The Sami story about the Northern Lights and Niekija, the daughter of the Moon

Last autumn and this winter have been active periods for Northern Lights. I have, myself, seen the most spectacular Northern Lights in October and November, but I have not got the camera equipment so I could take my own pictures, yet. I have to look at pictures taken by other people, and also use those in my blog. There has been activity during winter and kaamos time, too, but often it has happened when there was a cloudy sky in Rovaniemi and the chances to see Northern Lights have not been so good for a while now.
Instead I have been fascinated reading ancient stories about the Samis and the Northern Lights. The story about Niekija is one of them.
Northern Lights are called Guovssahasat in Sami language. There is a possibility to see the Norther Lights during approx. 100 nights a year. The Samis used to think that the Northern Lights were living beings with a soul and ability to hear and understand the humans. The Skolt Samis belive the lights are souls of people who were killed in a war. Other Samis believe the Northern Lights are gas coming up from the seas or the lakes. In the northern Finland people used to think the Northern Lights were made by the Fire-fox running over the lands swinging its red tail around it.

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In the old days the women did not dare to go out without a hat or a cloth on their head. They were afraid their hair could catch fire from the Fire-fox. The Samis imagined they could hear the Northern Lights talk. During the faster movements of the Norther Lights no-one was allowed to make noises or talk loud. And you could not point them with your finger either. If you insulted the Norther Lights you could be attacked by them and punished.
A long time ago there were two reindeer herders in Lapland. They were brothers. The younger brother was killed by the Northern Lights, the Guovssahasat, because he had made too much noise with his yoiking and he had insulted and teased the Northern Lights. They came down on him and killed him.

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The Northern Lights come in different shapes and colors and they also appear in different places of the sky. You can also predict the coming weather from them. High Northern Lights formed like ribbons above your head predict a switch in the weather conditions.

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Flaming Northern Lights high up in the sky predict mild weather and snowfall. If you can see them only in the north direction they predict a coming cold weather. The red color predicts warmer weather and the white tells you it is going to be cold.

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In old times the moon was named Aske in Sami land. Nowadays it is called Mánnu. The Samis tell a story about Niekija, the daughter of the moon, who fell in love with the Northern Lights. She was very pretty with a round face and red cheeks and her hair had the color of silver. The story tells she shined and glittered when she moved.
One day the Sun, Beaivvás, heard about this daughter of the Moon and how beautiful she was. The Sun thought his son, Peivalken, should travel to the land of the Moon and ask Niekija to be his wife. As soon as Peivalken saw the beautiful Niekija he immediately fell in love with her. He asked her: “Would you, my beautiful, fair maiden, try my golden boots on?” Niekija was shy and got all red in her face by the question from Peivalken, but she still tried his boots on. But the boots were hot and burned the toes of Niekija! “Oh, how these boots burn and hurt me!” cried Niekija and run away.

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Niekija escapes and hides herself and waited for the nightfall, when Mánnu, the Moon, would travel the skies. Mánnu takes her to an island, where there was a kota, a goahti, where she could rest. But suddenly, at midnight, someone comes in to the goahti! It was a group of youngsters, led by the famed Náinnas, the Northern Lights. Náinnas moved around the dark walls in the goahti. His shadows shined like silver. He could feel there was someone looking at him from inside the goahti. So he cried out: “Whoever you are, show yourself to me! If you are an old woman, you are probably my mother and if you are the same age as me you must be my sister. If you are younger than me, you are my future fiancée!” And Niekija answers: “It is only me! Here I am!” And in that moment the first rays of the morning star gently pass through the goahti and Náinnas got a close look at Niekija for the first time.

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Náinnas immediately falls in love with Niekija and asks her to marry him and Niekija accepts to be the wife of Náinnas, the Northern Lights. The life together with Náinnas was lonely for Niekija in the evenings, because Náinnas had to go to his brothers in the north, to the home of the Northern Lights, every night and run and play like flames together over the skies. Niekija would have liked to spend the evenings together with Náinnas in the goahti. She sat in the kota alone and fabricated a blanket from reindeer hides.

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She made embroideries with the Milky Way and other stars. When ready she put the blanket up in the roof of the goahti so she could see the stars twinkling in the dark sky. The next morning Náinnas did not want to get up. He stayed in the bed looking at the stars and he never understood, that it was time for him to go and play with his brothers in his old home.

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Niekija got up early and went out but she forgot to close the door behind her. At that moment Beaivvás, the Sun, rises early behind the mountains; red with flames. The Sun’s rays finally reached the open door of the goahti and woke up Náinnas with his golden eyes. Náinnas wakes up and realize it is already morning. He could see the Bear was already pulling the Sun along the sky path. The story goes that the Sun is pulled by the Bear in the morning. In the middle of the day a Hirvas, male reindeer, is pulling him and in the evening a Vaadin, female reindeer, is pulling the Sun along the path of the sky. (Ursa major=the big bear)

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Náinnas wants to run away to his brothers to tell them it is time to return home already, but the Sun is waiting for him and presses him to the earth with his burning rays. Niekija throw herself upon Náinnas to prevent the Sun to manage to keep Náinnas down. And now Náinnas manages to escape from the rays of the Sun. But the Sun grabs the hair of Niekija and held her captive. After that the Sun calls for Peivalken, his son. But Niekija started to scream she hated Peivalken. She also screams to the Sun: “You may kill me if you wish, but I will never be the wife of Peivalken!” This got the Sun really furious and so he banished Niekija back to Mánnu, the Moon, her mother. Mánnu took Niekija into her arms and protected her. Niekija stayed with her mother, Mánnu. Niekija continues to watch the sky and the Northern Lights for ever; she never more takes her eyes from Náinnas. Here ends the story.

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Art, architecture and memorials in Rovaniemi, part 1

Rovaniemi is a city with many memorials from the war 1939-1944. The city was actually burnt down in the end of the war and that has had a great impact on the city. There are many memorials for the struggling and rebuilding that went on during the war and after that, but also how people used to make an effort for surviving in the hard circumstances in Lapland in those days. As I walked around in the city I felt the thankfulness that fills the city as the war is finally over and the rebuilding could take place and all the hope for at better future people had in those days. In the city of Rovaniemi you can find up to 45 pieces of art in the parks and on other public places..

The first you see as you arrive to the airport of Rovaniemi is “The Reindeer of Christmas Land” sculpture. The artist Urpo Kärri was born in Lappeenranta in the south of Finland, but moved to Kemijärvi in Lapland around 1960. At the beginning he worked with wood in his art and he has also created the altarpiece “Miserere” in the Ounasjoki chapel. He is also known as an ice- and snow sculptor, who has taken part in many international snowsculpture-competitions. Besides “The Reindeer of Christmas Land” Kärri has also created the “Clearing and Reconstruction” memorial in Rovaniemi.

“The Reindeer of Christmas Land” sculpture he made in 1995-1996. It features eight reindeer. The coats of the reindeer crafted from steel are made more lively with Bohemian crystals and steel stars moving in the wind. You can both see and hear the steel stars moving. The reindeer rise from the ground to stand on their hind feet, as if they are about to take an immense leap towards the sky. This sculpture is the symbol of tourism trade in Rovaniemi. From the same sculpture the city of Rovaniemi has made give-away pins also.

The “Clearing and Reconstruction” sculpture stands in Uitonpuisto near the Ounaskoski bridge on the church side of the river. Kärri made the sculpture in 1990 and it is themed on the activities of the Pioneers during the Lapland War and later re-construction. The work is made from slate, stainless steel and mirrors.

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Another artist who has made a great impact on Rovaniemi is the well-known Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. After the war in 1944 he created the famous reindeer-antler plan of Rovaniemi city. From that plan the city started to grow after the war.

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Alvar Aalto (3 February 1898 – 11 May 1976) was a Finnish architect and designer. His work includes architecture, furniture, textiles and glassware. Aalto’s early career runs in parallel with the rapid economic growth and industrialization of Finland during the first half of the twentieth century. What is typical for his entire career, however, is a concern for design as a total work of art; whereby he – together with his first wife Aino Aalto – would design not just the building, but give special treatments to the interior surfaces and design furniture, lamps, and furnishings and glassware. The Alvar Aalto Museum, designed by Aalto himself, is located in what is regarded as his home city Jyväskylä.

In Rovaniemi he designed also the Culture and administration center with the “Lappia House” all finished in 1975. The Culture and Administration Center holds the Administrative offices and the library. The Lappia House holds the Rovaniemi theatre, concert and congress hall. The lines of the roofs have been often compared with the mountain scenery of Lapland. Light whites and blues dominate the building both outside and in furnishing. The floor material of the entrance hall and the staircase leading to the foyer is limestone from Loue – Lappish marble. In the evenings the roof of the Lappia House is lightened with changing colors of blue, green and red.

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Alvar Aalto has also made the sculpture “Aurora Borealis” that was hanging on the wall of the building at Koskikatu 18-20. For the moment the sculpture is removed from the wall because of some reconstruction measures. The bronze sculpture portrays the Northern Lights. Architect Aalto has also designed and built the house and he typically then designed the works of art for his own buildings because he did not want to disconnect his works of art from his architecture.

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Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis

Last night, once again, I was admiring the Northern Lights’ green curtain dancing above my head in the dark sky in the middle of the night. The Northern Lights never cease to fascinate me. Every time is unique! There are never two alike Northern lights. Even if there is no wind blowing at all on the place where you stand, the Northern Lights are moving all the time like the wind blows them; sometimes they increase and then again decrease. The next minute they come from another part of the sky and increase rapidly to long green stripes and then again decrease down to a shorter “curtain” of bright green. I have once seen a green Northern Light with a bright red center. That is more unusual.

I use to check up with sites that are special Northern Light forecast sites and I also have one of the sites sending me an e-mail when the activity is increasing, so I can move to a place where the possibilities to see Auroras is at their best. The fact is, you cannot see them in a town or city, because of the “light pollution”. There should not be any disturbing lights nearby. The nearer the North Pole you are the more above your head are the Northern Lights. If you look at them from more far away from the North Pole they appear more near the horizon.

Here are some of the sites I use to check up about Northern Lights:

The Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory near Rovaniemi is making observations and statistics over Northern Lights and I often check up their home page. This is, however, not a forecast site. It is more like statistics of how frequent the Auroras have been last night, for example. The space weather prediction center gives you more a hint of what is to be expected the next hours and The Geophysical Institute of Alaska can give you quite exact predictions of upcoming Northern Lights.

Soft serve news is also a very good site with information about Auroras and it also provides you with links to predictions sites.

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So, what is exactly the phenomenon Northern Lights or the Auroras? The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south.

The Northern Lights appear in many colors although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.

Northern Lights can be seen in the northern or southern hemisphere, in an irregularly shaped oval centred over each magnetic pole. The lights are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south.
Where is the best place to see Auroras? Areas that are not subject to ‘light pollution’ are the best places to watch for the lights. There should be a clear sky, mostly in a cold winter night. Winter in the north is generally a good season to view lights. The long periods of darkness and the frequency of clear nights provide many good opportunities to watch the Auroras in Lapland. Usually the best time of night (on clear nights) to watch them is local midnight.

Researchers have also discovered that auroral activity is cyclic, peaking roughly every 11 years. This year, 2013, is a peak period.

The Northern Lights are actually the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. Variations in color are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. The most common Northern Light color, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora.

As I do not own a camera with possibilities to take my own photographs of the Northern Lights, I have to add some photos I have found on the Internet. These are typical Northern Lights seen in Lapland.

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