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Monday, October 9, 2017

The Norse Exploration of North America :o

Are you wondering how I became obsessed with Vikings? Well this post is all about the historical event that made me become obsessed with them. I wrote this back in 2016, but I've decided to revise it and update it with new information straight from the Norse sagas. Plus today is Leif Ericson day, so it seems like a good time to post this. 

 I'm really into the history of the people whom the Norsemen called the "skraelings" AKA the indigenous people of the Americas. But when I started researching the Beothuk people who are native to Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, I came across information about the Norse explorer Leif Ericson's 'Vinland voyages'. 


First, lets talk a bit about the Beothuk people. As I said before, they were the native people of Newfoundland. While some indigenous people of Canada managed to retain their languages and parts of their culture despite colonialism, the Beothuk are all now all gone :( A little bit of their language still survives though, and you can learn it online although it has no native speakers.  A woman named Shanawdithit, who is considered by historians to have been the last Beothuk, learned some English and was able to write Beothuk words using the Roman alphabet. Thanks to her, and the efforts of a few others of the last Beothuks such as Shawnadithit's aunt Demasduit, we now know some words of the Beothuk language. The word 'Beothuk' itself in their language means 'the people'. Shawnadithit died in 1829 of tuberculosis. 

A portrait of Shawnadithit

FUN FACT: Some European settlers called the Beothuk people the "Red Ochre People" because they covered themselves in red ochre :D . 


Historically, the Beothuks were a semi-nomadic group. There were many subdivisions of the Beothuk based on extended family. These subgroups lived away from each other during the winter. During the summer they would join each other in coastal meeting places to arrange marriages and discuss important things like who the next leader should be. The Beothuk were the some of the first native people of Canada to come into contact with Europeans, along with the Inuit. The Europeans began to settle on the coastal regions, exactly where the summer meeting places once were. As their settlement expanded westward, they began to see the local Beothuk as threats to the settlements. Beothuks were hunted down viciously. The ones who weren't murdered died of tuberculosis or other diseases brought over from Europe. These were introduced by English settlers during the early 1700s. 

Of course, the 1700s were NOT when the settlement of the Americas, or even Canada began. Settlement of Canada was attempted by French explorer Jacques Cartier in the 1500s. It was extremely unsuccessful thanks to the fact that Cartier was so STUPID in the way he dealt with the indigenous Iroquois people. The Iroquois were really nice to him and taught him a cure for scurvy (birch tea). To express his gratitude to them for saving his life he kidnapped their chief and a bunch of other people and killed a lot of people. Later the Iroquois allied with the British and wrecked the French.
Anyway, Cartier's expeditions were quite hilarious failures but talking about them in detail would be for another post. Europeans never really became successful in starting Canada's settlement until another French guy, Samuel De Champlain, came along in 1604. Anyway, the point is, Jacques Cartier is credited for being the first European in Canada. 

The title of "first European in the Americas as a whole" is given to Christopher Columbus who was discovered lost at see by native Taino people of the Caribbean in 1492. 

WHAT I'M TRYING TO SAY IS NEITHER OF THESE PEOPLE DESERVE CREDIT. 

Because the first European in Canada was 

LEIF ERICSON

and the first European in the Americas was 

LEIF ERICSON

another fun fact is that

LEIF ERICSON

wasn't an evil scary genocidal horrible person the way columbus and cartier were.

Leif Ericson, or Leifr Airikson, will always be one of my favourite European explorers. His half-sister Freydis Ericsdottir was cool too. 

 Columbus was known for selling 9 year old girls into sex slavery. Even the Europeans of the time admitted he was a genocidal maniac. The only person who liked him was queen Isabella of Spain. 

And Cartier was just stupid.  No monarch in France liked him because he brought back 'gold' and 'diamonds' from the New World which actually turned out to be pyrite and quartz. That's where the expression 'Canadian Gold' comes from to describe something worthless.

He ended France's interest in settling Canada for almost a century. 

I'm sure Eric the Red's son was better than that. 

Anyway, the remainder of this post shall be dedicated to talking about the exciting Norse exploration of North America, which occurred 500 YEARS BEFORE COLUMBUS. 

And if any of you still believe that this is pseudo-historical nonsense, well, please go to L'anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland and see that there are indeed Viking settlements there. The Norse called that little hamlet of houses "leifsbudir" after Leif of course!
You can book a room in Valhalla lodge (named after the glorious afterlife that Viking warriors went to) in the fabled Vinland and stalk all the skraelings and Vikings there. You can even watch some cheesy white people dressed as Vikings do cool sword fighting reenactments while you're there. I haven't had the pleasure of going to northern Newfoundland myself. However, I have personally met one of the reenactment groups who perform there. THEY WERE COOL. I WISH I COULD FIND THE PICTURES I TOOK WITH THEM BUT I CAN'T :( . 

Sometimes I write fanfictions about Vikings. 

Perhaps I should start calling them the Norsemen instead of Vikings, as Norsemen is what they called themselves. It means "North men" obviously. Viking was a word of the time meaning raider or explorer. It was their occupation not ethnicity. 

Early Settlements in Iceland

The Norse culture originated in the southern Danish peninsula in the 790s. From this time until the Norman conquest of England in 1066, northern Europe was in the period of time known as the Viking age. 

Iceland was settled by the Norsemen in about 870 AD. However, Gaelic monks and other  people had settled the island and established monasteries a bit before that. There weren't any indigenous people on the island, so Icelanders are not guilty of committing mass genocide or anything like that. I mean sure, some Greenlandic Inuit may have visited the island before Europeans, but they never stayed and such an event was never recorded. Iceland is European. It is the BEST European country. 

 NORSEMEN ARE COOLER THAN IRISH MONKS THOUGH. I'm glad they left when they saw the Norsemen or else they'd "get rekt" like the monasteries of Lindisfarne, where the very first Viking raid happened.

"Protect us, O Lord, from the wrath of the Northmen" 

~ a random monk from Lindisfarne before a Viking killed him

The Norse really needed more farmland so they eventually discovered Iceland, the land of Ice and Fire. Once it was settled they wanted even more land. 

SO THEY FOUND 

Grønland 

WHICH HAD NATIVE INUIT PEOPLE LIVING THERE 

Greenland was settled by Erik the Red, also known as Erik Thorvaldsson, which means his dad's name was Thorvald. That's how these patriarchal Norse last names work. And you guessed it, Erik the Red was the father of Leif Eriksson or Ericson or Aerikson or however you want to spell it there are like 5 ways to spell that last name. His daughter's last name was Eriksdottir. Erik the Red wasn't the first European in Greenland but he was the first to actually settle it.

It's like how Samuel De Champlain stole Jacques Cartier's title as the Father of New France. 



Erik the Red, called that because of his epic red beard and hair, settled Greenland. The Norsemen called it Grønland. BUT WE MUST CALL IT KALAALIT NUNAAT BECAUSE IT RIGHTFULLY BELONGS TO THE INUIT. 

Oh well, if the indigneous people take back their land I imagine that place will be a territorial dispute. Perhaps they can share Greenland to play skraelings vs. vikings with each other ad infinitum

Erik the Red went to Greenland after he was convicted of manslaughter and banished from Norway. Greenlanders considered him a hero and stuff. Cool. 

He slept around a lot according to sagas and soon had a son named Leif Erikson or Leif the Lucky.
He also had an illegitimate daughter named Freydis Eriksdottir. Freydis sounds liked my own name, Freya, doesn't it? Freya was a Norse goddess of love and beauty. Like me, she had two pet cats and admired the heroic dead, ruling the afterlife of Valhalla for fallen warriors. Her name translates to "noblewoman" or "queen". But before any Scandinavian people accuse me of sacrilege by taking on a goddess' name, I have to say that my parents had no idea that Freya was a Norse goddess before they named me. According to them, the name means 'beloved' in Persian. 

So I suppose you can guess where the history goes from here. Leif Ericson was the first white person to see the Americas minus Greenland right? wrong. 

The first white person to see the Americas was the Icelander Bjarni Herjolfsson in 986 A.D. He saw the distant New World when his ship was blown off course. He saw three different new lands through the icy mist. The Norse saw to it that they were named "Helluland", "Markland" and "Vinland" which are believed to have been Baffin island, Labrador, and Newfoundland respectively. 

Bjarni's tails inspired Leif to sail westward to these cool new islands. He bought Bjarni's own ship and set sail, seeking VINLAND. 

What is Vinland? 

In simple terms, it was the name the Norse gave to northern Newfoundland. But other historians debate that the Norse explorers went southward and eventually discovered a different land which was better and called it Vinland. I think this debate is stupid as there is no evidence for it. Vinland is certainly a lot more than just a name for a measly Norse settlement. It was an idea of paradise from Norse mythology. The 'vin' in Vinland has been translated to mean either "wine" or "meadow/pasture". The latter translation makes a lot more sense to me, as the Norse were always looking for more good farmland. There wasn't much in northern Europe. It only makes sense for an ideal Norse mythological paradise to contain endless farmland. Do you think Leif the Lucky was really lucky when he found that barren, rocky tip of an island teeming with skraelings? Was it really something that deserved to be call Vinland? 

It's like the Spanish idea of "El Dorado". 

"We Spaniards have a disease of the heart that can 
only be cured by gold." 

~ Hernan Cortes, conqueror of the Aztec empire 

Cortes is only second to Columbus on the list-of-historical-figures-I-would-have-murdered-for-fun. 

Vinland was also the name of the ship that Freydis Eiriksdottir sailed to Leifsbudir on the second Norse expedition to the Americas. The crew had both Greenlanders and Icelanders, but Leif didn't come.

The sagas claim the Norse were mostly lumberjacks when they visited the Americas.
 They also traded with the skraelings aka the Red Ochre people. But don't worry, the Norse didn't bring diseases. They were considered clean and well groomed by other Europeans. That is why white women always fell for those vain Vikings. Would you rather have the North-man who you can go on raids to burn down christian monasteries with or the misogynistic catholic scrub who never bathes? Please don't ask Queen Isabella of Spain this question. 

 The Vikings were also way less sexist than Christians and there were just as many female raiders as male ones. The Norse also had pretty hair and were the first Europeans to use combs. 
Exceptionally well preserved Viking combs from a site in Russia. Many Vikings settled in and assimilated into Russian culture.

Some Norse combs also have really pretty designs carved on their handles. 

So they traded with the natives but never actually settled there. But perhaps they had the intention of doing so. Why else would they have established Leifsbudir? 

Why the Vikings left their settlement in Newfoundland: Two possible reasons why


1: Conflict with the natives

There have been accounts that say that the Vikings treated the indigenous people well. They didn't pillage, rape, or kill them. They merely traded. However, there have been also accounts that say that the Vikings did exactly the opposite of that and were as brutal, savage, and genocidal as any other European explorers were. The Beothuk and other indigenous people of the area may have fought and expelled the Vikings. Some people suggest that the Vikings tried giving the natives cow's milk. There is no proof for that but it's a funny story: 

Most Native Americans are lactose intolerant (I have a really weird sense of humor. Sorry I laughed really hard when I typed that for some reason.) The indigenous people started having whatever problems lactose intolerant people have when you give them creamy, thick, raw, stinky milk from the plump udders of Norwegian cows. 

Please, don't start randomly going up to Native American people and asking them if they are lactose intolerant. 


They were colonist cows though so alternately they might have been undernourished tiny cows who can't really produce good quality milk. The indigenous people thought they were being posioned, and so launched an attack on the weird pale blue-eyed aliens who had given them the elixir.


 In my opinion, if conflict with the natives was the reason why the Vikings abandoned Leifsbudir, it probably didn't involve lactose intolerance. It was probably just a war started after the Norse might have done something really Cartier-level idiotic. The good part is that if the Vikings were genocidal and evil, at least they were deported. Who wants to speak Old Norse and have their country capital be Leifsbudir, which may have one day become a sprawling metropolis of over 100,000 people instead of a handful of rugged Norsemen, who knows? 


2: Conflict among themselves


The Vikings might have left North America not because of the natives, but because of conflict with each other. The Greenlanders and Icelanders in Freydis Eriksdottir's crew didn't have much of a reason to like each other.After restlessly dwelling in Leifsbudir, they all might have gone mad, surrounded by endless skraeling-filled forest. Arguments broke out between the Icelandic and Greenlandic crew. Freydis herself was an ill-tempered Greenlander. A battle started in which both sides may have massacred each other. Whoever survived left Vinland forever. This would explain why only one ship returned back from the voyage. Originally there were supposed to be two, the Vinland and a smaller one. 


But no one really knows why they left.


Reasons why you might still dislike the Vikings 


and Leif Ericson:



1) HE CONVERTED TO ChRisTianiTY in his later days *gAsps*

By this time, Christianity was spreading in the Viking world like a plague. Leif converted on a trip to Iceland. :(

2) It's hard to say whether he was violent and genocidal or not. The sagas are difficult, contradictory, even. Did he merely trade with the Beothuk, or try to exterminate them? We may never know.

3) The Vikings had shown their greed for land by taking over Greenland. Maybe they wanted to do the same with Newfoundland?

4) If the intention of the Vikings was to take over Newfoundland, then the only thing that made them unsuccessful was the lack of biological warfare. 


5) 
The Norse term "skraeling" which they called the indigenous could be taken as highly offensive. It might have meant "savage". The modern Icelandic word "skraelingi" has a similar meaning.

What you can do now that you are obsessed with the Vikings and probably will be for at least a week 

Historical fiction books and tv shows 

By the way, if you read about any culture enough you will become obsessed with it. It's kinda inevitable, so don't feel bad if you now find yourself in a Viking obsession phase. You can indulge in Rick Riordan's new series on Norse mythology, or a very similar series called "The Blackwell Pages" by Kelly Armstrong and Melissa Marr. I've met both authors in person at a book convention. They are awesome and the Blackwell Pages series is amazing, probably better than the Riordan Norse mythology series although less cool than the Greco-Roman series he has written. Also check out "Sword Song" by Rosemary Sutcliffe , a story about a boy named Bjarni banished from Norway for manslaughter (how similar to the Fate of Erik the Red!) who becomes a mercenary. There is also a female part-skraeling character ;D . Check out "The Dream Carvers" and "Eiriksdottir" by Joan Clark and of course the Irish-Canadian tv series "The Vikings".

and remember, Scandinavian folk music is very good so you might want to make a new dank mixtape: 




That's all. 







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