By LAURA FRIEDLANDER
The County Mayor of Hordaland in Norway, Torrill Selsvold Nyborg, arrived in Papa Stour on Wednesday to perform the official opening ceremony of the Norwegian Stofa that has been partially reconstructed in the island.
More than 80 visitors arrived on the ferry Thora, specially provided by Shetland Islands Council for the day. This was the only ferry to run throughout Shetland as all ferries were tied up, owing to the council workers’ strike. It is believed this was the largest group of people to arrive in Papa on any one day since 1990.
The day’s proceedings began with a welcoming speech given by Papa Stour History Group Secretary Jane Puckey. Jane has been instrumental in overseeing the progress of the project during the past 15 months from the initial consultation stage to completion of the partial reconstruction.
Jane said: “Of course this project would not have come together in such an efficient way without the tremendous help and good will of so many groups and individuals. Not only has the project helped to develop and hopefully maintain traditional craft skills between Shetland and Norway but it has also forged new links and friendships across the sea.”
Barbara Crawford, an historian from St Andrews University, was one of the first people to research and begin to excavate the site at Biggins in the island in 1977 and she has taken a keen interest ever since.
On Wednesday Barbara was also keen to thank all those involved and following on from Jane Puckey, she gave a short but very succinct speech which still managed to explain a lot of the history of the stofa.
Barbara spoke about the stofa’s origins dating back to 1299 and Shetland’s first recorded document. She related that Papa Stour was an important possession of the kings of Norway at that time.
Barbara said: “The document of 1299 records details of disputes which occurred during that year over the collection of rents and taxes on the island. It was the discovery of this document which prompted the excavation, as archaeologists realised that there must have been a building such as a stofa in Papa Stour. From that document, we have now come almost full circle to seeing a reconstructed stofa here in Papa again, and what a wonderful and special day this is, not only for Papa of course but for the wider between Norway and Shetland too.” John Swinney, cabinet minister for finance, wanted to include a visit to Papa Stour as part of his trip to Shetland this week.
Mr Swinney had already been to Foula earlier in the day but felt it was very important to get to Papa Stour as well.
Mr Swinney said: “I am delighted to be able to include a visit to Papa Stour as part of my trip on this very important day. What an excellent example of close communities expanding to welcome others, to learn and gain skills so that we can all benefit in the future. Even this very brief visit has given me a wonderful historical insight into ancient crafts and skills all manifested here in the stofa, but just as importantly it really helps to reinforce our community connections with Norway.”
Norwegian and local dignitaries mingled happily during the day and all were keen to express their enthusiasm for the project and say a few words about how they hoped the project would progress.
SIC convenor Sandy Cluness was delighted to be able to accompany Mr Swinney on his trip. Mr Cluness said: “It is wonderful to be able to get here today and I am naturally very pleased that the project, culminating in this opening day, has all gone so well. It is a good day for Papa and I am pleased that this project has been given so much support by so many people in Shetland and Norway.”
Following the official opening a further highlight of the day was the staging of the Papa Stour sword dance.
Little is known about the history of the dance, but local historian and resident George Peterson was able to shed some light as to possible origins suggesting that it possibly travelled from the north of England and was brought to the island by an upper class family.
Mr Peterson introduced the dance and also accompanied Claire Balfour playing a fiddle tune to provide music for the dancing.
The dance was originally performed by lairds and landowners in the 18th century. Seven men from seven different lands represent the seven evils of Christendom. They perform a sword dance to Scandinavian music and the symbolism is such that at the end of the dance the evils are vanquished. The dance is quite intricate to perform and also requires the reciting of a lengthy poem.
After the dancing a superb buffet lunch was laid out in a building belonging to the owner of the stofa site John Scott.
Mr Scott and his family have gone to great lengths along with so many others to support the stofa project. His daughter Debbie Scott has composed a new piece of fiddle music simply entitled “Stofa” and the piece was played for the first time at the opening by Kayla and Astrid Jamieson accompanied on keyboard by Mary Rutherford.
During the lunch break presentations of beautiful Norwegian gift books were made by Atle Ove Marthinussen, a Norwegian master carpenter to dry stone dyker Jim Keddie, historians Barbara Crawford and Beverley Ballin-Smith and to Jane Puckey.
Such was the success of the day that by the end of the proceedings many were reluctant to leave and some visitors took the opportunity of visiting the local kirk while for the lady mayor a special boat trip to Papa Stour caves was arranged by local resident Andy Holt-Brook.
All visitors to the stofa were presented with a specially produced booklet to commemorate the opening and giving a brief history of the stofa and the reconstruction project. It is hoped that the booklet will be made available to the wider public in the future.