Time to have a real talk about cultural appropriation. What it is and what it isn´t. Sami people are the native people of northern Europe. In 2019 Disney made an agreement with the Sami to portray their culture with respect in the Frozen franchise and they hired Sami consultants to develop the film. I have listed my favourite connections to the Sami and Scandinavian myths in Frozen 2. Join me on to a truly fantastic journey.
Northuldra and the Sámi
I just saw Frozen II (literally an hour ago) and I had to write about the connections to the Sámi culture and Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish myths and folklore.
Let´s start with the Sámi culture (also known as Sami, Sapmi and Saami. As a Finnish speaker I´d refer a Sámi person as "saamelainen" or "saami" and the language as "saame") I have written a lot about Sami mythology here in myblog. I have Sámi ancestry from the Lapland of Finland and Sweden.
The Sámi´s are native people of Scandinavia. There are about 20 000 people in this world who speak Sámi languages. These days you can find Sámi´s all over the world (and people with Sámi ancestry) but in general most Sámi´s live in the Lapland of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Kuola Peninsula in Russia. This is why, for example in Finland, Lapland is sometimes called as "Saamenmaa" the land of the Sámi. Sámi´s were nomads and reindeer herders and still today many Sámi´s are reindeer herders. Already in the first Frozen there was Sami influences, because Kristoff´s character was inspired by Saami culture. Kristoff´s outfit is similar to traditional Sami outfits. Different Sámi tribes and regions have their own outfits and designs. The pointy shoes and outfits made of reindeer skin are common (sorry Sven).
There are several Sámi tribes and Sámi languages. Most common Sámi language is northern Sámi, which is sort of universal Sámi language that Sámi´s who speak different Sámi languages use to communicate with each others.
A joik or yoik also named luohti, vuolle, vuelie, or juoiggus in the Sámi languages, is a traditional form of song in Sámi music performed by the Sámi people. Joiks do not have any words. They are pure sound that captivate emotion. There are different types of joiks. Joiks for love, friendship, family, reindeer's, winter, northern lights..you name it. I was impressed how many new joiks there was in Frozen II and I loved the sound of the shaman drums.
In Frozen II we meet the Northuldra tribe and they are based on Sámi people. One of the Northuldra´s mentions that they worship the sun. Sámi´s followed a nature based belief system and since in Lapland winters are dark and long they did worship the sun as the giver of all life.
You´ll be sad and disappointed to know how much discrimination there is towards the Sámi culture in Finland. There has been some progress recently, especially what it comes to cultural appropriation being questioned. I was sitting on the movie theater and some teen age girls were making fun about Northuldra´s/Sámi´s worshiping the sun since they are from Lapland...
This is the Sámi flag. It has a sun in the middle. Sometimes I am genuinely worried about the lack of education of our own history in this country (several Finno-ugric tribes shared a similar belief system). Sun is also often portrayed in the center of Sámi shaman drums.
In autumn 2019 Walt Disney Studios made a historical agreement with the Sámi population of Norway, Finland and Sweden so that the Sámi culture in the film was portrayed with respect and they had Sámi experts with the developing the story and the characters. Frozen II is also translated into Northern Sámi (Jikŋon II).
Ahto-Hallan, In depths
The way Ahto-Hallan was described in Frozen it actually reminded me of Finnish and Sámi myths about the land of the dead. I don´t know if that was the intention of the film makers but hear me out;
Ahto-Hallan is in far north, a place where the spirits live, home of magic and that is where Elsa finds the spirits of the people who lived before her.
Somehow this connection makes Frozen feel much darker
Ahto/Ahti is the name of the sea god/spirit of the sea and god of the depths in Finnish mythology (Ahtola is the place where all the merfolk lives). Ahto-halla is Finnish. It refers to "ahtojää" packed ice. Halla is also Finnish, it means frost/frozen.
In Finnish mythology there is a place called Pohjola (combined from the words pohjoinen- north and pohja- bottom). Pohjola is the underworld, place where the spirits of the dead live. Pohjola was located in far north in the land of eternal winter. In this old world view, the world was made of three layers. Upper layer (ylinen) was the place where the highest spirits resided, the middle world was the world of the animals and humans, underworld the bottom, was the land of the dead. These worlds were not really seen so much as physical places but different layers of human conscience.
Sámi myths have lots of elements from Scandinavian and Finnish mythology and vice versa. In some Sámi myths, the land of the dead is called as "Rotaimo" and it can be found from the bottom of a bottomless lake. In Lapland there are lots of lakes that are very deep and have fake bottoms (goes back to Ahto being the spirit of depths).
In Frozen II Elsa tames a beautiful water horse called The Nokk. The water horse is a common character in Scandinavian folklore equivalent to Scottish Kelpie. In Swedish folklore it is known as bäckahäst/näcken and in Norway as nøkken.
In the folklore the water horse was usually a large, white and a beautiful horse. It would walk in the shore and lure people to climb on it´s back and then it would drown them. It was possible to tame the majestic horse with tricks but I guess Elsa and the Nokk also have a natural connection since they both have ice magic.
btw this is epic af
Which brings us to the Finnish water horse myth. What it comes to Finnish mythology there is one horse above all others and he is Iku-Tihku. How would I explain his name, Iku comes from the word ikuinen meaning eternal and tihku means dripping water.
A freaking eternal ice horse that drips water! I rest my case!
Here is the story of Iku-Tihku. Iku-Tihku was made inside a mountain by trolls. He was made of fire and ice and he was the first horse ever created. Because he was partly made of ice he could not visit the human world during the summer and the warm months because he would melt. He could however, visit the human world during the winter time and because Iku was partly made of ice, he had the ability to travel between the human world and Pohjola, the north/the underworld and deliver messages from humans to the spirit world.
Not too different to the way Nokk takes Elsa to Ahto-hallan.
I am starting to see why so many non-Finnish speakers consider Finnish language as some sort form of elvish.
Trolls saw that Iku-Tihku was a mighty creature so they used him as a model to create the first horses, but they were not made from ice and fire but from iron, and they could travel between all the worlds and seasons.
Trolls are not very common in Finnish folkore but you can find LOT´S of trolls from Swedish, Norse and Sámi myths. They often live in mountains and are connected to stones and minerals and they are more than often giants.
Here are some sleeping stone giants from Frozen II
Here is a picture from my family´s summer cabin from northern Finland. Do you see what I see?
Mother of Elsa and Anna is Iduna and in Frozen II we find out that she was a northuldra. In Norse mythology Iduna is name of the goddess of health and rejuvenation. Her symbol is the apple and she is connected to autumn season (have you seen the color palette in Frozen II?). I have heard quite a few Americans complaining that Iduna doesn´t look native. (I must say I have hard time understanding the obsession some Americans have with race).
What does a native look like?
I think the most straight forward explanation is the fact that when the first Frozen movie was made, makers were not planning to do a sequel and didn´t though of Iduna´s backstory then.
But even if they did, despite of the fact that Scandinavian countries and Sámi´s have a sad and violent history, there has been many mixed marriages between Sámi´s Finns/Swedes/and Norwegians and you can come across all kinds of looking Sámi´s. There is variety in hair color, skin color and eye color. The the way people look can also vary in different areas. Lapland is a wide place, my friends. Our genetic make up is always a mixture.
Last but not least THE SEITA.
Seita´s are stone formations and ancient worshiping places. The Sámi´s went to the seita to leave gifts for the gods, make requests and meditate. Stone formations are common all over the world (Stone Henge probably being the most well-known one).
They are ancient, and the higher they are, the closer they are to the sky and the spirits.
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Frozen is Disney animated film released in 2013. It is Disney animated classic number 53.
I bet everyone is familiar with the plot. In the Kingdom of Arendelle princess Elsa has magical gift to create snow and ice. One day she is playing with her little sister Anna and Anna gets into an accident. Elsa gets scared of her powers that caused this. Parents take them to see the troll shaman, who tells Elsa to be careful with her gift. He erases Anna's memory so that she wont remember her sister having powers.
In the next chapter parents drown at sea and Elsa is going to become new queen of Arendelle. Sisters haven't been in close terms since childhood. Anna still misses her sister.
During the coronation Anna meets Hans prince of the Southern Islands and develops a crush on him. After few songs couple is planning to get married. Of course Elsa doesn't wish her sister to marry a man she has only known for few hours. Sisters are having an argument and Elsa's powers are revealed. This is specially noticed by duke of Weselton who already has his mind on overtaking Arendelle. Elsa runs away to the mountains and leaves her sister and people of Arendelle to everlasting winter.
Anna wont give up. She leaves prince Hans in charge and goes after her sister. He meets Kristoff Ice deliverer. With his reindeer Sven he decides to help Anna with her quest of find Elsa. They reach Elsa's ice palace where they meet Snowman Olaf who Elsa created as a child. Olaf joins the group. Anna meets Elsa in the palace. Sister seems liberated but she does not wish to return to Arendelle. Kristoff takes Anna to meet the troll Shaman. Maybe he could help them to get Elsa back. Only goal for trolls seems to fix Anna to marry Kristoff. Suddenly Anna's faints. Fights with her sister are finally turning her heart to cold.
Kristoff, Olaf and Sven take Anna back to the palace to prince Hans. Hans turns out to be the bad guy and tells Anna that only reason he wanted to marry her is that in his home country he doesn't have any chances for the throne. Anna becomes very upset. Olaf helps her to understand that is really Kristoff who truly loves her. When Anna hears that Hans is planning to kill Elsa she decides to stop him.
In the last battle Hans makes Elsa to believe that Anna is dead. In the snowstorm Hans tries to kill Elsa when Anna runs between them and turns into ice. Elsa cries and hugs her sister and Anna melts back to human. Elsa finally understands that she can be all queen, sister and use her powers freely. She turns summer back to Arendelle and creates little snow cloud for Olaf. Duke of Weselton and prince Hans are both sent back to their home lands. Kristoff becomes official ice deliverer and his relationship with Anna also becomes official. Movie ends to a skating scene where characters enjoy each others company.
Kristoff, Olaf and Sven
I have always liked the character of Kristoff. I think I read from Disney Wiki that Kristoff is Norwegian-Sami. What it comes to his reindeer-leather/fur clothes this makes sense. Those of you who don't know the Sami people are native people of Lapland. One thing that puzzles me is that Kristoff is a blonde and usually Sami people have quite dark hair but then again I'm a Finn with Sami ancestry and I have blonde hair so of course it's possible. Kristoff is probably Norwegian Sami orphan since he was raised by trolls.
Sven however is a character who I have mixed up feelings. I've been recently doing lots of research on Sami people, culture and reindeer herding (because I'm cool that way).
Before Sami lifestyle became more intertwined with reindeer meat industry Sami people kept wild reindeers as their pets. However in 19th century Norway Sami lifestyle was more around reindeer meat industry.
Kristoff however is not reindeer herder but an ice deliverer so he can have a reindeer sidekick.
My problem with Sven is that there is more doggy features than reindeer features. In away character is a copy of Maximus from Tangled where horse was more a sniffer dog than a cavalry horse. I think more reindeerish Sven would have been more authentic and I must add one can not really ride with reindeer's. I'm from northern Finland and always enjoy seeing reindeer's.
In the beginning I was quite annoyed by the character of Olaf. I believe he was added to the film for the child viewers (and of course kids are the primal audience for Disney films). For me Olaf felt bit too childish (I'm Olaf I love warm hugs!) so my inner cynic was against. Now I'm bit more softer and believe that film needs Olaf to balance Elsa's inner struggles and Anna's dreamy personality.
Frozen takes place in Arendelle, country that was loosely inspired by Norway and Norwegian culture. Film settings and clothes were also inspired by Norway in the beginning of 19th century. I read from Disney Wiki that Anna's and Elsa's parents are called King Agnarr and Queen Iduna. Frozen takes place in July 1839. Arendelle's symbol is the Crocus flower and colors are green and purple. You can see the color scheme in Anna's outfits also in Elsa's outfits in the coronation. Otherwise Elsa's outfits portray her belonging to the world of winter and snow.
Norway is a country with long troll-tradition and I think it's just awesome that there are trolls in Frozen. Only thing that I didn't enjoy that much was the song of the trolls (Fixer Upper) that was more a broadway musical song and not that close to music that in Norway has been more connected to trolls like drums and folk instruments.
Songs and voice overs
When I first moved to Wales and went to Tesco to buy Christmas gifts there was Frozen songs playing non-stop. I wish they would play non-stop in Finnish shopping centers as well! haha! There is bloody many songs in Frozen, even for a Disney musical there's so many songs.
My personal favorites are "Frozen heart" and "Let it go". Last time while travelling in way north Finland and I saw reindeer's I had to sing "Reindeer's are better than people" lol
Since I'm Finnish I usually prefer the Finnish voice overs and usually voice overs are done with great care for animations in Finland. Unfortunately at least what it comes to recent Finnish voice overs from the past 10 years they've gone really bad. That is why I prefer to watch Frozen in English than Finnish. I've only watched the Finnish version once and after that sticked with the English version. Saara Aalto did the Finnish voice of Anna but her voice is just too high pitch to my ear so I prefer Kristen Bell. I'm quite careful with voices since I'm highly sensitive and find too high noises very distressing. But Finnish voice of Kristoff was even worse. Axl Smith who is Finnish media persona did voice of Kristoff and he spoke with very heavy Helsinki-accent. I personally speak with heavy Oulu accent but to be fairy when it is an animation I wish that characters would speak in common language and with accent as long as it fits for the character. Especially according to Disney Kristoff is northern Sami it would have been cool if in Finnish version his voice would have been someone who speaks with northern Finnsih/ Lapland accent.
Unfortunately in Finland there has been this very unfortunate trend within past years to hire the most biggest celebrities/famous people of that moment to do voice overs to animations. When there's great amount wonderful trained voice actors. I don't really get it..
I do like Katja Sirkiä who is the Finnish voice of Elsa. She is trained voice actress and does fabulous job. I do like listen "Taakse jää" (Let it go in Finnish) in Finnish. Otherwise I think English voice over is way better on Frozen than Finnish. That's my personal preference.
I like to research stories which animations are based. Last year I took part on online course about Hans Christian Andersen that was organized by the university of Odense.
We also went through Andersen's other famous fairy tale "the Snow Queen". Frozen is loosely based on the Snow Queen. Walt Disney himself was planning to make an animation from this famous fairy tale but other projects kept him occupied. In it's early design process Frozen was much more closer to Andersen's fairy tale.
For those of you who haven't read Andersen's story. It is very episodic and tells about two children Gerda and Kay. As I recall story doesn't mention where they live. I assume that in a city in Norway or in Denmark. Gerda and Kay weren't sister and brother but loved each others like sister and brother. Like many Andersen's fairy tale Snow Queen has Christian elements. Fairy tale begins when a mirror made by the devil gets broken. Piece of the shattered glass gets inside Kay's eye. This is noticed by the wicked Snow Queen and she kidnaps Kay to herself.
Gerda travels to Lapland to Snow Queen's kingdom to find Kay. Little thief girl (perhaps she is a Sami) is helping her with her reindeer and two crows. One of the shattered glass pieces reaches Kay's heart and makes him "Frozen". Gerda still manages to save Kay before it's too late and destroys the evil Snow Queen.
In the end the plot for Frozen was completely re-written, maybe that is better because original story is quite complex and episodic. Gerda and Kay were turned into two sisters. Anna's relentless nature reminds Gerda's persistence to save Kay. In away Anna reminds Kay when her heart get's cold after fighting with Elsa. No way Elsa is evil Snow Queen, even though according to the duke of Weselton and inhabitants of Arendelle that is exactly what she is. This is a great reference to the past of human mind and how easy it was to label someone as a witch. Just the fact that Elsa chooses to live alone in a far away cold palace isolated from the rest of the world feeds this idealism where powerful woman who chooses to live alone is dangerous.
The way Snow Queen wants to adopt little boy to herself has little bit resemblance to Elsa's grief and sadness for that she feels need to isolate herself from her family and the rest of the world. I believe one major reason for Frozen's insane popularity is the sibling relationship. This is also one of the reasons that made Andersen's fairy tale very popular. There isn't romance in Snow Queen. There is romance of Anna and Kristoff in Frozen. Still main focus in Frozen is the relationship of the two sisters. Disney has several films about sibling relationships like "My brother bear" and my personal favorite "Lilo and Stitch". Also in Frozen both of the main characters are very multidimensional.
Overall the world of Frozen portraits mindset of 2013 more than beginning of the 19th century. I give solid three and half stars to Frozen. Some trivia to the end. In 2014 Frozen won an oscar for the best animated feature and Let it Go was the best song. Frozen sequel is currently in the making before that we can all sing "Let it go! Let it go! I can't hold it back anymore!
Pronounced as Nee-na.
Artist, illustrator, writer, watercolorist and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
Love fandoms AOGG and Little Women (prefers books over the films). Louisa May Alcott researcher.
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