Guðmundur Árni Stefánsson,
Icelandic Ambassador to the United States
Guðmundur Árni Stefánsson, Icelandic Ambassador to the United States, is surrounded by cousins during his visit to Mountain for The Deuce of August
From the Ambassador’s keynote talk during The Deuce of August in Mountain, ND
Family and friends matter in Iceland as they do around Icelanders in North Dakota. It has been like that through centuries and will continue to be so.
It is therefore an extra treat for me to get to know some of my cousins here in North Dakota, people who are related to me and my family, most of them originated from northeast of Iceland, in Þingeyjarsýsla. It is said that blood is thicker than water, which means of course that family members stick together, no matter what. And that, of course, is the main reason we are here today to celebrate our heritage, our common values and love and respect to our ancestors, and to thank them for continuing, for their hardship and courage, for their love for their country and people. We are one big family.
Younger generations in Iceland think sometimes that they know little about their families and their ancestors. But in reality they know much more then they think they know or admit. Hverra manna ertu? is a common saying in Iceland, and means: Who are your father and mother, your grandpa, grandma, where are you from, and so on. My kids hated when I dumped all these questions on their friends when visiting. But this is natural in Iceland. And it’s not pure curiosity. It is more the will to connect and stay connected with friends and locals.
In former times, families had to stick together. There was no other choice. In remote areas, in tough surroundings, you had to rely on yourself – and your nearest family – as well as your friends if they were anywhere near. In sickness and in health, family members were your insurance, your helping hand, your life if and when the going got tough. Which was not that rare in Iceland in the past – as it was for your ancestors the West Icelanders, here in the New World in North Dakota, and across the border, in Canada. So strong family ties are not only there because of love and affection, it had and has its practical purpose as well. Which is also a good thing.
Dear friends. I got a complete list of my ancestors, a family history book, some very much alive and well while, understandably, many have passed away. Most of them are from the Mountain area. Here in the neighborhood.
Thanks to George Freeman, Pam Fursteneu, Leonard Bernhof, Halfdán Helgason, and everyone connected with the Genealogy Center here in Mountain for their work which I highly value. I have had the pleasure of meeting some of my relatives here in the area, as well as giving my respect to some of my deceased ancestors buried here in the cemeteries in Mountain. Many of them came from Þingeyjarsýsla. One of those family members, a brother to my great-grandmother, was the poet Jóhann Sigurjónsson, who moved to Copenhagen just after 1900 and wrote most of his work there. One of his best known poems in Iceland is a lullaby, which most fathers and mothers in Iceland and possibly also here in North Dakota have sung for their children getting them ready for sleep. This we have done over 100 years and future parents will continue to do so.
Sofðu unga ástin mín./Úti regnið grætur./amma geymir gullin þín,
gamla leggi og völuskrín..Við skulum ekki vaka um dimmar nætur.
Sleep, my young love./Outside the rain is weeping./Mummy is watching over your treasure,/
an old bone and a round case./We should not stay awake through dim nights.
I’m not trying to get you sleepy, but this lullaby underlines the fact that words are stronger than anything else and they travel through time and places. Good poems survive everything. When they hit the heart of people, they connect.