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MEDIEVAL TIMES

Manteca group brings history to life

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MEDIEVAL TIMES

Knights battle during the Barony of Fettburg crab feed Sunday in Manteca.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED February 27, 2013 1:05 a.m.

BARONY OF FETTBURG – Her love of history, arts and people opened a portal to the middle ages, introducing her to the daughter of a German merchant.

Meet Ella Gajewi von Pommern, a member of the Hanseatic League in the late 1300s.

von Pommern is the persona of Manteca homemaker Louise Sugiyama, an active and energetic member of the Society for Creative Anachronism for the last 30 years.

“I liked that time period,” Sugiyama said, “because the women could partner with the husband and the family in the league.

“A daughter of a merchant could inherit quite well and be a shareholder within the family; hold some power and marry into minor nobility.

“… And it was in between bouts of the plague. That’s always a good thing.”

Nobility, leagues, plagues – they’re all relics of a culture and time period forgotten by most but near and dear to Sugiyama and thousands just like her.

The Society of Creative Anachronism is a medieval recreation group with worldwide, real-time appeal.

The society has established 19 kingdoms across the globe, with each member assuming a persona from a time period within the Middle Ages.

There are knights and princesses, scribes and barbs, heralds and craftsmen. They wear armor and favors, gather in pavilions and stamp their coins.

Children can attend Paige school, while men and women can fight for prizes or learn to cook sage over an open fire.

“It’s a hobby – a very intense hobby,” Sugiyama said. “It varies with the people. Some dabble. Then there are others who make this their main objective other than work. You even have some who get so good at a craft they learned in the SCA that it becomes their business.

“There aren’t many out there that know how to make tents and pavilions or chain-link armor.”

SCA was founded in Berkeley in 1966 and the original kingdom – the West – grew to include principalities, baronies and shires in Alaska, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, Japan and along the West Coast.

Manteca even has a home in this alternate dimension.

Sugiyama, 57, is a member of the Barony of Fettburg, a region that stretches from Lodi to Turlock and laterally from the coastal range to the Mother Lode.

Fettburg is German for “Fat City” – “which is what Manteca is,” Sugiyama said with a breathy laugh.

“We have a big sense of humor in our group.”

This is a period of revelry for the Barony of Fettburg and their royalty: Baron and Baroness Scott (Raven of Drakkenheim) and Bethel Tibbedeaux (Brenna Bethan) of Stockton.

The barony recently hosted its third annual crab feed and medieval martial arts demo on Sunday at the Manteca Senior Center. The funds will underwrite the Fettburg Championship Tournament on March 30-31 in Riverbank.

Over the two days, the members of Fettburg will turn this private property into a Medieval festival complete with archery contests, sage cooking and an egg hunt.

“You wear the clothes and you live the life for a weekend,” Bethel Tibbedeaux said. “You eat the food, play the games and immerse yourself in the persona.

“I’ve been in the society for 17 years. I’ve done a lot of things during that time period – singing, dancing, storytelling, heralding. There are a lot of avenues to this society.”

That’s only the tip of the sword, though.

The Easter weekend celebration will be carried by a double-elimination, hand-to-hand combat tournament among fighters within and outside the barony. The fighters will compete for prizes.

This is SCA’s biggest attraction to the outside world; to the unaffiliated. Fighters wear custom-made armor, wield custom-made weapons and protect themselves with custom-made shields.

It’s not so much a blood-and-sweat brawl, Sugiyama said, as it is an art form.

The object remains relatively primitive, though: To survive and advance – to earn the baron’s prize – you must deliver a “death” blow.

Bouts can be only a single blow or last up to 5 minutes, and governed by an honors system. Each competitor is expected to acknowledge a “death” blow and it is customary for foes to deliberate attacks with a marshal.

The weapons vary from rattan swords (wrapped in duct tape) to pole arms to axes.

The action is a cross between football and Kendo, the Japanese martial art of sword fighting.

“It’s full contact. Nothing is choreographed,” Sugiyama said. “No one knows where a blow is going to go until it lands.”

The tournaments are a showcase for a community. While there can be only one winner, each bout puts the best of each barony on display.

“Some only knew of the fighting,” Sugiyama said of a presentation she made to the City of Manteca’s leadership more than two decades ago. “But someone made that armor. Someone made that favor he or she was wearing. Someone made that pavilion. Someone made all the clothes they were wearing. You just can’t find this stuff on the rack at JCPenney.

“Some people never look past that point; never realizing that there are arts and crafts in the fighting gear.”

Sugiyama enjoys that quality about the SCA – it’s a chance to live history.

To understand all of its working parts. To be a queen or baroness or the daughter of a German merchant.

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