Growing up in the quiet countryside of Denmark’s Jylland Peninsula, Emilie Demant Hansen (later Demant Hatt) dreamed of a larger life than marrying a local farmer or merchant. Eventually she went to Copenhagen and became one of many young women studying art. But in 1904, at the age of 31, her life changed radically when her sister suggested a trip to the north of Scandinavia on the new train, the Lapland Express. Traveling by train between Narvik, Norway and Kiruna, Sweden, the two sisters met a Sami wolf-hunter, Johan Turi. Although their meeting was brief and they had to rely on a Finnish interpreter in the train compartment, the two managed to convey something of their deepest desires to each other. Johan Turi told Emilie Demant, “I want to write a book about the Lapps.” She in turn confided, “I have always wanted to be a nomad.”
Emilie Demant returned to Copenhagen and found a way to study the Sami language; three years later, in June of 1907, she returned to begin a year of living out in the open, first with some of Turi’s reindeer-herding relations during the summer and fall, and then with other Sami during their reindeer migration from Sweden to Norway in the spring of 1908. She spent more than a year in the mountains, taking notes and photographs, sketching, and painting. Although Emilie Demant was not trained as an ethnologist, her habits of observation brought an artist’s eye to her new life. Because she often stayed behind with the women and children while the men were working with the reindeer, Emilie’s record of her “nomad year,” which she published in 1913 in Danish as Med lapperne i højfjeldet, or With the Lapps in the High Mountains, has proved an invaluable record of Sami domestic customs.
During the fall of 1908, finding that Johan Turi had gotten no further with the book he hoped to write, Emilie settled for several months in a small cabin near Lake Tornetrask and helped him put down Muitalus sámiid birra, or The Book of Lapps. In addition to transcribing his notebooks and organizing his text into a coherent manuscript, she translated it into Danish. The book, the first literary effort by a Sami writer, was published in an innovative bilingual Sami-Danish edition in 1910 and it made both of them famous. It was later translated into many languages, including English.
In Danish, Swedish, Norwegian:
The original Danish edition of With the Lapps in the High Mountains is available online:
Lapponia, my blog about Scandinavia
ESSAYS AND TRANSLATIONS:
Here are a few links to my essays about Emilie Demant Hatt and her circle as well as a few excerpts from With the Lapps in the High Mountains. A list of other essays can be found at my website.
“The Art of Recalling: Lapland and the Sami in the Art of Emilie Demant Hatt and Johan Turi in Feminist Studies (Summer, 2014)
“Remapping the Tourist Road” in the Harvard Review (Summer 2012)
“How Muitallus samid birra was Created:Johan Turi’s Classic Sámi Narrative as a Publishing Project” in Scandinavian Studies (Fall, 2010)
“What We Want: The Art of Marie Luplau and Emilie Mundt” in Feminist Studies (Fall, 2009)
“The Autumn Migration,” a translated excerpt from Emilie Demant Hatt’s With the Lapps in the High Mountains (Fall, 2008) in Natural Bridge.
Translated excerpts from Emilie Demant Hatt’s With the Lapps in the High Mountains in Orion Magazine (web magazine only: July 2008)
Translated excerpts from Emilie Demant Hatt’s With the Lapps in the High Mountains in the Antioch Review (Spring, 2008)
Excerpt from translation of “With the Lapps in the High Mountains” by Emilie Demant Hatt in Two Lines XIV (Winter 2007)