Reindeer graves and bear graves

In pre-Christian times some animals were buried much the same way as people in the Sami areas. Primarily bears and reindeer were honoured with funerals.

The bear, guovža in Sami, had a special position in the Sami culture in pre-Christian times. There are many descriptions of the rituals concerning the hunt and how the bear should be treated after it was killed. One of these written accounts tells of how you should not mention the bear by its real name when you went hunting, but you had to use other names, such as "furry grandpa" or "the old man". When the bear hunters returned from a successful hunt they had to enter the house through the back door in the boaššu-part of the goahti (Sami turf house). The same rule applied to any dogs that had taken part in the hunt. The women had to cover their faces and could only look at the hunters through brass rings. This was to protect their eyes from the power of the dead animal, which radiated from the hunters. The women also chewed alder bark. This gives a red colour, which they spit at the hunters. The bear meat was cooked and ate at a feast where everybody participated, and after the meal the bear bones were collected and buried. The bear was also given grave presents, much the same way as people did. Such bear graves have been found in both northern and southern Sami areas. Here in Varanger such a grave has been found and dug out in Karlebotn, which lies in the southern end of the Varangerfjord. Karlebotn is called Stuorravuonna in Sami. At Mortensnes there has been found graves with reindeer bones, but with no human skeleton. These are probably reindeer graves.

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