An interview with an older Sami Olle

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I think that the indigenous peoples have a lot to teach us about navigation as it is probable that they have not lost the art of navigation without modern aids and perhaps they can describe how they find their way. 

Please find an interview with Olle Utsi a wise Sami http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_people

The Sami / Lapps are a  very old people and many still live by herding migrating reindeer. We hope to produce other interviews and research<<<<

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On the eighth of February  2014, my Swedish friends and I  went to the traditional Sami fair at Jokkmokk in Sweden above the Artic Circle to meet a wise Sami: Olle Utsi.

I came to the meeting with two preconceptions. The Sami people have a sense of direction so that in bad weather or in the perpetual dark of the arctic winter, when they leave their encampments they always know where their homes are.  This is summed up with the idea of having a “Sense of Direction”.  The second concept is that the reindeer, who are central to their culture, know where they are and follow “tracks and routes” that they can sense, as they migrate to and from their wintering grounds in the forests and their summer pastures high in the Tundra.

Olle did not agree to the concept of a “sense of direction”.

However, Ulle said that: firstly that they do not go out or go far when the weather is bad and visibility is not good.  He also said that the Sami know their territory perfectly, just as a city dweller knows his neighbourhood.  The area in the south of their nomadic range is hilly, forested with pines and birch and extensively covered in lakes.

This means that at all times Olle always knew where he was.  He described how once he had been out in the snow with some friends and had got lost.  Eventually they rediscovered their tracks and these lead them home.  Another time he was lost he arrived at the edge of a lake.  These lakes are long and knowing which way to go is critical.  He went along the edge of the lake until he found a cove and small peninsular which  he recognised from when he had been fishing there.  Once he had  found  his location he was able to find his way to shelter.

From a topographical point of view knowing his landscape so well meant that he could use gradients to navigate by.  He could follow these and find his way home.

One of the things that he found really useful was the wind direction. In his part of the world winds tend maintain direction for longer periods of time.  This means that paying attention to the wind direction gave him constant bearing to navigate by.

Please note that even those with a great sense of direction sometimes get lost.  All great navigators use all the available information, such as described by Olle including the Sun and the moon to back up the sense of direction

Olle was interesting about how reindeer navigate and talked about how Salmon come home to the same river to spawn each year.

We at www.animalnav.org have posted information on Sense of Direction.

And also Kerstin Williams has posted a piece on Sami Navigation found in her extensive reading on the subject.

It seems to me that we need to delve deeper because as Charles Darwin wrote about what must be the Sami:

“With regard to the question of the means by which animals find their way home from a long distance, a striking account, in relation to man, will be found in the English translation of the Expedition to North Siberia, by Von Wrangell. He there describes the wonderful manner in which the natives kept a true course towards a particular spot, whilst passing for a long distance through hummocky ice, with incessant changes of direction, and with no guide in the heavens or on the frozen sea. He states (but I quote only from memory of many years standing) that he, an experienced surveyor, and using a compass, failed to do that which these savages easily effected. Yet no one will suppose that they possessed any special sense which is quite absent in us. We must bear in mind that neither a compass, nor the north star, nor any other such sign, suffices to guide a man to a particular spot through an intricate country, or through hummocky ice, when many deviations from a straight course are inevitable, unless the deviations are allowed for, or a sort of ‘dead reckoning’ is kept.”
— Charles Darwin, 1873

We at animalnav.org have published a poster (http://animalnav.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/RIN13-web-poster.pdf) on this subject.

This suggests that Darwin is indeed correct in that animals (this includes humans) use the pineal gland as a gyro to do exactly the dead reckoning that Darwin proposed.

We at animalnav firmly believe that the Sami and other ancient nomadic people had very successful systems for navigation and rarely got lost.  There is much information that says that animals often know the way home too.

All this is described in detail on the web site www.animalnav.org

We must now work hard to establish whether old skills have been lost, or whether our preconceptions are incorrect.

We need to understand the migratory routes Reindeer take and make proper maps showing these migratory routes so that we can see if these are truly there and the animals follow them.  This can be done my map dowsing as a starter.

Certainly we can follow routes made by sheep and also the Hippopotamus, who travels far each night on shore in total dark.

Olle was so helpful now we have a chance to research more and publish these findings for all to see.  The interesting thing is to see if more research delivers more insights.

Richard Nissen
Editor www.animalnav.org

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