By: Lady Mary of Montevale
The in-persona historical battles were not the only instances on Wednesday that the term “creative” applied to.
In the early afternoon, a group of 30 to 40 Norse traders, their wives an children, and a small number of Jomsviking guards made their way along the roads of Pennsic, acquiring a group of curious followers as they made their way toward an encounter in Runestone Park. Ready to meet them were a nearly equal number of traders from far lands who follow the ways of the Prophet Mohammed.
This was the “Deed of Culture,” described in the Pennsic Book and The Thing, as the re-enactment of a first contact situation between two very different cultures. No specific historical instance was being followed, but all participants were prepared to remain in persona and interact with each other in a way that may have actually occurred many times in history.
The Norse leader, Sir Gunnar Redboar (Middle) called his people to order beneath the banner of Troth-heim when their procession neared the gates of Midrealm Royal, reminding them to proceed with caution at the trading place, since he had no way of knowing whether the Mohommedan traders would remain friendly or whether swords might suddenly be drawn and bring a sudden end to the encounter. There were to be two kinds of trade, and Vikings should announce which one they intended at the start of any exchange: short trades only for the duration of the meeting (planned to be about 90 minutes); and long trades where the exchange of items would be permanent.
Since the two parties of merchant traders had not previously met nor had any chance to learn each other’s language, a Frank had been employed as a translator. After a mighty horn had been sounded, I followed the parade of Norsemen down the hill to the appointed meeting place.
The Mohammedans were already there and had spread woven tapestries of colorful patterns on the ground, filling them with a display of embroidered silk fabrics from the Orient, unusual foods and natural products, and a very oddly-shaped item made of glass which its dark-turbaned owner called a “hooka.”
The hooka was one of the first items which a couple of taller Noreseman examined and were motioned to try out, using a pipe-like apparatus attached to it. “Smoke!” the first Viking announced, and after inhaling and exhaling declared, “Good!” Folks on both sides (and among the audience that had gathered around the edges of the trading area) laughed.
Other potential trades soon began to take place with amazement and pleasure being the reaction on both sides. An Arab trader repeatedly stroked soft rabbit pelts and smiled broadly at the female Viking who has offered them in trade. Norsemen expressed amazement when shown something round and hard which was called a “coconut,” and learned that although it grew in the desert, it contained a liquid very much like water. No sighting of sparrows, either laden or unladen, had been reported, so the coconut must have been brought from their homeland by the Arab traders.
Sometimes there was confusion. The Norse leader attempted to drink from what was a bowl of water, and the Mohammedans were aghast—did not this barbarian know that the water was for the washing of ones hands and face before a meal?
It was a bravura afternoon for the participants who all did an amazing job of remaining in persona and bringing both creativity and fun to their exchanges and for those passers-by who stopped to watch.