To Yoik the Mountain
“The yoik lifts the soul flying with thoughts over the clouds.”
- Paulus Utsi, Sámi poet
The yoik is a music tradition of the Sámi people from the land of Sápmi that stretches over Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula. The Sámi author Johan Turi writes that the Sámi people learnt the art of yoiking as well as many other skills from the ulda spirits who live under the earth.
“Sámi singing is called yoiking. It is a practice for recalling other people. Some are recalled with hate, and some with love, and some are recalled with sorrow. And other times such songs concern lands or animals: the wolf, and the reindeer, or wild reindeer,” writes Turi in his famous book – Muitalus sámiid birra – first published in 1910, and the first book about the Sámi people written from a Sámi perspective.
“To yoik is to live, and to live is to be yoiked,” says Krister Stoor, yoik-singer. “One does not yoik about something – you yoik a person, an animal or a place in nature. To yoik is to connect with something and to yoik someone’s song is to become one with that person.”
To yoik is to express that which is beyond words. Sometimes a feeling is so strong that it cannot be captured with words. Unfortunately many people have misunderstood the yoik and judged it to be an expression of a “primitive culture” because it doesn’t have many words.
|Drawing by Johan Turi|
When the Sámi people were Christianized the yoik was seen by the church as an instrument of the devil. In the 17th century yoiking was forbidden and some were even sentenced to death for it. For a long time yoiking was looked down upon even amongst the Sámi people themselves, and so yoiking was done in solitude, high up in the mountains or deep in the woods, faraway from prying eyes. The Sámi drums were also forbidden and taken away to be burnt in fires or given away as exotic gifts to European aristocrats. Some hid their drums in secret places and made small drums that you could hide in your pocket.
The yoik had many functions, both spiritual and practical. It was a good way of calming the reindeer and keeping predators away. It was also used by the noajdde (shaman) as a way of entering a trance and travelling between worlds. Yoiking was also a way of remembering someone who had passed away. Often a child was given their own yoik by a family member.
The German professor Johannes Schefferus was called to Sweden in the 17th century to write about the Sámi people and their culture. The Sámi student Olof Mattson Sirma provided the professor with two yoiks which were later published in “Lapponia” which first came out year 1673. The book was translated to several languages (although it was not translated into Swedish until 1956) and it became well-spread throughout Europe, and in that way two Sámi yoiks became a part of the European literature of that time.
The Sámi artist and yoik-singer Nils-Aslak Valkeapää described the yoik as “a ring circling in the air,” and “its structure can be compared to water moving in harmony with the landscape or with the wind caressing the face of the mountain.”
Famous Sámi jojk singers include Sofia Jannok, Mari Boine and Jon-Henrik Fjällgren, among many others. Today yoik songs can be heard playing on the radio and many young Sámi are continuing the tradition as well as yoiking in new ways.
|Photo from the documentary "Jojk" by Maj Lis Skaltje|
The sound of yoiking was what first pulled me towards learning more about Sámi culture. Hearing the sound made me feel so at home, and especially when hearing the yoiks about places in nature. I have my own way of yoiking and tuning in to the songs and stories of the earth. When I yoik the mountain, I connect with the soul of the mountain – I am the mountain.
This is something that I believe we all have the ability to do. It is a natural part of our being that many have forgotten but which is never lost entirely. By returning to nature, we return to a way of being in tune with nature and deeply connected to our environment.
Can you hear the song of the mountain?
Go out into nature and listen. Truly listen. Let nature be your teacher. You don’t need to read any books or go any courses. Just go outside. Breathe. Listen. Sink your bare feet into the earth and feel with all your senses. Come alive.
Listen to the song of the mountain, and let the mountain listen to your song.
Kjellström, Rolf (2000) Samernas liv. Stockholm: Carlssons
Stoor, Krister, CD ”Att jojka är att leva”
Turi, Johan (2012) An Account of the Sámi, Translated by Thomas A. DuBois, ĈálliidLágádus, Karasjok,