The Connection of a 8th-Century Saint and Finnish May Day

In Finland, May the first is known as vappu (Finnish) or as vappen (Finnish Swedish), and it is one of the four biggest holidays in the country. Sometimes it’s translated into English as Walpurgis night (as opposed to May Day). I’d always just shrugged my way past that weird translation until I ran into the history of vappu: the phrase comes from Saint Walburh’s Day.

Saint Walburh was an English nun, missionary, and abbess in the 8th century. She was a part of Saint Boniface’s famous mission to German lands beyond the old Rhine-Danube frontier. The tidbit on Walburh below comes from Kathleen Herbert’s work:

“For example, St. Walburh trained at Wimborne in Dorset, then went with her two brothers to join the German mission. She became abbess of the double monastery of Heidensheim, which had a distinguished scholarly record. Her feast day is May 1st, so in her district the rites of Spring become traditionally celebrated as Walpurgisnacht. This is not a sarcastic joke but a tribute to her power, ranking her locally with such mighty ones as St. Michael and St. John the Baptist.”

– Kathleen Herbert, Peace-Weavers & Shield-Maidens: Women in Early English Society

Clearly Saint Boniface is the more prominent character of the two in history, but it’s intriguing to me that Saint Walburh’s name is still, well over a thousand years after her death, attached to a spring festival celebrated on the day of her canonization. (Granted, it helps that May Day had long been celebrated as one of the transition points in the yearly cycle; cf. Beltane).

So, in a minor way, even though we mostly don’t care or remember in the middle of everyday hullabaloo, we keep passing her name to future generations. That’s more than Saint Boniface can boast in Finland.

I sometimes wonder how much else in our culture that’s passed on without remark has similar hidden histories. I suspect more than we’d imagine.

Juhannus Bubbly Sm

Anyway. Hyvää vappua! Glada vappen! Happy May Day!

Herbert, Kathleen. Peace-Weavers & Shield-Maidens: Women in Early English Society. Anglo-Saxon Books, 2013, p. 44.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Daisugi Allows Log Harvesting without Killing the Tree

Daisugi is a forestry management technique reminiscent of pollarding and bonsai that produces straight logs without killing the tree. Developed some 600-500 years ago in Japan, it’s still being used to harvest sustainable, durable logs.

Basically, some of the top shoots are pruned so that they’ll grow straight up, and the shoots only are collected when they reach the desired height. It’s not a fast method, as it takes decades to be able to produce logs, but reportedly they come out stronger, more flexible, and knot-free. And the tree stays alive.

Also, the daisugi-managed cedars make amazing shapes in the woods! They would be so interesting in a speculative or fantasy story—or any story, really. Below are a few examples.

Spoon Tamago Yusuke Narita Long Shot
Spoon Tamago Ai Hirakawa Daisugi in Fall
Wikipedia Bernard Gagnon Ryoan-ji Garden

Just another example of how ingenious we people are in manipulating our environment. 🙂

Found via Good Stuff Happened Today on Tumblr.

Images: Long shot by Yusuke Narita via Spoon & Tamago. In the fall by Ai Hirakawa via Spoon & Tamago. Ryoan-ji garden, Kyoto, Japan by Bernard Gagnon via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Native American Cosplay of Captain America

Casey (otherwise known as hot.glue.burns on Instagram) made a Native American variant of Captain America’s costume for the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con. And the cosplay is both inventive and gorgeous!

Poster Cosplay in America has copied & pasted some of Casey’s thoughts:

“I originally brainstormed this costume in late 2015, but I really started rolling on production this last year, once I committed to this years SDCC… My main goal was to make a Native American variant of a fan-favorite character. I was immediately drawn to Captain America because of everything he symbolizes as basically the poster boy of a nation. To me it was the perfect parallel. And once I visualized the red and white bone breastplate on my abdomen, I knew this was something I had to see through.

“A lot of old school leather work with the awl! The majority of the armor was made from a base of 6mm EVA foam with 3 oz deer hide glued over it. The pieces were then stitched together with sinew or leather lace. Using this technique allowed me to form curves and build the necessary bulk of the armor pieces while also getting the suede textures I was looking for. And a whole lot of beading!”

Found via Good Stuff Happened Today on Tumblr.

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day!

Crossposted from the Playfully Grownup Home blog.

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Frozen II Is at the Theaters, and Soon Dubbed in Sámi

Today is the premier for the animated sequel Frozen II here in the U.S. Unlike most Di$ney princess movies*, I will be seeing this one during its theatrical release for a particular reason.

In the story, Anna and Elsa et al. travel to the north and meet a people resembling the Sámi. For their research and inspiration, the Walt Disney Animation Studios not only talked with Sámi people but actually signed an agreement with the Sámi to do it in a respectful, collaborative way.

The Sámi are the only indigenous people within the European Union area. They currently live in the northern reaches of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and the Kola Peninsula in northwestern Russia.

Disney even invited some members of the Sámi Parliaments to U.S. to see the movie at the world premier, meet some of the makers, and tour the animation studio.

Yle Siv Eli Vuolab Samediggi Frozen II World Premiere

The most exciting part for my linguist brain is that the studio will record and release a version dubbed in Northern Sámi, the largest of the Sámi languages. The voice actors are drawn mainly from Sweden and Norway, among them the acclaimed Sámi musician Mari Boine, but also one Finn. (Yay!)

Yle Frozen II Screencap Northern Herders

While it’s true they aren’t very numerous these days (partly thanks to racial, linguistic, and cultural discrimination), the Sámi do exist and do have a living culture. (Just check out the music scene for one incredibly vibrant aspect—yoik comes almost in all styles now!) I grew up two hours south of the Arctic Circle, and the Sámi were my classmates, neighbors, and teachers. For me it’s delightful that Disney took the time to research, listen, and respectfully pay homage to people I grew up with.

Undoubtedly I will also enjoy scenery that reminds me of trips to Lapland even if the first reports say the northern mountains look too young and rugged to be based on the fells on the Finnish side of the border. 🙂

Yle Frozen II Screencap Valley View

*) The only other exception is Moana, which was also produced in cooperation with indigenous peoples.

Images: Per-Olof Nutti, Aili Keskitalo, Åsa Larsson Blind, and Tiina Sanila-Aikio with their daughters at the world premier of Frozen II by Siv Eli Vuolab / Sámediggi via Yle. Three members of the northern herder tribe from Frozen II via Yle. View overlooking a northern valley from Frozen II via Yle.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Visual Inspiration: Aztec-Engineered Floating Garden Islands

Did you know that Aztecs created floating garden islands on swamps to feed 200,000+ people? I didn’t before now.

Te Papa Aztec Chinampa Model

An article by Lynette Townsend for the Museum of New Zealand descibes the structure of the chinampas:

“These ingenious creations were built up from the lake bed by piling layers of mud, decaying vegetation and reeds. This was a great way of recycling waste from the capital city Tenochtitlan. Each garden was framed and held together by wooden poles bound by reeds and then anchored to the lake floor with finely pruned willow trees. The Aztecs also dredged mud from the base of the canals which both kept the waterways clear and rejuvenate [sic] the nutrient levels in the gardens.”

Apparently the chinampas were separated by channels, and canoes were used for transport. In addition to food crops and flowers grown, fish and birds drawn to the chinampas were caught for food as well.

Te Papa Aztec Chinampa Model Closeup

What an incredibly smart feature to engineer! It also strikes me as a fantastic (no pun intended), pragmatic thing to adapt into a SFFnal world.

Found via Ultrafacts at Tumblr.

Images: models by artisan collective Te Mahi via Museum of New Zealand / Te Papa Tongarewa.

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Quotes: Finns Know How to Listen to the Stillness in the Great Forest

After the Finnish centennial in 2017, I’ve been reading outside my usual periods of Finnish history a little, including on the Finnish Winter War (1939-1940, for 105 days against the USSR). Here’s another tidbit that caught my attention:

“Finns know how to listen to the stillness in the great forest; for them it is never absolutely silent, and they can read considerable information about their environment from the sounds of which outsiders are not even aware. Finns, in short, can adapt to their environment because they feel a part of it.”

– William Trotter, A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940

I know people who love water, to be on and in the water, whether a lake or an ocean. I don’t. It’s nice to look at or splash in now and then, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t adore it.

I’m in love with woods.

I need trees to feel whole and at peace, and preferably wild instead of planted and pruned trees. Whether in the cool, clear incandescence of summer nights, or wet, loamy autumn rain, or the crisp, brisk dark of winter, or, finally, the unhurried, budding, green spring, Finnish woods are dear to me.

Trotter, William R. A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1991, p. 145.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Quotes: Finns Were on Intimate Terms with Winter

After the Finnish centennial in 2017, I’ve been reading outside my usual periods of Finnish history, including on the Finnish Winter War (1939-1940, for 105 days against the USSR).

It’s easy for a modern Finn—at least this modern Finn—to get tired of reading endless takes, almost exclusively by foreigners, condemning the horribleness of the Finnish winter. Like in this excerpt from a book on the Winter War:

“One of the main factors that enabled the Finns to destroy forces much larger than their own was surely rooted in the differing psychologies of the men engaged on either side. To the Finnish soldier, the cold, the snow, the forest, the long hours of darkness were all factors that could be turned to his advantage. To say that the Finns were on intimate terms with winter is to voice an understatement. In Finland winter is the fact of life, and all else—the economy, the culture, the national psychology—is colored by, or derived from, that single overriding reality. The relationship between the Finns and winter constitutes something of a contradiction. On the one hand, winter makes life harsh and lonely and something crude. It is this aspect of living with winter, the cumulative effect of endless subarctic nights, the unearthly silences of the winter landscape, the harsh and marginal quality of rural life, that imparts to the Finnish character that dour and brooding quality that is so hard for foreigners to penetrate.”

– William Trotter, A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940 [original emphasis]

It is true that we stayed poor quite long and urbanised quite fast, pretty much during my parents’ generation, so it’s easy for me to lose perspective. Even as late as 1950s (I believe) it wasn’t unheard of for more remote farms not to have electricity. And our winters are undoubtedly long and dark compared to even central Europe, not to mention the Mediterranean and further south.

What bugs me, though, is that people seem to expect conditions like Siberia or Greenland. Hate to disappoint you, but our climate is greatly tempered by the Gulf stream and it isn’t that different from, say, New England. Another detail I’d like foreigners to really learn is that less than half of the country is arctic, and that means the rest is not. The southern coast is, in fact, part of the temperate broadleaf forest zone which covers most of central Europe, Britain, southern Scandinavia, and southern Russia.

I do grant that the Finnish character hasn’t caught up with the technological development, at least not yet: in general terms, we still tend towards melancholy despite now having world-class cities, transportation, and tech.

Trotter, William R. A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1991, p. 144.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

An Extant Map as Evidence of Native American Cartography

In the U.S., and indeed more widely in the Anglo-American world, Meriwether Lewis and William Clarke are known for their two-year expedition of the Louisiana territory (purchased from France in 1803) and the land beyond the “great rock mountains” in the west.

Less commonly remembered in cursory mentions is the extent of Lewis and Clarke’s interactions with local Native Americans. (Apart from Sacagawea, who is known at least in the U.S.) The whites didn’t just exchange gifts or talk about trade or clash with the local population; they received invaluable help and information (like when the expedition wintered with the Mandan people in present-day North Dakota).

Now it seems that western historians need to re-evaluate that extent.

According to The Jefferson Watch, cartographers have identified at least ten places in the journals of Lewis and Clarke where the captains talk about the maps by Native American hosts to help them figure out the lay of the land.

Christopher Steinke, at the time a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, found one of those maps at the archives of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris. It was drawn by Inquidanécharo, a chief of the Arikara (in French, Ricara), who was apparently also known as Too Né.

LudditeLabs on Twitter did some of the heavy lifting and linked to the BnF digital copy of the map:

BnF Gallica Inquidanecharo Map Missouri Valley

An article by Steinke is available at JSTOR, where this abstract comes from:

“The Bibliothèque nationale de France contains a hitherto unnoticed map attributed to Inquidanécharo, a Ricara chief. Lewis and Clark knew him as Too Né, an Arikara village leader who accompanied them upriver to the Mandan and Hidatsa villages in 1804. The map, which Too Né showed to playwright and artist William Dunlap when he visited Washington in 1806, is the most detailed surviving Indian representation of the Great Plains from this period. It invites scholars to reorient early American exploration and cartography from indigenous perspectives. Too Né interpreted his map as a work of history and cartography and situated the American explorers in the historical and religious landscape of the Arikara people.”

In “Here is My Country”, Steinke outlines some of the main features of Inquidanécharo’s map, and recounts some history surrounding it. He also lists a few other Native American maps from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

What most struck me, though, is that Native American maps seem to have contained more information than just geographical details—they also depicted cultural connections and ethnographical information.

I knew Native Americans used symbols and pictograms, and had to have—like people everywhere—a way of talking about and remembering locations outside their immediate surroundings. I had no idea, however, that Native American cartography was as polished or wide-reaching as it was (a hint for the Finnish school system), let alone that their maps might still be extant. Fascinating!

Found via bluecorncomics on Twitter.

This post has been edited to correct a typo.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Happy, WoW-y Midsummer!

Juhannus is the Finnish celebration of midsummer. People usually go to a summer cottage, burn bonfires, sauna bathe, and enjoy fresh food.

Or… in our case, this year, stay in town and play! I’ve just started cleaning up my quest lists and churning out the last Legion achievements etc. in earnest before Battle for Azeroth launches in August.

3-Laptop Evening

I could even have a juhannus sauna in game. I’m pretty sure one of the Pinchwhistle Point huts in Spires of Arak is a sauna:

WoW Arak Pinchwhistle Point Sauna

Tile floor, wooden benches, a large wood pail, and a stove for heating and making steam—sounds like a sauna to me!

Happy Midsummer! Hyvää juhannusta!

Images: 3-laptop evening by Eppu Jensen. Screencap from the MMORPG World of Warcraft, Warlords of Draenor expansion.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Why I Won’t Be Eating Porgs– I Mean Puffins

A news and culture writer Andrew Husband writes in “Porg Recipes For The ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Fans In Your Life” on Uproxx that us Nordics eat puffins:

“[…] we’ve put together a short recipe list — consisting of hors-d’oeuvre, entrées, and entremets based on traditional puffin and poultry dishes — for your perusal.

“Yes, you read that right. Despite being protected by several national and international conservation organizations, puffins are considered a rare delicacy in Nordic countries. And seeing as how The Last Jedi‘s porgs are based on the puffins writer/director Rian Johnson saw while filming at Skellig, it makes sense their preparation would be similar.”

As a source for his wild claim, Husband offers all of one link, and that goes to a CNN Travel article Iceland food can be unusual; check out these 10 dishes”.

Here’s my official response as a Nordic person:

Yeah… nope. Nopety-nope-nope-nope. So much NOPE!

While Iceland is unquestionably one of the Nordic countries, it’s ludicrous to claim that the existence of a practice in one country (or even two) equals its existence in all five.

Now, had Husband talked for instance of reindeer, he would be more correct, but still not entirely so. The Sami herd reindeer in the north of Finland, Sweden, and Norway, so we three nations tend to eat reindeer meat. In fact, sauteed reindeer or poronkäristys was one of the regular dishes at my elementary school cafeteria in Northern Finland, so I personally couldn’t call it a delicacy even though I’ve eaten it less often since. In Denmark and in Iceland it’s an import, and apparently they hardly eat reindeer at all (or so the all-knowing Internet tells me).

But puffin? I’ve never even heard of eating puffin before, although it sounds like the practice does have long roots in Iceland and Norway (judging e.g. by the existence of lundehunder or puffin dogs in the latter) and some other areas like the Faroes. And now that I know Atlantic puffins are considered vulnerable, I wouldn’t eat them even if I happened to be in a country where hunting them wasn’t banned. Not even if you paid me.

“Porg Recipes” arcticle found via File 770.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.