KoiKoi

A young nuk got to wear the white colours of the nuk after their initiation. Photo: Li Xin.

A young nuk got to wear the white colours of the nuk after their initiation. Photo: Li Xin.

Larp. Finnskogen, Norway, July 1-5, 2014. 

Organizers: Eirik Fatland, Tor Kjetil Edland, Margrethe Raaum, Martin Knutsen, Trine Lise Lindahl, Elin Nilsen, and Jørn Slemdal.

80(?) players.

After KoiKoi, the organizers asked us to postpone analysis and dissection of the larp design for a week, and instead share stories and personal reflections. This text is a slightly edited version of a “letter” I wrote to the organizers the day after the larp. It’s meandering, subjective and personal.

If you’d rather read a more analytical approach, please see the links at the end of this post.

Intro
KoiKoi was set in a hunter-gatherer society; maybe in our world, maybe elsewhere. Maybe the present era, maybe the future. Every second year this nomadic people gathered for feasts and rituals at their sacred home in Koi valley, and the larp was set during such a gathering. In “reality”, we were in the woods, somewhere in the east of Norway.

I’m Laughter

Laughter, my character, was one of the three elder nuks permanently residing at Koi. Photo: Li Xin.

Laughter, my character, was one of the three elder nuks permanently residing at Koi. Photo: Li Xin.

My character, Laughter, was also aldnuk at Koi. The nuk were sort of a “third gender” at the larp: hermaphrodites, outcasts, transsexuals, queers, shamans, “sensitives”, or crazy people. These kinds of people would often end up with this gender. Ald was the prefix given to the elders. They lived at Koi, where they were taken care of by the nuk. The larp used the gender-neutral (Swedish) pronoun “hen” to refer to nuks. In this translation, I’ve tried to use the form “singular they”.

When I first heard about the larp a year ago, I immediately knew that I wanted to play a nuk. But I didn’t realize until quite shortly before the larp was to begin that I was to portray a sort of Übernuk, with a lot of responsibility for several of the communal rituals that made up the framework of the larp. I was a bit nervous in the face of this task, as leading so many people in ritual improvisation is something I’d never done before. But I received good help from the organizers, and when I called my co-player Gustav I was assured that this would work out just fine. Gustav played my aldnuk-colleague Fog. In real life, he’s a full-time nuk: he makes a living as a travelling storyteller at various Viking and medieval markets, and has a lot of “nukish” knowledge of the forest, stories, religion and rituals. With the player Fabe as aldnuk Storm, our trio of elders was complete.

Memories, moments and thoughts

Storytelling in the main hall at Koi. Dew, one of the elder men. Photo: Li Xin.

Storytelling in the main hall at Koi. Dew, one of the elder men. Photo: Li Xin.

After the main Koi Ritual, there’s always a feast at Koi. People sang and danced. I’m often uncomfortable with dancing (even though it’s become better over the years), but Laughter entered the dance floor shirtless.

I didn’t know I could chant and make didgeridoo-like sounds with my mouth. I learned it at Koi. It’s not often I scream and sing and hum until I’m hoarse in my daily life. I did at Koi.

I never got around to reading all the stories the organizers had provided in advance of the larp, but I wanted Laughter to tell stories. So I just improvised based on what happened at the larp, plus fragments from the cultural compendium and other stuff that came to mind.

Laughter told the story about the nuk who let everyone steal their face: children, women, men. But when they had taken off the face and put it on their pillow and thought they could safely go to sleep, the face pulled a terrible grimace.

The ancestral spirits, Kwath, were invisibles to the characters, but we the players could see them. Photo: Li Xin.

The ancestral spirits, Kwath, were invisibles to the characters, but we the players could see them. Photo: Li Xin.

Laughter told the story about the KoiKoi where everyone was so horny. Woman lay in her bed, and made horny woman sounds (the others in the circle made the sound womanwoman makes when she’s horny). Man lay in his bed and made horny man sounds. And nuknuk, what sounds did they make? They made a ritual for HornyKwath, and Laughter spoke with HornyKwath using an effeminate, strange voice as they walked around the circle.

Laughter spoke of the two foreigners who were so afraid. They were at the mountain by Koi and tried to talk to each other, but they didn’t have language. Aldnuk Gust came and held the Language rite for them, so that they learned words.

During the rite of remembrance, Laughter told the others about Gust, aldnuk at Koi. They never really liked Gust. After many somber and sad stories of death, I, speaking as a player, wanted to tell a story that would be fun to listen to. It was amusing to see how Gust took on a life of their own after this ritual. Several people spoke of them, and anecdotes were told about how strict and angry they were.

The flow

Newly become men, engaged in ritualistic fighting. Photo: Li Xin.

Newly become men, engaged in ritualistic fighting. Photo: Li Xin.

After Nuk rite I got into character. From there on out the larp proceeded more or less by itself for me, just the way I like: flow, immersion, channeling. Call it what you like. Ideas, stories, sounds and sentences came on their own, and I think a lot of it came out exactly the way Laughter would have said and done things. We had a framework, created by the organizers in the compendium; we had the actions of the other players, and we had the physical limitations and possibilities of the setting. Into this framework we poured chaos, and new things arose. As it happens.

The Death Rite. Photo: Li Xin.

The Death Rite. Photo: Li Xin.

I asked one of the organizers at our two-man workshop before the larp whether our Death rite was in fact a ritual murder, and he confirmed this. During the larp, Gustav, Fabe and I concluded that Laughter would lead the ritual. Thus, they were the only person in the ankoi people who could kill other people (at least in a ritual context). I think the Death rite as a whole worked, at least for the main characters affected – the elders who were to die. Some parts obviously worked better than others. But as the time for the killings approached, I felt the atmosphere grow tense. I think the ritual provided interesting contrast, both personally, for my character, who was often a light-hearted, silly person, but also for the whole culture. Ankoi were not only peace-loving hippies who drummed and sang by the campfire. Their culture also had dark, brutal aspects.

Masks contained spirits. Everything had spirit: plants, animals, the water and the air. Through the use of masks, they could posess the characters. Photo: Li Xin.

Masks contained spirits. Everything had spirit: plants, animals, the water and the air. Through the use of masks, they could posess the characters. Photo: Li Xin.

After the Death rite, I was uncertain how Laughter would act for the rest of the evening. We solved it by having the three elder nuks return to Koi with two white ribbons from the place of the ancestor spirits. There was singing. The nuk Breeze, who lived at Koi, opened the doors wide. The three elder nuks entered the ceremonial hall. Fog had the white ribbons tied to their staff. They danced around the fire, chanted. Laid the ribbons down by the fireplace. Laughter got down on their knees. Sometimes, they’d burst into sorrowful moans. The song in the room continued, but changed character. After a while the circle (on its own?) started chanting the names of the deceased: Ebb, Dew, Ebb, Dew, Ebb, Dew… The names of the two aldmen became a melody. Laughter, the only ankoi who takes human lives, crept towards the fire on all fours. Screamed, and left.

Later that night, they sat by the fire at Boarfam. Told lighter stories. Were comforted by their old friend and lover, Wave. Joked. Laughed. Their face still painted with the death mask.

Aldnuks applying ritual makeup. Photo: Li Xin.

Aldnuks applying ritual makeup. Photo: Li Xin.

Sometimes I was Laughter. Sometimes I was Ole Peder, observing. That’s the way larps are, at least for me. The illusion is never constant; the most intense immersion comes and goes. Ole Peder saw his friends from all the Nordic countries. Skilled, experienced role players, alongside younger larpers. Grown-ups and youth in somewhat comical costumes, playing with seriousness. I liked what I saw. A lot of good play. Many good “scenes”, as we sometimes say.

I didn’t have much plot to speak of; more like “tasks” to be performed. I often find that to be a good base for a larp, as I would still be embroiled in the plots of others.

I thought NukRite was nice. To me it was the first rite that “really worked”. I hope we who were there (the elder nuks, the travelling nuks and the nuk who lived at Koi) gave a good (and maybe a little scary) ritual to the children”. We mostly followed the instructions in the ritual compendium, but added a few details of our own. Amongst other things, there was a round of somewhat impossible questions, like who would you choose, your father or your mother?” When the ancestor-spirits were called upon and one of the organizers appeared with the large clay mask, the children had to approach Storm, who whispered two questions: Did you hear Kwath?” and What did Kwath say?”

Photo: Li Xin.

Photo: Li Xin.

I was happy with my “family”: the elders and nuks who lived permanently at Koi. We had no bigger inner conflict or drama. We were the eye of the storm. It gave me a feeling of great calm to play with them, a calm that has yet to evaporate as I’m typing this.

The weather was good, thankfully. Three days of rain would have changed the experience a lot. It’s good to be in nature. I forget how good until every time I’m out there. Maybe it’s what we’re really meant to do? Us people, I mean?

During the “debrief”, we were separated into groups of three and told to talk things over. I got together with two larpers I’ve known for a long time. Nice things were said. One of the players talked about how the larp had dealt with fundamental human themes. Gender. Death. Change. Growth. It’s true.

Sometimes, there was too little time. Many rituals were to be held before KoiKoi was over. The nuks had to remind the others to attend. Pestering other players doesn’t feel good, but timing can be hard in a game based on improvisation.

The cheers and thank you rituals straight after a larp can be hard. It’s easy to feel left out. This time I had the energy for it. I felt included.

We’re not actors, most of us. We can’t do another take. What happens, happens. Larp isn’t perfect. One of the organizers talked about this before the game. “Dare to fail”, they said. Give the character time, a chance”. Sometimes I failed; some things I did wrong. The character came to me in the end.

I was impressed with how well the techniques for ritual improvisation worked, especially the wall of sound we created together. To dare to take part in it made me proud. I’m not a singer. But it seems I can make a lot of sound! Exciting.

I saw a lot of good play. I was happy that there were some relatively new players; fun with some new faces. Many participants were internationals, mainly from the Nordic countries. I knew many from Knutepunkt and other festivals, but it was my first time playing a longer larp with many of them.

KoiKoi (analysis/blog post by Danish Peter Munthe-Kaas)
Experimental anthropology at KoiKoi (by Finnish Kaisa Kangas)
The larp’s homepage (in Norwegian)
Selected photos (by Li Xin)

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