The Plague and his deal with the South Saami
Sometimes people ask if the plague affected the Saami, and our elders used to tell a story of how the Saami made a deal with the Black Death. In one of the stories I’ve heard and read, a South Saami man came upon a village, full of dead people, ruled by the Plague, and when he tried to escape, the Plague vowed to kill him and all Saami. But the Saami man was clever and managed to trick the Plague into jumping into his backpack, and after many hours of arguing, the man on the outside, and a deadly disease on the inside of a leather bag, a deal was made; the Plague would spare the Saami for eternity if the Saami man would bring the bag to the house of a settler, so that he could continue to kill and this is what happened. From that day on, thousands of Swedish settlers were killed by the Black Death, but the Saami were all spared.
Another story tells of a South Saami woman who, upon meeting the Plague, managed to fool him into jumping into her bag as well. She then put on her skis and set off towards the highest and coldest peaks of Saebmie, where she was going to bury the bag, and thus stop the Black Death. But carrying the Plague upon one’s back is no easy task, and it was cold, and a storm was forcing the woman to stop next to a rugged peak, overlooking the tundra. And then the Black Death asked the woman to release him, but the woman, half-dead from the cold refused, lest the Plague would promise to spare her and her people. And so a deal was struck, with one condition; the Black Death would leave all Saami alone as long as he could recognise them on their traditional dresses and their pewter wire embroidered things, clothes and jewellery.
And we’re still here, and we still wear our traditional clothes and jewellery, so the deal is still on.
The Executioner’s Mask (iron mask), European, 17th-18th century.
The Executioner’s Mask is probably part of a scold’s bridle, this iron mask was exhibited in the 19th century alongside the block and axe in the Tower of London and described as an executioner’s mask.
© The Board of Trustees of the Armouries