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  - February 1998. no.1

LEIF    ERIKSSON

Leif Ericson, Reykjavik, Iceland.
  AD 1000 is the year that the adventurous and legendary Greenlander Leif Eriksson (also known as "Leif the Lucky") sailed westward from Brattahlíd (Qassiarsuk in modern Greenlandic) in South Greenland and discovered the North American continent, a land he called Vinland. Leif Eriksson, the son of the founder of Greenland's Norse colony, Erik the Red, is thought to have been born in Iceland, have been educated in Norway and grown up at his father's Greenland homestead, Brattalíd, from which Leif explored the seas. According to the Sagas, Leif Eriksson, at the request of Norway's king, brought a Christian missionary to Greenland the same year he discovered America. Year 1000 therefore also marks the date Christianity was officially introduced in Iceland and Greenland.

To mark these historic events, 1999 and 2000 will witness celebrations throughout the North Atlantic countries and those of North America, namely Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Canada and the United States.

In the US, where there is a "Leif Eriksson Society" and "The Leif Eriksson Millennium Committee" (LEMC), the program of events is already set. President Bill Clinton has proclaimed the 9th of October as Leif Eriksson Day. Festivities will begin October 9, 1999 and go through October 9, 2000.

The Icelandic and Greenlandic governments have already made financial grants for the preparations through 1999. Iceland has set up a five-member committee and a secretariat with two employees. Here at home, there is a project coordinator attached to Greenland Tourism who will work with South Greenlandic municipalities. Greenland's Home Rule Government Premier Jonathan Motzfeldt and Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímson have both demonstrated great interest in the project. Iceland's President has expressed a strong desire for the two countries to work together on the project as well as coordinate their events.

A great deal of the preparations concentrate on the unique conditions existing where the Norse were living in South Greenland, an area where there are still a large number of well-preserved Norse ruins. The West Nordic Parliamentary Council has set up a committee for the restoration of Thjódhildur's Church and a farmhouse. Thjódhildur was the wife of Erik the Red who forced her heathen husband to build the first Christian church in Greenland. According the Sagas, she gave him an ultimatum that she would neither share his table nor his bed until he built her the church. Plans about restoration seem to be ready in terms of applying for financing, hopefully without issuing an ultimatum.


  President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and Project Director Benedikte Thorsteinsson.
Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and Leif2000 Project Director Benedikte Thorsteinsson.
  Another committee has concentrated on Igaliku (Gardar). In Igaliku, there are several stone houses that merit preservation because they display a unique mixture of northern Norwegian and Greenlandic building styles. In addition, Igaliku is the site of the ruins of the Norse Bishop's complex - also in need of thorough restoration.

Important ingredients of the ceremonies will a Viking ship and Viking activities, which will take place in close cooperation with Icelandic experts. The plans are that, in the summer of 2000, a Viking ship Islendingu will sail from Erik the Red's farm in Breidafjördur, Iceland to his Brattahlíd (Qassiarsuk), Greenland farm - and then on across the Atlantic in Leif's wake to Canada and the US. The arrival and departure of this Viking ship at Brattahlíd will be a major part of the celebrations. Equally important ingredients will be our own Inuit kayaks, skinboats and cultural heritage.

Both Iceland and Greenland are working to get their own homepages on the Internet, so those interested will be able to keep current with the planning and progress. This spring (1998), there will be a tourism workshop in South Greenland to assess the tourism situation in the area and coordinate those events to take place before 2000. Greenland Tourism is arranging the workshop, which is scheduled March 27-29 (1998).

It's too early to spell out a final program of events that are to start in 1999 and go through 2000 but it bears mentioning that many local communities will be included in the cultural programs. Post Greenland has been contacted about the release of a stamp commemorating Leif Eriksson's voyage from Greenland to Vinland. We're working on being included in a documentary film about Leif's adventure. There's also interest in developing an educational program about Leif Eriksson for American and Canadian students. It would, of course, relate the story of his achievements as well as the ancient and modern history of Greenland and Iceland. There are many possibilities, but whatever we do in connection with the 1000th anniversary celebrations, we should keep in mind that Greenland and its local communities will benefit from them not only until the banquet is over and last horn of Viking ale has been drunk in the Year 2000 festivities - but also into perpetuity!


 
BENEDIKTE THORSTEINSSON
 Project Director


 

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