Livđe - Inari Sámi music tradition

The own music tradition of Inari Sámi, the livđe, was almost forgotten as numbers of speakers dwindled. In fact, it was only at the beginning of the 21st century, that the existence of livđe was noticed when music researcher Marko Jouste, found some melodies resembling yoiks performed in the Inari Sámi language. As his investigations progressed, it became clear that there were several dozen of these melodies performed in Inari Sámi, which in turn began to prove true that the Inari Sámi had indeed had their own musical tradition. In addition to people, livđes also typically describe places or animals.

Written by Heli Aikio

The transfer of the livđe tradition was broken

The Inari Sámi musical tradition, livđe, was almost forgotten as numbers of speakers dwindled. In the early decades of the 20th century, their population was diminished due to the Spanish flu, wars and periods spent in evacuation. In particular, the Spanish flu in the 1920s was fatal; killing an estimated 10% of the population of the Inari region, most of which were Inari Sámi people – presumably many were able performers of the livđe tradition. The orphaned Sámi children were in turn transferred into orphanages. The dead were not preferable subjects for livđes (Jouste 2011: p.), so the tradition began to die out.

At the same time also, the number of Finns exceeded the Sámi in population (Jouste 2011: p. 46). A migration of Finns to the area, including mixed marriages, began to change the main spoken language to Finnish, and change from music traditional genres to Western ones. At the beginning of the 1980s, there were only about 200 Inari Sámi speakers left, most of whom were elderly or middle-aged. Due to the aforementioned reasons, the livđe tradition could not transfer naturally from one generation to the next. The third cause was the belief, spread along with Christianity, that the Sámi musical traditions were sinful in nature. Many texts specifically refer to Inari Sámi, who most amicably took to singing Finnish language ‘virsi’ hymns instead. A fourth reason, was probably the school system, which took over after the abolishment of partly Sámi language rotating catechist schools, and moved children living at home into dormitories, where their own musical tradition began to be replaced by non-Sámi language Western music

The resuscitation of livđe

A few livđe texts in the Inari Sámi language have been preserved in books, although they have been labelled as songs – in all probability, because at the time they no longer remembered the existence of the Inari Sámi musical tradition. Many researchers have also questioned the existence of a special tradition of musical dialects of the Inari Sámi, claiming that the performances they heard were essentially replication of Northern Sámi yoiks. However, many of researchers on data collecting trips, did not have Sámi interpreters nor necessarily the cultural knowledge to distinguish livđes from yoiking. In the beginning of the 21st century, the existence of livđes was observed by music researcher Marko Jouste, who when examining yoik archives, found some melodies resembling yoiks performed in the Inari Sámi language.

As the investigations progressed, it became clear that were several dozen uniquely Inari Sámi melodies, which in turn began to prove that the Inari Sámi had indeed had their own musical tradition. Jouste himself identifies the melody chains linking livđes as Inari melodies, although there are also exceptions. In any case, the vocal technique used in livđes is song-like and very serene, which also refers to by the verb ́livđuđ ́, known in Northern Sámi as ́livđet ́, or ’yoik with sophistication (humming)’. The livđes do not contain strong nieks (vocal rises) and other decorations characteristic of yoik. In addition, livđes are performed in the speech register or slightly above. The weighting is at the beginning of the verses, the volume varies and the individual syllables are stretched. The most common livđe syllables are ́nan-na ́, ́non-non ́, ́nun-nun ́ and ́lal-lal ́.

A community’s collective memory bank of melodies, but the artist’s personal musical interpretation

Although the livđe has its own musical tradition alongside other Sámi vocal music dialects, there are many similarities among them. In the musical traditions of the Northern peoples, including Sámi vocal music dialects such as the livđe, the melodies used by the performer are tuned according to their own ear and musical memory. Similarly, the musical time is determined by the performer, so the melodies and rhythms of the same livđes can differ with separate performers. As a result, although the community’s memory bank of melodies is collective, the musical interpretation of the individual performer is emphasised to the extent that there are no two identical versions. (Finland’s Sámi music traditions, sheet 4 Jouste 2011: p. 31 – 32). Jouste notes that, in analysing the vocal music genres based solely on the human voice, it is necessary to take into account their relative nature in the analysis of intervals, since there is no established and theoretical tonal system. (Jouste 2011: p. 31-32)

In addition to the above-mentioned tuning of the melody, there are similarities in musical structures, as all Sámi vocal music dialects rely on repeating one or two verses, in which the melodic theme is repeated, varied, and added to with new lyrics. Jouste describes it as an additive tonal and metering system, where the performer brings together the melody and lyrics by adding melodic themes and words one after another, to form similar repeating verse structures. (Jouste 2011: p. 33) As a result, the lyrics, melodic themes, tonal motifs, and verses become the units by which Sámi vocal music dialects are analysed. According to Jouste’s analysis, single-verse livđes repeat the one verse. In two-verse livđes, the two verses are separated by some structural element, so that the second verse cannot be regarded as a mere repetition of the first verse. (Jouste 2011: p. 38). The same is true for three and four-verse livđes.

Typical human or animal livđes

In addition to humans, livđes also describe places or animals. The most characteristic animals are the bear, dog, wolf and reindeer, which reflect the livelihoods of the era. Since livđes have been so to speak under threat of extinction, there is no certain knowledge on whether the typical ownership observed in other dialects also belonged to the livđe, in which the subject itself owns the melody. According to Jouste, the same phenomenon does exist, and is evident in old tape recordings, where the performer states that they are livđing ‘someone’s’ rather than ‘about someone’. The same assumption is supported by the knowledge that the dead are not preferred subject for livđes. Instead, the melody of the deceased person could be transferred to another, even though the dedicated words were forgotten. As it may have happened, in the case of significant personages, they could have several different melodies dedicated to them by various persons.

Sufficient knowledge of tradition and family history

Where as the descriptions of animal and place livđes can be easily understood today, the interpretation of livđes about persons requires knowledge of Sámi symbolism and family histories. As the descriptions can be very short and ambiguous, the words of the older livđes may no longer be comprehended by today’s people – especially when there is no other information on the deceased person besides the livđe description. Of course, something can be inferred from the melodies and rhythm, because in general these together with the lyrics form a whole. For example, at least one Inari Sámi family has its own family melody, therefore sufficient knowledge of tradition and family history is needed to analyse and re-invigorate livđes.



Jouste Marko: Tullâčalmaaš kirdâččij “flew on fiery eyes” – Early 1900s Inari Sámi musical culture in the interplay of local traditions and the surrounding cultures. Acta Universitatis Tamperensis 1650. Tampere. 2011

Sá Retrieved on 30.11.2019

Writer Heli Aikio

Heli (student 2018-2020), tells her personal relationship of livđe:

“Along with my studies, I found out that the livđing tradition was very close to me. My grandmother had livđed a courting type of livđe at home. Interviewing my relatives did not really yield any livđes, because the hymn tradition had replaced livđes. It has also been thought that the Spanish flu, for example, weakened the continuation of the tradition. I continued my research with the archives and found myself solving a pedigree puzzle. Through it all, I could find livđes and information about my family and its history.”

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