Time concept

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Time concept

The traditional Saami conception of time is cyclical. It does not contain the idea of time ending that is characteristic of the Christian concept. It is based on changes in the natural environment and concomitant changes in human behaviour. The Saami measured the passing of time according to the movements of the heavenly bodies (Cosmology). The Saami language has the same words for day and the sun and for the moon and a month. During the period of winter darkness (the polar night ), the Saami measured midnight, early morning and late evening according to the positions of the constellations (Astral mythology). Precise information about the time in terms of hour and minutes was not important to them because their life was dependent not on time but on the weather andnatural conditions.

The year was traditionally divided into two parts, a summer half and a winter one. These periods are of different lengths, the winter half being longer than the summer one. Unlike the practice in Western concepts of time, the Saami did not attempt to set dates to mark off the seasons because the length of winter, spring, summer and autumn varied with each particular year depending on the weather and how the conditions of the natural environment changed from year to year. Thus the idea of a three-month season is foreign to the Saami conception of time. One year the winter might last long than that of the following year, and the coming spring may be shorter than it was the previous year. When the Saami took up reindeer husbandry, they began to regard some point in time that was important in connection with herding as the beginning of the year; for example, for the North Saami of northern Finland this was the spring-winter (see below), when the calves were born, while for the Inari and Skolt Saami it was in the autumn, when the leaves turned yellow and the herders began to round up their reindeer. Little is known of the Saami concept of time during the period of the hunting culture.

The year was divided into eight seasons: winter, spring-winter, spring, spring-summer, summer, autumn-summer, autumn and the period of winter darkness. What follows is the North Saami concept of the seasons. Winter is considered to begin when the snow settles permanently and the temperature is below freezing point, around the end of November. The period between late autumn and winter, around November and December, was generally called thetime of winter darkness (skábma). After Christmas, it gradually gets lighter and in the depths of winter (January and February) the sun again appears on the horizon. Along with the first rays of sunshine come the hard frosts. At the end of February the sun begins to bring some warmth, the frosts decrease in severity, but the blizzards become fiercer. Winter lasts till around Easter, when spring-winter begins. The arrival of swans in the north is a sure sign of the coming of spring, but spring does not begin properly until the weather becomes warmer and the winter snows begin to melt. In the spring-winter period, the snow melts in the daytime and freezes at night, creating a firm, hard crust. Over this the Saami set out with their reindeer to their spring grazing grounds, where the calves are born. Calving takes place during spring and spring-summer, from May to early June. The salmon migrate from the sea up the rivers of the north when they are clear of ice. Some lakes may remain covered with ice until the end of spring-summer. In spring-summer, the snow has melted, the trees are in leaf and the grass begins to grow. This period is called urbi.

Summer begins in the second half of June, when the leaves and the grass are fully grown, and it is warm enough for the midges to come out. The midges swarm when hot weather comes to the north, in July and August. This is the period of high summer, and the reindeer try to escape from the midges by moving to the high fells or the sea coast. From around Midsummer s Day to August, the reindeer shed their winter coats and the birds change their plumage. The summer lasts until the first cold nights arrive, which marks the beginning of the autumn-summer period. The sun can no longer be seen in the sky all night, the stars become visible, and the days grow shorter. In autumn-summer, the coats of the reindeer grow thicker, but they really only grow new coats in the autumn.

Autumn begins with the first frosts. The birdsmigrate south, to the land of Bárbmu. Even in early September, the land is covered in the morning with snow. The grass become desiccated and the leaves turn yellow, turning the landscape into a blaze of autumn colour. The rutting season of the reindeer begins about mid-September and lasts approximately one month. Then the bulls do not eat or rest so that by the end of the mating season they are thin and exhausted. It is from this that the North Saami name for this period of time comes: golggotmánnu from golggot a bull reindeer that has mated .

Just before the rutting season begins, the period of cold weather commences, with rain, sleet, snow and high winds. In mid-October, the summer half ends, and the autumn frosts set in. The lakes and rivers freeze over, daylight decreases and the period of winter darkness starts. The sun disappears and the nights growlonger. During the period of winter darkness sometimes it snows, sometimes there is a thaw. However, winter proper only begins when the snow has settled permanently on the ground.

Jelena Porsanger

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