Thursday, February 07, 2008

Nolens Volens: Norwegian Emigrant Recreation

On April 12, 1868, the Norwegian emigrant ship, Hannah Parr, left Christiana (now present day Oslo). As the ship crossed the Atlantic, headed for Quebec, severe storm damage caused the Hannah Parr to make its way back to the Irish coast, where it docked for repairs in Limerick.

My great-great-grandfather, Gulbran Olsen Berge, from the Gudbrandsdalen Valley in Oppland, was aboard the Hannah Parr during its ill fated trip. He was making his way to America alone to prepare a life for his family, and had planned that his wife and children would follow him to Minnesota the next year.

The ship eventually continued on its way to Quebec, but due to the long stopover in Limerick, Irish newspapers published many accounts of the strange Norwegian travelers and their customs. One area of interest to the Irish people were the games that the Norwegians played as they awaited repairs. In spite of worry, discomfort, and food shortages, the Norwegian emigrants found ways to occupy themselves by continuing their normal activities as much as possible.

As reported by Maurice Lenihan in Limerick, Ireland, June 1868:

"On Sunday evening [the Hannah Parr passengers] passed the time in dancing on the quay at the dock..."

The Irish people recognized the dances as some of the same taught in Irish schools, such as the waltz, the polka, and others. The Norwegians, however, seemed to have no predispostion toward the Irish jig.

"Whilst each week evening on deck, they indulge in the national game of fox [called 'Rævkrok' in Norwegian] a rather dangerous one apparently; and requiring nerve and muscular power. It is played in this way:- two men lie supine on deck, head to head, with the right arm of one locked into the left arm of the other; each then raises a leg-one the right-the other the left and so continue until the heel of the one is caught in that of the other, when both pull as violently as possible-and pull, and pull, with legs thus locked until the weaker is thrown over, rendered altogether powerless."

An example of two men engaged in the competition called "Rævkrok," a game sometimes known to Americans as "Indian Wrestling."

Even young children played games requiring strength. One required that a soft cord or rope be tied at either end, and placed on the back part of the heads of two children. Then, on all fours, they would drag in different ways, and the weaker, "nolens volens" [whether or not one wishes it], goes after the stronger. There were also other games, and they all required strength challenges.

The Norwegians. although Lutherans, appeared to consider the Sabbath as a day of recreation as well as devotion.

"On Sunday, one family might be seen stretched upon the grass on the Docks singing the Psalms out of the prayer-book of Dr. Martin Luther, whose merry eyes and goodly double chin were admirably depicted in the frontispiece. The singing was a sort of plain chant of a very monotonous and unmusical character, and the version, as far as we could judge, rhythmical prose. Another set were playing cards-game unknown,-while on board, the boys and girls got up some kind of a round game, at which there was some laughing and much enjoyment, but nothing like what is witnessed among Frenchmen or Italians.”

The Irish Press indicated that the emigrants, many of whom were headed to Minnesota, were mostly of the small farmer class, but very well educated. Many of them spoke up to four languages or dialects. The Irish called their Norwegian visitors a "cheerful, gay and exceedingly amiable sort of people."

Source: (Hannah Parr articles and forums)

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