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With Christmas just around the corner the streets and TV screens are soon going to be filled with images of Santa and reindeers and here at Nordic Outdoor we have just received our bi-annual top up of Gealtan Reindeer Hides! These incredible looking and fantastically cosy hides are multi-functional and can be used both in and outdoors and provide an important link to the Scandinavian roots of Nordic Outdoor. While reindeer hides are an incredibly popular choice for home decoration there are also a lot of misconceptions surrounding the ethics and sustainability around this product.
We regularly receive emails and questions from customers who want to learn more about the Reindeer hides and where they come from and the story behind them. Far from being a simple commodity the Gealtan Reindeer Hide’s encapsulate much of what Nordic Outdoor represents. Showcasing a respect for Scandinavian culture and heritage while being sustainable and providing a unique style to any space the Hides are used in. and In this blog we look at the history behind the reindeer hides, the different uses for reindeer hides and the best way to care for your new purchase.
The History behind Reindeer Hides
The reindeer is intrinsically linked to Scandinavia and in particular the Sami people, an indigenous population who have inhabited the local lands of Sweden, Norway and Finland for over 5,000 years. The Sami people have their own unique culture and language and traditionally pursue livelihoods including coastal fishing and the most well-known livelihood; reindeer herding. The Reindeer herders call their work in the Sami language ‘boazovazzi’ which literally translates to Reindeer Walker which harks back to the days where reindeer would be tracked by herders using wooden ski’s. While the methods used to track the reindeers have changed and the ski’s have been replaced with snowmobiles the Sami people still maintain a traditional way of life in many ways.
The importance of the reindeer to the Sami people can be seen in many aspects of their culture. It even runs throughout their language where the word for herd is ‘eallu’ and the word for life is ‘eallin.’ There are thought to be about 1,000 Sami words devoted to reindeer appearance, behaviour and habits. As one Reindeer Herder stated to the Guardian “Without the reindeer, the Sami people wouldn’t be.” In certain Scandinavian countries the Sami people are now the only people allowed to herd reindeers and the government allow these communities traditional grazing rights.
In modern times the Sami population has unfortunately decreased, and many Sami communities are fighting to preserve their way of life against modernisation and intervention from corporations. The land the Reindeer are grazed on is regularly being expropriated for a range of uses including mining, windfarms and urban development. In countries such as Finland this creates a unique situation where the government are looking to use traditional grazing land to mine for copper which is in higher demand due to the increase in electrical vehicles and wind turbines. This raises an interesting question as to whether it can ever be sustainable to destroy nature?
As the Sami culture have such a close relationship with the reindeers, they make it a necessity that the entire animal is used; nose to tail. The reindeer provides the Sami population with a livelihood with the meat being used for food, skin and fur being used for clothes and the bones being used for handicrafts. None of the reindeer hides provided by Gealtan are bred solely for their hide and they are primarily a by-product from the reindeer meat industry. Here at Nordic Outdoor sustainability is one of our key focuses and to work with a community who believe there should be zero waste from any animal killed is an important factor.
Sami people have a unique relationship with nature and sustainability and their unique relationship with their surroundings is not only ethical but also contains a spiritual side. The Sami reindeer graze freely and are not enclosed by fencing or cages which showcases the ethical and natural element to Reindeer farming.
Not just the Hide
The importance and historical relevance of the reindeer in Sami culture should not be ignored, and traces of this relationship are evident in some of our other most popular products. The roots of Tentipi are ingrained in Sami culture as the original tipi was based on a kata - a wooden frame covered with reindeer hides and left with an opening in the top to let smoke escape. To this day Tentipi designs are based on the principles of the Sami Kata with innovative new designs and modern materials.
Julevu bracelets are another product available at Nordic Outdoor which showcases the various ways in which the Sami people use the Reindeer. These handmade Sami bracelets are still produced in Lulesami, Northern Sweden and bring traditional Sami craftsmanship to a new market. These beautiful bracelets are made from a reindeer leather and the button is crafted from the Reindeer antler.
Gealtan Reindeer Hides
Here at Nordic Outdoor we work with one supplier for Reindeer hides, Benny Jonsson of Gealtan. We have been working closely with Benny since 2007 and our founder Caspar Odqvist has visited the company before in Idrefjallen. In a story that showcases how unrestricted the Reindeer herd are Caspar and Benny once went out to look at them only to find out the whole herd had moved, and they had to spend a whole day tracking them down!
Gealtan is a family operated Sami business which was founded in 1994 which focuses on the sale of high-quality reindeer hides and reindeer horns and reindeer meat from their own herd. The goal is to create new products by making the most of the reindeer.
As reindeer are an Arctic animal their hide is well equipped for the harsh climate and their coat can withstand even the worst possible weather conditions. The reindeers are harvested at certain times of the year and the hide is salted in salt tumblers in the Sami villages EU-certified abattoir and processed in a tannery with years of tradition and experience behind it.
What to look for when purchasing a Reindeer Hide
The Hides are available in two sizes Bull and Calf which relates to the animal they were taken from and in keeping with the desire to use all the elements of the animals the offcuts are used to create Reindeer hide seats. The standard hide is perfect for the indoors and can be used decoratively throughout the house. If you are going to be using the hide in an outdoors environment (possibly in a Tentipi!) then you should look at purchasing the silicone deluxe hide which has been treated with a water repellent material which enables it to be used outdoors in damp conditions. Even with the silicon hide it is recommended the hide is stored at room temperature in a dry, well ventilated place when not in use.
When looking at reindeer hides it is important to remember that as this is a natural product which has not been treated with harsh chemicals and coatings meaning the colours vary between every hide. If you are purchasing a reindeer hide which is promised to be an exact standard colour and size, then this should act as a warning sign regarding the production. As mentioned at the start of this article all the Reindeer Hides stocked at Nordic Outdoor are ethically sourced and are a biproduct of the meat industry. Should you be looking for a specific size or colour of hide then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us directly and Nordic Outdoor would be happy to find you the perfect hide!
You can shop the Gealtan Reindeer Hides online here and if you would like to see them for yourselves then head into one of the Nordic Outdoor stores in Edinburgh, London or Keswick. To keep updated with all the latest news at Nordic Outdoor then make sure to sign up to the newsletter and follow us on Social Media.
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