Mary Ailonieida Sombán Mari

Mary Ailonieida Sombán Mari, nominee Nordic Council Literature Prize 2022

Mary Ailonieida Sombán Mari

Tanya Busse
Mary Ailonieida Sombán Mari: Beaivváš mánát . Poems. Mondo Books, 2020. Nominated for the 2022 Nordic Council Literature Prize.

With her incandescent poetry, author, poet, and visual artist Mary Ailonieida Sombán Mari draws us into the Sami experience of abuse of power, racism, and contempt on the part of public authorities. 


The first part of the book – Leve blant reptiler (Living among reptiles, not translated into English) – is in Norwegian, while the second part – Beaivváš mánát – is in Northern Sami. In both languages it portrays moments in time that can open the reader’s eyes and offer insight to non-Sami readers while empowering Sami readers.


The poems feel like a waterfall of words, which bring a painful history into question: 

Lea go sápmelaš / goas ge čállán / dážii dakkár lágaid / ahte visot gullá sutnje / ja álo de beassá dáža njeaidit dikkis / danne go ieš lea čállán visot lágaid? (from the poem “Dás ii leat dárustit” on page 61)


(Have the Sami / ever written / such laws for the Norwegians, / making everything belong to them, / in order to be able to tear the Norwegians to pieces in court / since they themselves have written the laws? (from the prologue “Da de brente meg levende på noaidebålet” (translates as “When they burned me alive on the noaide bonfire”) on page 17))

The book is both a tribute to the sun and the landscape as a spiritual force and source of life and to a spirituality that has been and still is the basis for a Sami way of life.

juoiggas nana luđiid / mat bistet / agibeaivái / ja vel duobbeliidda / gos mii oktii / bođiimet, Beaivváža mánát (from the poem “Buohkaid buhtes luondu” on page 65)


(yoik powerful yoiks / that last / for all eternity / and even longer / where we once / came from, children of the Sun

Visually, the book with its gold cover is like a piece of jewellery, and, thanks to the author’s/artist’s own strong artistic imagery, it drenches the reader in a cascade of colour. In 2021, the book was named Most Beautiful Book of the Year by Grafill in Norway. The book can be read online, and it also comes with a yoik. 

The captivating images fit well with the uncompromising poems, and Mary Ailonieida Sombán Mari truly bursts out of the metaphorical box that so often restricts minority writers who want their story to be heard: 

Mis ii lean goassige / makkárge / agenda singuin / ahte nubbi olmmoš nu /ráfi haga / juos juoba leš ge olmmoš / galbmavarat repeŋilljá / olmmošmeahttun / dovdduid haga (from the poem “Dás ii leat dárustit” on page 61)


(We never had any / agenda with them / to make another human / so outlawed / if they are human now / these cold-blooded reptiles / as inhuman / and numb / as they are) (from the prologue “Da de brente meg levende på noaidebålet” on page 17)

The poems draw attention to the lack of humanism in the ideology of the past while tracing a line between it and the current situation:

Juos dáruiduhttin ii livčče leamaš / de min girjerádjosat / livčče dievva / vássán čálliiguin / min iežamet Ibsen / livččii lean Strindberga / geas ledje sámi váhnemat (from the poem “Govadas baldon olbmot” on page 52)


(If Norwegianisation had not happened / then our library / would have been full / of writers from the past / we had our Ibsen / we had a Strindberg / with Sami parents)

Mary Ailonieida Sombán Mari has been a pioneer of the Sami language in several literary genres and has published many solid works, including the first children’s book in Sami: Ámmul ja alit oarbmælli (1976, which translates as Ámmul and the blue cousin) and the first Sami erotic novel, Bajándávgi (2004), which is told from a woman’s perspective. 

She was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2016 for the children’s and young people’s book Čerbmen Bizi (‘Bizi the little reindeer’, not translated into English) and for the Hedda Prize in 2013 for the play Stáinnak / The White Reindeer. Mary Ailonieida Sombán Mari was also among the Sami writer pioneers who established Sámi Girječálliid Searvi (SGS) (the Sami Writers Association) in 1979.