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The self-designation is saam' -- saamm'lja 'Lapp' and the language is called saam' kill. Philologically saam is the same as Finnish hämä (cf. Hämä County and the kin name hämäläiset), originating from shämä -- an early proto-Baltic-Finnic tribe to which, among others, the Lapps and Hämäläinen belonged.

Other people called the Lapps by the name fenn ~ finn and since the 12th century lapp. It is presumed that the name Lapp was introduced by the Swedish Vikings in the 9th--10th centuries and is a translation loan of the Lapp word vuowjosh which means 1) a wedge-shaped piece of cloth or leather as well as 2) a small group of fishermen and hunters. The Vikings introduced the name Lapp into Swedish, Finnish, Russian (лопь, лопарь) and later into German, Hungarian, Estonian etc. The Saams themselves consider the name Lapp derogatory. In the Estonian language Lapp also serves to denote a people who live somewhere remote (cf. lappeline 'remote', lappele 'to somewhere remote', 'to a remote place'). The use of the name saam has been encouraged in the Soviet Union since the 1920s but this usage has spread only in recent decades.

There is written evidence of the Kola Lapps from the 9th century when Ottar, a Norwegian Viking, described the Kola peninsula and the local terfinns. Around the year 1000 the name лопь appears in Russian chronicles. The descriptions of Saxo Grammaticus date from the 12th century (Lapps as good archers, skiers, sorcerers and the fortune-tellers). Finnmark in Norway, Norrbotten in Sweden, Lappi~ Lapland in Finland and Murman in Russia have their origins in the 12th century when the Lapps had been scattered over a wide territory.

Habitat. As late as 1917, the Kola Lapps were found all over the peninsula. In 1926 they were mostly in four parishes: Kola-Lapp (Кольско-Лопарская), Aleksandrovo, Ponoi and Lovozero (Luyavr). Their territory has considerably diminished since the beginning of collectivization. In 1989 the majority of Lapps lived in the Lovozero National District (85 % of reindeer as well) which makes up 37 per cent of the Murmansk Region.

Population. Numerical data for the Kola Lapps goes back to surveys in the 18th century:

native speakers
17921,359 (and the following -- data from surveys)
18971,724 (and the following -- data from censuses)
19261,71398 %
19591,79269.9 %
19701,88456.2 %
19791,88853 %
19891,89042.2 %

The table shows a stable balance of between 1,700 and 1,900 for the last 150 years. Epidemics have repeatedly taken a heavy toll on the number of Lapps but invariably the community has survived and the numbers once more increased. In the 1930s it was thought that though the Lapps would not become extinct they would gradually become russified. This would also be facilitated by migration. The share of Lapps in the population of the Kola Peninsula in 1897 was 18.8 %, in 1926, in the vicinity of Murmansk, it was 12.0 %, in 1933, 5.7 %, and in 1989 they constituted only 0.15 %. The total number of inhabitants of the area has gradually increased: 14,000 persons in 1920; 32,000 in 1930; 318,000 in 1940; 1,115,000 in 1989.

The Kola Lapps have settled in number in the Lovozero District (904 Lapps among the population of 16,900). The majority (728) live in the village of Lovozero. Unfortunately, even there it would not be true to speak of an ethnic Lapp environment as the ratio is still only one Lapp to four non-Lapps.

The Kola Lapps constitute but a fraction of the overall Lapp population. The total nmber of Lapps has considerably increased, from 35,000 in 1963 to 60,000--70,000 in 1989.

Anthropologically the Lapps belong to the Laponoid group of the Uralic race but there are distinctive differences between the tribes. For example, regarding primary anthropological features, the Finnish Lapps are 27 % Mongoloid and the Kola Lapps 39 % Mongoloid. The Lapps of the eastern regions are more Mongoloid than those in the west, but neither group belongs to the European race. The racial differences of the Lapps and Baltic Finns have not yet been comprehensively explained.

Lapp is a Finno-Ugric language, originating from the common proto-Baltic-Finnic and for that reason they are its closest kindred languages. As the Lapps spread and adapted to the Arctic Finno-Scandinavia, the differences between dialects became more noticeable and the main Lapp dialects can be considered as separate languages. According to P. Sammallahti, of the ten main dialects four are eastern: the Inar, Kolta, Kildin and Turya languages. As to the habitat, the three latter are Russian-Lapp and the two latter Kola-Lapp languages. The Koltas used to live in Petsamo but during World War II they were evacuated to Finland and now live in the vicinity of Inar. In Soviet linguistics the language of the Kola Lapps has been divided into three dialects: Notozero, Kildin and Yokanga.

Origin. The Lapp and Baltic-Finnic languages are considered to originate from the proto-Baltic-Finnic (ab. 1500 BC) There is no conclusive explanation of how a racially alien ethnic group is linguistically related to the Baltic Finns. It is likely that the Proto-Lapps assimilated the people (most probably of the Arctic race) who had earlier lived on the territory of present-day Finland and Karelia. As the Lapp communities have anthropological differences it is possible that their origin is heterogenous.

History. The forefathers of the Lapps reached the Kola Peninsula before the Christian era and by the 7th century the Lapps, already spread over a huge territory, had lost their linguistic integrity. Neither permafrost nor the Arctic Circle have proved adequate protection from enemies. The Karelians made the Lapps pay tribute, Novgorod followed suite, then the Norwegians and Muscovites. The Russians have ruled the Kola Peninsula since the 13th century. To this day the word for an enemy is either chud (= a Karelian) or ruts (= a Russian). Besides economic dependency the Lapps have also had to withstand ideological pressuve -- initial Russian colonization was undertaken primarily by Orthodox missionaries. New monasteries were founded and the natives were christened but invariably all this was with an ulterior aim -- to acquire new lands and to collect tribute.

After the Great Northern War the strategic importance of the Kola Peninsula diminished. Correspondingly, the number of military and civil servants decreased. In 1764 the "status" of the Lapps changed -- instead of the monasteries they were exploited by the state. The state was very much interested in furs, fish, seals, walrus, train oil, ivory tusks etc. The obligations of the Lapps increased considerably as not only had state dues to be paid but the monasteries were still kept running at the expense of the Lapps.

The Lapps are children of nature. Over the centuries they have developed an optimum rhythm for Nordic life evolved through consideration of natural conditions. The reindeer calve in spring and after that the Lapps used to leave for their summer settlements. In summer they herded the reindeer and stored winter provisions. The food stores used to be more important than the settlements as everybody depended on them for winter survival. Autumn was the hunting and fishing season, the reindeer were slaughtered and let to mate. From December to March the Lapps lived in winter settlements. This was the season for socializing and all kinds of official business (village meetings, court sittings, taxpaying etc.). Priests came at Christmas, they preached, christened children and joined couples in matrimony.

The Kola Lapps have always been half-nomadic. A low population density, the need for a lot of space, a trusting, and intimate relationship with nature have been the inherent features of the Arctic way of life. The Russians (both, the colonists and the central authorities) have only hampered the Lapps' natural way of life.

In 1861 Russia abolished serfdom. People needed money to pay taxes and the Lapps, so far only used to bartering, now became dependent on traders and creditors. Traders were skilled at the wholesale buying of fish, hides, fat and furs. It was easy to get the Lapps drunk and cheat them out of their wares. The wily traders gave low prices while at the same time charging high for the goods the Lapps needed such as flour, salt, sugar, hemp etc. By the 1870s alcohol was the universally understood way to cheat and ruin the Lapps.

In 1868 the Russian government decided to populate the Kola Peninsula with settlers to strengthen their power in this peripheral region. The newcomers were exempt from taxes and military service and they were granted limitless freedoms in trade and business. In 1897 the population of the County consisted of 5,865 Russians, 1,724 Lapps, 117 Komis and 25 Nenets. The Komis had come from the area of Pechora in 1888, bringing along their reindeer and Nenets herders. They had stubbornly bribed their way into the Lapp lebensraum. The Lapps were also promised privileges if they gave up their nomadic way of life. A number of them died. By settling down and abandoning their traditional ways the Lapps fell completely into the power of the Russians. Intermarriages followed and the transition to another language began. Several Lapp villages became wholly russified.

Soviet power reached the Lapps in 1924 with the establishment of village Soviets and it was consolidated during collectivization. For example, the collective farm Tundra was founded in 1930 by 46 Komi, 9 Nenets and 3 Lapp families. It was considered essential that the new ideology, with collective farming, should reach all the Lapps. Their free-roaming ways had become completely unacceptable. To force people into the kolkhozes, the so-called kulaks were fabricated. The Lapps were forced to settle down. Winter settlements ceased existing and new, central ones where the Lapps were gathered were built (eg. Chudzyavr). The Lapps were forced to give up their space again as extensive areas were allocated for the needs of industry and the military. Repressive policies turned out to be very effective. If 53 % of the Lapps were collective farmers on January 1, 1938, by April 20 their number had increased to 98 %. The infamous Solovets concentration camp apparently forced errant Lapps to serious reconsideration.

Lapp schools were made to serve the new ideology. An education programme began in the 1920s. It included the creation of a Lapp script and an illiteracy abolition campaign. The results were noteworthy: six ordinary and four boarding schools were established in the Lapp area in 1928, a two-year Lapp training course began at the Murmansk Teacher Training College in 1931, and by 1933 the number of Lapp schoolchildren taught in their mother tongue was 260 at 17 different schools. The Lapps themselves had their reservations. The schools did not make any concessions to local conditions nor to the traditional Lapp way of life. It was a mechanistic implementation of a typical Russian scenario transplanted to the far north. At boarding schools all links between children and their parents, were severed: they lived like orphans. The pre-requisite for being an 'educated' person was Russian-language tuition according to the 'All-Union standard curriculum'-- even if it meant the change of dressing and eating habits and the shedding of all tradition and ties to the land.

Since World War II nobody had cared to ask the opinion of the Lapps as to how their life should be arranged. When the Lovozero District was established in 1963, two main settlements -- Chudzyavr and Chalmny Varre -- ceased to exist. When the hydro power-station on the Voronya was completed, the Lapps of that area were resettled in Lovozero (Luyavr) by moving the whole former village into a single 60-apartment pre-fabricated building.

Because of disruptions to the Lapps traditional way of life, they face great problems with unemployment and they are largely state-dependant. The birth rate of Lapps is also an area of serious concern. Only 16 ethnic couples were married in the District of Lovozero between 1979 and 1987, 110 were mixed marriages. Out of the 208 eligible Lapp men 119, i.e. 60 %, are bachelors. One of the reasons for this is chronic alcoholism. Lapp women prefer to marry men of other ethnic groups who are more able to father children. Because of the imposed urbanization the younger generation has lost all links with the tundra and reindeer rearing. Mixed marriages and Russian-language environment have brought about an ethnic transition. In 1989 35.1 % of the Lapps were monolingual Russian-speakers. The efficient russification policy has led parents to look upon the Lapp language as something troublesome and harmful and children learn their mother tongue as if it were a foreign language.

Harmful industrial pollutants endanger the life of the Kola Peninsula. Kirovsk, Monchegorsk, Nikel, Kandalaksha are synonymous with apatite, nepheline, copper, aluminium, nickel etc. As well as being the cause of acid rain defoliating the local forests, these industries pollute the tundra with heavy metals which pass through the food chain to be consumed by humans.

The results of a criminal economic and ethnic policy were painfully felt in the 1970s when it became clear that the Russians were not able to take care of the reindeer. Since then to be a Lapp means to be a reindeer herder. In the 1980s an attempt was made to revive Lapp writing (a primer was printed in 1982) but the use of the unified Latin-script-based alphabet of the Scandinavian Lapps was considered to be too risky. At present some Lapp language is again taught at elementary school. Yekaterina (Katrin) Korkina has established a folk group Oiyar. The Estonian-Lapp Society, founded in Tallinn in 1988, may also turn out to be of some help.

Writing. The first primer of the Kola Lapps was published in 1895 by K. Shchekoldin but it met with little interest. Kola Lapp writing enjoyed a brief life from 1933 to 1937. It was created on the basis of the Kildin dialect in Latin script. The New Script Committee was created in 1933, a primer (Saam' Bukvar) by Z. Chernyakov was published and in Murmansk they began to train Lapp teachers. The creation of a literary language was directly related to the increase of ideological activity at school and in the learning of Lapp. As the publishing and writing ended abruptly in 1937, the only written items in the Lapp language are textbooks and writings on every-day political matters. Kola Lapp writing, based on Russian script, was recreated in 1982.

Research. In 1856 D.E.D. Europaeus, a Finn, gathered linguistic material and folklore on the Kola Peninsula. A more efficient study of the Kola Lapps began at the end of the 19th century with the introduction of the comparative method in Finno-Ugric philology. A. Genetz translated a part of St. Matthew's Gospel into the Kildin dialect, the first Cyrillic Kola Lapp text. A. Ganetz published the first dictionary in 1891 (Kuolan lapin murteiden sanakirja ynnä kielen näytteitä), and the first survey of grammar (Oroz-lapp nyelvtani vazlat) was published by J. Halasz in 1883. Thorough scholarly papers about the ethnology, folklore and music of the Kola Lapps have been written by N. Kharuzin (1890), K. Shchekoldin (1890), V. Vize (1911). After World War II a monograph appeared concerning Kola Lapp dialects (by G. Kert 1971), as did collections of language samples (1961, 1988). Since the 1980s there has been a revived interest in the study of the Kola Lapps.


  1. J. Manninen, Soome sugu rahvaste etnograafia. Tartu 1929
  2. K. Nickul, Saamelaiset kansana ja kansalaisina. Suomen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Toimituksia 297, Helsinki 1970
  3. E. Õunas, Koola laplaste juures. -- Saaremaast Sajaanideni ja kaugemalegi, Tallinn 1970
  4. Г. М. Керт, Образцы саамской речи. Материалы по языку и фольклору саамов Кольского полуострова (кильдинский и йоканьгский диалекты), Москва -- Ленинград 1961
  5. А. А. Киселев, Т. А. Киселева, Советские саамы. История, экономика, культура. 2 изд., Мурманск 1987
  6. Е. В. Лазарев, Е. Я. Пация, Социальные аспекты жизнедеятельности саамов на Кольском Севере, 1989 (Рукопись)
  7. Т. В. Лукянченко, Материальная культура саамов (лопарей) Кольского полуострова в конце ХIХ--ХХ в., Москва 1981
  8. И. Ф. Ушаков, С. Н. Дащинский, Ловозеро, Мурманск 1988


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