of wild reindeer were starting to end. And there wasn’t much moose in that time, due to a high population of wolves. And the moose didn’t have the same human protection and support as the reindeers.
I have made my own personal speculation: Reindeers and moose are the two animals in Sápmi most suitable to hunt with bow and arrows. Small game was best hunted with snares and traps. Bear, wolf, lynx where best hunted by spear.
So the bow and arrow lost importance without reindeers and moose to hunt.
And maybe the government started to control the weapon possessions of the common people.
So until the 1920s, the way to hunt wolves was with spear.
If bear hunting was the ultimate test of bravery.
Wolf hunting was the ultimate test of strength and endurance.
Skies were most likely invented in Central Asia. There the common type of ski there is short, wide and covered with fur underneath to create traction to move forwards. Ski poles are not necessary, so you have both hands free to maneuver a hunting bow. a brilliant invention. But they are not made for speed.
Here in Sápmi the reindeer herding and wolf hunting required more speed. So the skies became more narrow but a lot longer, sometimes over 3 meters.
The reason for hunting wolves was first and foremost to protect the reindeers. But the skins were also very useful and valuable.
To hunt wolves you first had to wait for the right type of snow. (we have over a 100 words for snow in our language)
Then it was «just» to start following a fresh wolf track, as fast as possible. One ski pole was used, the ski pole was a spear weighing up to 5 kilos, it had to be stronger then the backbone of a wolf.
The chase after the wolf could sometimes last for days. Many times it was was done by a team of two hunters. Since sweating can be deadly in the arctic winter, the fastest hunter/skier would throw off more and more clothes when closing in on the wolf. The second hunter would pick up and carry the clothes. When and if the first hunter would catch up with the wolf, and kill it with the spear. He would be completely exhausted, not dressed for cold. And totally dependent on his friend to shortly arrive with the clothes and strength to build a fire.
Its quite an achievement for a human to have more stamina then a wild animal. More then a wolf.
This was not done by just any hunter. Only by a few in each region developed this «super power”. And those hunters became legends.
This kind of wolf hunting had a quite low impact on the population of the wolves. Just enough to make reindeer herding possible and to keep families alive.
Västerbotten, Balgård, Gunnar, Kjersén Edman, Lena, 1993
Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 55–120 A.D.)
ren och varg: Samer berättar. Yngve Ryd, 2007
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