Ninna Tersman


When Winter Stars Shine Down on Us
A play by Ninna Tersman
inspired by an original script by Mona Mörtlund

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? Fragmentary phrases.
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 work!”
“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 there?”
Thomas K, priest. “They must continue as nomads!
They don’t stand a chance in civilisation!
It would destroy them! Hollow them out!
Degenerate them!
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 issues.
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, ah!
Meeting adjourned. Thank you, thank you. Excellent! Gentlemen. 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.
(Shouts) Hello?!!
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-
Where’s Grandma?
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 woman.
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?
For me?
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 marks?!
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!
For centuries.
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 —
But no!!
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 too!
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!
It’s not!
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 —
We failed!
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 —
That’s all.
Oh —
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 classroom.
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 —



Ninna Tersman is a Swedish playwright and dramaturg. She writes plays for both adults and young audiences. Her plays have been performed widely across Sweden. She has written about fifteen plays, and has been awarded a number of prizes for her plays. Among them can be mentioned The Critic’s prize for Best Performance of the Year for her play When Winter Stars Shine Down on Us in 2012, and Playmarket’s 2007 New Play Award for her play Fucking Parasites. Ninna works as a Literary manager at The National Touring Theatre in Sweden, but is living in Sydney for a year presently, working on a number of commissions for Swedish theatres.

Tersman writes: “The play investigates and depicts how two minority cultures in Sweden, the Samis and the Finnish minority living in Tornedalen in the very north of Sweden, have been oppressed by the Swedish State. Through different measures the State forced those two minorities to only speak and write in Swedish, instead of in their original languages (which in the long run led to the loss of their mother tongue and culture for many people and consequently to the disappearance of those two languages.) Through racist views on the inferiority of those two cultures the Swedish state forced people to leave their homes, for children to move away from their families and to go to school at boarding schools a long way from their homes and familes, where only Swedish was allowed (and speaking in their mother tongue was punished). The story of the play shows how two young girls from a Sami and a Tornedali family respectively investigate the history of their own families for a school project and thus come closer to understanding the older generation and the pain in all that that they’ve gone through.”