As the Collections People Stories team have been making their way through the Anthropology collections, they’ve made some pretty fascinating finds.
One particularly intriguing object was ‘nn11104’ (‘nn’ meaning ‘no number’).
It was originally labelled as a ‘charm’ and stored with other similar objects. What made it stand out was not just the fine craftsmanship, but the tiny handwritten labels that had been carefully attached.
Collections Assistant Rachel decided to investigate further. She headed to the internet armed with the text ‘Jorbba Gisa’, which she discovered is a Norwegian term.
By complete coincidence, another group of objects were discovered on the same day, in another part of the collection, by another member of the team.
These tiny objects were unnumbered and without any accompanying information, but it was clearly the same script on their handwritten labels.
Interest sparked, Deputy Keeper of Anthropology Fiona decided to contact an expert in Norwegian material. Leif Pareli, Curator at the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo, was able to tell immediately that our ‘Jorba Gisa’ wasn’t a charm at all, but a small model of an everyday object from the Saami culture in Norway: a type of reindeer pack saddle.
He was also able to tell us a lot more of the fascinating story of where these miniatures came from.
The ‘charms’ were made by an extraordinary Saami man called Lars Hætta. Lars found himself imprisoned in Oslo with his brother Aslak and sister-in-law Elen for their participation in the Kautokeino uprising (1852). Aslak was beheaded but Lars (because of his young age —18 at the time of the uprising) and Elen were pardoned to prison for life.
While in prison from 1854 to 1867, Lars made beautiful models of everyday objects as he knew them. These were bought by the University in Oslo and became the beginning of a collection which eventually opened as the Ethnographic Museum, now part of Kulturhistorisk Museum, in 1857.
Today Lars’ work can be found in The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, the National Museum of Denmark, and The Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford.
Lars was pardoned in 1867, he then returned home where he died in 1896. His creations remain a wonderful depiction of the material culture of Saami people in the early 19th century.
We are very proud to say we have some of Lars' creations at the Horniman, particularly at this time of year when our 'Jorbba Gisa' can show us just how Father Christmas might be getting his reindeer to carry all our presents.