by Mr Yrjö Norokorpi, Area Manager of Nature Conservation
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Ukonsaari is a holy place of the Sami People, a rocky island with steep cliffs, rising in the middle of lake Inarijärvi. Ukonsaari island was submitted for the World Heritage Tentative List by the National Board of Antiquites in 1990. The Nordic World Heritage meeting in Copenhagen, 2006, recommended an examination of the possibilities for a joint nomination of Sami heritage, which would better represent the whole range of cultural and natural values. Therefore, we propose a set of old Sami sacred sites at Inari for the Tentative List as follows: 1. Ukonsaari Island, 2. Kalkuvaara, 3. The two old burial islands, 4. Pielpajärvi wilderness church, 5. Tuulispää windfell, 6. Ukonsaari Island in Lake Ukonjärvi (part of Lake Inari), and 7. Akka´s hill Akku at Lake Ukonjärvi. The god of thunder, Ukko was the most powerful god and his wife, Akka, or Galgu (Kalku) was the goddess of fertility and the Earth Mother. The first wilderness church was completed in Pielpajärvi by 1647, and the present log building was erected in 1760. The landscape of lake Inari is a distinct and stark large lake with clear waters, and there are only a few such lakes in the sub-arctic zone. The pre-Christian religion of the Sami was closely connected to nature, and they held their entire land to be sacred. The lake landscape together with the holy sites can be considered as a mixed natural and cultural property on the World Heritage List and can represent the Finnish sites for a joint nomination of Sami heritage of the four Arctic countries.
The Sámi are Europe’s northernmost and the Nordic countries’ only officially indigenous people, their homeland spanning Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The Inari Sámi people, who constitute a distinct language group, have occupied the vicinity of Lake Inari for two thousand years. There are currently around 300 speakers of Inari Sámi. They have lived on fishing, hunting, reindeer herding, gathering plants and berries and, since the 18th century, agriculture. We know that in their culture, pre-Christian religion was closely connected to nature. They held their entire land to be sacred. It was marked by specific holy places, such as fells, sacred hills, stones and springs. Many sites still have names which reflect their ancient sacrificial purposes and some of them still have high cultural and spiritual value such as Ukonsaari located in the Inarijärvi protection area. It is the best-known of the sites and widely appreciated.
Ukonsaari island was submitted for the World Heritage Tentative List by the National Board of Antiquites (NBA) in 1990. The Nordic World Heritage meeting in Copenhagen, 2006 recommended an examination of the possibilities for a joint nomination of Sami heritage, which would better represent the whole range of cultural and natural values. Therefore, we propose a set of old Sami sacred sites at Inari including Ukonsaari Island for the Tentative List as follows: 1. Ukonsaari Island, 2. Kalkuvaara, 3. The two old burial islands, 4. Pielpajärvi wilderness church, 5. Tuulispää windfell, 6. Ukonsaari Island in Lake Ukonjärvi (part of Lake Inari), and 7. Akka´s hill Akku at Lake Ukonjärvi. The landscape of the area is distinct, as it contains a large stark lake with clear waters and there are only a few such lakes in the sub-arctic zone. It belongs to the European network of the Natura 2000 protection areas. The lake landscape together with the holy sites can be considered as a mixed natural and cultural property on the World Heritage List and can represent the Finnish sites for a joint nomination of Sami heritage of the four Arctic countries, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russian Federation.
2. Natural values
The Inarijärvi protection area is situated in the municipality of Inari, Northern Lapland, 300 km north of the Arctic circle, and covers 900 km2 of the total 1043 km2 of the lake. It is the third largest lake in Finland and the sixth biggest in Europe, with a maximum depth of 92 m. The Inari Hiking Area is larger than the lake, covering 1,215 km2. It is being planned as a national hiking area, protected under the Recreational Act. The area is managed by the stated-owned organisation, Natural Heritage Services of Metsähallitus (Forest and Park Services).
The rocky bed of Lake Inari lies less than 200 metres above sea level. The bedrock of the area is composed primarily of ancient granite gneiss (over 2,500 million years old) and, in the southern part of the area, of a more recent granulite (1,900 million years old). Lake Inari has broad areas of open water and plenty of islands, making the landscape both varied and distinctive. Also distinctive of Lake Inari are its steep moraine and rock shores, though around a third of the shoreline is also turf and sand. The stock of fish is highly varied, including indigenous lake trout and arctic charr. There is also a wide variety of whitefish.
Of the habitat types listed in the Habitats Directive of the European Union the following are found in the Natura 2000 area of Lake Inari: Oligotrophic waters containing very few minerals of sandy plains (Littorelletalia uniflorae), transition mires and quaking bogs, silicious rock with pioneer vegetation (Sedo-Sclerathion or Sedo albi-Vernicion dillenii), natural or similar old-growth forests with Scots pine, and wooded mires with Scots pine and pubescent birch.
In the middle of Ukonselkä, an area of open water on Lake Inari about 11 km east of the village of Inari, there is a strange-looking rocky island called Ukonsaari (N 68o 55´, E 27o 20´) or Ukko (Äijih in the Inari Sámi language). The island is 100 metres wide and 300 metres long. Over 30 metres high, it commands a far-reaching view in every direction and stands out clearly from the surrounding islands. Its steep cliffs, boulders, nooks and small caves make it a famous natural sight, and it is known to have been a very important and sacred place of worship for the indigenous Inari Sámi people.
3. Spiritual and cultural values
In the Sámi culture, pre-Christian religion was closely connected to nature. The natural world was a place full of spirits and hidden knowledge. As with other ancient Nordic peoples, the Sámi also worshipped natural forces, the sun, water, wind and thunder. The god of thunder, Ukko (Äijih), was the most powerful of all the male Sÿmi deities, and his most important sacrificial site was Ukonsaari (Äijih). In Inari Sámi, Äijih means old, wise man, grandfather, or thunder. His counterparts in other mythologies are the Norse Thor, the Germanic Donar, the Celtic Taranis, the Slavic Perun, the Roman Jupiter and the Greek Zeus. At some holy sites, such as Ukonsaari, access was only permitted to men. Women could only go there by dressing up as men. Ukko had power over the weather – in particular thunderstorms – harvests and people’s destinies. Powerful shamans and sorcerers were believed to be able to communicate with the God of Thunder and placate him through sacrifices.
Ukko’s wife was Akka, or Galgu. Kalkuvaara (Galguvárri) hill is on the northern shore of Lake Inari, near the village of Inari, and has a view of Ukonsaari. Akka was the goddess of fertility, and as the Earth Mother represented the female side of nature. Pieggalmai, the god of wind, was worshipped at Tuulispää Fell. From atop Tuulispää there is a good view of Ukonsaari in Lake Inari. Ukonsaari may have been a sacred site as far back as 7,000 years ago, when land elevation raised it to its current height above the water. The area has been inhabited for around 10,000 years.
The other Ukonsaari island is located in Lake Ukonjärvi which is a part of the large lake of Inari in its south-western part. In the middle of the island there is a big seita stone used for sacrificing to Ukko. A seita was held to be so sacred that it could only be approached on all fours. It was generally a stone or boulder that stood out from its surroundings, or standing stones arranged by human hands. They were divided into fish and deer seitas, worshipped to ensure success in the catch or the hunt. There are known to have been at least 17 seitas in the Inari region, but barely a half of these remain, as they were systematically desecrated when Christianity came to Lapland. The counterpart of this Ukonsaari is Akku, Akka´s hill located on the northern shore of Lake Ukonjärvi about 4 km from the island.
Conversion of the Sámi to Christianity in Inari began in the 1550s. The church began to firmly establish its institutional presence in the Inari siida from the start of the 17th century, and the first church building was completed by 1647. It was erected in Pielpajärvi winter village two kilometres away from Kalkuvaara hill, and about 8 km west of Ukonsaari island. Probably the location of the church had been a former sacred site. The present wilderness church building was completed by 1760. By 1661, all Inari Sámi had been baptised having been threatened by the priest with the fires of Hell and eternal damnation. The old symbols of their pagan faith were efficiently rooted out by representatives of the new spiritual authority, such as through the utter destruction of many old holy sites and shaman drums.
Close to Ukonsaari of Lake Inari there are two old burial islands, Iso- and Pieni Hautuumaasaari, in which bodies were buried for centuries to place them under Ukko’s protection and away from predators. These practices were continued during Christian times up until 1904.
In 1873, the Englishman Arthur Evans – later Sir Arthur famed for his research into Knossos on Crete – discovered a cave on a research trip to Ukonsaari, at the entrance to which he claims to have found some antlers arranged into an arc. He carried out a one-day archaeological excavation at the island, and in addition to animal horns and bones also uncovered a fragment of silver filigree head jewellery. The silver ornament would once have been a lady’s circlet. This type of jewellery would not have been native to Finland or any other Nordic country, but would have come from Russia, from the region of the Kama and Vychegda rivers. The trinket dates back to the late Iron Age, around 1100 to 1200 A.D. It is part of the collections at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, but is currently on a several-year loan to the main exhibition at Siida, the Sámi Museum.
The project involved archaeological excavations carried out in co-operation between the University of Oulu, the Giellagas Institute, Metsähallitus, and the Siida Sámi Museum in the summer of 2006. Detailed 3D digital maps were obtained of the island. Surveys were also carried out which aimed to assess the significance to the Sámi of Ukonsaari as a holy site. The archaeological excavations among the rocks and stones at the western end of the island uncovered a number of sacrificial finds. These were primarily the bones, antlers and teeth of deer or reindeer and goats or sheep. Also found were some kopeks minted by Vasili Shuiski between 1606 and 1610, and a fragment of copper plate typical of Sámi archaeological finds. The bones were radio carbon dated to between 1430 and 1630. Older bones cannot be found because of the acid soils and fairly fast decomposition. The datings suggest that at that time the Christian faith and old traditions and religion co-existed in the area around Lake Inari.
Ukonsaari was still held as sacred in Inari even at the end of the 19th century, in spite of the population having been converted to Christianity for around two hundred years. Local legend also says that there was a practice among people sailing on the open waters of throwing a coin into the lake and asking Ukko for a following wind. In the summer of 2006 a survey was carried out to see what Ukonsaari represented to local residents of the village of Inari. The locals, both Sámis and Finns, expressed their respect for Ukonsaari as an ancient site of worship. Some of the interviewees said that some local people still revered the site as a sacred place, in spite of being Christian. Its historical and cultural values are still largely and highly appreciated.
4. Tourism and its impacts
Many people want to visit Ukonsaari in order to see Lake Inari’s best known landmark first-hand, as well as to witness the holy site of the ancient Sámi.
On the western shore of Ukonsaari is a pier constructed by the Finnish Maritime Administration, where locals and visitors alike are able to dock. From here there is a set of steps installed by Metsähallitus leading up to the hilltop, which were designed to guide visitors safely and directly, to protect the island from erosion. In the Inari–Ivalo area there are two travel companies organising trips to Ukonsaari. In summer, a cruise ferry makes daily trips to Ukonsaari. In winter the companies take tourists to the island by motor scooter. Some people also sledge or ski to the island themselves. The total number of visitors per year amounts to almost 10,000. The central problem is the steady erosion of the island, as there is complete freedom of movement around the upper part of the island, and the soils and landscape are easily eroded. Some people also feel that the island loses some of its sacredness through being built on and walked all over.
The wilderness church of Lake Piepajärvi is a popular place in summer. There is the five-kilometer walking trail to the church. A service is held in the church a few of times a year, and couples can get married there. The church was in regular use until the end of 1800s, at which time it was the central place of Inari area. Tuulispää wind fell is easily accessible by car and close to the top, there is a lookout spot. The other holy places are within reach but not at present in tourist use.
5. Further arrangement
Ukonsaari is managed and tended by Metsähallitus Natural Heritage Services, who are responsible for the attainment of nature conservation targets. Finland’s National Board of Antiquities (NBA) is responsible for the preservation of antique relics, architectural and cultural heritage, and cultural-historically valuable natural sites, together with other official authorities and museums. The Sami Parliament is the highest political body of the Finnish Sámi. The Parliament promotes the Sámi peoples’ national and international relationships, protects the Sámi languages and culture, and advocates their position as an indigenous people.
Metsähallitus is currently drawing up a management plan for Inari hiking area, including Ukonsaari and other holy sites. Key interest groups, namely Metsähallitus, the Sami Parliament, the Municipality of Inari, the NBA, the Environment Centre of Lapland and local tourism companies, are considering various alternatives for the future of tourism on Ukonsaari. The three alternative proposals are: 1. Tourism continues in its current form, whereby everyone has access to the island. 2. Everyone has free access to the island, but movement there is restricted to the existing walkways. Structures and information boards are improved to ensure the restrictions are adhered to. 3. It is forbidden for anyone to dock at the island and the current structures are removed. Everybody can look at the sceneries of Ukonsaari from a boat, in the same way as the burial islands are seen. The Sámi Parliament gives its support to total forbiddance for preserving sacredness of the island and protecting natural values. The travel companies would like to continue their present operating services.
The responsible Finnish authorities continue to prepare a new proposal for the World Heritage Tentative List based on the ideas of this presentation and examine the possibilities for a joint nomination of Sami cultural heritage together with the Sami Council and Sami Assemblies in the four Arctic countries, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russian Federation.
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Anarâš – The Inari Sámis
Sámi Museum Siida – New archaeological finds from Ukko Island in Inari