Summer in Stalo

In April, way before it’s “stow away snow scooter time”, the Labba family have already been busy freighting boxes and boxes full of food stuffs and dry goods to Staloluokta. At midsummer, around 22 June, they fly up to Staloluokta, where Tuorpon Sami village’s summer settlement is located. This is where the highlight of the year takes place – the calf branding.

In everyday life, the Labba family – Dad, Per Åke, Mum, Åsa and daughters, Lina, 16, and Sara, 14 –  live in Vaikijaur not far from Jokkmokk, but during summer it’s the summer settlement they call home, as do the other reindeer owners. The Sami village of Tuorpon have their summer grazing areas around Staloluokta. This is where the reindeer is heading in early spring and stay till late autumn when they, once again, start their track down towards their winter grazing in the forests.

To imagine that the Labba family would spend their summers anywhere else but Stalo is completely unthinkable. That would be a punishment.

  • We already start to long for the place in early spring, says Åsa, who works with business development in Jokkmokk.

Fixing their own summer job

At midsummer they fly up by helicopter. The boxes with provisions of base ingredients for the entire summer is waiting for them in their cabin, among them 36 kg flower. The girls fix their own summer job. They bake gáhkko, a soft, little bit chewy and awesome Sami glödkaka (ember cake, bread baked on the coal of the fire), and hot smoke char that they sell to hikers passing along the Padjelanta or Nordkalott track. As a change to the hikers freeze dried diet, the girls alternative is mighty popular.

When I ask them who taught them to hot smoke fish, Lina gets a bit bewildered.

  • Hm, I don’t know. I don’t’ think anyone taught me, she replies taken back, but that reply is soon in dispute.
  • Well, I’ll certainly put in a protest, it’s your Ma that’s who. And as far as the cold smoke goes, that’s your Pa, says Åsa and laughs.

Pass on Knowledge

One summer a researcher happened to pass by. She asked Åsa and Per Åke what or how they did to pass on the Sami culture to their children.

  • What? Nothing. We are no culture brownies, we just drag engines, are out on the lake, do calf branding and do what we’ve always done. But, after a few moments ad a few thoughts, we realised that our culture is something is passed on each day, since our children are present, says Åsa.

To pass on knowledge between generations is obviously not something even thought about whilst it’s being done. It a natural progression. Every generation is present during the summer stay at Stalo. Most of the family in one way, shape or another. Everyone must engage and participate for reindeer husbandry to work. The younger generation will take over, it’s not planned, it just is, as Åsa expresses her thoughts.

  • We have an older relative who still lives in a peat-tipi during summer. That’s where the kids spent their time during summer being creative, made bark guksi’s and pickled fish. Made angelica pipes – and got caught smoking!

Calf branding, the reckoning of the year gone

In July the reindeer owners gather their herd into large paddocks. The calfs will be branded. The branding happens at nights when it’s cooler, which is nicer for animals and humans alike. When it’s too cold the calves won’t follow their vajor as well and it’s harder to make out which calf belongs to which vaja. Since the calves are marked in the ear with the owners mark it’s important to be able to identify your particular reindeer and their calves.

Calf branding is the highlight of the year. That’s when the reckoning of how the past winter and spring has been when it comes to the reindeer grazing or counting losses to predators.

  • There are many dangers for the reindeer. When we get many calves times are good and we know we are doing something right, even if it’s nature first and foremost that arranges these things, says Per-Åke.

The reindeer owner cut their brand in both the calf’s ears with a sharp knife. Every owner has their own brand. Within the five Sami villagers there are close to a thousand reindeer brands. An experienced reindeer herder can quickly identify which village the reindeer belong to and can often recognise different owners’ brands, even at a distance.

Sara and Lina also participate in the calf branding.

  • I was probably around ten when I marked my first calf, Lina recalls.

Wants to take part in working with the reindeers

Lina help out with the reindeer husbandry as often as she can. Whenever she’s on school holiday she’s out in the reindeer forest, just like most of her friends do.

  • I help out during the yearly sarv slaughter (slaughtering male reindeer in autumn), mustering and when we move the reindeers to their mountain grazing area. And there’s always a need for people running behind when we are gathering the calves for branding, says Lina.

Her younger sister Sara is just as keen. It’s natural to participate and help out, even if many jobs are hard or heavy to do. To drag a large sari (male reindeer) is far from a kid’s game and loading reindeers onto trailers is really hard work.

  • Last autumn when Per Åke was away gathering reindeers for a month and a half Lina just had to lend a hand, says Åsa.
  • Well, I can always come along watch for the branding and drag reindeers, is Lina’s reply.

Good standard

In Stalo, situation in Padjelanta’s national park, there are at least 25 reindeer husbandry cabins. The Labba family’s cabin is cosy today compared with when the girls where small. Back then water had to be carried and a tub and hand pump was used to take a shower behind a tarp. These days they have running summer-water, sauna, solar panels on the roof for 12 volt electricity, generator and a gas freezer. Add the outdoor loo and it’s no wonder it is a breeze to live comfortably from midsummer into the beginning of August.

Staloluokta is almost a true metropolis during summer season with hotel, kiosk and airport doing up to six daily departures for Kvikkjokk and Ritsem. The number of hikers have increased during the past few years. Hiking seems to have, once again, become popular.

Times are changing

Times are changing and it is noticeable even on the people arriving at the summer settlement, siijdan, to do the calf branding. Less and less reindeer owners and their families are staying behind on the mountain for a longer period.

  • These days people just haven’t got the time and peace. Many go back as soon as the calf branding’s finished. I don’t want to use the word stressed, yet people simply haven’t got the peace of mind to stop. It is a big difference compared to how it used to be, when I was here as a child, says Per Åke.

The ones that have the mind to stay will try to take the opportunity to take it a bit easy after the seasonal fairly hard year of reindeer husbandry in the forest where the reindeer stay in winter. However, there’s never such a thing as nothing to do, not even at the summer settlement.

  • Weather and wind tear at the buildings, planks need replacing, fixed or painted, the outdoor loo must be moved, you want to get a bit of fishing in and a coffee hungry neighbour might come past. Tourists pass by. You’re not following a clock, just take things as they come. Sometimes it’s pouring down with rain, says Per Åke.

One thing’s for sure, up at Stalo the members of the Sami villages get together more than they do during winter. They reason is that it is only during the summer all the reindeer are gathered together in one area. During winter the reindeer are divided into smaller groups down in the low forest, where Tuorpon have their winter grazing area. Consequently then the families with the reindeer in the same spot are the once that get together.

  • Up here you may call in to see each other several times a day, chat for a bit, borrow a crowbar. Here we live under the same roof. We may not even catch up with some people during the rest of the year, even though we all live near and around Jokkmokk, according to Per Åke.

Keeping the language alive

Per Åke is the one in this family that speak Sami the least, despite him being brought up with the language. He was never taught at school, or at home, a great pity as his mother spoke the older and very word rich form of Sami. Sure, he understands a lot and he’s ok with the “reindeer husbandry Sami”, the vocabulary that with a single word can explain what a reindeer looks like, something that in Swedish would need at least one sentence, if not more.

Both girls have attended the Sami school in Jokkmokk since their pre-school till class 6 and then continued to study the Sami language during their entire school years. Åsa has studied the language as well, as a mature student. It is important to them to keep their language alive.

Girls plans for the future

After this summer’s stay at Stalo Sara is starting eight grade and Lina high school. Her choices for high school have been obvious for a long time. She is heading to Luleå to start her education as an aircraft mechanic.

  • I’ve always been interested in helicopters. We have flown every year since I was a baby, is how Lina explain her choice.

As she has cousins being helicopter pilots and pilots, hence the aeronautical world is no a stranger to her. After high school she can choose to go down the road of becoming an aircraft technician or a pilot. She’s not yet sure of that part of her future.

  • Once I’m done with high school I want to go to Norway and work for a while. Then I want to keep working within the reindeer husbandry and have a job on the side, she says.

Sara’s plans for the future are not yet clear. She’s still got time to make her mind up.

  • Not quite sure what kind of schooling I want to pursue, there are so many fun, interesting subjects and programs to choose from. Economy and law may be the go, says Sara.

We might take a guess that future summers may still be set for the summer settlement at Stalo. There’s not really any other alternative, is there.

Text Iréne Lundström

Kalvmarkning i Stalo

The Labba family, calf branding in Staloluokta

OBS! Calf branding is not a tourist attraction, it’s their workplace. You can’t book tours to look at it, they need concentration and a calm environment to work in.


The Labba family in Staloluokta

Upplev mer av fjällvärlden och den samiska kulturen

The botanical mountain garden