The Golden Age – and How It Ended

When Jupmele, God, created the world, he saw to it that it was good and beautiful in every way. The mountains were covered in gold and silver. Flowers sprang forth in the valleys, birds sang everywhere, and in the woodlands every leaf was fresh and green. There was not a dry twig or wizened leaf anywhere!

A southern Sámi creation story
2019-05-1815:57 Ann-Jorid

There was plenty of food. The trees bore fruit, but cheese and meat also grew on the branches, and good marrow fat ran from the tree trunks. The bushes were full of berries, and sweet milk gushed forth from the springs. The streams and rivers were teeming with fish. You could help yourself to whatever you needed. In those days, nobody knew what work was.

Jupemele gave the world to his son, the Sun, and decreed that he must guard it from his place in the heavens. When the sun rises, darkness must yield – and so there is neither night, nor cold nor sorrow.

Two brothers lived in that wonderful world. The good and pious Naevie, and Adtjis, who was fierce and greedy and had no shame. It is said that the Sun liked Naevie so much that he gave him his own daughter for a wife, calling her Naevie-jetnie. Adtjis, too, got a woman who suited him well. Adtjis-jetnie came from the underworld, and she ruled over all diseases. She brought them with her from the underworld in a sack.

The world had an abundance of everything, and people lacked nothing. But laziness breeds malice, and one day the ugliness in Adtjis’ heart awoke; he wanted to own land, and he wanted to build a fence around what he owned. One day he went to Naevie and said:

“Let us split this earth equally between us, so that each of us can own his part.”

“Why?” asked Naevie. “Surely there is enough of everything, and we should share it.”

But Adtjis insisted, and eventually Naevie agreed to his wish.

It didn’t long before Adtjis started to think he had received too little. He moved the fence further onto Naevie’s side. Naevie said nothing – he just allowed it happen. Nonetheless, soon Adtjis again cast his gaze over the fence again, thinking that everything Naevie had was better than what he himself owned. And so he moved the fence even further into the brother’s land.

Good Naevie refused to argue with his brother.

“Surely he must soon have enough,” he thought to himself.

Still he said nothing, but let his brother keep everything he had taken. Finally, Naevie had only a single milk-spring and a tiny plot for his family’s dwelling.

A darkness rose in Adtjis. Envy gained such power over him that he seized some reindeer antlers, striking Neavei and killing him.

Suddenly a terrible cry rose from the forest. It struck the mountain and the echo grew, and darkness swallowed all the light. From cracks and crevices terrifying creatures flew forth, and they rose up from the marshes and tarns. Adtjis-ietne laughed, and she took out the bag in which she had all the diseases, loosened the drawstring and released them all into the world. Soon the lakes and marshes smelled of death, and the forests smelled of grief. Birds could no longer bear to fly, Fish turned their bellies to the sky. People began to fight. Men stumbled about shamelessly and women killed their children.

It seemed people could not handle joyous days, nor their prosperity when they received it effortlessly. The sun turned away and wept.

When Jupmele saw what Adtjis had done, he was filled with grief and wrath. All his gifts had failed to bring blessing to humankind.

Then Jupemele descended into the world. He took the milk from the last spring, removed the meat from the last tree, and pulled up the fish from the last deep pool in the river. And then he hid these gifts so that no one could have them without hard work.

Then Jupmele turned the mountains inside out, hiding the silver and gold deep within the stone. He added the meat onto the bodies of the animals, and put a few drops of milk into the udders of the female animals. He gave the fish fins so that they could swim quickly. And then he gave all the fish and animals a fear of humankind, so that they would flee whenever they saw people.

Thus life was made difficult for people. From then on, we have had to toil and struggle to succeed.

But Jupmele wanted people to remember Naevie and the Golden Age. Therefore, he let the beard of the reindeer buck grow long, and he named it Navie. Nothing is as warm and soft as naevie! Nothing in the world hides so much light! People put naevie under their newborn to keep them warm and comfortable, and sleep filled with good dreams. 

Jupmele has promised that if humankind once again becomes good like Naevie, then good times will return, and everything will be like before God, Jupmele, had to turn the world inside out. 

The Sun still guards this earth from the heavens. As long as the Sun is shining, we can hope.

Birkeland, Kirsti (ed.): Staloer tror at månen er et bål: 25 sør-samiske eventyr

(25 Southern Sámi fairytales). Illustrated by Alfhild Vekterli. Cappelen, Oslo, 1986.

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