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Master thesis

Master thesis, 29 September 2015

Sarah Cogos was funded by BRISK to do her Master thesis about Sami place names in Jokkmokk between 1 March and 31 August, 2015.

Toponyms are one of the components of a society’s culture and represent a portal to understand several aspects of the relationship binding a social group to its territory. This essay studies sami toponyms, in their meaning but also in their use and what they can reveal on the society which created them. Toponyms being at the crossroads of disciplines, I analysed them under the light of anthropology, geography and ecology. Sixteen semi-structured interviews were carried out with members of the reindeer herders’ community of Sirges, localized in Jokkmokk municipality, Sweden. The interviews showed that sami toponyms are mostly physical descriptions of the land and are closely linked to the practice of reindeer husbandry. They are useful for the herder as a reference point in space to communicate one’s position, but they also carry a “hidden landscape”, mixing collective narratives, individual memory and knowledge related to the place. The analysis also showed that Sami toponyms are embedded in a double dynamic, some being passed on from generation to generation on a long term basis, others being continuously renewed. This dynamic can reveal the evolutions animating the society and its environment. Official maps showing toponyms are in constant evolution too, and the process of inscription of Sami toponyms carried out since the end of the 19th century reveals the power relationship between Swedish and Sami societies. The changes animating Sami society are also found in the way toponyms are learned, passed on and known. Today, maps constitute a medium in the transmission of knowledge linked to places, and thus toponyms, and issues related to the inscription of toponyms on the maps go far further than political issues only.