How it all started, my first maps

The Sábmi map of 1975 and Sámi Cartography

Looking back

This year marks several milestones in my life, privately and publicly, both as a person and as a Sámi activist. I shall focus on my work as a cartographer, although I normally never used this word myself, since this is a profession, and I am an amateur or rather autodidact who has regarded this more as a hobby or side-dish to may proper profession. However, it might be understandable why some of my people regard this as my main output. Firstly, there has never been, as far as I know, any such before, and I do not know if there are any Sámi cartographers beside me, but I would be pleased if there were. At least there are Sámi architects, and interestingly enough, that is one of the connections to map work that I have too.

Another aspect is that I have used my drawing skills, as well as my artistic creativity to enhance the map, turning them into more than maps, but into artwork as well, combining at least two professions. This has been done before, and I will tell the story from the start.  

Having developed the sensitivity in different circumstances, and suffered some harsh traumatic experiences as a child, I was used to be alone, as well as together with others, and neither appeared boring to me. My faculty of fantasy became an asset as an artist, so I believe it became a natural development in that direction. Without this background I would be a very different person, and probably not an artist at all.  

At school I was particularly interested in History, Geography and language, and of course, drawing and music, both during my schooling at the hospital where I stayed until and including the 4th form in Primary school as of 1956, and when I came out from there into a normal society outside. My foster parents and others found it wise that I restarted the same form instead of continuing into the 5th form. A wise decision, even if it meant the loss of one year vis-a-vis my contemporaries, not a small issue at that age, normally, but for me it mattered little, since the I was new to the class, I came a stranger among strangers. It is also meant that I was introduced to a new topic in the national school: English!

With an extra language, the whole world opened up to a young kid eager to learn. I have to mention that Sámi language was more or less forbidden, so it took many years until that became a topic in the existing society, and it would never had happened, had not dedicated men and women, young and old in the Sámi world kept to their strategy: never give up! The heavy hand of chauvinistic racism was yet to dominate for more than a decade, choking normal cultural expressions, and only little by little the dominating societies would listen to reason and fulfil the UN Declaration of Human Rights towards their own Indigenous people.


What is a map?

There has been maps in different forms thousands of years ago, (see my PowerPoint presentation Indigenous Maps), and the oldest maps are to be found in Africa. Maps as we refer to them today, are two-dimensional and drawn or painted and then reproduced for printing on any flat material, mostly paper.

And in a world where information was based on printed matter (and later radio) maps were to see everywhere, once they had ceased to be the exclusive too of political and military machinations, after some time anyone could make and publish a map for whatever purpose was deemed necessary. In the meantime there was the monopoly like NG (Norges Geografiske Oppmåling) whose task it was to make maps of Norway for various use and purposes, including tourism, highlighting whatever was at hand, since no map could include everything. The amount of information on the map must be accessible, that is: readable. A map of a huge area would have fewer details on the micro level than a map highlighting only that same area. I shall not go into greater detail regarding projection, scale, legend, etc. But there are certain obvious minima that should be included in a map aimed to seriously (re)present an ides, topic, and theme: Title indicating the topic, orientation and language, whether it is symbols, text or both.



As mentioned above, the school introduced us to geography and maps, and I immediately became fascinated by them, since that give room for creative thinking and fantasy. I guess most kids have made fantasy maps, and I was no exception. I created my own parallel world, with maps, cities, people mainly inspired by tourist magazines from the travel office where my foster father worked. I was really fascinated by English landscapes, and a favourite magazine was called IN BRITAIN, where I found inspiration to both languages, (once I had passed the level of Donald Duck in American English). It waked my interest in historical places and interesting places.

Another inspiration was tourist brochures from the Alpine region, be it Swiss, Austrian, south German or French. I liked best the Swiss brochures, and it also became an obsession. I loved the unusual ways of mapping the landscape, it was rather a three-dimensional overview like one would see it from an aeroplane, but without clouds, and of course the names. When I eventually came to Berner Oberland  (2007) and wandered in the Alps, I already knew many names from those maps, Pfäffikon, Shreckhorn, Neuchatel, Zermatt and Interlaken. For the first time I met an interesting phenomenon: Multilanguage names, and how it was solved. Many of the towns and villages had double names, Biel/Bienne and Luzern/Lucerne for example; one German the other French, or they could be in either only, including names in the other languages of Swizerra: Valdes/Valais.

Ancient maps were also intriguing, and I acquired one during my student years from antiquarian shops in Oslo, as well as old lithographs from the north made during the Recherché expedition in the early 1800s. (find the year) ! These maps were usually “illuminated”, or equipped with comments in the form of illustrations, sometimes informative, other times pure fantasy, but entertaining nonetheless. The oldest map printed in the Nordic countries (1550) is from the Bible, illustrating the prophecies of Daniel. (ill).

Then we have the famous maps of what was to become one of my favourite publications, National geographic Magazine. The photos and their maps were very interesting, and I saw that many maps had special themes, like Bird Migration, Satellite maps, The Universe, the Moon, and so on.

Most of the features mentioned here found their way into my own maps eventually, and I believe I was introducing such traditions into Sámi Cartography,


Inspired of what I had learnt from the above, I started to take a closer look at the bilingual situation in our own countries. Among the papers and maps in the house I found one that seemed very old, KART OVER TROMSØ AMT, form 1872(?). It was pasted on canvas in rectangular pieces, and obviously it had been in long use. On the front cover was the name “Tromsø” handwritten in very nice gothic letters, although this was a map of the whole country, not only the town. The most interesting part of this map was that apart from the Danish/Norwegian names, there were Sámi or Lapp place names in parentheses under or behind. I believe this map was made during the Reindeer convention discussions between Norway and Sweden, based on the “Lapp Codicil” of 1741 (?), that regulated the pasture of the Reindeer herding Sámi that had used the area before the borders came, during their nomadic livelihood for ages. I made a small traced version by putting as thin paper over the map section I had chosen, drew the coastlines and put the names with pencil, my first map with Sámi place names, probably from the late 1950ies or early 60ies, the very first step on a long laborious and challenging but rewarding path. This would be a way to recognize my own ethnicity in a creative way.


(illustration of my traced map)


There were also indicated some numbers, and when I asked, I was told it was to indicate how many reindeer there was gracing within every particular area. I have seen different versions of this map, without these numbers, but in any case, to see a map of Troms County with other than Norwegian/Danish place names, was a great discovery for me. This was a proof of at least some sort of recognition of the existence of Sáminess. I began to feel that maybe it was not so bad to be Sámi, after all. And I discovered that our neighbour, the grandfather of my best friend, who I mostly have seen drunk, was Sámi from Garanasvuodna, and that meant that my best friend also was, like me, at least connected to the Sámi people. Later I understood why people ridiculed him, just because he was, and appeared like a pure stereotypical Sámi old man, and I began to realize important connections and consequences that matured much later.


After I graduated form High School in 1966, I wished to start at the University, but my foster parents could not afford it, and I decided to break up and find myself a job. At the same time my creativity now was spreading into three interconnected directions, music (I enrolled at the Music School in Romsa), literature (I wrote dramas, and even won a price at FINN in 197) and painting/drawing (Two of my paintings were accepted at the regional exhibition in 1969). Among different jobs during those years, one is most relevant here: I worked some months at Gangvik’s architect bureau as an assistant technical drawer, and learned to use and apply the current tools, Rotring etching ink, and plastic sheets that were to become the perfect base for my maps later.


(photo at architect table)



At this time there was almost nothing taught at school about the Indigenous people of Fennoscandia, even in High Schools, so I had to find the information I wanted elsewhere. For the money (Nok 5000) that I won for the huge 5 act drama I had won 3rd (and only) prize at the Drama Competition in Harstad, I bought a camera, and ordered books about Sámi culture, that luckily were still available through order in bookshops. It so happened that I got the last copy they had of some of these books, like they had been waiting for this, and at a reasonable price.

I also decided to learn Sámi language, which I had spoken as a small child, but lost during 9 years hospitalization (7 of them in Tromsø). There was a lot to regain, and I plunged into it with all my heart and mind! It was accepted that I could follow the Sámi course at the teacher Training School in Rosa, where Nils Jernsletten was teacher, and wit special permission I was allowed to take the exam, which I passed. Nils and Laila Jernsletten became like parents for me, as least as far as Sámi culture was concerned. Is it possible to be Sámi in a town? I had asked, and Nils said that nobody had put such a question before, and the answer, was of course YES!


In 1968 I wrote a play called Bjørnefesten (1968-69),
where I problematized the ignorance regarding Indigenous place names

I let them read through the tree manuscripts that I had written for the competition of FINN. It is on one of these, BJØRNEFESTEN, that I put forth a sort of reasoning, the theoretical base for my later work with maps and placenames. It takes pace around 1790, when south-Norwegian farmers are encouraged by Danish/Norwegian authorities to colonize the Beardu and Málat valleys, notwithstanding the fact that they were vital and crucial to the yearly migration of the Reindeer herding Sámi.


(citation from Bjørnefesten)


This also reflects the attitudes towards Sámi place names on maps, a theme threated at length elsewhere. (examples)

These, then, were the main reasons for me taking up the work of a cartographer, without being one. The need overruled that fact.

I decided to start with a local map, more or less based on the first map mentioned above, the same area,  Jáhkutnjárga-Stuorranjárga-Ittunjárga with the large islands north of them.

Some of the books I had acquired treated specifically Sámi place names; the books of Just Knud Qvigstad became important sources in the beginning of my work. Here I found enough placenakes to fill the map Sámi namat Tråm’sa Guovllus printed in October 1974. I also collected a few names from whoever could contribute. I asked Maragrethe Kitti’s daughter with the same name, and she also contribnuted to the follow up map Njárggat Vuonat ja Sullot (1987).

At this time there were no rules as far as I knew, how to collect names, and if there were, I did not follow them I guess. I was happy to get a name, and immediately put it on the map.



Preparing the Pan-sámi map

The 1974 map became a sort of fore-runner for the next project, a much more ambitious one, a map showing all the available Sámi place names in the Sámi homeland across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. At this time I was a student at the Art Academy, and my gracious mentor Arne Malmedal granted me one year to work on the map as a student of graphic art at the Oslo State Academy of Fine Arts. First I contemplated the use of one of the classical graphic techniques, but neither etching, woodblock nor lino, nor lithography would be adequate for my purpose. Certainly this would be a work of art, but also a map, aimed for as wide a public as possible, and consequently reproduced in offset and printed in much larger numbers that an exclusive edition of a limited number of superb prints for a high price and consequently available for a select few. This was much against my way of thinking, but I tried it out on a lithographic stone, but soon gave up. I would need to draw it using a mirror, and the size would not be large enough to include all the names I wanted. So I bought a roll of Architect drawing film, a stabile and very strong-coated plastic sheet that perfectly balanced the need for see-through, and look on. If it was too thick, I could not see the underlay that I depended on, since I wanted the map lines as perfect as possible, and it was not too clear, so that one would have difficulty on separating the names and lines under from the lines drawn.



The map title

The term used at that time was “Sámi-æna” which is most probably a translation or rather adaption of the Norse term for the same area “Finn-mork”. To me that was less than ideal. I discussed this with Aage Solbakk, who had helped me when we made the Sámi Calendar and let us use his flat at the Oslo suburb of Tveita. I asked if there is no other term that could be used, and then he checked Konrad Nielsen's famous dictionary and suggested the term Sábmi with its multiple meaning: 1. The Sámi homeland; 2. The people, 3. One person. 4. The language

Solbakk said that there was a new orthography on the way, when the word would exchange the ‘b’ for a ‘p’ but I decided not to change it, after all, it was not decided yet, a cdecision I regret today.



Problems with source-maps.

As soon as I had decided which medium to use, I needed to decide the limitation of the area and the scale. I had great problems in fining a map that included the whoel area of Sámi homeland in one map and in the same scale. Oddly enough, there was impossible to find a map that I could use which could include the northern and Sothern Sámi area in the same scale. I asked at the NGO, and they could not help me either.

I have been criticized for my first suggestion to solve this problem, by people who not possibly could know nor understand the difficulty I encountered. My suggestion was to include the southern Sámi area in a separate map in a slightly smaller scale, the best option I had at the time, but not ideal, of course. It orientation would also be different.




It was not until they told me that there did exist such maps, but they were military maps issued by NATO, and not available to the public. After some discussion, however, I was allowed to have two maps, flight charts as they are called, used by aircraft pilots and covering large areas. I had solved one problem, and got a map with all of Scandinavia on one map in the same scale. Now the problem became the Guoládat peninsula, but somehow I managed to solve the problem. But the link area here is the most unsure oin the map. I was also a bit reluctant to include dammed lakes rather than their original size before the damming damage.


The place names

Although I had fairly good control over the map drawing, and the illustrations, illuminating Sámi culture, for the place names I again depended on Qvigstad and other written sources, but that was not enough. I asked for and got advice from very competent professionals, both Sámi and non-Sámi. Among them I like to mention Knut Bergsland, who took responsibility for the South Sámi names as well as some of the eastern Sámi names, Thor Frette for the North Sámi names, Samuli Aikio for the western part of the Eastern Sámi names, Ole Henrik Magga and several others also gave advice. I also wrote top various informants for names, and got quite a few, some of which had never been mapped before. At that time none of the accepted orthographies in use now existed. For the Northern Sámi the Bergsland-Ruong orthography was used, with the frequent use of «‘» inside words, which was nothing compared to the intricate markings of the various Eastern Sámi words. An attempt was later made for a pan-Sámi orthography, but as of now, it has not, alas, come to pass.

Like the maps and illustrations, including the colouring, the names was written one by one, stroke by stroke in handwriting. In addition to writing them, they also had to be placed on or as close as possible to the proper location.  There are 920 names on the map


Preliminary presentations

As soon as I had finished a draft version of the map lines, I got huge photocopies with me to various Indigenous Conferences, like the Sami Youth Midsummer meeting and Onkere, as well as the first General Assembly of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples at Port Alberni,  BC Canada, October 1975 only one month before the printing of the final version of it! I did some freehand colouring on the copy to make it more interesting.



Tryout line edition, without colouring

After I finished the line originals, one for the outline to be printed in blue, another for the illustration to be printed in black, I sent a set to Sámi Instituht’ta for reference. including the name sheet

They printed a small number in two colours of the line drawing, giving people a chance for corrections and comments.


Printing and publication

After I had applied for grants from Norsk Kulturråd, I had a conference with Mr Sinding-Larsen, and despite some sceptisicm, the reason for which I could anticipate at the time, the grant was given, and I could go to Kemigrafia in Oslo for the reproduction. They photographed the originals on large format color slide films, scanned them, and made printing films in one quarter size of the original and eventually the finished product. Then it was printed at the wellknown Grøndahl & Søn booktrykkere in Oslo, me being present at the first proofprints. I did adjust here and there, etching away some of the background colour of the plastic film. This film is not white, but slightly grey, and this is the greatest drawback in using it. The map was printed 27.11.1975 in 5000 copies on canvas impregnated paper. The price including a solid roll and piostage, was 45 kr, and the income was to be divided 50% to Oslo Sámi Association, of which I was the chairman, and 50% to myself. Jens Kristian Eriksen was appointed to take care of the business side of the sale.


The reception,  – and some provocative remarks

The map was published as a co-operation with Oslo Sámi Association and Sámi Institute (and me). Aslak (Ailo) Gaup asked for and got the permission to publish the news in the Oslo newspaper where he worked as a journalist, and he took a photo of me in his office holding the map. It was printed likewise in colour at Adresseavisa of Trondheim. The feedback was overall very positive

Aage Solbakk had commented, as he visited me during the work at the State Academy of Fine Arts, and said: “This will make you famous!”  This was a new thought for me, and like a true Sámi I did not elaborate on it not then nor later. The only comment I had was that it would make the Sámi people better known:  “Dette vil gjøre samene bedre kjent, både innad og utad.” Oddly enough, he and many others, for reasons unknown to me, have almost obsessively ignored my participation in this and similar work important to our people. I am not expecting any acknowledgement, because that seems to have become a Sámi tradition not to give, and I can live with that. But I have the right to feel uneasy when detecting what cannot be called anything else than passive ignorance and active opposition combined. [1]

[1] I will elaborate on this later, after I got better understanding since the time I wrote this.(02.10.2015 )


More maps

The map became a sort of ambassador of Sámi people and culture abroad, and I think it is fair to say that as a Sámi work of art, if one accept that term, it is undoubtedly the most widespread. It has been given at the UN, the National Geographic Society, and numerous dignitaries who have visited Sápmi. The use of the term ‘Sápmi’ itself was promoted by the publication of the map. It was well received both at home and abroad. A main feature of the map is that there are no borders. Many Sámit could now see with their own eyes that the homeland of our people are much more extensive than originally thought. I believe it has contributed to the strengthening of Sámi identity both on individual and group level, and thus practically given content to Sápmi, a term now in common use.

On one of my trips to Oslo I was allowed to get the original scanned films of the map from the Kemigrafia office, all of which were in ¼ of the format in which it was printed. This enabled me to produce new editions, although smaller in size, and I am still selling these maps and/or giving them away as representative gifts mainly to indigenous visitors.

Some years ago, one of the workers at Kemigrafia now retired, called me, and told that working with this map was one of the most interesting tasks he had done as a professional. The map has been printed in many editions. I have also contemplated making an updated version, and started some years ago drawing the coast outline in hard pencil. But aborted the work, since I got the impression that there is little interest in my contribution.

To me the map also has a creative significance. 10 years after its publication I made the first regional map in more or less the same manner, DIVTASVUODNA, and the following years other maps were published.

As I feared that this hobby of mine might stand in the way of my profession, I abandoned working with maps, until 2011, when I stopped saying ‘no’ to similar requests, and worked with a map of the of Vaapste area and from 2012 a joint project with Árran Lule Sámi Centre a Place Name project included a map of the Bidum Sámi area. It was published earlier this year.


Nástegiettá š 17.05.2015

Keviselie, Hans Ragnar Mathisen




01. I liked to draw and colour maps during my schooldays.

02. My first map with Sámi place names, became the first step on a long travel

03. Working as an technical drawing assistant at Harry Gangvik Architet Company in Romsa, february 1968

04. Some spelling corrections on the way

05. Some problem with the source map (see text for details)

06. A coloured copy of an earlier version to show at Indigenous meetings.

07. Finally I got better source maps, Nato Air Navigation charts!

08. The eastern part of Sápmi was divided between two maps

09. Finally I could present a proper version of the map selection

10. This preliminary edition ot the complete line drawings and names was prited at Sámi Instituhtta in Guovdageaidnu

11. The original line drawing of the the map, to be printed in blue ink

12. The drawing of the illustration and placenames in Rotring ink

13. The colour original made with Derwent colour pencils was made on a separate sheet

14. The final result as printed in authumn 1975 in Oslo

15. Many years later I decided to make a new version of the map, with all the artwork on one sheet, starting with the coast outlines in hard penciol…

16. The Pan-Sami map of 1975, one decade later led to the production of several regional maps. My plan is to reissue them all, with digital names. For that I will need assistance.


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