Rituals involving the bear hunt

Guovža, the bear, was a special animal to the Sámi. Rituals involved in bear hunting have been described in several sources.

One of these says that the hunting party went towards the winter lair in a predetermined order. The one who had discovered the lair went first. He carried a staff with a brass ring on it. Brass was considered to be a protective metal. The bear was never referred to by name during the hunt, but was called “pelt grandfather” or “the old man” or some such nickname.

When the hunting party returned, the one who had killed the bear had to go into the turf hut through the back door into boaššu, the sacred area behind the fireplace.

The women could only look at the returning bear hunters through rings of brass. They spat the red juice of chewed alder bark on them.

The women were not allowed to be present when the bear was skinned and cooked and the men ate separately and from different parts of the animal.

The rituals of the bear hunt varied from place to place, but everywhere the bones had to be gathered together and buried after the meal. Such bear burials are known from both Norway and Sweden.

Rheen, Samuele, 1897 [1671]: En kortt relation om Lapparnes Lefwarne och Sedher, wijd-Skiepellsser, sampt i många Stycken Growfe vildfarelser.
Myrstad, Ragnhild, 1996: Bjørnegraver i Nord-Norge. Upubl. hovedoppgave, Universitetet i Tromsø.
Schanche, Audhild, 2000: Graver i ur og berg.
Schefferus, Johannes, 1956 [1673]: Lappland.

Ceavccageađge/Transteinen i Mortensnes. Govva/Foto: Mihkku Solbakk