From the árran to the internet: Sami storytelling in digital environments

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

This essay investigates the use of storytelling in the process of cultural and linguistic revitalization through specific contemporary examples drawn from the Internet. By examining instances of adaptation of Sami tales and legends to digital environments, I discuss new premises and challenges for the emergence of such narratives. In particular, within a contemporary context characterized by an increasing variety of media and channels, as well as by an improvement in minority politics, it is important to examine how expressive culture and traditional modes of expression are transposed and negotiated. The rich Sami storytelling tradition is a central form of cultural expression. Its role in the articulation of norms, values, and discourses within the community has been emphasized in previous research (Balto 1997; Cocq 2008; Fjellström 1986); it is a means for learning and communicating valuable knowledge—a shared understanding. Legends and tales convey information, educate, socialize, and entertain. Their role within contemporary inreach and outreach initiatives is explored in this essay from the perspective of adaptation and revitalization. As I emphasize, the explicit goals in minority politics are factors that have an effect on the selection and adaptation of Sami expressive culture. From this perspective, the Internet is approached as a place of creation and negotiation for traditional storytelling through a case study that I hope will offer a relevant contribution to other indigenous communities. Additionally, this study illustrates how the potential of the Internet has to be nuanced and interpreted in relation to offline practices regarding such materials and traditions.

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I wish to investigate the continuity of the communicative function of contemporary narratives in digital environments as an effect of the relocation of storytelling events from the árran—the fireplace at the center of the Sami tent and a place for gathering—to the web, today a daily meeting place for many. 

In the cases of Gulahalan and Noaidegiisá, for instance, the Internet is only a mode of diffusion and access, and the narratives in Gulahalan are simply versions transposed from the printed source into another medium without any greater modifications. But Cugu and Cujaju were created to use internet applications: Cugu illustrates the potential of digital-born narratives with interactive features and the possibilities for flexibility and variation; as for Cujaju, the site explores the possibilities of film and platforms such as YouTube for a visual representation of yoik. The use of graphics and animation is yet another mode of negotiation between sources and intertexts (cf. Hayles 2003). In Cugu and Cujaju, words are no longer prominent: even though the sites are in North Sami, even non-Sami speakers can navigate the digital environment. In the case of Gulahalan and Noaidegiisá, on the other hand, words are central, a reality reflected both in the content and in the limited use of multimedia features.

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Jill Walker Rettberg