Lapland Adventures: Jaakkola Reindeer Farm
When you think about Lapland, besides Santa, reindeer spring to mind. And how can they not? These wonderful animals are at the heart of Sámi life, and at the Jaakkola Reindeer Farm near Luosto, a visitor to the country can experience a taste of life on the farm, Lapland Style!
Tucked away in the forest, the Reindeer Farm operates as a family-run farm, caring for a herd of these wonderful animals. It is important to note that reindeer are semi-wild. They spend much of the year out in the woods and grasslands in their herds. In order that the animals are not mixed up with animals from another herd, each farm has a unique mark that they make on the beasts; a clip in one of the ears. A cut is made in the skin to help identify the animals. When the time comes for the reindeer to be brought in to pull sleighs, or for slaughter, they are herded back to the farm.
It may be uncomfortable for some, but reindeer-herding is an important way of life for one of Europe's last indigenous people - the Sámi. At some point in the past, the reindeer made a pact with man to exchange a life riddled with disease and wolf attack, to one of herding and protection, to feed those that tended them when the time comes. The animals are treated humanely, and when one is slaughtered, not one part is wasted.The meat is low in fat and high in protein and is not as "gamey" as venison. The furs are used for winter clothing and blankets, whilst even the bones and horns are used for all sorts of items, including traditional crafts.
This place is far from our modern comforts. In the far north, where little food grows, the Sámi rely on reindeer for food, clothing, and income. It takes years to train a reindeer to pull a sleigh, but with time and patience these intelligent beasts learn to understand a series of commands to carry goods and people great distances in sub-zero temperatures.
And at Jaakkola you can experience for yourself a ride in a reindeer sleigh, or as they call it, Luoston Porosafarit - Luosto's Reindeer Safaris.
With their thick fur and wide hooves, reindeer have evolved to live in Arctic conditions. In the wild they paw the frozen ground to dig through the ice to find scraps of lichen to get through the winter. At Jaakkola they are more fortunate, and are fed regularly by the family that tends them. Despite being half wild, these animals are gentle and children are invited to join in with feeding the reindeer during a visit.
A visitor can book a reindeer safari through the stunning scenery. Wrapped in blankets and warm reindeer hides, you can enjoy a short trip, or a longer adventure through the frozen forest and nearby swamps. For the adventurous, an expedition out through the night gives the opportunity to enjoy the majestic sight of the Northern Lights from the comfort of your sleigh. Surely this magical experience would be the trip of a lifetime. The Reindeer Farm provides a number of different tours and will cater for your requirements, so be sure to contact them before your visit if you wish to tailor your trip accordingly. It is important to note that reindeer sleighs can only run when there is snow, so the season for such tours will run between December and April.
The Reindeer Farm grants the visitor the opportunity to experience the culture of Lapland, including the traditional ways of the Sámi people. The buildings are all constructed in traditional methods from the wooden kota housing the restaurant, to the goahti; a kind of tipi which would be erected to as a temporary home when travelling with the herds. You can also find a Lavvu, which whilst similar to the goahti, has entrances on both sides and is designed to be a shelter more than a living space.
At Jaakkola, the goahti houses the noadi - who would in times past be the spiritual guide. Often described as a northern shaman, they speak with the spirits and gods to help find the reindeer herds, interpret dreams, cure sicknesses, and ensure good health. They are the lore keepers, the story tellers, and the intermediary between our realm and the spiritual world of the Sámi people. Sadly, much of the old ways are now gone. The tradition would be passed down orally rather than be recorded in written form, and as times have changed, there is little that survives from this older spiritual culture. Of course, many of their secrets are not for the ears of passing tourists!
The drum, known as a goavddis, gobdis, or meavrresgárri is integral to the noidi's rituals. Made from birch bark and reindeer skin, a rhythm is beat with drum hammer made from reindeer bone or horn with a padded leather head. Many drums are painted with elaborate symbols to represent the world of man, the ancestors above, and the gods above these. Animals are also depicted, and as reindeer are the most important creature to the Sámi way of life, these feature heavily in the art.
Besides being used to facilitate trances, the drums can be used for divination. An index or pointer made from brass or horn known as a vuorbi would be placed on the drum, and the noadi would interpret the answers based on where the vuorbi stopped on the drum's membrane, and on which symbols.
Whilst it is true that mushrooms have played their part in certain rituals, the myth that the shamans drink reindeer urine is certainly untrue!
The Reindeer Farm offers the experience to hear traditional stories and enjoy the noadi's fire dance with drums to invoke your senses and help you to connect with the world of nature around you.
It is rumoured that he might offer the visitor a taste of his secret elixir to offer an unforgettable experience. Quite what is in it, I cannot say, although I personally have partaken in a ritual where reindeer milk mixed with blood was passed to me and I was instructed to drink it in order to connect with the reindeer spirits.
These performances are enigmatic, mysterious, and sets the imagination alight as the fire dances to the noadi's drum in the perpetual darkness of the Lapland winter.
A more permanent structure of the Sámi is the kota. Made from wood, with a fire inside, it provides warmth and shelter, and quite often a kitchen. At Jaakkola, the building is used as a cafe and shop where you might purchase traditional food and drink, and handmade crafts to take home. Of course, you can also purchase antlers, reindeer hides, and your own drum should you wish to bypass the lengthy and mysterious process of making your own.
The family offers visitors the opportunity to learn how to cook Finnish and Lappish cuisine. Housing up to 60 people, the kota is snug and welcoming, with the warm fire taking the chill out of your bones after a day in the snow.
The cookery class lasts about two and a half hours. The participants enjoy preparing a three course dinner using local ingredients such as berries, local root vegetables, forest mushrooms, and good quality reindeer meat from the farm's own herd. An example of such dishes the visitor would prepare include:
- Forest Mushroom Soup
- Lappish Flatbread
- Reindeer Steaks
- Mashed Potatoes
- Root Vegetables
- Red Wine Sauce
- Pancakes with Ice Cream and Cloudberry Jam
- and of course, Tea or Coffee
Each participant is then given a cookery booklet to take home with them.
The kota is also the venue for entertainment, such as the traditional Sámi Joik, local comedy, storytelling, singing, and snow wrestling! I assume the latter is taken outside once a few shots of the noadi's special brew have been consumed!
The Reindeer Farm also offers taster sessions where the visitor can enjoy sledging, short reindeer sleigh rides, husky sled, and snowmobiling through the forest. This is ideal if you have just arrived in Lapland and cannot decide what activities you would like to participate in during the remainder of your trip.
The main tourist season in Lapland runs from December to April, although activities such as hiking and fishing can be arranged during summer and autumn months. You can contact the Reindeer Farm to tailor your perfect trip via their website.
All photos not credited to Pollyanna Jones are courtesy of the Jaakkola Reindeer Farm Website.