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Address of the Fjallkona Remembering the value of women and men working together

Photo: Cindy Jonasson Author: Linda Sigurdson Collette, Winnipeg, MB

Lieutenant Governor Philip Lee and Mrs. Lee, Ambassador Hjálmar Hannesson and Mrs. Hannesson, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, góðir gestir:
The theme for Íslendingadagurinn 2015 is “forging a legacy.” Today, we gather at the feet of the man who, more than any other, forged a legacy for both Iceland and Manitoba. Legacies established with suffrage in Iceland in 1915, and here in 1916, and with this wreath-laying ceremony continue their influence.
Jón Sigurðsson spent his life working towards Iceland’s independence from Denmark.   Jónas Þór, who wrote the book entitled A Monument in Manitoba, states that Jón’s motto was “never yield!” Because of his efforts, Iceland is glorious and free.
Hand in hand with Jón is another who should be equally recognized and honoured. Ingibjörg Einarsdóttir was engaged to Jón in 1833 before he left for Denmark. Inga waited for his return. Twelve years later, in 1845, they married.


The Fragile Heritage Project

 Photo: Katelin Parsons Author: Ryan Eric Johnson, Winnipeg, MB

Manuscripts have been an integral part of Icelandic culture for at least 900 years. Some of the first vernacular writing in Iceland took place during the latter half of the 11th century and the first half of the 12th century. It has been suggested that the initiation of the tithe may have been recorded in writing in 1096, and Ari Þorgilsson the Learned reports in Íslendingabók that the first laws were written in 1117 at Hafliði Másson’s farm; while Ari’s own work, the aforementioned Íslendingabók, is itself the first historical writing extant in Iceland, written sometime between 1130 and 1140.
When the printing press rolled onto the island just before the Reformation, things changed, but not considerably enough for manuscripts to disappear completely. In fact, it may be that the printing press helped manuscript culture grow, as more people had access to books, but not access to a printing press themselves. An even more literate culture developed in the baðstofa, where not only manuscripts and books could be read, they could be written as well, by many more people who had learned to read from the now readily available printed books.
That tradition continued to develop from the Reformation on, and today we are realizing more than ever how valuable paper manuscripts can be. At times they preserve copies of older manuscripts now lost, for example Trójumanna saga (The Saga of the Trojans), which has been published by Jonna Louis-Jensen twice, the second publication preserving an older version of the saga, and where this second version actually came from paper manuscripts once thought to merely contain a later translation from Danish of the epic tale.


Shivering at midnight: a glimpse at the supernatural Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1906)


Although Iceland has always been a country where the average of popular education has been high, various superstitions still prevail there to an astonishing degree. Illiteracy, except among defectives,* is unknown, and has been for a long time. The late Professor Fiske of Cornell University, in an article published shortly before his death, concludes that there is twenty-seven times as much literature published in Iceland as in the United States per capita.
In the long winter evenings in Iceland it is rare that several hours each night are not devoted to reading aloud for the family circle; the book selected may be a history, romance, or poem, but frequently also it is a compilation of popular tales. The records of various public libraries in the country show that no books are more frequently drawn than the þjóðsögur — a series of books containing tales that have been taken from popular traditions in various parts of the country, and transcribed, often in the very words of the original narrator, by collectors of folklore.
The people are highly imaginative. The writer has frequently been a member of midnight gatherings of young people — many of them students who had spent several years in continental universities — who have sat together telling ghost stories until the summer dawn became obtrusive at two o’clock in the morning and who have then been so deeply under the influence of the stories they have told each other that they were reluctant to trust themselves in the streets until the daylight got complete mastery. It is even more frequent in Iceland than in most other countries that people will declare at noon that they believe in no supernatural beings and then shiver at midnight under the stories that are told around the fire.


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