Ellen Marie Partapuoli (maiden name Matti) (1877 – 1941)
Ellen Marie was born 1877 in Bardu, Northern Norway. In 1896 she married the reindeer herder Johannes Partapuoli, who escaped from home at an early age to seek happiness on his own. Together, Ellen Marie and Johanes had 11 children, two of whom died at a young age.
Until 1899 they lived in Målselv and Kiruna, before they took a reindeer herd of 300 animals with them and headed south. They first came to Tafjord before establishing themselves in Northern Skjåk in 1905. Here the couple was the first to introduce domesticated reindeer in an area with a long tradition for wild reindeer herding. Johannes became the head herder in Skjåk kommunale tamreinlag. After being on the move for several years, they eventually settled down and built their own house.
As the only Sami family in the village the Partapoulis stood out. Ellen Marie always wore traditional Sami clothes and travelled by reindeer and sleigh to the store during winter. She also had a good ear for languages. In addition to Sami, Norwegian and Finnish, Ellen Marie could communicate with Germans, Englishmen and Frenchmen. To supplement their income, Ellen Marie and Johannes set up a Sami tent at Grotli or Djupvatnet by Strynefjellet during the tourist season. Here they showcased reindeer and sold homemade Sami knives and tobacco pouches.
It was also here they met Kurt Schwitters, whom they helped sell landscape paintings to tourists. There were also other prominent guests in their tent: King Chulalongkorn of Thailand was on a visit to Norway in 1907 and was captivated by the Sami family who lived in the tent.
The painting of Ellen Marie Partapuoli is generously lent by her great grandchild Kari Helene Partapouli. The idea originates from the fact that year 2017 marks the 100-year-anniversary of the first Sami congress held in Trondheim in February 1917.
Image: Kurt Schwitters, Without title (Portrait of Ellen Marie Partapuoli), 1938-39.