When Winter Stars Shine Down on Us
A play by Ninna Tersman
inspired by an original script by Mona
Music. Pain. Old folk tunes, sharp, searing. Simultaneously. Actor 2
enters in front of curtain. The music grows increasingly dissonant. Keksi
kväde — Keksi’s Lament. A corresponding old Sami epic work?
Scene 3. December 1881.
The shadows of the actors as government officials are visible as they enter
the scene. The take the stage. The music changes.
Now! (To Actor 5) You go. Begin!
(Enters into character) A meeting, in Stockholm. In 1881, that is. I am
Tobias P. A politician. Pure Swedish born and bred. “I have a plan.”
Now: (Sharply) “We must therefore stipulate this with immediate effect.
Within the borders of this kingdom everyone shall speak Swedish! We can no
longer accept that the people up north speak languages that no honest human
being can understand! No, we must spread the Swedish mother tongue.
Throughout the nation! The WHOLE nation! And time is short —
(Gets up, portentously, eagerly) Jonas R, Stockholm, at the same meeting.
Speaks only Swedish. “Yes! We shall reach every village, every Lapp cot,
every nook of the wastelands up there. Those people are going to thank us
for this. Oh yes! In a way, it’s for their own good?! Isn’t it. Isn’t
it?! (To 5) Oh yes! Who knows what could happen otherwise? How long,
will the Russians, for instance, accept that there are people in our
country, in the Kingdom of Sweden, who speak Finnish?! The same language
as their Russian subjects? They might even demand that our Finns be
incorporated with theirs? Risky” —
“Well, let us not tarry, for God’s sake!” Olof M, also Swedish born and
bred. Extreme advocate of the ideal nation state with one majority
language — Swedish — and one majority culture — Swedishness! “Let’s
convert all the Finnish speakers in Tornedalen into Swedes! That’s where
we must start. Of course, we start with schools! With the children. Who
are pliable. Teachable. Who can be shaped. Let us begin! Get to
“Excellent! If we can get the Government to fund schooling in the Finnish
regions, we could demand that Swedish be the only language of instruction!
The poor communities up there can’t refuse such an offer! No more Finnish
in school! Just like that! The kids must only talk Swedish —”
(Also a government official now) But what about the Lapps? Who speak
several languages?! There are different kinds of Lappish. Aren’t
Thomas K, priest. “They must continue as nomads!
They don’t stand a chance in civilisation!
It would destroy them! Hollow them out!
A Lapp is a Lapp!
That’s what I say!”
Allow me to quote your own words, Thomas, I believe: “When the Lapps start
to organise and educate themselves, then they are doomed as Lapps and
become the most pitiful creatures one can imagine! Help the Lapps in every
way in their livelihood, make them clean and sober, give them the rudiments
of education, but do not give them too much civilisation! That has never
been and will never be a blessing!”
“Now wait?! What about school, the language?! Swedish!
Should they carry on speaking that incomprehensible gibberish?”
“No, no. Of course not. We will teach them Swedish. One single language
in Sweden! Only one! But let’s not go to extremes. No point in using the
same methods as in the Finn regions. They can be taught in Lapp cots, the
children of the nomadic reindeer herdsmen?! So they don’t grow accustomed
to home comforts?! Or get lured away from reindeer-keeping?! Other Sami
kids, forest Sami and the domiciled, can go to Swedish schools! After all,
they’re already living in houses and are half-domesticated!”
Gentlemen. Let us start networking! Let us continue to promote these
But make haste! Let us also utilise the extension of the railway!
(Excitedly) We can integrate the entire uncivilised northern region!
(almost ecstatic) Unite the nation: around our language, our culture,
Meeting adjourned. Thank you, thank you. Excellent! Gentlemen.
They disperse, exit.
Nåjdra rushes in, as herself again. She sits down high up. With a
good view. New music.
Scene 4. Look! Irma’s coming.
Almost home now. She’s in a hurry!
Actor 3 as Irma enters running (brings a doorway with her?), at home. Loud
music in her earphones.
Mummy! I’m home! HELLO?!!
(Actor 5 as Mother, from afar, enters)
Irma? Is that you?!
(Music in her earphones) Hello?!!!
God. Where is everyone?!
Why there you are —
Oh, hi, mum. (Takes off earphones)
You’re already back?
Got back early. That is, I left early.
With an earlier bus. Ahum-
Got the rest of the day off. Actually, got sent home, and, ah-
I’ll explain later-
Grandma? Why? She’s resting —
In her room.
As usual. As usual this time of day, Irma —
Aren’t you going to take your shoes off? Look at the wet —
What’s the hurry?
I’ll tell you later —
Shoes off. Mother exits.
To Actor 1, who has sneaked in during the scene with the rest of the
chorus, sitting just below her, watching. Now you be Irma’s Grandma.
Okay? Start acting. Go on then!
Actor 1 hesitates slightly. Decides to do it. Nåjdra plays a drum.
Actor 1 enters, becomes Grandma. Sits down, half-reclining, with knitting.
(Rocking chair?) Asleep. Irma rushes in. Stops right next to the old
Grandma? Please, Grandma, wake up-
I need to ask you something.
Wake up, it’s important!!
In slightly broken Swedish. Oh, hello there, my friend.
You’re home early.
What time is it?
Is it already evening?
I have a really important question!
Or several questions. You see, ah —
Oh. Many very important questions?
Yes, now wake up properly!
I’m always awake —
W are talking , it seems to me —
I’m having a presentation. In school. Okay?
It’s about cultural geography and family research and, well, social studies
I have to get good marks, I just have to, okay, so I can apply to Uni, and
now teacher says I have to start all over, because the presentation I did
with Sofia this morning was super-extremely bad! About culture and
languages in Norrbotten. It has to be more personal: “Historically
personal”! My teacher said —
Oh. You’re talking very fast. Dear oh dear.
One more time, slowly. I don’t quite follow —
Short pause. And who is this Sofia, then?
Oh, but you know! We’ve always been in the same class. Grandma?
Ingrid’s girl? Who lives nextdoor to Gunnar Lövgren. The yellow
house? Behind the Co-op?
(Annoyed) Yeah, whatever. Maybe. I don’t know!
Sofia’s Grandma was a Sami.
She’s not from Tornedalen
Everybody knows —
But oh, I know. Okay. But please! Just listen! Please, Grandma.
What’s wrong with you?
Don’t shout at me. Irma?
It’s not like you to be cross like that?
What’s got into you? What are they doing to you in town?
Okay, sorry. Sorry. It’s just that, well, my presentation really sucked
today. (Takes a deep breath) So that’s why I need to find out a lot of
stuff now. Like why you never taught mum to talk Meänkieli.
Truthfully. And why we never ever mention it at home. So that mum almost
had to sneak off to learn it, or almost anyway, like a secret code sort of.
She hardly knows it at all. Because you didn’t seem to want her to learn?!
You’ve even told her to talk Swedish when she tried to talk to you in
Meänkieli?! And mum taught me a few itty bitty words, almost in
secret too. But I hardly know any words, except “I come from Tornedalen”,
which is boring. So I need to know more about why, really why, because
that would make my presentation more personal, according to Lanto, my
teacher, because then I could talk about that and maybe even get full
Full marks? What? Irma, no, you’ve lost me.
We live in Sweden.
In Sweden we talk Swedish. There. Yes —
That. No. Now let me finish my nap.
Go have a sauna. And calm down.
Life in town, it doesn’t seem to be doing you any good.
You live in Tornedalen. In Sweden, Grandma.
And people have been talking Meänkieli here for ages!
It even says so in Wikipedia!
But not any more —
It’s dying out —
Grandma, it’s dying!!
“Ouikkipäddia”?? Strange homework they give you.
To rush home and shout at your Grandma —
I always have a nap at this time, every day —
You should know that —
Why do you have to be like a stubborn rock instead of helping me!
You know loads of stuff about this!
You speak Meänkieli with your friends, and you spoke it with Grandpa
Always, according to mum. And with mum’s older brothers. Why can’t you
teach me and tell me about it?
It’s not normal!
Enters, angry. What is going on in here?!
Why are you shouting at Grandma, Irma?
She won’t help me get good marks!
I never said that —
Absolutely not. I was just lying here resting.
When she bursts in —
(Angrily) But I need to hold a presentation.
The one we did today was incredibly bad.
“Culture and languages in Norrbotten. Okay —
Even though I went on about cloudberries, fishing and hunting —
And Sofia had loads about Sami legends and reindeer marking.
“We have to be more personal,” Lantto, the social studies teacher told me
and Sofia —
Talk about “our own history”. We failed!!
Now quiet, sit still, stop fidgeting like that —
Well, what does Grandma have to say?
No. I just think it sounds so terribly ugly —
That’s all. Don’t waste your time on it.
The language. It’s not nice talking it among other people —
And I don’t see why she’s so cross.
That’s all —
Among other people?
It’s not nice talking it among other people?
It’s not nice —
You know that very well.
But at home. It’s alright there?
But not with us!
You’ve had a secret language.
With Grandpa, mums brothers and your friends!
Tittle, tattle, tittle, tattle, whisper whisper —
And then you’d go quiet when we came in.
Like a secret club —
Why didn’t you teach mum or her sisters?!
If you were allowed to speak it at home? Eh?!
I thought it was best if she learned Swedish —
Maybe so she wouldn’t have to be, well, I don’t know, ashamed —
And so she could talk fluently and beautifully —
Fluently and beautifully?
Calm down, Irma.
It’s not Grandma’s fault. Don’t you see?
Grandma got beaten because she couldn’t speak Swedish.
I told you about that.
Yes. Or no. No. What?
Yes. In school. She didn’t know a word of Swedish when she started.
And they weren’t allowed to speak anything but Swedish, in the
Or the schoolyard. You know that —
No. It was banned. Angrily, loud. Not one word!
We all had to become Swedes. Hisses angrily. Beautiful Swedes! It was
the law —