sami, sapmi, lapland, finland, sweden, norway, reindeer, hat, winds, four winds hat, shaman, legend,

The four winds hat


Take a look at this colourful specimen of a hat. It’s quite something, isn’t it? It is tall, colourful, and quite unlike any other hat I have ever seen. It was collected in 1963 among the Sámi population of Kautokeino, Norway. The Sámi are an indigenous people living in an area called Sápmi, which encompasses of parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Murmansk Oblast region of Russia, and have traditionally lived as reindeer herders.

But today it is not their history, which is in focus – I am narrowing my scope to this absolutely wonderful, and slightly bonkers hat. The traditional Sámi attire is colourful, usually blue and red and then decorated with multi-coloured ribbons and metal thread. But this type of hat has a very specific legend attached to it:

Many hundreds of years ago, Sápmi was uninhabitable for humans. This was because the four winds would blow to their heart’s content – sometimes all at the same time. Harsh winds from the north, south, east, and west would blow, making it impossible to live in the area.

But one day a shaman arrived in Sápmi. He set up a tent, and ignored the four winds blowing him about when he went outside. But he has lonely and wished for more people to move to the area. So he lit a fire in his tent, and began to yoik (a traditional Sami way of singing) and play his drum. And so beautiful was the sound that the four winds were drawn to the little tent, and eventually they came in to sit by the fire, all the better to enjoy the sound of the shaman’s voice. In the warm cosiness of the tent, the winds fell asleep. The shaman then threw more wood on the fire, and in the heat, the winds shrank until finally they were so small that the shaman could pick them all up in his hand. He then took off his round hat, put the winds inside it, and bound them to the inside of the hat.

When the winds woke up in the morning, they were surprised, and not a little annoyed, to find themselves trapped inside the shaman’s hat. They struggled, fought, and did everything they could to get out of the hat, but to no avail. They then yelled to the shaman, begging him to let them out. He answered sternly: “I will agree to let you out, but only if you promise to agree on when you will blow, and that only one of you can blow at a time!” The winds promised to do so, and further promised that the North Wind would blow only in winter, the East Wind only in spring, the South Wind would only blow in the summer, and in the autumn, the West Wind would blow.

So, the shaman let the winds out of his hat, which was no longer round, but had four peaks where the winds had struggled to get out. And the winds kept their promises, and Sápmi became a wonderful place to live for the Sámi people. As a reminder, Sámi men now wear a hat with four peaks.

That, my friends, is the story if the “four winds hat”. Sámi people mostly take out their traditional attire for special occasions – or when tourists come visiting – but I still greatly enjoyed the story of the four winds and the shaman and his pointed hat.

//Sophie Seebach

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putting thought to things

2 thoughts on “The four winds hat”

  1. Steen Berrig says:

    Hello Dr. Seebach,
    Your blog post is under discussion on a Saami group on Facebook. North American Saami Issues. The question has been asked if there is a citation a available for the origins of the four winds hat story.
    Steen Berrig


    • Dear Steen Berrig. Thank you very much for your question – and for reading our blog! I apologize for my late reply. Everything has been kind of down due to covid-19, but I hope to activate the blog again soon! Sophie Seebach does not work at the museum anymore, but I asked her about the Four Winds Hat story. She replied that she got her information from this website: Is that useful? Kind regards, and again thanks for reaching out!
      Cecil Pallesen (anthropologist and curator)


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