My best Arctic trips, Part 5

And so on this journey in 2006 from southeastern Finland to the top of Arctic Norway I ended up at Riddu Riddu, Norway’s annual Indigenous music and culture festival, about which I have written before here.

In 2020, there was no Riddu Riddu, due to the pandemic.

But when I went to Riddu Riddu in 2006, its program showcased everything from “polar ska,” “Ainu dub,” “tribal funk” to “ethno-futuristic rock” played by Indigenous groups from Norway, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Siberia, South Africa, Greenland and Alaska.

And, for me, it wasn’t so much a life-changing experience as a life-affirming one as late into the night I listened to music with new and old friends.

Ayarhaan, which means “the tribe of the creator” or, as Riddu Riddu’s program said, “girl power from Yakutia,” took the festival by surprise.

Ayarhaan’s wildly traditional music combined elements of of traditional throat singing and Jimmy Hendrix. Their home, Yakutia in central Siberia, is a place where temperatures range from -40 C in winter to 30 C in the summer, an extreme sort of place that produced their extreme version of throat singing.

“To survive you have to be strong, so you can hear the strength in the music,” said Albina Degtyareva, the group’s lead singer. “In Yakutia, you can feel and hear the power inside you.”

Her mouth harp, or “khomous,” looked like a pair of scissors with a metal tine sticking through the middle. Yakutians traditionally use the khomous, which was said to have been made by gods and possess a magical voice, to accompany their throat singing.

Ainu musician Oki Kano, below, performed a dub-like mix of the tonkori and double bass. His “Salmon Song” about returning to your roots is still on my playlist.

“I urge all indigenous youth to return to their villages,” Oki said before singing his wild “Salmon Song.”

“Many Japanese are supporting Ainu rights, and although there is more awareness, there is still racism. Racism exists on two levels, one is the everyday kind of racism at school, or say when Ainu want to marry a Japanese and the parents are opposed to it. The other level is on the government level.

“The government is very clever though, and makes the Ainu lifestyle the same as for Japanese, although Ainu have a lower income and standard of education. The government can then say they are supporting the Ainu, without giving us rights, such as fishing or land rights. So we have to do something, and that something is music,” said Kano in an online interview.

And award-winning singer and songwriter Maire Boine, below, who brought Saami yoik to another level, also performed. (BTW her album, one of my favourites, called Gula Gula, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.)

And so it went on.  82-year old Ivvar-Niillas performed yoik… a Maori singer filled the stage…as did Pamyua from Alaska…

And then the show was over and it was time to travel south.

When I got back to Finland, the sun was already setting at night, summer was nearly finished and I went back to Canada.

If you missed the earlier parts of this best Arctic trip, you can read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

And why did I write all this? Maybe to go beyond the restrictions of COVID-19 and to remember who I am?

My next best Arctic trip date may bring us to Greenland or Iceland…

My best Arctic trips, Part 4

When you get to travel somewhere you have wanted to, that’s a great feeling.

I loved driving down the fiords in Norway.

It took a while before I could find some sun. First, I had to buy some boots. I stopped in Alta where I found a pair of blue rubber boots with a reflective stripe: I would keep these on for most of the next week.

In Alta, I wanted to see the rock art. I had visited Qajartalik, off the coast of Nunavik, with its mysterious mask carvings.

But Alta was different: it was a World Heritage Site, a designation that brings money and protection.

Anyone could pick up a piece of ancient mummified wood in Nunavut’s High Arctic, or write graffiti over Nunavik’s delicate rock carvings.

Protecting fragile Arctic prehistory is not an easy task. But when a site has the status of a World Heritage Site, the job is much easier.

Money, attention and protection: these were among the benefits of being a World Heritage site, which were obvious in Alta.

There, several thousand rock carvings, some of them more than 6,000 years old, have been on the World Heritage list since 1985.

This listing opened doors to new money and global publicity. After that thousands of people from all over the world came to Alta to see the rock carvings and visit the interpretation centre. At the same time, there were strict laws protect the rock carvings.

The carvings in rock, of people, boats, animals and fish, show some of the beliefs and rituals of the ancestors of today’s Saami people, the original inhabitants of this part of the Arctic.

The rock carvings are thought to be a link between the people and spirit world, and the tranquil shore zone where the early Saami carved these drawings, the place the world of spirits and people met.

An international agreement governing World Heritage Sites preserves and protects these places to highlight mankind’s cultural and natural heritage.

But neither Nunavut nor Nunavik have any sites on the World Heritage list: in 2020, there are 1121 of them around the world.

Top candidates for World Heritage sites status in Canada’s Arctic continue the ancient rock carvings near Kangiqsujuaq, and the fossil forest on Axel Heiberg Island, not protected yet as a territorial part.

The rock carvings at Alta are painted orange-red, because more recent rock art in Norway was painted that way.

But Hebba Helberg from the University of Tromsø told me there’s no proof that this is the way they were originally painted.

Hebba Helberg

“When you paint them, you’re interpreting them in a way,” he said when I ran into him in Alta.

The curators of the Alta site still let people experience the carvings as they were in nature, as a way of encouraging visitors to return as often as necessary to see the carvings.

During that summer of 2006, Helberg was supervising students who removed lichens from the rocks and uncovered even more carvings.

That kind of constant research is what the status of a World Heritage Site listing could provide — something Canada’s two vulnerable Arctic sites do not yet enjoy.

So you have missed Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3? Catch up…to be continued…