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December 2013 || Articles

Law and Multimodal Aesthetics: Nils-Aslak Valkeapää’s Trekways of the Wind

by Bjarne Markussen

Introduction: Valkeapää and Sámi History

The purpose of this article is to discuss the Sámi artist Nils-Aslak Valkeapää’s book Ruoktu váimmus (Trekways of the Wind) from 1985.1  I will analyse it from a law and literature perspective, and more specifically in the context of Sámi legal history. My main argument is that Valkeapää’s multimodal aesthetics – the integration of poetry, images, and musical scores – is a result not only of his many artistic skills but also stems from a historical situation in which verbal communication has become inadequate and even breaks down.

The background for this is 300 years of Nordic colonization of Sápmi (Sámiland), from the seventeenth century to the present. Both the Sámi religion and the traditional vocal music – yoik – were forbidden. Shaman drums were burned and Sámi language was not allowed in schools. Gradually, the Nordic states also claimed ownership of the land traditionally used by Sámis for reindeer husbandry. In Valkeapää’s work the colonization appears as a cultural trauma, a destruction of a way of life. In the 1970–1990s Valkeapää became a leading figure in the Sámi cultural movement, struggling for legal rights and cultural acceptance. For a period he was the cultural coordinator of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, he established the Sámi publishing house DAT, and produced music, poetry, and art until his death in 2001. Ten years earlier he had won the Nordic Council Literature Prize for his book of poetry and photography Beaivi, áhĉážan (The Sun, My Father). He also received international recognition and was awarded the Prix Italia special prize for his composition Goase dušše (The Bird Symphony) in 1993.

In order to understand Valkeapää’s work and communicative strategies, we must look closely at the historical and legal background. As an artist, Áillohaš (as he called himself) communicates on the one hand with Western readers with little knowledge of Sámi culture, and on the other hand with Sámi readers whose literary tradition has been basically oral, not written; in both cases images and music are essential. The law played a crucial role in the colonization of Sápmi, both as a way to legitimize it and as an instrument to organize it. The law had the power to define legal entities and their rights to property. During the nineteenth and twentieth century the Sámi were not considered owners of the land they were using, because they were defined as nomadic people; thus the very concept of ownership seemed to presuppose settlement. However, in the international ILO Convention C169 (Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention) from 1989 – which Norway ratified in 1990 – this situation changed. Article 14 states that ‘attention shall be paid to the situation of nomadic peoples and shifting cultivators’ and that the government shall identify the lands which these peoples traditionally occupy and ‘guarantee effective protection of their rights of ownership and possession’.2  This debate about ownership, possession, and nomadic culture is central in Valkeapää’s art: ‘we use the land that we know is ours | we use the land that strangers make claims to | with their power | with their rule’, he states in Trekways of the Wind. But the strangers cannot or will not understand the nomadic concept of home, and at this point verbal communication breaks down: ‘I say nothing | I only show them the tundra’. The visual must speak where words cannot.

In Valkeapää’s work, traditional Sámi culture is presented as nomadic, holistic, non-violent, and in harmony with nature, while Western culture is presented as intrusive, violent, arrogant, and polluting. Among the scholars who have commented on Trekways of the Wind, Arild Linneberg has described Valkeapää as an avant-garde artist and a prominent critic of Nordic orientalism, while Harald Gaski has pointed out intertextual references to Chief Seattle’s speech of 1854, and to ancient Sámi yoiks.3  My own approach is somewhat different. Firstly, on the political level I will argue that Valkeapää anticipates recent changes in Sámi law, which resulted in the 2005 Finnmarksloven (Finnmark Act). Secondly, on the aesthetic level I will analyse the interaction between text, image, and musical scores, in which the scores, in my opinion, open up a utopian vision in an otherwise dystopian view of postcolonial coexistence. Thirdly, on the psychological level I will subordinate the particular motif of colonization under the general motif of loss and longing. After all, the book’s original title is Ruoktu váimmus, which literally means ‘The Home in the Heart’.

Sámi and Nordic Concepts of Justice

Thanks to legal historians such as Otto Jebens, Kaisa Korpijaakko-Labba, Kirsti Strøm Bull, Gunnar Eriksen, Øyvind Ravna, and others, we know a great deal about the conflict between Sámi and Nordic concepts of justice.4  The question of ownership to land traditionally used for reindeer husbandry is most relevant for our discussion, and I will therefore refer closely to Otto Jebens’s book Det rettshistoriske og folkerettslige grunnlag for eiendomsretten til grunnen i indre Finnmark (On the Property Rights to the Land of Inner Finnmark, with Regard to Legal History and International Law) from 2010, partly based on his dissertation from 1999.5  Inner Finnmark is a region located in Norway and used to be a part of a fellesområde or ‘common territory’ to which both Sweden and Norway laid claim until 1751. Until the mid-eighteenth century there was a general understanding that the Sámi had a right to the land in which they lived and to the natural resources by which they lived – a right equivalent to what we today call ‘property rights’. This was based on customary law, and the rights could apply to either the individual or the group. In Sweden there existed so-called lappskatteländer, or ‘Lapp tax land’, and lappskattefjell or ‘Lapp tax mountains’, areas in which individual Sámi or Sámi families enjoyed a strong position with regard both to local authorities and to other people in the area. On the Norwegian side of the border there are few traces of this kind of system, but there were collective civil rights for the inhabitants of so-called lappebyer, or ‘Lapp towns’. These rights were not ethnically based, as any individuals new to the community were automatically awarded them. According to Jebens, court documents concerning the common territory were based on the Sámi conception of justice:

Ut fra domstolmaterialet er det ingen tvil om at det besto en fast rettsoppfatning hos befolkningen i den enkelte lappeby i fellesområdet om at man mente å ha vidtgående eksklusive rettigheter innenfor lappebyens område, og at disse i utgangspunktet var felles for byens beboere. Også i fellesområdet ble befolkningens sedvanemessige oppfatning opprettholdt av domstolene.6 

[Based on court documents, there is no doubt that there existed among the inhabitants of the Sámi towns in the common territory a strong sense of broad and exclusive civil rights within the town’s borders, and that these rights were held collectively by the inhabitants. Also within the common territory, the population’s understanding of the law was upheld by the courts.]

It still remains unclear, though, to what degree the government considered itself to own these lands. After a border treaty the Lapp Codicil was signed in 1751, and the previous common territories became subjugated to ecclesiastical and secular sovereignty. According to Jebens, the Sámi’s right to ownership was not lost by this legislation, nor by later regulations, which were principally a matter of public administrative law, not of civil law; this was, however, not the understanding of the court system at the time. The Sámi themselves had no representatives or organs which could protect their former rights against the Norwegian authorities, and over the next 250 years the territory became increasingly regarded as ‘the king’s land’. While the Sámi were considered to have the right to use their land, they did not have the right to own it: ‘Statens oppfatning har vært basert på at samene var nomader og derfor ifølge embetsmennenes oppfatning ikke kunne erverve eiendomsrett til grunnen.’7  [The government’s attitude has been that the Sámi were nomads and therefore, according to governmental understanding, could not acquire property rights to this land.]

It was not until the end of the twentieth century that this understanding was seriously challenged. In 1978 a bitter conflict arose between the government and the Sámi regarding the question of building a dam in Alta in Northern Norway, and this conflict generated demand for a revision of the Sámi’s legal status. The Sámi Law Committee that subsequently published its proposition in 1993 was divided into two factions on the question of property rights. While the majority wanted the government to be regarded as the landowner, the minority concluded that the local population could claim recognition as the owner of the land of Inner Finnmark. The minority based its view on both international law and legal history, and despite the fact that ‘the minority’ in 1993 consisted of just one individual, this line of reasoning would subsequently win the day. The interpretation of the ILO Convention C169 (1989) became of great significance, according to Jebens. Thus, at the start of the new millennium, there were two opposing understandings of property rights: the one said that previously unregistered areas were ‘the king’s land’; the other claimed that the Sámi people’s collective property rights were based on their traditional use of the land. This legal conflict took place in Sweden and Finland as well, but only Norway had so far ratified the ILO Convention. I will return to the Finnmark Act at the end of this article. So far we can conclude that at the time Valkeapää published Trekways of the Wind, the situation was still unclear, and so his book should be read in light of this real-life, legal-historical drama.

Trekways of the Wind: A Multimodal Text

Ruoktu váimmus is a trilogy of great beauty and sensitivity. A Swedish translation (Viddarna inom mig) was made by Mia Berner, John E. Utsi, and Kristina Utsi in 1987, and a Norwegian translation (Vindens veier) by Laila Stien followed in 1990. Thus the book became well known to Scandinavian readers. The English translation Trekways of the Wind was made by Ralph Salisbury, Lars Nordström, and Harald Gaski in 1994 (first edition). Both the original book and the translations were published by DAT, and together they appear as a clear statement from Valkeapää/DAT to both Sámi and non-Sámi readers.

The book is based on Valkeapää’s earlier collections of poetry and images: Giđa ijat ĉuovǵadat (White Spring Nights) from 1974 follows the poet through the seasons, from spring to spring. Lávlo vizar biello-cizaš (Bluethroat, Twitter, Sing) from 1976 is partly a childhood narrative, partly a love story, and partly a poetical reflection of the notion of home. Ádjaga silbasuonat (Stream’s Silver Veins) from 1989 follows the poet on a visit to other indigenous people – the Inuit of Greenland and Canada, the Native Americans in the USA – while reflecting on the meaning of difference and identity. Originally these books had a smaller format and were printed in various colours: the first one purple, the second one blue, and the third one red.8  The text of White Spring Nights was even printed in his handwriting. These books became three parts of a new book, Trekways of the Wind, in which some of the original illustrations were kept, and some new were added. This time they were all in black and white except for the watercolour painting on the cover and flyleaf. The peritext of Stream’s Silver Veins was placed at the trilogy’s beginning. A handwritten score from the Finnish composer Pehr Henrik Nordgren was also included – in 1978 Nordgren composed music to some of the poems in Bluethroat, Twitter, Sing, named Lávllarádu Nils-Aslak Valkeapää divttai’e, op. 45, a song cycle for baritone, cello and piano.

The book is not easy to classify. The close interaction between text and images makes it something more than an ‘illustrated book’. The double-spread, not the page, is its organizing unit, and as such it resembles a picturebook. (Picturebook theoreticians insist that it should be spelled in one word.)9  The picturebook is, however, associated with children’s literature, which Trekways of the Wind is not. None of these concepts seems to fit properly, and I will therefore refer to the book as a multimodal text. The important thing is that Valkeapää exploits the book as a medium in a way that was not common in 1985. Every part of the book is decorated, even the title page. Today many authors and publishers work in this manner, which makes Valkeapää seem very modern to us. However, he himself would have objected that the joy of decoration is found all over the traditional Sámi handicrafts.

Like many picturebooks, the book is unpaginated, suggesting either that we are free to read it in whatever order we like or that the book is made in the spirit of the yoik, where freedom, improvisation and spontaneity are essential. Altogether there are 322 pages (the foreword and glossary not included), which makes 161 double-spreads, some of which are text-only, others image-only, and still others both.10 

What the Translation Does to the (Implicit) Reader

Any translation changes the meaning of a text because it is embedded in a different cultural and linguistic context. In a text like Trekways of the Wind, in which the conflict between ‘we’ and ‘the strangers’ is central, this difference is crucial. While in the original text, the ‘we’ addresses only Sámi readers, in the translations the borderline between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is blurred. The first poem is an example of the rhetorical captatio benevolentiæ, or striving towards kindness and goodwill:

Hello dear friend

Hello again dear sister
hello dear brother
Once again I get to rest in your thoughts
warm myself by the coals of your feelings

Bures bures dear brother
how do you do dear sister
How nice to meet you again
see you
Your eyes shining

Wishing you peace

Awhile, I take refuge with you
open briefly my heart
crawl into your thoughts’ warm embrace
for a short while
give me security
Spread your wings11 

The poetic voice of the opening lines is friendly, that of a guest seeking shelter in ‘your’ thoughts and feelings. It is almost too familiar, and the strange mix of courtesy and intimacy should maybe make us a bit suspicious. Unlike the old rhetorical topos, the text does not say ‘dear reader’, but rather ‘dear friend’, ‘dear brother’, ‘dear sister’. Who is being addressed here? When the words ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ are used later in the book, they refer to other Sámi people. The translators have also kept elements from the North Sámi language in the expression ‘bures bures’, meaning hello. In postcolonial theory this is known as a metonymical gap, where ‘bures bures’ stands for the oppressed Sámi culture. The original text has no explicit metonymical gaps. Rather than including all readers, the familiar tone marks a borderline between the insiders and the outsiders, the Sámi and the non-Sámi readers. It is a language of cultural bonding and exclusion.

In the translation, this changes. It is almost impossible for the non-Sámi reader not to identify with the ‘you’ of the text, and this is simply an effect of the codes of literary language: the ‘you’ is a marker of the implicit reader. Intended or not, all readers are drawn towards becoming part of a big family, and we become sisters and brothers in Valkeapää’s poetic universe. (Perhaps Valkeapää himself wanted this to be the case, when agreeing to a translation of his book.) In this case the text deconstructs itself, oscillating between inclusion and exclusion, universal hospitality, and cultural differences.

However, the postcolonial context is not the only one possible. For example, the ‘you’ he addresses seems to vary between a brother or sister and a mother figure. The poet wants to ‘crawl’ into the ‘warm embrace’ of ‘your’ thoughts. The ‘you’ is depicted metaphorically as a protective bird: ‘give me security | Spread your wings’. The poet – the ‘I’ – speaks like a vulnerable child. There is a conspicuous desire for warm embraces, swaying, and sucking throughout the book, and feelings of joy and melancholy shift rapidly back and forth. The introductory mountain-like drawings also have a swaying rhythm, suggesting that the loss of traditional Sámi culture corresponds with the longing for a mother figure. This calls for another context of interpretation, namely a psychological one. But are we right in doing so, or is that simply another kind of colonization of Sámi literature? When Valkeapää writes about the Sun, his father, and the Earth, his mother, he expresses a profound belonging to nature unknown to most Western readers. We, on the other hand, see (or think we see) a projection of regressive desires in his intimacy with nature. Who is right or wrong I cannot tell. This brings forth the question of the ethics of interpretation. My own reply is that, through the translation, Valkeapää comes to me as a guest, and my hospitality must consist of a genuine interest in his work as well as an awareness of our cultural differences.

Various Kinds of Visual Forms

There are various kinds of visual forms and textual modes in the book, and I will describe them and discuss how they interact. While the book contains no information about artistic techniques, these can be identified without any great difficulties.12  The visual forms are: watercolour paintings, musical scores, drawings, and linocuts. As a nomadic artist, Valkeapää used no large or heavy equipment; on the contrary, he employed nothing that he could not carry in a backpack or put on a sledge.

On the cover and the flyleaf there are watercolour paintings mixed with crayon and felt pen (Figure 1).
fig. 1. Trekways of the Wind, cover
The motif is a female figure walking in traditional Sámi clothes. The trimming on the gákti, the blue coat, is decorated with religious symbols. The style is realistic; there are natural proportions with a certain depth. Who is this person? In the foreword Harald Gaski offers his interpretation of this person as a Sámi goddess, the daughter of the Sun. But it could also be an ordinary woman, suggesting that the woman is the bearer of traditional Sámi culture. More importantly, she is walking towards the reader with energy. Movement is an important theme in this book.

Next, there is the handwritten score (Figure 2).
fig. 2. Score and Weasel, ds. 55
Pehr Henrik Nordgren’s Lávllarádu was performed but not recorded in Valkeapää’s lifetime. In 2011, however, on my initiative, three musicians in the Music Department at the University of Agder (Norway) – Trygve Trædal, Maja Birkeland, and Lars Kristian Håkestad – made a recording especially for the present article. It is a piece of modernist music composed in accordance with a twelve-tone technique, and Nordgren uses few or no elements from traditional Sámi music. The text contains the original poems from the love-story section of Bluethroat, Twitter, Sing, and the score follows the first thirty-eight double-spreads of the second part of the trilogy along with text and drawings. The lyrics are included in the score, which means that there are two variants of the text printed on these pages, one meant to be read and another meant to be sung. Nevertheless the same stanzas do not appear on the same pages. The close connection between poetry and singing is emphasized also in other parts of the book, and the name of the ‘I’ in the second part is Biello-Cizáš, meaning Bluethroat, the bird.

Most of the book’s images are drawings made in pencil, charcoal, wax crayon, or felt pen (Figure 3).
fig. 3. Reindeer Calf, ds. 27
The motifs are tundra, animals (reindeer, birds, dogs, horses, fish), people (mostly Sámi or other indigenous people), and utilities (Sámi tent, tipi, boat, sleigh; two pictures showing modern houses and a clock). The drawings are for the most part realistic, though some of the images are rather diffuse or abstract. Many of them are almost documentary drawings, appearing to be anthropological sketches from the inside of the culture, visual representations of a lifeworld, ein Lebenswelt. Pictures of animals and the tundra dominate, suggesting that humankind is merely a small part of nature. In the Arctic regions people have learned to adapt to nature; however, nature is always seen from a human perspective. When people are depicted, they are usually done so as individuals and not groups. There is a sense of loneliness in the drawings, which are expressive in a silent way, giving the impression of being made by an outsider living among insiders.

Finally there are the linocuts, i.e. linoleum prints where the white parts are those carved out of the surrounding linoleum (Figure 4).
fig. 4. Trekways of the Wind, ds. 98
There are few of these in the original books, but some of the original drawings have been rearranged and transferred into linocuts for the trilogy. Among the motifs are not only animals, people, and nature, but also gods and ancient Sámi symbols. Most of the linocuts are made in a symbolic and stylized manner. There are no natural proportions, nor is there any depth. The sharp lines and black and white patterns give them stronger expression than the drawings. The style is inspired by rock carvings and shaman drum iconography. At the same time Valkeapää’s figures and symbols have been twisted in playful and vital ways, a style I would call ‘playful primitivism’. If the drawings depict nature and people, the linocuts are about tradition and culture, connecting modern man to ancient history and depicting an inner world rather than an outer one, showing us signs rather than things. At the same time they remind us of the strength of ancient Sámi culture:

Not until now have they realized
that the people who lived here
ten thousand years ago
melted to become the Sámi

That is a long time
The wanderings of the Egyptian Pharaohs
The riches of the Roman empire
The glory of the Greek culture
short moments if you compare13 

This text emphasizes an important aspect of Valkeapää’s images, as they speak of love and respect towards old Sápmi as well as despair towards the destructive forces of Western civilization. There also seems to be a subtext here: some of the drawings are almost too pure, too beautiful. They show us an idealized vision of Sápmi far removed from the conflicts of the contemporary world. For instance, you never see a snowmobile or a drunken Sámi in Valkeapää’s pictures. Perhaps they speak of a desire for the warm embrace of a mother figure, as the opening poem suggests?

Various Kinds of Textual Modes

As a poet, Valkeapää has a keen eye for detail, while at the same time he is reflective and emotional. Basically, there are four textual modes in Trekways of the Wind.

First there is the descriptive mode, characterized by observations, perceptions, and minute details. The texts are short and concentrated, sometimes like haikus:

An occasional bell
It is evening
the reindeer rest

A hare jumps in the sand14 

Second is the expressive mode, giving voice to joy, sorrow, warmth, anger, or melancholy. The first part of the book ends like this:

Vuoi how happy I am
spring in my heart and sunshine
Easter is close
And I have a new, white reindeer fur coat

Vuoi how happy I am
I get to come to you!15 

The third is the narrative mode. There are narrative structures in all three parts of the book. The first one follows the cycle of a year; the second contains a childhood narrative and a love story; the third one describes a journey abroad. There are not many happy endings, and the journey itself never really ends, as the travelling motif is essential to a nomadic poet who arrives and leaves as a guest:

For a moment I was with you
rested for a while

And now my friend, my dear bird
it is time to leave again
It is always like that
towards the end16 

The fourth mode is the reflective mode. The poet often breaks off from the descriptions to reflect upon the state of things: history, culture, colonization, identity, the future. Here is one example from the book’s second part:

My home is in my heart
it migrates with me

You know it brother
you understand sister
but what do I say to strangers
who spread out everywhere
how shall I answer their questions
that come from a different world

How can I explain
that I can not live in just one place
and still live
when I live
among all these tundras
You are standing in my bed
my privy is behind the bushes
the sun is my lamp
the lake my wash bowl17 

Not surprisingly, there is a melancholic tone in Valkeapää’s reflections. The elegiac poet of the tundra sees his beloved Sámi culture invaded by outsiders, and in order to explain the nomadic concept of a home, he has to ‘translate’ it into a language the strangers understand. He therefore compares nature to an ordinary house: ‘You are standing in my bed | my privy is behind the bushes’. But there is little hope that his message will be received.

How Text and Image Interact

Trekways of the Wind points to a crisis in verbal language: ‘how can I explain’; ‘what do I say to strangers’; ‘how shall I answer their questions’, the poet asks. These strangers do not understand; they come from another world; their horizon is different. But the crisis is not limited to the difficult communication with persistent non-Sámi people. Indeed, there are similar statements throughout the book: ‘how worthless even the most beautiful word | how fragile what | one secretly feels’ (ds. 146). Another poem asks:

Is it possible to say
something sensible
when every word
can be turned
any which way18 

Verbal communication seems to be a general problem for the poet, at least when it comes to urgent matters. When the strangers show him the ‘Law books’ they have brought, there is only one thing to do: ‘I say nothing | I only show them the tundra’ (ds. 94). The visual must speak when words fail to do so. And this is what Valkeapää does throughout the book: he shows us the tundra, allowing the images speak for themselves about grass, mountains, weasels, reindeer, and a buzzard circling in the sky: a peaceful world regulated not by the watch but rather by the time of year and the hours of the day. It is a kind of ostensive definition of the tundra: word and image interact in explaining what cannot be explained.

How does this happen? Numerically, sixty-five of the double-spreads are text-only, forty are image-only, and fifty-six are both. While the interchange between text and image follows no exact system, there are nevertheless traces of an underlying structure. In the more reflective sequences images are often absent, especially when it comes to harsh criticism. Then the text lets loose tirades of words that speak for themselves. In fact, there are only two linocuts of colonization, as all the other images focus on uncontroversial objects. A second of the book’s characteristics is that in sequences with little or no text the images have a progression on their own: they transform, like the mountain-like drawings in the beginning of the book, or they zoom into the motif, like a film. Figures 5–7 reproduce a sequence from the first part of the book.
fig. 7. Trekways of the Wind, ds. 38

fig. 6. Trekways of the Wind, ds. 37

fig. 5. Trekways of the Wind, ds. 36
There are two kinds of movement here: the reindeer moving across the tundra, and the pictures moving closer to the reindeer. The animals themselves do not seem to mind, suggesting that they are familiar with the person whose eyes we see through. At all levels of the book there is movement, and when a reader turns the pages, the alternation between text and images makes a fascinating emotional rhythm. In one double-spread there may be a haiku-like poem or a melancholic reflection, while the next displays either a poignant drawing or expressive linocut. Text and image interact in a vision of life in a constantly moving, restless rhythm: ‘Following the command of the blood | I go’, the poet states in the beginning of the third part (ds. 105).

A third tendency is that text and image do not on the whole overlap. The poem does not describe the image; the image does not illustrate the poem. Even though they both concern life on the tundra, they correspond in mood rather than in motif. For example, in the following combination the poet’s mood is reflected in the drawing of a single reindeer turning his head towards the reader. The text says:

Thick frost on Arctic birch and grass
lakes freeze

Melancholy holds me
even though I try to break free19 

On the next double-spread, we find a drawing of a reindeer (Figure 8).
fig. 8. Trekways of the Wind, ds. 25
The birch tree, grass, and lake are not illustrated, and the reindeer is not mentioned in the poem. His lonely posture against the dark background nevertheless corresponds to the poet’s melancholy in the dark season. However, this reindeer is not a mere projection of human feelings, but rather stands in his own right. In my opinion, it is precisely this distance between text and image that makes Trekways of the Wind a genuine work of art, as it opens an emotional and imaginative space that is difficult to describe but easy to experience.

Finally, the use of black and white paper must be mentioned. For instance, 131 of the images have a light background, thirty have a dark one, and four are mixed. The dark is usually – but not always – associated with a melancholic mood. One exception is the suggestive description of the night on the prairie together with the Native Americans: ‘the heart beats | hearts beat | drums beat | yoiking in the night | the warm prairie wind | hot blood’ (ds. 120).

The Role of Music

As a singer and composer, Valkeapää made his first record in 1969, revitalizing the yoik at a time when it was about to die out. (Twenty years later, singer Mari Boine enjoyed huge success by combining yoik with jazz and pop music.) There may be some structural similarities between the yoik and Trekways of the Wind, and the ‘I’ of the text is a yoiker himself. More striking, however, are the expanded meanings associated with yoik throughout the text, given that these are quite different from the meanings associated with Nordgren’s score. Two kinds of music are thus juxtaposed: traditional Sámi vocal music and modernist Western twelve-tone music. In my view they are both positive elements in the book, a counterforce to melancholy. The one represents the rhythm of nature and the poet’s zest for life, while the other’s presence represents the possibility for a peaceful coexistence between Sámi and Western culture. In the beginning of the book, a simple connection is established between nature and the poet:

In evening the bluethroat sings
It’s spring
In me
too something
melts teases out of a smile
awakens a yoik20 

In this case the yoik is awoken by the joy of springtime, and in others sadness or anger has the same effect: ‘In the depth of my being | a yoik grows | sadly | with tears in my eyes | I yoik in the voice of the heart’ (ds. 88); ‘Bring forth a yoik | a ringing yoik | courageously meet | eye after eye’ (ds. 134). But the yoik is not restricted to the human arena. Nature itself yoiks:

Now do you see
now do you notice
the light of life
The sun’s yoik
life’s yoik
Spring when the fire
is ignited and burns21 

The poet speaks about ‘the blood’s yoik’ (ds. 96) and ‘the yoiks of the ocean’ (ds. 49) in similar ways. The yoik then assumes an overall importance, not only as an expression of feelings but also as a mediator between cosmos (sun), nature (ocean) and man (blood, joy, sadness), sustaining life and guaranteeing a meaningful connection among all things. It is the flow of energy in a holistic experience of life. This state of mind can occur in various ways, either by suggestive drumming (among the Blackfoot Indians) or the sounds of nature (walking alone on the tundra).

It is interesting to note that this holistic experience is connected with visions of a maternal figure:

And the tundra’s winds yoiked
in the forests gorges valleys fjords
the symphony of nature resounded
I suckled mother Sápmi’s breast
from the spring’s silver vein
in the cradle of stones in the scree
the spring sun rocked
opened the buds on the slopes
the ice on the rivers

and the tundra’s winds yoiked22 

Yoiking, rocking, and suckling: like a greedy infant, the poet devotes himself to ‘the symphony of nature’.23  Are we talking about deep existential experiences or regressive fantasies? Maybe they are two sides of the same coin. However this may be, the text makes clear that the tundra is essential to the poet, and reveals how much is at stake: nothing less than ‘mother Sápmi’s breast’ – with all its cultural, historical, religious, and psychological connotations.

The score for Nordgren’s Lávllarádu works in a different way; however, unless the reader has a solid musical education, it is practically impossible to decode it. First and foremost, the song cycle connotes ‘classical music’ and functions as a kind of soundtrack for the first parts of Bluethroat, Twitter, Sing: the childhood narrative and love story. The handwritten score also has an aesthetic quality in itself, and the juxtaposition of text, scores and nature drawings is truly remarkable (Figure 9).
fig. 9. Score and Long-tailed Skua, ds. 80
The nature (and the longing for nature) described in the text is visualized by the drawings, while joy and sadness are accompanied by (imagined) music. If the poems and drawings represent Sámi tradition and the score represents Western tradition, this is the point where they meet in mutual respect and understanding. Nordgren’s Lávllarádu is a place where modernist music meets Sámi poetry centred on a universal motif: love. Valkeapää has given Nordgren’s score a central position in the book. This is the Utopian moment, as there is a peaceful coexistence on the aesthetic level, but not (yet) on the thematic one.

Loss and Law

The text that accompanies the score consists of three parts. It starts out with a number of reflections on the uncontrollable aspects of life and the limitations of individual will. There follows a painful story of a young Sámi (probably the poet himself) who is torn from his childhood paradise and forced to attend a non-Sámi school where he becomes an outsider and a victim of bullying. Finally, there is a love story. The young man is back on the tundra having a summer romance with a girl:

We were under an open sky
and when we heard sounds again
she smiled thoughtfully
caressed my chest

What’s your name I asked
what’s your name

Well then
she smiled
Biello-Cizáš sing24 

The love story is accompanied on the one hand by drawings of birds (skua, grouse, bluethroats, buzzards), and on the other by the music indicated in the score. There are no pictures of the lovers, but the birds point metonymically towards the ‘open sky’. Once again, the distance between text, image, and music opens an emotional and imaginative space in the reader’s mind.

The childhood and love stories constitute the most narrative parts of the book. At first glance they are antithetical – the first one sad, the other happy. But if we look closer, both narratives are about loss: the loss of childhood paradise and the loss of love. One morning, Náste-Gáisi is gone: ‘On my reindeer pelt I wake at night || My fingers clasp warm hair || She is here | no more’ (ds. 79). When love is gone, the music stops. What then? The text moves from a narrative to a reflective mode, and the drawings are replaced with linocuts. Finally, a third loss is discussed: the loss of an entire culture. ‘How I respect | the old Sápmi life’, the poet declares (ds. 84). These lines suggest that the motif of colonization should be subordinated under a larger motif of loss and longing. The schoolboy is longing for his childhood paradise, the young man for his girl, and the poet for mother Sápmi’s breast and his reader’s warm embrace. They are all longing for some kind of home, but the law does not acknowledge the nomadic concept of home:

Our ancestors kept fires on Allaorda
on Stuorajeaggis’ tufts
on Viiddesĉearru

Grandfather drowned in the fjord while fishing
Grandmother cut her shoe grass in Šelgesrohtu
Father was born in Finjubákti in burning cold

And still they ask
where is your home25 

According to the strangers, ‘home’ means settlement, and people who are not settled cannot own land; therefore, the land belongs to the State:

They come
and ask where is your home
they come with papers
and say
this belongs to nobody
this is government land
everything belongs to the State
They bring out dingy fat books
and say
this is the law
it applies to you too26 

We recognize this argument from Sámi legal history, as it is the same understanding of ownership that the Norwegian authorities developed after the Lapp Codicil in 1751 and which was subsequently challenged by the ILO Convention in 1989. Valkeapää shows that it is not a matter of logic, but rather one of power. The government representatives tell him that the law ‘applies to you too’, which makes further discussions difficult. It is reasonable to state that Valkeapää’s criticism is in line with the ILO Convention.

The question arises, what is a home? Part of the answer is that it is a physical place to live, consisting of people and animals, and natural surroundings. These aspects of home are depicted in the book’s drawings and are found in the more descriptive texts:

All of this is my home
these fjords rivers lakes
the cold the sunlight the storms
The night and day of the fjelds
happiness and sorrow
sisters and brothers27 

Access to ‘fjords rivers lakes’ has to do with rights, and is therefore a legal matter. However, a home is also a place of the mind consisting of memories, fantasies, and traditions. These aspects are depicted by Valkeapää in his linocuts and conveyed through the book’s more reflective texts. This is ‘the home in the heart’:

My home is in my heart
it migrates with me

The yoik is alive in my home
the happiness of children sounds there
herd-bells ring
dogs bark
the lasso hums
In my home
the fluttering edges of gáktis
the leggings of the Sámi girls
warm smiles28 

The home in the heart does not disappear even if the land is colonized: ‘it migrates with me’. It is a matter of identity and belonging. The notion of home is powerful in the political struggle for indigenous people’s civil rights.

Finally, in a more existential manner, the home is a place where certain profound qualities can be found, associated with deep desires and longings. These qualities can be experienced only in brief and privileged moments, when time and space almost cease, for example on the tundra or the prairie. Here the poet seems to have achieved – or at least he is trying to achieve – a symbiotic closeness to ‘Mother Sápmi’. The state of mind depicted here is almost pre-Oedipal:

The wind blew warm
light nights dark nights
with warm soft hot arms
I sucked
life in
to forget everything
forget even life itself
feel the blood quake
the waves sigh
the veins are filled
wild blood
wild rivers29 

In Valkeapää’s notion of home, various dimensions are interwoven. Perhaps the lavvu, the traditional Sámi tent, could serve as a symbol of this complexity (Figure 10).
fig. 10. Trekways of the Wind, ds. 41
The lavvu gives the nomadic Sami shelter from wind and frost, but it is also associated with the deep realms of dream, joy, and beauty, as shown in the following text:

Everything is so beautiful
I am afraid
to wake up again
to the hard world30 

In a postcolonial context the lavvu can be read as a symbol of traditional Sámi culture, and in a psychological context it can be read as a maternal symbol – or even as a symbol of the womb (Figure 11).
fig. 11. Trekways of the Wind, ds. 35
If not ‘the home in the heart’, this may be the heart of ‘home’.

The Finnmark Act

What then is the connection between the law and Valkeapää’s multimodal aesthetics? Confronted with the ‘strangers’ and their ‘Law books’, verbal communication breaks down and must be supplemented by images and music. Together they show the reader the traditional Sámi ‘home’, in both the physical and existential sense of the word. However, the question of home is closely linked to the question of the right to own a land. Legal and existential matters are intertwined: the law does not concern only what we can or cannot do, but what we can and cannot be. The law is one of the powers forming a people’s identity.

Valkeapää’s last home (in the more traditional sense) was his house called Lásságámmi in Skibotn, Northern Norway. When he died in 2001, the Norwegian government had already begun working on new legislation for the county of Finnmark, and in 2005 the Finnmark Act was passed. This Act is of historical significance in that it acknowledges Sámi customary law and states that the Sámi people – both individually and collectively – have earned the right to own property in Finnmark. Land that had previously been regarded as State property was transferred to a new legal entity called Finnmarkseiendommen (the Finnmark Property Council), led by a six-member board of officials elected by members of the county and the Sámi councils. Paragraph Six of the Finnmark Act states:

Finnmarkseiendommen (Finnmárkkuopmodat) er et eget rettssubjekt med sete i Finnmark som skal forvalte grunn og naturressurser mv. som den eier i samsvar med lovens formål og reglene i loven her for øvrig.31 

[The Finnmark Property Council (Finnmárkkuopmodat) is a legal entity located in Finnmark that shall administer land and natural resources which it owns, according to the intentions and rules in this law.]

In order to administer these lands and resources, a commission and a district court were established. The ILO Convention 169 was also incorporated into the law, thus safeguarding the rights of indigenous people. Thanks to a long political and cultural struggle, the ‘Law books’ thrust upon Valkeapää were rewritten.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that all issues have been settled. On the contrary, the Finnmark Act is controversial: should the Sámi have a greater right to legal protection than Norwegians who also have used this land for generations? Who should be allowed to be called ‘Sámi’ today, and should the Sámi enjoy different rights from their non-Sámi spouses? And then there is the question of which Sami should have most rights. Should those in reindeer husbandry be awarded rights to land used by Sámi settlers? While there remain many questions and conflicts to be solved, it is hard not to think that there is some kind of historical justice in the fact that descendants of the ancient Sámi people once again will be allowed to own a ‘home’.


1 Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, Ruoktu váimmus (Guovdageaidnu: DAT, 1985); in English, Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, trans. by Ralph Salisbury, Lars Nordström, and Harald Gaski, 2nd edn (Guovdageaidnu: DAT, 2003).Thanks to Bjørg Irene Samuelsen, Karin Lee Hansen and Annabelle Despard for proofreading various versions of this article, and translating parts of it.

2 ILO Convetion C169 (Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention), 1989; available through http:/ [accessed 17 November 2013].

3 Arild Linneberg, ‘På talefot: Om dažžaenes rettsbegrep, dekonstruert: Áillohaš’ ordkunst i lys av nor(d)ientalismen’, in Linneberg, Tolv og en halv tale om litteratur og lov og rett (Oslo: Gyldendal, 2007); Harald Gaski, ‘Nils-Aslak Valkeapää: Indigenous Voice and Multimedia Artist’, in Arctic Discourses, ed. by Anka Ryall et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), pp. 301–28.

4 Kirsti Strøm Bull, Nils Oskal, and Mikkel Nils Sara, Reindriften i Finnmark: Rettshistorie 1852–1960 (Oslo: Cappelen Akademisk Forlag, 2001); Gunnar Erikson, Alders tids bruk (Bergen: Fagbokforlaget, 2008); Kaisa Korpiojaakko-Labba, Om samernas rättsliga ställning i Sverige-Finland (Helsingfors: Juristförbundets Förlag, 1994); Øyvind Ravna, ‘Sámi Legal Culture – and its Place in Norwegian Law’, in Rendezvous of European Legal Cultures, ed. by Jørn Øyrehagen Sunde and Knut Einar Skodvin (Bergen: Fagbokforlaget, 2010), pp. 149–65.

5 Otto Jebens, Det rettshistoriske og folkerettslige grunnlag for eiendomsretten til grunnen i Indre Finnmark, Dieđut, 2 (Kautokeino: Sámi Dutkaninstituhtta, 2010); Otto Jebens, Om eiendomsretten til grunnen i Indre Finnmark (Oslo: Cappelen Akademisk Forlag, 1999).

6 Jebens, Det rettshistoriske, p. 38.

7 Jebens, Det rettshistoriske, p. 54.

8 Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, Giđa ijat đuovđadat (Liiton Kirjapaino: Oulu, 1974); Lávlo vizar biello-cizaš (Kemi: Sabmelaš-doaimhus, 1976); Ádjaga silbasuonat (Karesuando: Vuovjjuš, 1981).

9 Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott, How Picturebooks Work (New York and London: Routledge, 2006).

10 I will refer not to the pages, but to the double-spreads (ds.) according the following system: The first poem begins at ds. 5 (‘Hello my dear friend’), and the last concludes at ds. 151 (‘the track of the wind’).

11 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 5–6.

12 My thanks to film-maker Bjørn Fredheim and artist Kjell Nupen for helping me on this.

13 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 84.

14 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 7.

15 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 44.

16 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds.151.

17 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 89.

18 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 42.

19 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 24.

20 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 5.

21 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 43.

22 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 135.

23 The Bird Symphony, which Valkeapää composed some years later, is in fact a symphony of nature. It consists of sounds of the tundra during the seasons, mixed with drumming and yoiking.

24 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 68.

25 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 94.

26 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 93.

27 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 97.

28 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 89.

29 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 135.

30 Valkeapää, Trekways of the Wind, ds. 41.

31 ‘Lov om rettsforhold og forvaltning av grunn og naturressurser i Finnmark fylke (Finnmarksloven)’ (LOV 2005–06–17 nr 85), available at§6 [accessed 17 November 2013].



Citing this article:
Markussen, Bjarne. “Law and Multimodal Aesthetics: Nils-Aslak Valkeapää’s Trekways of the Wind.” Journal of Illustration Studies (December 2013). 19 Dec 2018. <>