Aboriginal Peoples Encountered in Vinland “The Saga of the Greenlanders”

Chapter 6

- 646-648 -

[...]After the first winter passed and summer came, they became aware of natives. A large group of men came out of the woods close to where the cattle were pastured. The bull began bellowing and snorting very loudly. This frightened the natives, who ran off with their burdens, which included fur pelts and sables and all kinds of skins. They headed for Karlsefni's farm and tried to get into the house, but Karlsefni had the door defended. Neither group understood the language of the other.

The natives then set down their packs and opened them, offering their goods, preferably in exchange for weapons, but Karlsefni forbade the men to trade weapons.

He sought a solution by having the women bring out milk and milk products. Once they saw these products the natives wished to purchase them and nothing else. The trading with the natives resulted in them bearing off their purchases in their stomachs, leaving their packs and skins with Karlsefni and his companions. This done, they departed.

Karlsefni next had a sturdy palisade built around his farm, where they prepared to defend themselves. At this time Gudrid, Karlsefni's wife, gave birth to a boy, who was named Snorri. Near the beginning of their second winter the natives visited them again, in much greater numbers than before and with the same goods as before.

Karlsefni then spoke to the women: 'Bring out whatever food was most in demand last time, and nothing else.'

When the natives saw this they threw their packs in over the palisade. Gudrid sat inside in the doorway, with the cradle of her son, Snorri. A shadow fell across the doorway and a woman entered, rather short in stature, wearing a close-fitting tunic, with a shawl over her head and light red-brown hair. She was pale and had eyes so large that eyes of such size had never been seen in a human head.

She came to where Gudrid was sitting and spoke: 'What is your name?' she said.

'My name is Gudrid, and what is yours?'

My name is Gudrid,' the other woman said.

Gudrid, Karlsefni's wife, then motioned to her with her hand to sit down beside her, but just as she did so a great crash was heard and the woman disappeared. At that moment one of the natives had been killed by one of Karlsefni's servants for trying to take weapons from them, and they quickly ran off, leaving their clothes and trade goods lying behind. No one but Gudrid had seen the woman.

'We have to decide on a plan,' said Karlsefni, 'since I expect they will return for a third time, hostile and in greater numbers. We'll follow this plan: ten men will go out on this headland and let themselves be seen there, while the rest of us go into the forest and cut a clearing for our cattle. When approaching from the forest we will take our bull and let him head our group into battle.'

In the place where they planned to take them on there was water on one side and a forest on the other. They followed the proposal Karlsefni had made.

The natives soon came to the place Karlsefni had intended for the battle. They fought and a large number of the natives were killed.

One of the men in the natives' group was tall and handsome, and Karlsefni thought him likely to be their leader.

One of the natives then picked up an axe, peered at it awhile and then aimed at one of his companions and struck him. The other fellow was killed outright. The tall man then picked up the axe, examined it awhile and then threw it as far out into the sea as he could. After that the natives fled into the woods at top speed, and they had no more dealings with them.[...]

Source: Keneva Kunz, trans., "[Aboriginal Peoples Encountered in Vinland] The Saga of the Greenlanders" in The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection, preface by Jane Smiley, introduction by Robert Kellogg, (New York, London, Victoria (Australia), Toronto, Auckland: The Penguin Group, 2000), 636-652. Notes: Translations first published in "The Complete Sagas of Icelanders," volumes I-V (forty-nine tales), Leifur Eiriksson Publishing, Ltd., Iceland, 1997.

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