Reindeer Herding

Muotkatunturi Wilderness Area is located in a traditional reindeer herding region, and the southern parts of the area have been good winter pastures. Samuli Paulaharju (1875 - 1944), who is well-known for collecting folk traditions, describes winter pasturing in the area in his book "Taka-Lappia":
"In the winter, during the darkest period, the forest echoes with the sounds of the Lapland's crop moving on the snowy ground, and the herdsman watches his herd. The pasture land is vast, although the forest is full of diggers, sometimes side by side, muzzles deep in the snow so that the horns rub up against the edges of the hole and the ringing of the bells can be heard from under the surface of the snow. Many reindeer have a bell made of iron or brass tied around their neck, so that listening to the sound, the herd will better stay together and the herdsman will hear if the proud leader is trying to run away.
Soon the whole of the field is in turmoil, when the mining work of the reindeer has gone on for a while. Once the ground is trampled hard, the reindeer cannot dig there anymore, and the whole of the herd has to move to a fresh place to start again. But in the early spring, when the sunny days and the cold nights freeze the surface of the snow, the reindeer have hard work finding lichen. When the snow is too hard for the hungry reindeer to dig, they will run in the forests looking for soft places, and places where the snow has melted. And the herdsman with his dogs has to follow, if he wishes to keep track of the herd. It is not easy for the men, and the dogs are also busy running back and forth collecting the reindeer. Dogs are really useful in looking after the reindeer, better than any man."
Especially in the southern part of the wilderness area, near the River Vaskojoki, there have been excellent lichen fields. A reindeer herder Yrjö Mattus from Menesjärvi remembers the following: "Around the River Vaskojoki, there have been probably the best lichen fields in the whole of Lapland. The lichen grew 10 cm tall and it was collected and stored in stacks." He also recalls the migration of the reindeer in the area.
"The fells of Utsjoki froze in the beginning of the 1960s so that the reindeer could not dig to find lichen. In November, a large migration of the reindeer was observed in the south. Yrjö was at the River Vaskojoki, when he saw the largest herd. He sat by the campfire and watched a 50 m wide herd to go past him for two hours. With binoculars he could see that there were reindeer from Paistunturi, Kaldoaivi and Muddusjärvi. There were also earmarks which he could not recognise, which meant that the reindeer had come from quite far. About every tenth reindeer did not have an earmark. At that time, there were very many reindeer and not all of them could be earmarked in the yearly round-up, when skis were the main mode of transport. Fences were not yet built between the areas of the local herding co-operatives, which made large migrations possible.
When the wind changed its direction, the winter began and the reindeer stopped. More reindeer joined from Sallivaara in the south, and this huge herd stayed to graze on the excellent lichen fields to the south of the Muotkatunturit Fells. The reindeer herders from Utsjoki in the north arrived skiing after their reindeer. The round-up and earmarking of the reindeer lasted a month. There was a round-up site called Riutusaita in the southern parts of the wilderness area, and a smaller section of round-up fence called "kirnu" was built there for catching the reindeer and separating and marking them. The reindeer herders from the forested regions wondered about the habits of the men from the north: these men from the fell region just dried their clothes by the fire at the lean-to shelter in the evening and then went to sleep in their sledges. Many new friends were made during this round-up."

What doesthe name of Muotkatunturit Fells mean?

In InariSámi the fells are called Myedhituoddâreh and in North Sámi Muotkeduottarat,which means "Journey Fells". The words "myetki" and "muotka" mean both journeyand an isthmus, a neck of land between two bodies of water. In the old days,when waterways were important connections, people travelled from the headwatersof the rivers flowing into the Inarijärvi through the northern parts of Muotkatunturi area to the rivers Inarijoki and Tenojoki.

December. Photo: Martti Rikkonen

What doesthe name of Kuárvikozzâ mean?

The name of Kuárvikozzâ, the highest top of Muotkatunturit Fells, means "crooked nail". Theword "kuárvi" means a shelf, an edge or a protrusion, and "kozzâ" means a nail.Especially when looking from the south, this sharp felltop stands out among theother, rounded tops. The crookedness of the top is due to the slaty stonedeposits, which were mostly vertically organised during upheavals in theearth's crust.