Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Sweden has been inhabited for thousands of years, and it’s safe to say that art has been in Sweden for nearly that long. The earliest forms of art have been found in the form of cave drawings. We still have quite a bit of Viking art that has been found and preserved, especially from the southern part of the country. There are many runestones (large stones Vikings carved words and pictures on: essentially, Viking historical markers) still in existence that we know about. Although found all over Scandinavia, Sweden has the largest concentration of runestones.

As Christianity spread into Sweden, religious iconography also took hold. Gothic paintings in churches were also the thing. Generally speaking, Swedish artists followed the art movements that swept through the rest of Europe. The period of art from the Renaissance through the Baroque and into the Rococo period saw quite a bit of growth in their art and technique. They also had quite a bit of influences from other countries, especially France.

by Anders Zorn
During the mid-1800s, Romanticism and Naturalism became the style to emulate. Anders Zorn was probably one of the biggest names from this period. Painting tended to focus on their natural landscape, to portray country life and the regular people.

by Hilma af Klint

With the turn of the 20th century, a certain group of artists from the Artist League school got together and called themselves the Men of 1909. These artists embraced the modern artistic movements that had started to spread from the art centers of Europe and reflected their own corner of Europe. Soon, abstract art, expressionism, minimalism, and new forms of sculpture moved transitioned Swedish art into the modern era. Axel Törneman (one of the main guys pushing Sweden into the modern era of art), Hilma af Klint (one of the few women at the beginning of this era), and Carl Milles (sculptor) were key artists among others during the early 20th century. Torsten Billman was an artist who worked in many mediums, including illustrator, fresco painter, and woodcut engraver.

sculptures of Carl Milles

Certainly the vast majority of literature from Sweden is written in Swedish. The earliest forms of written language are preserved on the runestones that pop up around Sweden. Some of it is crazy talk thought to be magic words and stuff, but there are many that were about legends and epic sagas. As Christianity made its way into Sweden, there was a transition between pagan writings to more Biblical texts. It was also during this time when laws and other historical writings began to be written down. After the Reformation, King Gustav Vasa forced their literary development to take a few steps back because of his conservative views and censorship (especially toward Catholic texts); however, this period did see the first Swedish translation of the Bible, dubbed the Gustav Vasa Bible.

The Renaissance was different. Sweden itself was making a name for itself as an independent and influential country, and with that came independent thought. Poetry rose in popularity as they sought to differentiate themselves from the cultures of influence. The 1700s brought quite a bit of change in Sweden, often referred to as Sweden’s Golden Age. There were many pushes in innovation in the arts and sciences. French words started creeping into the Swedish language, much like how it did with English, nearly 700 years earlier. Not to mention that literature was becoming increasingly secular, and styles like satire and irony were often used. Female writers like Sophia Elisabet Brenner also began writing freely during this time (not without struggles, I assume).

German Romanticism made its way into Sweden and became quite popular of a style during the 19th century. Poets like Erik Gustaf Geijer and Erik Johan Stagnelius and others made significant contributions to this movement. And mirroring the visual arts movement, Naturalism and Realism also included literature as well. August Strindberg’s The Red Room (Röda Rummet) is a good example of this. Strindberg was also known for his dramas as well.

The 20th century moved literature into realms it hadn’t seen before, yet in a way, it was a predictable transition. In some ways, literature captured the pessimism and word-painted images of the struggles of the lowest working classes. However, on a different front,
Astrid Lindgren introduced children to Pippi Longstocking. Detective novels also became popular during the 1950s and 1960s. (Who doesn’t love a good mystery?) Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series has been translated into 37 languages! And of course, several years ago, I read through the Millennium Trilogy by Steig Larsson (otherwise known as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
series, which I read all of plus the first fan fiction sequel -- I just now found out there's a second sequel book out. AND I thought the Swedish movies were better than the American version, but I did like Daniel Craig, so… ).

Selma Lagerlöf

Last but not least, I thought it would be prudent to note the number of Nobel prize winners from Sweden: Selma Lagerlöf (1909), Verner von Heidemstam (1916), Erik Axel Karlfeldt (1931), Pär Lagerkvist (1951), Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson (both received it in 1974), and Tomas Tranströmer (2011).

Up next: music and dance

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


Of course, there are always the more popular images of Sweden that come up for most people: Swedish meatballs, Vikings, Swedish fish, IKEA-broken marriages, buxom blonde bombshells, and the Swedish chef. But there’s one thing that comes to my mind when I think of Sweden: Anthony Bourdain’s absolute loathing hatred for the band ABBA. Every single time he’s went to Sweden, he mentions this to the shocked chagrin of his Swedish hosts. Oh, and snow and cold.

Sweden is another country that was named by someone else: the Dutch in this case. However, the Old English and ultimately Latin, Old Norse and other similar languages referred to this area as being the land of the Swedes. The word Swede itself may have stemmed from a Proto-Germanic word meaning “one’s own,” referring to the Germanic tribe itself.

Sweden is located in northern Europe, part of the Scandinavian countries. Surrounded by Norway to the west, Finland to the east, and Denmark to the southwest, it also has a coastline along the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Bothnia. It’s across the water from Germany and Poland on the southern end and Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia to the east. The border between Sweden and Norway is quite mountainous and the longest uninterrupted European border. Because Sweden is so long, its climate and landscape varies quite a bit from agricultural in the south and gets more forested the farther north you go. Despite its being such a northern country, southern winters are nothing like the far north; its proximity to the water keeps it fairly mild (similar to how Long Island, NY doesn’t get quite the cold temps as other areas of the state do). The northern 15% of the country is in the Arctic Circle, where there are days when the sun never sets in the summer and never rises in the winter.

The earliest people were hunter-gatherers, probably chasing some reindeer, probably doing a little fishing. The Swedes entered their Viking era from about the 8th century to the 11th century. Their accomplishments and tragedies are carved in runestones around Scandinavia. The epic poem Beowulf even chronicled the wars between Svealand (Sweden) and Göteland (Gothia). As Sweden moved into the Middle Ages, it somehow avoided the feudalism and slavery that embraced much of the rest of Europe. People here were more or less a group of free farmers with a handful of larger cities here and there. However, it was still poor and bartering seemed to be how things were dealt. During the 1300s, the country couldn’t escape the devastating effects of the Black Death. It would take nearly 500 years for the population numbers to recover from these losses that only took two years to unfold. The Hanseatic League formed after this, an agreement among many of the countries that touched the Baltic Sea that essentially swept the seas of piracy and encouraged trade among themselves, and Stockholm became a very popular place to be because of this. However, Sweden broke apart when things started to change and went out on their own, entering into their own golden era. Sweden grew during the 1600s and gained land and influence, including the introduction of Protestantism. They entered several wars, including Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and with Russia. The last war Sweden took part in was in 1814 with the Battle of Leipzig, which was in relation to the Napoleonic Wars. The mid-1800s saw the beginning of modernization and industrialization, and many Swedes were also looking at areas abroad. Many came to the US during this time, and many of those ended up in areas in the Midwest, especially Minnesota (the city of Lindström, MN is known as America’s Little Sweden). Officially, Sweden was neutral during WWI and WWII, but was often thought to have been under Germany’s influence. After the wars, Sweden tried to strengthen its diplomatic and economic ties with other countries in Europe. There have been some periods of economic instability, and in recent years, there has also been some real challenges on the socio-political front regarding immigration in recent years.

Stockholm is capital and largest city in not only Sweden, but in all of the Nordic countries. It’s located on the eastern side of the country where Lake Mälaren flows into the Baltic Sea. The central part of the city is stretched across 14 different islands that make up the Stockholm archipelago. There are actually tons of smaller islands that dot the waterways all over this region. It’s not only the center of government, but also of media, culture, education along with being the corporate headquarters for many multinational companies.

A Volvo at an IKEA in Sweden... thanks, Reddit!
Sweden has a high GDP and high standard of living. Its exports include hydropower, timber, arms (weaponry, not body parts -- don’t be creepy), iron ore, and they depend on foreign trade. They have strong industries in technology (especially mobile phone technology) and the automotive industry. Several Swedish companies are internationally known: IKEA, Volvo, Ericsson, Sony Ericsson Mobile (my Japanese host father worked for them for many years), Electrolux, and Securitas. Sweden also has a low income inequality and is one of the few members of the EU that does not use the euro, opting for their own krona currency instead.

Lutheranism was introduced at the end of the 1500s to replace the Norse paganism that most of the people followed. Other religions, like Roman Catholicism and Judaism, expanded into Sweden during the 1700s. However, the country loosened its religious constraints during the 1800s and allowed for other denominations and secularism. Because of immigration, there is a sizable Muslim population in Sweden. And according to a study in 2015, only 21% believe in a god (which is down 14% from seven years earlier).

Sweden’s official language is Swedish, but it was only given its official status in 2009. The language is closely related to Norwegian and Danish. Because of the large number of Finns in Sweden, the Finnish language has been recognized as a minority language along with Sami, Yiddish, Romani, and Meänkieli (a group of Finnish dialects spoken in northern Sweden). Arabic is also spoken by many people in minority communities. After WWII, English gained its standing as a global language and especially one to learn for the sciences and technology.

Swedish scientists have invented and developed quite a few scientific discoveries. Some of their works have completely changed the way we work in the world, and some are names we all recognize (at least if you haven’t been living under a rock). Some of the names and inventions that might sound familiar include Anders Celsius (created the 100-point temperature scale), Gustaf Erik Pasch (invented the safety match), Martin Wiberg (invented a bunch of things but is known for his work with computers in 1875), Alfred Nobel (invented dynamite and namesake of the Nobel Prizes), Jonas Offrell (invented the revolver around the same time Samuel Colt was doing the same thing), Helge Palmcrantz (invented a type of machine gun), Lars Magnus Ericsson (inventor and owner of telecom tech company), Carl Rickard Nyberg (invented the blowtorch), Inge Edler (helped develop ECG technology for the heart), Nils Bohlin (developed 3-point seat belt system), and a ton of other things used in the medical field and technology.
Up next: art and literature

Sunday, April 7, 2019


Spring might actually be here now as my kids’ spring break winds down to an end. For the first time, we actually took a short day trip during spring break. My son has a Famous Hoosier project and his person was Orville Redenbacher, so we headed up to Valparaiso, Indiana to have his picture taken next to the statue the city put up for him -- just so we could put it in his powerpoint presentation. I somehow escaped making a powerpoint presentation during college (I pawned that off on other people when we did group work), so this was a first for me to help with.

It tasted a little too healthy.
I actually cooked on a Saturday this time, which totally messed up my sense of time. The first thing I made was Swazi Cornbread. This simple recipe started out by mixing 2 beaten eggs, 2 ½ c of wheat flour, 2 ½ c yellow cornmeal, 3 tsp baking powder, and ⅛ tsp salt. Once I got it all generally mixed together, I poured in enough milk to make it a somewhat liquidy batter. I think I ended up using almost a half gallon of milk. It seemed like it made a lot of batter, so I opted to bake this in a cake pan instead of loaf pans. I baked it at 375ºF for about 35 minutes. No one in my family liked this. The wheat flour seemed to overpower the cornmeal and didn’t really blend the flavors very well at all. I’m not a super huge fan of wheat bread to begin with. But if you like wheat bread and/or earthy flavors, you might like this more than we did.

Amazingly good. Could've used a little bit more garlic and cumin. Then it would've been fire.

The main dish I made was called Sidvudvu. I don’t know that I’ve ever made a butternut squash soup before, and if I have, I just don’t remember it. To start with, I bought a butternut squash and cut it into chunks. But pro-tip: it helps if it’s ripe; mine was way too hard to cut. Then I put the pieces into a baking dish, drizzled it with some oil, and roasted it for 45 minutes. I let it sit for a few minutes after I took it out before mashing it like potatoes. In a separate large pot, I boiled some water before adding in some cornmeal, salt, cumin, and nutmeg. It took a lot of work to break up the cornmeal that formed into thick balls in the boiling water. But eventually I got it to only small lumps. Then I added in my mashed squash and some sour cream and stirred. I still had trouble getting all the lumps out, so I used my handmixer for a few minutes until it was all smooth. (I think I did add in a little more cumin and some garlic to it!) I topped this this soup with some roasted pumpkin seeds. My husband and son, who made it very clear they do not like butternut squash, actually admitted they like this soup. Then they realized they don’t like squash in chunks because it’s slimy, but they did like it this way. I’ve only been telling them to try new and different ways foods are prepared for like, I don’t know, the whole time.

This sparks joy.

And to go with this, I made Slaai. I loved this so much, and it’s super easy to make. To start with, I put 3 Tbsp of lemon juice in a medium-sized bowl, along with 1 tsp of ground ginger and ½ tsp of salt and mixed this together well. Then I took two large avocados, cut them into cubes and put it in the same bowl. After that I sliced a handful of radishes into thin slices and added them in there as well. I put the lid on the bowl and shook it to mix everything together and then let it sit for a while (like maybe 20-30 minutes). And just before I served it, I topped it with some crushed honey-roasted peanuts, which made it taste amazing. I loved everything about this, and I think my daughter liked it too. But my husband thought I used too much lemon juice. He’s such a wimp. This is perfect for a summer picnic or cookout, so he better get used to it.

My two kids just hanging out with Orville Redenbacher.

Minus the bread, I loved this meal. I didn’t realize until later that it was vegetarian. I was never a strong vegetarian because I enjoy meat and fish. But I have tried to have at least one vegetarian meal per week. My husband almost throws a fit every time, but one non-meat-based meal won’t kill him. I doubt that anyone has ever been at a funeral and someone asked, “How did he die?” “Well, he had spaghetti -- WITH NO MEATBALLS!” “Oh, no! What was his wife thinking?” “For shame. She’ll have to live with that guilt.” Hey, he should be glad it’s not vegan.

Up next: Sweden

Saturday, April 6, 2019


The traditional music of ethnic Swazis and Eswatini share many similarities to nearby South Africa. They also share some regional similarities with the southern part of Africa in general.

Instruments that are commonly used in music here include the calabash (a stringed instrument originally made from a gourd), rattles made from a number of materials, kudu horns (a kudu is like an antelope), reed flutes, the makeyana (a single-stringed bowed instrument mostly played by women).

There are two prominent festivals that take place in Eswatini: Incwala and Umhlanga. Incwala is a festival for the king that takes place during Summer Equinox (in December for them). The whole festival takes about a month, starting with small activities that culminate into a grand affair. Umhlanga is an eight-day long event that is centered around the unmarried, childless girls and women where they perform the Reed Dance. This dance has been the center of some discussion in recent decades as to whether it’s demeaning to parade the girls around in their short skirts and their bare breasts on display, or whether it’s merely a tie to their ethnic heritage and past. And actually, Google used to have videos of the Reed Dance marked as age-restricted due to naked breasts (gasp!), but there were so many protests about this since it’s part of their cultural practice and they lifted the restriction.

Music today has expanded to include pop, rock, folk music, and hip-hop. I did find a few artists on YouTube. The first one I really listened to was Sands. I saw a video from the Bushfire festival, and I watched a little bit of him performing. The song I listened to was kind of a rock ballad of sorts. I kind of liked it. He’s probably one of the biggest musicians to make it in Eswatini and put them on the map.


I did come across another hip-hop musician mentioned call KrTC (“courtesy”) of Hip-Hop. I wasn’t really able to find a video of him rapping by himself, just several videos of him doing spoken word, which is just as cool.


Another musician I listened to is Bholoja. He’s more of a jazz/acoustic musician; he’s a guitarist himself. The songs I’ve heard are pretty chill and relaxing. I enjoyed it. But he also utilizes traditional African instruments like the mbira (like a thumb piano - which I own one of!) and the sitolotolo (a mouth harp).

Up next: the food

Thursday, April 4, 2019


I love beads. The colors, the shapes, the materials they’re made with. The variety is infinite. They tell a story, show a social distinction, and are sometimes just simply decoration. Many African cultures make and utilize beads in different ways, like they do in Eswatini. Beads are used in both jewelry making (like in the colorful ligcebesha) but in used in their clothing (like a type of ceremonial skirt called an indlamu) and in their hair.

Weaving arts are also a thing as well. Many of their woven goods are made from different kinds of dried grasses and generally have some kind of utilitarian function: brooms, baskets, and mats (like the emacansi or tihlantsi).

Pottery is also pretty popular. Most of these pots are made from clay (called tindziwo) and mainly used for storing water, cooking and food storage, and making beer. There is a strong handicrafts industry for the people who make clay pots as well as the jewelry makers, woodworkers, glassblowers, weavers, and others. And many of these workers are women, allowing slightly more economic stability for many families.

Literature from Eswatini is generally written in either English or in Swazi. However, works in either language is somewhat limited. For a long time, the only books that were available about the country were written by Brits who have been there. And that creates a cyclic downfall of not having very many people study their literature because there aren’t that many examples. There are obviously some novels, short stories, and poems being published, but it’s rare that it hits any kind of international recognition, outside of authors living in diaspora and perhaps regionally.

Some critics point out that there is a difference in addressing certain cultural and social aspects with a critical voice in novel form that doesn’t quite pan out the same way as it does in short stories. One author who takes more of journalistic fiction form for telling women’s stories is Sarah Mkhonza. I read some excerpts of interviews with her on The Woyingi Blog. She never aimed at being political, but rather she interviewed women and encouraged women to write about their reactions to women characters and the scenarios they find them in, and many of their responses were many times based on personal experiences. She touches on topics of AIDS, women supporting themselves as independent beings, individuality, and domestic abuse. She’s most known for her 2008 novel Weeding the Flowers.

Other authors include Stanley Musa N Matsebula, whose 1989 novel Siyisike Yinye Nje (We Are in the Same Boat) brought the topic of gender inequality into the forefront of conversation. James Shadrack Mkhulunyelwa Matsebula is credited with encouraging other writers to use the Swazi language as the language for telling their stories.

Up next: music and dance