Knud Leem, 18th-century specialist on Sami language and culture – Part I – token of civilty

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“…when the Sami lack tobacco they will share the same pipe. The pipe will be sent from one to the other which, in this manner, is to be taken as a token of civilty.”


The Norwegian Knud Leem was the leading 18th-century specialist on Sami language and culture. On the initiative of Thomas von Westen (1683-1727), Leem arrived as a missionary in Finnmark, in 1725. Leem collected large quanitities of ethnological documentation on the Sami in his work as a vicar at Talvik and Alta, up until 1734. His observations and understanding of Sami behavior, living conditions and disposition are recorded in a publication called Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper, deres Tungemaal, Levemaade og forrige afgudsdyrkelse. This was published in 1767, in Copenhagen. The Danish text is accompanied by a parallel Latin text. An extract was also released in German, in 1771 (Leipzig), and in English, in 1808 (London). The English volume was titled An Account of the Laplanders of Finmark, their Language, Manners, and Religion, and this was the first volume in the serial called A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in all Parts of the World, which was published from 1808-1814, by John Pinkerton.

More on Knud Leem here.

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