The Keepers of the Reindeer

Words - 354 Reading Level - 6.5

The Lapps of northern Europe are the keepers of the reindeer. They are nomads, traveling wherever the reindeer go on their twice-yearly migrations. Fewer and fewer people are choosing this way of life.

The Lapps are a proud and ancient people. They have been living in the arctic region of Europe for two thousand years. Today 25,000 Lapps live in Norway. Only one tenth of these people still follow the reindeer.

In the winter and summer the reindeer herds gather in southern grazing lands. At these times the Lapp herders are domestic people, but two seasons a year the herders must wander with the reindeer. The herders follow the reindeer during the day. At night the reindeer are corralled where the terrain offers natural boundaries, such as rivers or canyons. The herders stay in light herding tents made of birch branches and reindeer skins.

The herders must endure temperatures well below freezing. They are experts at dealing with this bone-chilling weather. Traditional deer-skin shoes stuffed with grass work better than store-bought boots. A hot reindeer stew cooked in brook water warms the insides.

The children of the Lapps must learn this difficult nomadic way of life at an early age. They get time off from school in the spring and fall to go on the migrations. They will learn the countryside by heart by the time they are teenagers.

These children live in two different worlds. They talk about reindeer in Lappish while at home. At school they discuss modern Scandinavian society in Norwegian.

Progress has touched the Lapps. They no longer depend on reindeer for milk, meat, clothing and tools. Now the reindeer are a cash crop. Today's Lapp children enjoy processed food, ready-made clothing, and television. Snowmobiles are replacing skis on the migration.

The Lapps are proud of their herdsman minority. They want to preserve Lapp culture and language. Unfortunately, grazing land is disappearing in the face of advancing civilization. In addition, only a few young people continue to embrace the traditional ways. As one old-timer put it, "The free life style of the wandering Lapp is on the verge of extinction."

© 2003