Juvvá Pittja

- Sweden -

Juvvá Pittja, 33, is an author and a spoken word artist. In 2018 he published his first book duođain in dieđe – truly don’t know.

The poems in this are written in both Saami and Swedish, and revolve around the upbringing as an indigenous reindeer herder - but also the challenges one is forced to face if you choose that way of life. Climate change and encroaching industry being a few of them.

In august 2018 Juvvá Pittja made his literary debut with duođain in dieđe – vet verkligen inte, a collection of poems released by the Norwegian based Sami publishing house Davvi Girji. One of the poems conveys an image of the narrator as he lowers his heart down into the river, and how the pain, sadness and anxiety is washed away downstream, as the water courses over the heart. ”Layers of darkness / are washed away and I / finally meet / who I truly am”, he writes.


The collection concerns the experience of being a young Sami man growing up as a reindeer herder in the Swedish majority society. Several of the poems speak directly to the environment, to the pastures and to the river, dammed but still ungovernable. The exploitation of nature has left behind a place “devoid of life” and the narrator asks himself: “Is this where I am supposed to live / was this my land”. Sometimes the poems turn directly to the ones responsible for the destruction - those who can’t understand the life or culture of a reindeer herder, and who instead hide “behind paragraphs and laws” and “do not want us here”.


Juvvá Pittja was born in 1989 in Gällivare in northern Sweden and grew up in a family of reindeer herders. The poems in duođain in dieđe – vet verkligen inte are written in Northern Sami and Swedish and some of them in English. Throughout the book each poem appears in several languages, making them available to Sami – as well as Swedish speakers. In my interview with the poet, published in Västerbottens-Kuriren 2019, Juvvá told me that he writes in whatever language he is thinking about that particular day.


“Sami is my native tongue, the language that is closest to my heart. In Sami everything has a different tone. It goes straight to the heart of what you want to convey. At the same time Sami is the language in which the depths of a sentence can be unparallelled. A word can have five, six different kinds of meanings depending on what word comes before or after”, he said.


Often the environment decides what language he will use and as an example he talks about one of the poems in the collection that was written in Sami. The poem is about one of the worst winters his family ever experienced as reindeer herders. “The other languages lack the words to describe how it was to endure what happened” Juvvá said, and mentioned how the Sami language is bound to the reindeer herding life: “The language grows out of the relationship with reindeer herding and with nature”. The poem begins with an ominous image: 


The crows rise,

like a dark cloud


I wish it was only a dream



After a month we reach the winterlands

With food no longer scarce,


many died trying to still their hunger


With its uncomplicated language the poem gives us small fragments of an everyday life not particularly well covered in contemporary Swedish poetry. Not all poems concern the reindeer herding life directly, but the experiences run through the whole collection and seem to be both a concrete and existential point of departure for its creation.


Other poems Juvvá wrote in Swedish and he was aided in the translation by his grandmother, the author and poet Inghilda Tapio, who knows Northern Sami better than him. He compares the translation with woodworking, where you start with a coarse material and grind and sand it down to something smoother.


Juvvá Pittja hails from a family where artistic expression seems to have been a natural part of everyday life. Beside his grandmother’s writing, both his mother and aunt are prominent craftsmen and designers. Juvvá himself is also an artist and a musician and used to study art at the Artschool in Karasjok in Northern Norway. Besides the poems his debut book has expressive paintings he made while writing. The painting on the cover resembles (as does several of the others) an explosion, with rough brush strokes in red and yellow. “All I do and see is translated into language” Juvvá said. To him the paintings are a language of “colours, layers, techniques”.


In 2020 Juvvá Pittja was named the Norrbotten Champion of Poetry Slam and awarded second place in the Swedish digital championship of Poetry Slam. He has also participated with his poetry in other stage shows.


He started writing in his twenties while working in the Gällivare mine, but only later did he feel he could devote any serious time to his art. He is the oldest of four and felt he had a responsibility to his family. Before he used to think that his family could not function without him present. That they would not be able to make ends meet or have the reindeers survive the winters. Family is “our only safety net” he writes in one poem.


Today Juvvá Pittja lives in Umeå on the coast of Västerbotten. Apart from his writing, he works as a carpenter and studies Sami at the University. He belongs to a younger generation of authors, poets and artists from Sápmi but his poetry has connections back in time to the artists of previous generations. His writing makes one think of older Sami writers, like the poet and craftsman Paulus Utsi, and the author, musician and artist Nils-Aslak ’Áillohaš’ Valkeapää. Just like Juvvá Pittja these people moved between different kinds of artistic expression and Juvvá Pittja himself names ’Áillohaš’ as one of his sources of inspiration. Others include two of the most prominent Sami artists of the last ten-fifteen years: the joik artist Simon Marainen and the poet Niillas Holmberg.


The poems in his first collection express both struggle and despair and often they touch on questions concerning heritage and identity. Like this short poem:


I was just a boy

a few years ago,

until I felt weight of family

on my shoulders


Now I don’t know who I am



Questions concerning what kind of life is possible, both within Sami culture and outside it, are raised in the collection. In his poems Juvvá Pittja addresses colonial history and the interventions in Sápmi. He draws our attention to the scope of the problem and the consequences for the life and identity of individuals. In one poem, published in March 2022 on the Instagram account of Tjállegoahtes, Writer’s Centre Sápmi, he writes about mourning the loss of land, culture and identity:



How close the bonds grow under the pressure


With history of colonization,

the daily realizations of all it entails


The concepts weaving together in

the smallest of details


The loss of language,

and generations with no

heritage to pass on


It's like you, know you belong

but have no land to stand on




The poem contains that particular feeling of losing something you maybe never even had, a feeling familiar to many young Sami people. The future is grim for those who were left behind to heal the wounds of history. The poem might hold an exhortation to, or wish for, a new gathering of strength and in the end the poet writes: ”this, / / is a good time to find your voice”.


Pernilla Berglund

Translation: Viktor Hariz