Welcome, back I hope! If you haven’t read my last blog be sure to, because here we go again in this Vinland Saga interpretation… along the same sailing route as last time: a Norse “South” out of St. George’s Bay on the west coast of Newfoundland, across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, around the Gaspe peninsula, and up the St. Lawrence River estuary to Quebec City.
This Saga records a different Norse history however, of slavery. Here the St. Lawrence gulf and river estuary are portrayed as a Scottish “kjafal” – a Hebridean slave’s sleeveless, hooded shirt. The Strait of Belle Isle and Cabot Strait are the shirt’s sleeveless arms. Ile d’Orleans the shirt button between their legs.
Creatively, the “loop” around the button marks the unique ebb and flow of the saltwater tides and freshwater currents that encircle Ile d’Orleans daily. Another creative highlight is a clever grammar twist in the last sentences of the segment. Where a purposely ambiguous subject of the sentence points to the right hand shipping lane upriver, around the island of Ile d’Orleans.
“When the ships had passed Furdustrands the two Scots (Haki and Hekja) were put ashore”
With these words, this Norse oral map and history lesson begin upriver from the tip of the Gaspe peninsula (“Kjalarness“), after a long, long sail and row past some 400 kilometres of sand and ancient rock shoreline – a coastline the Norse nicknamed “Furdustrands” (the wonder beaches).
At Old Bic harbour, off “shore” of Rimouski, Quebec, Thorfinn Karlsefni anchors his ships, using the same natural harbour Jacques Cartier anchored in on his second voyage to Canada in 1535/36 (1). From there Karlsefni’s slaves are sent “a-shore” (to the opposite side of the river) via the same ferry crossing spot used today between Rimouski and Forestville.
“and were told to run southwards and explore the country’s resources, and to return within three days”
As in Part 1, the word “run” used here lays out for settlers the upcoming stretch of fine shoreline woodlands. The word “day” maps three wide crossings of water: the mouth of the Saguenay River (the 1st day), and the two branches of the St. Lawrence River on either side of Ile d’Orleans (the 2nd and 3rd day). The return “run” to Old Bic points to the abundant, flat, fertile farmland on the opposite “shore” of the estuary.
“They each wore a garment called a ‘bjafal’ which had a hood at the top, and was open at the sides; it had no sleeves”
Here the map zooms out to describe the Gulf of St. Lawrence, laying it out like a Scottish slave’s ‘bjafal’ – a sleeveless “trunk of a shirt” (related to the Irish ‘cabhail’ (2). The “hood at the top” (north) of the bjafal marks the Norse settlement of Hop, at Barachois Brook inside Newfoundland’s St. George’s Bay. The open sleeveless arms indicate to sailors the ins and outs of the Gulf via the Strait of Belle Isle (west) and the Cabot Strait (east).
“and was fastened between the legs with a loop and button. That was all they wore”
The map continues with Ile d’Orleans described as the “button” of the bjafal. The “loop” mapping the constant ebb and flow of tides and currents that surround the historic island. The word “legs” (two) recalls the word “run” to reiterate the rich woodlands and farmlands on either side of the estuary between Rimouski, Forestville and Quebec City.
“The ships cast anchor there and waited, and after three days the Scots came running down to the shore”
Back at Old Bic harbour near Rimouski, Thorfinn Karlsefni and his men (and Jacques Cartier too some 550 years later) wait. The Scots “running down” to the “shore” reiterates the low lying fertile farmlands (Quebec’s ‘breadbasket’) between Ile d’Orleans and Rimouski, Quebec.
“one of them was carrying some grapes, and the other some wild wheat. They told Karlsefni that they thought they had found good land.”
Like my last blog, this segment of The Vinland Sagas ends by directing sailors safely around Ile d’Orleans. But they must be shrewd: a clever grammar twist leads outsiders nowhere, to mistaking the two Scots as the ones carrying the grapes and the wheat. It is however (to those in the know) the “one” and “other” shore carrying the natural resources.
To lead sailors through the right hand channel, this Saga instructs them to place the grape-laden Ile d’Orleans (Jacques Cartier’s “Ile Bacchus” (4) on “one” side, the left side of the ship, on the “other”, the right side of the ship, place the wild wheat (spartina patens) that grew in abundance for millennia at the mouth of the St. Charles River (5).
Lastly, the words “good land” are used to end this wonderful oral map… Evidence? Backing those first written by Ari the Learned in 1127 (6) when he described the Norse new world as “Vinland the Good”?
It sure sounds and looks like it, eh!
18, 02, 2017
Stay tuned for Part 3 (of 3) looking at the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River estuary, and be sure to read Part 1 now if you haven’t already. Next up: “The Shortest Day of the Year” in Vinland.
– fin –
The Norse Discovery of America – Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Pẚlsson, Penguin Books, 1965
- (2) “kjafal – Which has been compared with Irish cabhail, meaning ‘trunk of a shirt’, or Irish giobhail, ‘garment’ – Pẚlsson, page 93
- (6) “This is the first mention of Vinland the Good in Eirik’s Saga” – Pẚlsson, page 93
The Voyages of Jacques Cartier – Ramsey Cook, University of Toronto Press, 1993
- (1) “The aforesaid [Old Bic] harbour, where we anchored, is on the south shore, and is a tidal harbour of little value” – Jacques Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535/36, page 46
- (3) “And on reaching it, we found that the shore was low and flat at the water’s edge, but that beyond this low shore there were mountains” [the Appalachians] – Jacques Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535/36, page 44
- (4) “We likewise found there a great store of vines, which heretofore we had not seen in all this region. On that account we named the island ‘Bacchus’s Island'” – Jacques Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535/36, page 52
- (5) “And some of the headmen came to our longboats, bringing us many eels and other fish, with two or three measures of corn, which is their bread in that country” – Jacques Cartier’s Second Voyage, 1535/36, page 49