Hagbard and Signe
The saga of Hagbard and Signe is as romantic as it is tragic. Hagbard is the son of the King of Vågan, while Signe is the daughter of Sigar, King of Steig. They are secretly betrothed, but Sigar has other plans for his daughter, and has promised her to the King's son Burislav in Holmgard (now Novgorod in Russia). The drama is set during the Steiger Assembly, where the people of Hålogaland have gathered to hold council, make sacrifices and feast.
Hagbard disguises himself in women's clothing and calls on Signe in secret. They agree to run away together but they also make a suicide pact, vowing that if one of them is caught, the other will die as well. The consequences are enormous, and blood feuds threaten to break out between the powerful ruling families.
Despite their precautions, a serving girl overhears the meeting between the lovers, and raises the alarm. Hagbard is captured and led to the place of execution on the islet of Hagbardholmen. But Signe stays true to their pact, and before Hagbard is hanged, he sees smoke rising from Signe's bedchamber on Steig. Signe has set the house on fire, and the lovers meet death together.
The saga was not written down until around 1700, but must have been passed down by word of mouth for centuries. Sigarhaugen, Hagbardholmen and Signelillsteinen are all place names in Steigen that are traditionally linked to the legend. However, good stories have a tendency to travel, so similar legends are linked to other places in Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
Performing the saga
Every two years, the residents of Steigen rally to perform the saga in grand style, with a huge choir and 140 actors. They put an enormous effort into the rehearsals, costumes and staging, and when the event finally takes place, everyone in Steigen is involved in some way.
The saga is performed several times during "Sagaspill Week" at the end of July/beginning of August. Visitors can also enjoy concerts featuring famous artists, story-telling for children, a market at the Steigen Rural Museum, and walks to the Batterie Dietl coastal fortification on the outer coast of Engeløya island.
Most accommodation in Steigen is quickly booked up for the Sagaspill Week. However, a good alternative is to try the neighbouring towns of Innhavet, Kobbelv, etc., or see if there are any last-minute cancellations in Steigen itself. www.sagaspill.no offers up-to-date information, and full details about Steigen in general and the surrounding area can be found on the website belonging to travel organisation Reiseliv i Hamsuns Rike. www.hamsuns-rike.no