In quite a different context, folklorist James Leary suggests the multi-ethnic dance bands of the 1940s and 1950s in the upper Midwest created a “creolized, regional repertoire” out of Norwegian, Swedish, German, Slavic and “Scandihoovian” musical licks. “Here,” he proclaims, “reside North Coast creoles.” I am sure that L.P. Esbjörn, Paul Andersen and Erland Carlsson would not have approved of “polkabilly” dance music.

51. Leary, Polkabilly, 19-32.

[context here, from intro:

In recent years, cultural anthropologists have used metaphors of hybridity, bricolage and creolization for the phenomenon. Especially influential has been Ulf Hannerz of the University of Stockholm, who borrowed the term creolization from linguists – to whom it signifies a colonial language with mixed new- and old-world antecedents, usually reflecting different racial and cultural backgrounds – and uses it to describe a generalized process whereby subordinate, or peripheral, cultures create hybrid forms that “put things together in new ways.” Like other students of the phenomenon, he quotes post-colonialist novelist Salman Rushdie, who once said his writing “rejoices in mongrelization and fears the absolutism of the Pure. Mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world.” While creolization theory can be seen as a post-colonial reaction to what cultural anthropologist Jan Nederveen Pieterse perceives as a “McDonaldization” of global culture, the process has been going on at least since the ancient Greeks encountered the Egyptians and Persians and continues to the present.6

Hannerz’ metaphor has been used to describe hybrid cultural forms including New Orleans jazz; the Haitian Kreyòl language; French colonial architecture in early Illinois; the blended ecclesiastical culture developed by Russian Orthodox Alaska Natives; and the “polkabilly” music of mixed German, Czech and Scandinavian dance bands. While the term originated with mixed-race cultures in Latin America and the Caribbean, folklorist James P. Leary says it applies just as well to northern European immigrants in the upper Midwest, whose “musical interactions have long been distinguished by egalitarianism, by freewheeling accommodation and blending across complex boundaries.” Leary adds. “Here reside North Coast creoles.”7 In that broader context, shorn of its post-colonial connotations, we can say without hesitation that Swedish- and Norwegian-American Lutherans of the mid-19th century put together a bit of this and a bit of that, thereby combining European state church with Anglo-American denominational and frontier revivalist practices in new ways to form voluntary religious associations without government assistance. The result was something that wasn’t quite like any of its antecedents.   

6. Ulf Hannerz, Cultural Complexity: Studies in the Social Organization of Meaning (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), 264–65; he quotes Rushdie in Transnational Connections: Culture, People, Places (London: Routledge, 2002), 65–66 [italics in the original]. See Jan Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization and Culture: Global Mélange (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 125.

7. See Andrei A. Znamenski, trans., Through Orthodox Eyes: Russian Missionary Narratives of Travels to the Dena’ina and Ahtna, 1850s-1930s (Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2003), p 6; Roxanne Easley, “Creole Policy and Practice in Russian America” (paper presented at History and Heritage of Russian America Conference, Moscow, April 13-14, 2016), reprint, Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington, Seattle; James P. Leary,  Polkabilly: How the Goose Island Ramblers Redefined American Folk Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 12-13, 17.]



In 1863 when Esbjörn was back in Sweden on a fund-raising trip, the pulpit at his old parish in Östervåla came open; he took the position, and there he plunged into the duties of an old-country Swedish parish priest and earned a lasting reputation for helping establish the public schools in his area.45 In 1865 at a meeting of clergy in the archdiocese of Uppsala, he delivered a lengthy report on the Swedish Lutheran churches in America. In an aside, he told the story:

… of a Swedish boy, who had, without permission, gotten into his mother’s baked goods. When she admonished him, he answered: “Why mother, isn’t this a free country?” The Swedish children learn English easily in that country.46

Swedes in this country, Esbjörn added, also learned the value of compromise. In America, he said, an immigrant pastor “in many cases could, by appropriate modification, preserve and even clarify doctrine and turn aside the storms which arise so easily in a land with unlimited religious freedom.”

Some of these modifications, he said, were liturgical; others were dictated by the practice of Protestant churches in America. And membership policy, he acknowledged, was very specifically dictated by AHMS policy and Esbjörn’s supervisors in the Illinois Congregational Association of Galesburg. Compromise clearly was needed. On the one hand, he told the clerics gathered in Uppsala:

Experience soon showed that this requirement on paper created difficulties in practice, especially since it was easy for fanatical opponents to the Lutheran church to awaken emotions which expressed themselves in the requested confession, and it was clear enough in all bodies, that many who joined the congregations easily learned to use the required language [claiming a conversion experience]. Furthermore, many of our Swedes arriving in America were already members of the Lutheran church, and could not be seen as now making their first entry into it.

On the other hand, he was grateful to the AHMS for its financial assistance. “It should also be added,” he said, “to the Illinois Congregational Association’s credit, that, despite my full and free presentation of my and the Lutheran church’s beliefs and teaching on the sacraments, grace, fall from grace, etc., at their meeting, they never sought to convince me or any of my people to leave the Lutheran Church, since my righteous and frank presentation of my personal experience convinced them that I wished to work to establish a true and living Christianity among our people.” Moreover, he accepted the idea that “it was not advisable nor conscientious to immediately accept every unknown person who came from Sweden with their pastor’s letter of parish registration,” especially in a new land where conditions were very different. So Esbjörn outlined the compromise in detail and concluded:

Hereby, one recognizes confirmation and membership in the church in Sweden, and receives the only guarantee of the member’s Lutheran orthodoxy and proper behavior as a member of the church that can be found in a land where all possible beliefs and opinions are equal, and where congregational governance and discipline are not dependent on worldly power.

Esbjörn said “a dozen years’ experience has shown us [the compromise] was successful.”47 It would last longer than 12 years.

46.  Esbjörn, “Report at Clergy Meeting,” 5.

47. Esbjörn, “Report at Clergy Meeting,” 5-6.

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