Arctic storytelling

Photos: Larrie Wanberg The Sheriff, armed with stories (left), mentors his sidekick (right) at the Prairie Village Fair at the Heart of America, Rugby, N.D.

Photos: Larrie Wanberg
The Sheriff, armed with stories (left), mentors his sidekick (right) at the Prairie Village Fair at the Heart of America, Rugby, N.D.

Prairie Village Museum in Rugby, N.D. hosts heritage and history event with great fun for attendees of all ages

Larrie Wanberg

Feature Editor

At the Geographic Center of North America, stories of the “Great Viking” of North Norway played out last week from an improvised stage at an outdoor Pioneer Village Museum that drew about a thousand attendees, many three-generational families, for a day to re-connect with history and heritage of bygone days.

Stina Fagertun and Catrine Pedersen, Arctic storytellers from “Sami Land” along the arctic coast in Norway, highlighted the 28th annual fun and festive event. The two storytellers directed and produced a “Great Viking Adventure” camp on the museum grounds in Rugby, ND, working with 30 children, ages 6-11, for 2 ½ hours per day for four days.

The young “Vikings” entertained the crowd with two performances during the day to demonstrate the crafts, music, games and activities to an attentive audience.

Stina told the mythical story of the Great Viking and the gigantic troll, which even brought a few engaged seniors to the edge of their chair, including me.

The children each told the audience what they learned and what they enjoyed the most, ranging from making felted purses or pouches that were carded from wool from Norway, made into felt, and crafted into part of their Viking costumes. Their self-made costumes included shields, headgear, painted sticks as spears and accessories for their attire.

“We learned that Vikings did not have horns on their helmets,” was a common response of the class, “and that life in those times were not easy.”

“But we also learned about the values they had as persons and in family life in their villages.”

Stina ticked off the traits as they fit the activities and games – courage, strength, trusting each other, faith and beliefs, bravery, and how they treated each other. “I think the kids, after having this experience, are eager to learn more about the Norse culture,” she said.

The museum campers sang folk songs with a verse in Norwegian and a verse in English. They choreographed Viking battles with whittled sticks as spears against the cadence calls of one teacher and the drum beats of the other.

Many children expressed their pride in whittling. “We used sharp knives,” said Stina, “but with instruction and close supervision, we never had a nick, not even with the youngest children.”

The spacious grounds of the museum with its 30-plus buildings line up as a pioneer village that is transformed in time to storefronts, schools and churches with authentic interiors. As a single site, it appears as a “back lot” of a movie set.

Cathy Jelsing, curator of the Prairie Village Museum, commented that it was a beautiful day, the community turned out in droves, everyone had fun, the food was great, the children were excited, and bands entertained us throughout the day. “What else could anyone ask for?”

The sheriff, Ken Blessum, was there to keep the peace. The sheriff had a deputy, a middle schooler, who carried himself with confidence, despite few words, and was open to learning about life in a prairie village.

I sat with the sheriff along the edges of the horse water trough. He said that he was “on to” my addiction … to lefse, which I happened to be eating. With a twinkle, he said to me as a lawman that it was okay to consume it, as long as I didn’t inject it in a vein.

Behind us was a restored saloon, where a “lady of the bar” (serving root beer only) was belting out “hooky tonk” music on a tinny-sounding piano and visitors were dancing like they had a “tickle in their feet.” In front of us on the grounds, a lively band was playing old-fashioned favorites and blue grass tunes.

The sheriff pointed out to me that there was plenty of toe-tapping to favorite tunes, but only one person with tennis shoes moved his feet with blue grass music, although they were still absorbing the music and seemingly mouthing the lyrics without movement of the torso.

It seemed to me that some of these observations by the sheriff reflected immigrant traits of the wayfinders to this spot on the map generations ago.

Today, though, seeing the younger generation engaged in being in touch with heritage and hearing the stories from Nordic storytellers on a stage, as well as from those memories being shared across shaded picnic tables, it was a rare day of enjoyment.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 23, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.