Journey to the Revda – Settlement to the Few Kola Saami, Russia

My future hostess, Saami woman, warned me on the phone that the temperature had dropped to -50°C. From my previous personal experience, I knew this was not possible, and I was right. In Illinois State, we have much lower temperatures than in this region of the world, sometimes falling below -30ºC. Anyway, I was equipped with warm clothes to be ready for any kind of surprises.

It was a cold winter day. From the window of the plane, I saw a chain of hills. We walked to the airport through snowfall – and it seemed no one even bothered to shovel the walkways. Upon entrance to the luggage area, from distance I recognized my hostess. She reminded me of a Saami, a short woman with a large rounded face, garbed in a long fox fur coat.

The road to the Revda (by western standards) was in excellent condition, wide and shoveled. We stopped at a roadside shop where drivers and locals could buy several varieties of frozen fish and other frozen products. This tiny, temporary place could only be noticed by its Russian flag. It was interesting to see this little unheated fish shop standing in the middle of nowhere. A dog welcomed us. As we drove on a bit, we came across another well-known local landmark – a large roadside tree known to the locals as “Lenin.” Its profile greatly resembles the same silhouette of Lenin that rested on former Soviet Union coins.

We arrived in the small city of Revda to find a high-rise building, private houses, a church and several concrete buildings. At that time, Revda, as result of closing some enterprises and mines people moved out, was mostly unoccupied. The settlement had been built up basically with wooden barracks before 1967, and after the railway began, many high-rise houses were constructed. Buildings above five floors were under construction either in big cities, or in those settlements that had prospects of considerable growth.

To see nine-floor apartment buildings in Pole Arctic shocked me, especially since they were almost empty at the time. What kind of government, architectures, and other interested parties participated in this project? Did they know (or at least ask or ponder) how much it would cost to maintain high-rise housing? To my knowledge, nobody knows the real price of keeping concrete buildings in an acceptable living condition. Families still living in these buildings spent hours without heat and electricity.

These days, there are 9,700 people living in Revda. In the Revda located a Joint Stock Company “Sevredmet.” The JSC produces loparite concentrate, a raw material for tantalum, niobium, and rare elements, partially titanium. Before the collapse of the USSR, this company satisfied seventy percent of the country’s demand for rare metals and eighty percent of niobium. The raw material source is a unique Lovozero deposit, with subsurface mines in Karnasurt (since 1951) and Umbozero (since 1984). During the last decade, the company has faced serious difficulties due to a crisis in product sales.

I spent several days with Saami family in the Revda, about eight miles (twenty kilometers) away from the Lovozero, the center of Russian Saami. I tried to learn from my Saami hostess, something to share in the future with my readers about Saami culture, history, family values, traditions, clothes and other details from within. Even, maybe, to find out some interesting facts of the shaman’s art. Saami called these people Noaides.

According to my hostess, Olga, both of her parents were Saami. Her father, Olonkin Serge, was a famous hunter on the Kola Peninsula. Serge was sometimes paid well: for killing eighteen male wolves, he received five mail reindeer and one doe plus 2,500 rubles; for killing five she-wolves, he received five does and one male deer and 3,000 rubles. He had a lot of government awards. Her mother was a manager of collective milk farms and had been part of a family who was persecuted by the government in the time of collectivization.

Serge had six sons and one girl. He came from a family of fifteen sons and one girl. Later, Serge was forced to relocate with his family to Lovozero from the Voronya settlement, just as all Saami were. At that time, the government began building up the Sovhoz, a large collective farm, huge plants, manufacturing facilities, mines, military bases, and electro stations.

The former Soviet Union completely changed the Kola Peninsula before World War II and almost erased the Saami as an ethnic group after the war. Colonization by different neighboring countries, as well as sometimes aggressive or hidden conversion into Christianity, the vanishing of the small ethnic group was almost complete.

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