Niillas Holmberg

Niillas Holmberg
Marek Sabogal
Niillas Holmberg: Juolgevuođđu. Poetry, DAT, 2018. Nominated for the 2020 Nordic Council Literature Prize.


Juolgevuođđu (in English, “The soles of our feet”, not translated) is like a political and cunning joik. This is a volume of poetry in which both the illustrations and the well-chosen words build an aesthetic that allows for a broader mindset towards nature conservation, in terms of both willingness and knowledge. The underworld mirrors our deeds and makes us aware of them, forcing us humans to understand what our punishment must be. The book challenges the reader to reflect. We have to think about which paths the soles of our feet tread, for it is our feet that touch the earth that we have to protect.

The grammar and some of the terms in the book are complex new constructions, such as the word vearbbáska. They symbolise current activities, purpose, opinions, and politics.

The illustrations in the book form a path – a powerful unbroken line that turns into a circle, typical of indigenous holistic thinking, that everything belongs together. They can also act as a musical path, pleasing to the reader’s eye and giving a melody to the texts. The symbolism is severe in the challenges it presents, with the birch tree having to bear the weight of what nature must endure, and Hamlet asking who own the rights and how they were acquired in the first place. Through the pictorial art of the poems there are words that remind us to listen to the heart of the earth. The colours of the pages taken together with the illustrations constitute a dramaturgy, meaning that the book both needs and requires time. The book itself gives expression to a longing for self-determination, endeavour, and execution.

The poems are based on symbols and linguistic imagery that depict the connection with the earth and the challenges posed by the conservation of nature. The book tells us that we must go back to the earth, as it is our feet that have contact with it. On our feet we have footwear and Sami Nutukas. One of the strongest symbols in the book is precisely the contact between the earth and the soles of our feet. The emotions of the earth are expressed – the earth cries and shows emotions.

It is possible, as the book says, that we must go back to what was in the beginning: Our feet. And we must show less respect for the central character of the book – the shoemaker who makes and sells shoes. For no matter how comfortable they are, they prevent the soles of our feet from coming into contact and communicating with the earth.