The journey there
We went to the Faroe Islands in July 2001 to check out the country and not least the ”kvaddanser” (ring dances). These we knew that they formed a very old ring dance form, which is danced into this day on texts dealing with Viking topics. We had started translating Reginsmål into Swedish, the first Sigurd’s saga story about the dragon slayer Sigurd Fafnesbane from a parallel text with a Faroese original and Danish translation in fracture style, dating from the 19th century. However, we learned that the main season for ring dances is January-February-March, so we wondered if we would experience a Faroese ring dance.
We started from Copenhagen and flew a few hours over sea and ever sea. You saw small, small white, shining dots down on the watery sea surface. If you looked closely, you realized that the dots actually moved – they consisted of foam from waves! Only interrupted by driving cloud banks, we were entranced for a couple of hours by the waves, but not by a single ship. Eventually, the cloud banks became sealed and suddenly you saw a sheer vertical cliff, whose peak was made up of slightly upsloping, turquoise meadows that led into the land. And so we landed at the Faroe Islands International Airport.
We were met by a single, rather small airport building and a rather icy wind. It was about 9 degrees in the air. The airport is located on Vágar, the largest island in the western part of the Faroe Islands. The different islands are closely spaced by narrow channels with often very strong currents. The exception is Suðuroy, the south island, which lies a bit apart. Later we would find that the place where the airport is located is the only place on the Faroe Islands, which is flat enough, horizontal and big enough to accommodate an airport! Luckily for the Faroe Islands …
We then went on a good road and took a ferry to Streymoy, Stream Island or Strömön. The ferry position on Strömön was called Vestmannabyn and was right across the strait. But the ferry had to keep a sharp angle upstream, so that the drift pushed us straight over to Vestmannabyn. Wondrous. Then we drove through some tunnels through the worst mountain ranges and eventually came through small valleys with lakes to the capital Tórshavn, where we entered a hostel called Blådjupet, Bládýpi (The Blue Deep).
A famous (in the Faroe Islands) writer of the 19th century has characterized the Faroe Islands as follows:
”The Faroe Islands relate to the ocean
like the sand-grain to the sandy beach.
But if you look at it in a microscope,
a whole world appears with
islands and straits, mountains and villages,
and people. ”
In general about the Faroe Islands
There are five main islands, Vágar, Streymoy, Eysturoy (Eastern Island), Norðuroyar (a collective name on a number of islands in the northeast) and Suðuroy, Sydön and a larger number of smaller islands. The highest mountain (Slættaratindur) is located on Eysturoy about one kilometer from the sea. It is about 880 meters high. So you understand that the landscape is dramatic. In general, the land dips on the north and west sides down to the sea, there may be a precipice down a few hundred meters to end sloping down softly towards the south and east sides. There are a lot of penetrating inlets with valleys.
The geology is volcanic with some porous rocks but without actual activity. In one place, however, there is a hot spring. It is the Atlantic, which gnaws on the western sides of the islands. So in the distant future, the Faeroe Islands will not be there.
The vertical coastlines to the west are home to myriads of birds, such as auks, guillemots, puffins and gulls. Until lately, catching flying birds in these rocks have been carried out using rope and landing nets on long rods. However, we did not manage to find any restaurant in Tórshavn that served puffin without pre-order. In Iceland, you can easily eat puffin in a restaurant, a very good dish with a somewhat peculiar taste.
Falling down these precipices is the second most common death-cause for the island’s sheep population, which is more numerous than the population of people. The reason is that the grass is greenest in the crevices and shelves of the precipices, fertilized by bird droppings. The crevices also take up the solar heat better in the spring. The most common death-cause for a Faroese sheep is of course to be slaughtered. There are no original mammals and hence no predators. Faroe Islands means the sheep islands.
Hunting pilot whales is still being carried out, which bird-catching hardly is. Flocks of the rather small whales swim during some seasons in the straits through the Faroe Islands. With boats, the whales are driven into shallow coves, there striking and killing them. A controversial catch, but one should perceive that the Faroese live in a tough environment. No pilot whales were sighted while we were there, as far as we learned.
Viewed from the walking-friendly, sloping side, the landscape looks like a smooth rolling mountain heath with hills or low mountains without snow spots. What meets one at the top, however, is probably not more of the same, but rather a precipice with a new branch of the Atlantic and a new Faroe island. The landscape is entirely without trees and even completely without bushes, such as willows. The only woody plant that is found is heather or ling, which grows in some places. Otherwise, there are only grass and flowers. Colourful flowers.
The Faroe Islands’ National Bird is called Tjaldur, ie. the usual oystercatcher. The Faroese variant is cocky and loudmouthed and prone to make steep attacks against you, if you get too close to what it regards as its own. It is considered to be a symbol of the bold and steadfast personality of the Faroese, preparing to protect themselves and their families. The oystercatcher is found everywhere, even in the mountains.
About the climate
The most amazing thing about the Faroe Islands is the air! It’s clean! Anyone who has walked in the Swedish mountain world would think the air there to be clean. However, this air does not play in the same division as the air in the Faroe Islands. Anywhere else, you hardly think twice about breathing. In the Faroe Islands, every breath is a sensual enjoyment that always marvels. Breathing is exhilarating. The Faroe Islands are located in the middle of the Atlantic far from the dust of the continents, which makes the difference. Okay, the said might not apply in the middle of Tórshavn when cars have just passed …
The average temperature in January is +5 degrees and in July +11 degrees. Snow falls, but it never gets very long-lived. It is said that it is cloudy or falling rain or snow over 300 days of the year! This, however, gives a misleading picture. It does not apply if you see to all day or all of the Faroe Islands. The most typical is the weather-change shift from half-day to another or even from hour to hour. It is said that in one single day
you may experience all four seasons! Sometimes the sun gazes hot, sometimes it rains. A Faroe Island can have spectacular weather, on another there is dense fog.
The fog yes. This can really be dense, so dense it might be dangerous to walk in the terrain without knowing where you are. In addition to the precipices on the seashores, there may also be deeply cutting ravines inland. The hiking trails are distinguished by cairns, so you can see where the path is when it’s foggy. In this context, it should be said that in Faroe Islands there is no ”allemansrätt” (just to be explained), as the country has long been under Denmark, despite the fact that most land is uninhabited. However, you may walk in the mountain ranges but not pitch a tent, nor kindle a fire from dead wood.
To continue on the mist, it is common for winds sometimes to bore holes at rocky edges, so that there suddenly stands a pillar of sunlight out of the milky gray fog wall over a gold-green and yellow, brilliant mountain side. Wonderfully beautiful. The phenomenon is common and has its own word in the language, which word we have forgotten. We saw a work of art, a painting that showed a mountain side that began to be sunlit in this way. And in the fog, one also saw a face revealed.
We got acquainted with Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands with about 16,000 inhabitants. It makes a much greater impression than the number of inhabitants gives reason to believe. It looks quite nice with fairly low buildings, partly old. The harbor is quite large with room for larger vessels. When we were there, at the quayside lay a formal rust horror in the form of an absolutely fallen-in Soviet ship, with a mean-faced crew aboard, possibly a single step from scraping. (We are here talking about the very principle of decline, nothing less, as if Plato had included the idea of decline in his idea theory.) One might ask if it ever got from there. The ship was clearly worth the sight.
The harbor entrance is guarded by a small fortlet with old cannons on a small cliff. The fortlet was built in the 17th century to ward off attacks by Turkish pirate ships. So far north …
The main street.
The main street winds between the houses in the port. Here we found Café Natur, a clearly cozy place to drink beer. It was later fully packed in the evening, a Monday evening. We first mooched about on the ”Ströget” (Main street). Tórshavn is rather undulating. There were store chains, ATM machines, tattoo shops, regular stores of all kinds, libraries, rather cozy government buildings, etc. As well as a wealth of missionary houses and churches, looking in at the side streets. As in other extreme places, people are very religious.
We stepped into a music store to ask about ring dances. We bought a disc with Faroese ring dances and we told them that we had translated Regin Smith into Swedish. The shop-keeper and another person, probably another customer, became fire and flames in eagerness to help us call and get in touch with ring dance people. However, these seemed to work or be out of town. We got another disc for free with the Sigurd’s cycle and the Ormen Lange with Faroese text. The Ormen Lange (Long Serpent) was known as the Norwegian King Olav Tryggvasson’s ship at the Battle of Svolder against Danish and Swedish Kings and other chiefs in the early 1000’s. We also learned that the coming Saturday a ring dance would be held in the Nordic House as part of a cultural exchange event with Norway.
The Faroese language
Faroese, a Nordic language, is spoken by around 50,000 people, ie. the population of the Faroe Islands. The Faroese scriptural language was created during the 19th century national romance. Before that, Faroese was only a spoken language, suppressed by the Danish, which throughout the Middle Ages and until the 19th century was the publicly used language, in schools, in church, in the courts, etc. The written language differs a lot from the pronunciation and the spelling is deliberately chosen to mark the Nordic language affinity. Spoken Faroese sounds ”porridgy” and slurring with many diphthongs and is in practice incomprehensible. Written Faroese can be understood, at least with a dictionary. Everyone also speaks Danish, and it’s easy to be understood in Swedish everywhere.
Here are the first verses of Regin the Smith and the words in the written form to the left, in pronounced form to the right and in translation: (U in the pronunciation as in Swedish ”hus” (a vowel sound without English equivalent), o as in English ”put” E is pronounced as e, as in ”get”. Ä is like the first vowel sound in ”bear”. Å as in English ”or”. Ö as in French ”bleu”, blue. Sj in Sjúrður, Sigurd, is pronounced as in English ”she”)
Viljið tær nú lýða á — vilji täar nu loja åa
meðan eg man kvøða — mijjan eg mann kvöa
um teir ríku kongarnar — om tair rojko kånganar
sum eg vil nú umrøða — som eg vill nu omröa
Grani bar gullið av heiði — gräani bar golli a hajji
brá hann sínum brandi av reiði — brå han sojnom brandi a rajji
Sjúrður vann av orminum — sjuror vann a årminom
Grani bar gullið av heiði — gräani bar golli a hajji
Notice, therefore, that the verses themselves end-rhyme on even lines, cf. kvøða och umrøða; The translation below only seeks to be close to the original and does not take into account melody and rhyme.
Do you want to listen to
While I’m singing on
all about the kings so rich
as I want to tell you
Grani bore the gold from heath
in anger struck his sword
Sigurd won over the snake
Grani bore the gold from heath
The language survived! So how can a language spoken by only 50,000 people, during the earlier stages even fewer, survive the oppression of state power and church? The answer is only the ring dance songs, which are rhymed in Faroese. The ring dances survived the church’s persecution, although they were sometimes forbidden. In the case of the Sigurd songs, these have also been danced in Sweden, Norway and Denmark during the Middle Ages. There are independent Sigurd songs that are not found in the Faroese material.
Thus, a Nordic language and a Nordic culture. On the other hand, the people themselves do not look particularly Nordic! Blonde people exist, but are rather unusual and this is not due to immigrants. The people are generally brown to black-haired with light complexion and blue, gray and green eyes. A lot looks almost like Roald Atkinson. They are probably genetically mainly brits and celts.
Several hundred years before the Norse took the country, the so-called landnamet, Irish monks lived here. The Färinga saga (preserved in Iceland) begins as follows: ”Grimur Kamban was called a man. He was the first to settle in the Faroe Islands.” Grimur is a Nordic name and means the one with a mask. Kamban is not; it’s a celtic name!
The purchase of ring dance tickets
The Nordic House is located in the rugged northeastern outskirts of Tórshavn, so we took a bus that went there. However, it ran smoothly a long distance straight to the southwest, turned, drove a bit to the east and then drove a good way up north-west. We could now see the Nordic house at a distance to the northeast, but the bus wormed down to the southeast towards the center again, to finally take off and through the serpentine streets reaching the Nordic House. Extremely strange bus route. But we got to see all the outskirts of Tórshavn, that we had not planned to see.
The Nordic house stood on its hill, a creation of glass and wood with some architectural features added. A beautiful view of Tórshavn and the Atlantic Ocean. In the yard, Tjaldur walked around poking, an oystercatcher. Outside the entrance was a megalith grave, a grave form from the younger Stone Age, ie. at least 3000 years before the Faroes were inhabited. Hardly authentic, therefore. We went in and bought our tickets by a cashier who was blind, at least there was a sign next to him, which in several languages told he was. He was well aware of the banknotes we gave him and gave us the right return. We checked that it was correct.
We can not say that we were completely excited about the idea of the upcoming ring dance. ”Ring dance performance as part of a cultural exchange event with Norway.” In the Nordic house. A ”touristy” publicity stunt?? That was what we asked.
We decided not to trust the bus line’s cheek for our return. It was downhill to the center and we realized where we were going. We trotted back on foot. We took the road through the town park, Lydarlunden, with lots of planted trees like pines, larchs, beechtrees and whitebeams. Some of the large coniferous trees were uprooted and fallen, probably by some storm. Through the city park, the city stream flows, forming small ponds with ducks. And at the city pond, Sigurd the dragon killer is statue. We finally breathed out at the harbor in an outdoor restaurant. Just then it was sunny and hot. There was a pair in Faroese national costumes and a mother in national costume and various men in dark costumes. It seemed like it was a wedding. One of the dark-clad men looked priestish.
Excursion to Kirkjubø
We took the bus from Tórshavn across the mountain heath to a mountain ridge and now we saw for the first time what we said in the introduction. At the top you will usually see a new bay of the Atlantic and a new Faroe Island. Here too, in the form of a few smaller outlying islands on the southwest side of the Streymoy. The slope down was just steep, but no precipice and down by the sea lay a small plain where Kirkjubø is located. It was the outlying islands that received the Atlantic. They had small plain lands on the insides, the eastern sides, which were inhabited too.
Duly arrived in Kirkjubø, we saw the ruin of the country’s oldest stone church, which is quite stately. In the 13th century, here was the archbishop of the country. The allthing in Tórshavn assumed Christianity around the year 1000. The black long wooden building with grass roofs, which is elevated on Tinganes hill at the harbor in Tórshavn, was called the Thing House, if we do not remember wrongly. At Kirkjubø there were some farms during the Viking Age. In the Faroe Islands you have only found small Viking farms but no large halls. There are no runic stones either. The farms were mainly built of peat and stone. It was the lowish farmers who settled here – we are on the outskirts of Nordic culture with harsh living conditions and due to storms and currents sometimes isolation. It has been estimated that the population during the Viking Age was at most about 4000 persons. It is only in a modern era when the great sea fishing developed, as the Faroese became more.
Kirkjubø has one of the country’s best beaches for drifting timber, which was valuable in a country without forests. And, indeed, the largest farm, a few hundred years old, is built of black-tarred, horizontal logs. We went down to the beach and felt the water. It seemed clearly cool, but perhaps batheable for the intrepid. However, we did not see any drift logs.
All small villages or settlements such as Kirkjubø on the larger islands now have a road, except one west on Vágar, the airport island. This village is located in one by high mountains shielded valley. It has instead received a heliport landing site, which all inhabited outlying islands also have. In old times you could just go hiking or go by boat. There were great demands on the Faroese boats. They must be lightweight so that they could be pulled far on to shore in shelter from the winter storms and also seaworthy enough to cope with the hard waters around the Faroe Islands with their currents. There is and was shortage of good ports.
What do you live from today in such a small place like Kirkjubø with about ten houses, a big greenhouse, a large barn with a number of mooing cows and a small harbor, where we saw two boats lying? We found a meadow that was newly cropped. Some tractors and mowers. We were told that in the village there are three farmers. Some have fishing as livelihood and the rest work in Tórshavn.
After lunch at the restaurant at the church ruin we walked back to Tórshavn, a distance of just under twenty kilometers. The mighty slope above Kirkjubø sucked all strength from you. Step up twenty meters, rest, step some further, rest. You should be quite careful in the steepest places to avoid risk of rolling down again. Once you got up, you had a wonderful view.
We walked over a gravelly, rather smooth mountain heath, a little bit like a lunar landscape. A skua dived after us. The air was wonderfully clean and pleasant and the weather was rather mild, except a light cloud cover. In the distance we saw Tórshavn. Our feet began to ache, it became laborious to walk. Finally, we came to Tórshavn’s outskirts and finally to our hostel, Blådjupet.
Excursion to Gjógv
We had a few more days until the ring dance, so we moved to Gjógv far north on Eysturoy for a while. It was foggy while we were riding a bus along the narrow strait between Streymoy and Eysturoy. Settlements were found on most of the flat ground by the strait. A lot of fish farms in the strait, ie. ten-meter floating net bags, which are anchored. We crossed the bridge to Eysturoy and then through a tunnel. We wondered how all the cyclists went through these tunnels with all the other traffic thundering through. Most of the time they are taken on board by passing buses. Everywhere there are sheep that graze, so even the main roads are sometimes interrupted by sheep bars, ie. a ditch in the road covered by separate transverse steel bars. You wake up guaranteed when the bus passes over one.
We switched to the very small bus towards Gjógv. Up the small serpentine roads and on the top a biker boarded without payment that would only go to the highest mountain (Slættaratindur). It was apparently quite in order to be invited to a little fare over the worst part. He got off at the foot of the mountain, as we continued to Gjøgv. Newly arrived we settled in the very cozy hostel of the city.
The village and the harbor.
In the village of Gjógv there entered a gorge from the sea with a narrow bay serving as the harbor of the village. There were only quite small boats, any major fishing boats, as seen in Bohuslän in Sweden, had not been able to go inside. Although the harbor looked very sheltered, there was a long drive ramp with rails up to the plateau where the village itself lay. When the winter storms come, there would be a hell of waves in the narrow gap. Today, however, it was quite sunny and quiet.
The village had about twenty houses and two small industrial buildings of some kind. Some larger cultivated fields and saw the harbor. You saw a lot of children. We found out that there were a lot of retired people who only live on their retirement. Others fish or do sheep husbandry.
Beyond the mountains.
Next to the village beyond the cultivated land lay a cauldron-shaped valley surrounded by rocks, which were quite low in the middle. One day we were enticed to see what wight be on the other side. Said and done. We walked past the ”fields” and went up towards the valley. Now, how can you distinguish cultivated land, which you may not walk on, from the wild land? Everything is basically just grass. Bushes and trees have never been wild in the Faroe Islands. Easy! The cultivated field is completely homogeneous and starkly green to the colour, while the wild soil appears to be changing in the shades and with more subdued colour tones, seen at some distance.
Up in the valley we saw a flock of geese that went around freely. We noved up closer without them flying their way. And closer. Finally, we were upon them and then they walked away quite briskly. But they did not fly. Thus, tame, wingclipped geese, which were left entirely on their own in the mountain valley. There are, as mentioned, no predators on the islands.
We came to the saddle between the peaks without much trouble and now we saw an incutting fjord below and mountains on the other side. It dropped very steeply downwards, though not vertically. Down from the fjord, there was a huge upsurge of wind, tearing at our clothes, and we had to hold tight on our belongings. A dramatic place.
The bird mountain.
Just west of the harbor in Gjógv are some low bird mountains, only 25-50 meters high. It was just going up the grassy crest and looking down into the precipice. It descended really vertically, and down there in the abyss, the sea was seized and fouled against the gorges of the cliff’s foot at the waterline. There were screams and screeches, in the air swirled various birds. The puffins also enjoyed the shelves near the crest, so they could be viewed close up. The seagulls and guillemots lived in crevices further down.
Now we wanted to see the big, tall bird mountains. One of the easiest available is located north of the town Vestmannabyn on Streymoy on the strait between the Streymoy and Vágar. There are boat trips from Vestmannabyn. The problem with that thought was that it was expected that winds from the north and north west would be expected to cause boat trips to be cancelled. We decided to move one day earlier from Gjógv, even though we had already paid for one more day. However, the staff at the hostel were like all the Faroese helpful and understanding so we got back the cost of that day.
Excursion to the Vestmannabyn
We went back to Tórshavn and took a new bus to Vestmannabyn. Once across half of the Streymoy, it overcasted with low fogs and a fine drizzle, which took away almost all sight. But suddenly we were exposed to the view of the previously described weather phenomenon that a fog cloud can cling to a mountain peak and leave a blue spot of bare sky. Suddenly a bright mountain side emerged out of the grey haze, sharply bounded from the rest of its surrounding fog, in all its colour schemes. The sun had found its way down. A lovely spectacle.
The Reserve Bird Mountain.
On our arrival at Westmannabyn we caught a tour boat that was setting out. However, not to the big bird mountain, where weather conditions had already become too bad. Instead to a small bird’s mountain on the eastern side of Vágar, which had lee. We shared the boat trip with a bunch of Swiss youths. Because of that we could not go to the tall famous bird mountain, even though the trip was scheduled to go there, we got a discount on the fee.
During the boat trip towards the southeastern side of Vágar we sat for a long while watching how the low drifting clouds came in at a good speed towards the back of a 300-400 meter high mountain ridge on Vágar. However, the clouds did not scurry over the crown but ascended and became hanging swollen and bulky. Every now and then the pressure became too strong, and they were dislodged southwards, newly released in a high speed march to the south.
The water itself was also a spectacle. The waves did not go straight on at a regular basis at even intervals. Instead, the seasurface almost seethed and pushed in every direction at the same time. Garlands of waves formed from the wind and current, which wormed in other directions than the wind direction alone wanted. It was really gushy! But our excursion boat had good engines and took us safely to the reserve bird mountain. Here there was a cave into the mountainside, which was only maybe 20 meters high. The water and the wind were calm here, so you could go into it. At the mouth were some three-toed gulls who glared at us. Something of an anti-climax compared to Gjógv!
Windy in the Vestmannabyn.
The next day there was a lot of windy weather, sometimes rain and sometimes sunshine. We had settled in a hostel. We had to content oureselves with walking around in Vestmannabyn, which may be the third or fourth largest city of the Faroe Islands. It has a large harbor with large sea-going fishing vessels. You saw a lot of cars, all brand new. Not a single old scrapready one like in Sweden. Of coarse there was an Internetcafé.
In the bay of Vestmannabyn, there are some fish farms, which are important to the economy of the Faroe Islands. The country’s fish farms yield about 25% of gross domestic product. The fish farms had a system of automatic feeding with small pellets through floating hoses from land. After two years, the small fish are grown and ready to be harvested. However, revenues from deep-sea fishing around the Faroe Islands have fallen due to general overfishing in the North Atlantic by a variety of nations. As an individual, you may fish freely anywhere in the sea, except for salmonids. Good fishing places for those are where freshwater flows into the ocean, as they like to get there to get rid of all superficial parasites that do not survive the freshwater mix. The salmon themselves wander into fresh water when they are to spawn.
We felt inspired to have dinner at a nice restaurant and we took a very good fish dish.
In the evening it slackened and there was rowinging in the harbor. Boat rowing is a popular sport in the Faroe Islands and there are various championships in different classes, ie. number of rowing pairs per boat. Two aqua-scooters ”arrowed” their way around all the time as well.
At night it became difficult to sleep as there was a likely mentally ill Faroese staying at the hostel. He walked around and mumbled talking to himself all night. Every now and then he tried to ”wake up” some of the already woken guests, to have someone to talk to or give alcohol to. Hushing about having to sleep helped just a few minutes. When it became our turn to ”wake up” and he heard that we came from Gothenburg, he told us he had an alcoholic brother in Nästved in Denmark and two grandsons who studied in Gothenburg. He claimed that he occasionally sent money to them. He went on some kind of medicine and therefore had difficulty sleeping. At seven o’clock in the morning he finally dropped off to get some free church coffee somewhere. He was well oriented in that sense.
The Ring Dance
And thus Saturday struck and in the evening there would be a ring dance in Tórshavn. There was great sunshine all day long. In the morning, however, we got to sleep on after the night’s sleep deprivation. At 12 o’clock we took the mid-day bus back to Tórshavn and at 20 o’clock we stood at the Nordic house in passable shape. We went in.
It was quite sparsely populated by visitors. We were treated to a team of musicians of folk music from Vestfold, Norway, who left us relatively cold-minded, bred up as we are with rock music. Eventually, more and more people came. A lot of tourists, mostly Danish, but also Faroese. Mostly middle-aged, but also a small proportion of younger people.
Then everyone went down to a basement. A single big ring was formed, people took hands. The singer who was in the ring began to sing the verses loudly, the dance began and the dancers responded with the refrain. More and more came, the mood rose and the ring folded first once, then many times. Finally, the pulsating convoluted rings filled the entire floor. Such an extasis! Near to laughs, some of the dancers sang some verses in duet with the singer.
It became impossible to resist the enchantment, so we were not wallflowers for a very long time. We threw ourselves into the whirls of the dance and bawled along a refrain, which we did not understand. It was said before the dance which ring dance they would be dancing. But the Faroese was too terrible to convey to us which one. The melody certainly was not the one that accompanies the Sigurd dances.
After an hour, one began to be exacerbated by the effort, but the dance was not over because of that. It was normal to take a break every now and then, relax with some beer, then re-enter the dance with renewed energy. Even the singer was exchanged without the end of dancing.
In the end, we were very impressed with it all. It is clearly a genuine cultural heritage, which is still alive. It would be the unique combination of a long exciting story and rhythmic community dance that made it all so popular. We noticed a young boy from India of maybe ten years, one of the few immigrants we saw on the islands, who homely and matter-of-factly participated in something that was exotic to us: a living culture tradition (basically our own) that stretches its roots down to the Viking era. There was a healthy mix of young and old. The dancing went on from 9 p.m. until half past 1 a.m.
During one of our breaks, we encountered our acquaintance the shopkeeper in the music store, a woman around thirty years. We talked to her. The dances are not just about old topics, but there are a lot of more modern songs too, such as Hamnjäntans visa (the ditty of the harbor girl). However, there is not much new songmaking nowadays. It is usual that different people are different tradition bearers and know by heart their respective song to be able to be a singer. A singer must be able to complete his song, no matter what distracts. Some of the songs are very long. To dance the whole Sigurd cycle with its over 900 verses and with a refrain between each verse, would take a day or two.
Long songs tend to be more danced by dedicated dance societies, while in general dancing with the general public, it is preferable to perform the shorter songs. It is definitely so that ordinary people also dance and many in the audience know the verses by heart and sing along, not only the singers. There are differences between the islands, we found out that on Streymoy and Eysturoy you prefer to dance the Sigurd cycle and Ormen Lange, while you are more likely to perform ditties on Suðuroy.
For a long time, the church sought to eradicate the ring dance, but it did not succeed and therefore there is still a Faroese language. Nowadays, practical ring dance education is a compulsory part of the subject matter of History in schools. Ring dancing is considered an indispensable part of the cultural heritage and one can only agree. In larger cities, it is common with a lot of young people at dancings, not so in smaller towns, as the young people are often in larger places for studies or in Denmark for the same purpose.
Among songs with old contents we read about such an odd song as Veraldar Goð. Thus the god of the world and the song is about the god Frej, called the son of Odin, not about the Christian god. Frej takes leave of his father and goes out into the world. Eventually, Frej arrives at a royal hall, where he drowns in a vat of beer, just like some kings of Old Sweden did at Old Uppsala, according to the Ynglinga saga, the first of the Norwegian kings’ sagas by Snorri. Researchers, however, consider that the song is only a few hundred years old and does not go down to Viking times. How come that you make a new ring dance song with such contents? How come that you still have the ring dances, in principle extinct in the rest of the Nordic countries?
You can probably point to the isolated location of the Faroe Islands, to their harsh sea currents and similarly to the harsh winter storms. You took advantage of the traditions you already had, pairing them with the few new impulses you got from outside and building on that. With new impulses, here is understood the actual ring dance form, which is believed to originate from the court of Burgundy in the early Middle Ages. But what is early Middle Ages in Burgundy in eastern France is rather Viking Age in the Nordic countries.
It is possible that the ring dance songs reach all the way down to Viking times. Some of the Icelandic stories speak of dance games in Iceland in connection with weddings. However, these are written down about 200 years after the end of the Viking era, so if the social depictions in the sagas really reflect Viking times and not the times of the saga writer appears unclear. As you can see, you dance with no music, just singing. So finding lyres from the Viking Age in Hedeby in southern Denmark does not in itself support the existence of ring dances in Viking times, but only some form of music.
We can leave out that the songs are end-rhymed, while all Viking-era poetry is stave rhymed, ie. rhymes are on the beginning of words. There were f.ex. so-called ”runhändor”, which besides the stave rhyme also had ”modern” end rhymes. The most important objection is that the texts of the ring dances, as they are now, in their style (apart from the contents) are clearly medieval, a little charmingly naive and formal as in other medieval ballads. Eddic poetry is soberly straightforward and sharp penetrating in its thoughts.
After another number of stays in the dance whirls, when we were finished, we went the long way down from the Nordic House and we were somewhat starry-eyed, it must be admitted. On our way home to Blådjupet we met a lot of intoxicated and happy young people. Even more than at the dance of course. The sounds of Tórshavn were like in any other city with all the rock clubs and so on. It was a Saturday night.
We had left three or four days on the Faroe Islands before the flight home. We were going to spend them exploring Vágar, the airport island. Now, how is Vágar pronounced? ”Våavar”, sigh! According to the map, there were some exciting lakes that you might be able to fish in. We might be able to walk to the isolated mountain-settled village without a road on the northwest of Vágar. The surrounding terrain looked exciting. We changed our residence from Tórshavn to a small town, whose name we do not remember, on the south coast of Vágar where we entered a new hostel. However, there came a few days with penetrating fog and stable (!) raining, which basically took away all urge to be outside. That’s probably because we do not remember the name of the village nor the hostel. We lay mostly in bed and read. Sometimes we took a pinch of air when it did not rain or did not rain so much. Sometimes we cooked food.
One day, however, we came to fish with our fishing rods from the harbor pier in the village and we actually got some small cods that we cooked. Sea fishing in the Faroe Islands was said to be outstanding, according to the tourist guide, and it takes a lot for us to get fish. There were arranged fishing trips, but the weather was too terrible to try to get onboard one of those.
What the fog hides.
Another day of the same dense fog, but with fewer and smaller raindrops, yes even absent raindrops, we went on a walk along the Faroe Islands’ largest lake to its discharge into the sea. Sometimes the fog dispersed a little, so you had a clear view and could see some of the landscape. However, this was only occasionally, so we had to settle for glimpses of a probably very beautiful landscape.
It was a little difficult to find the right way, because the visibility was so bad. In the mist we eventually caught sight of a little pointed rock in the middle of a hill. A little closer to the hill you saw how sometimes birds came up behind the ”hill” in a foul, almost vertical angle. Carefully, very carefully we went closer to the hill. There was, of course, a steep drop down to the sea at the top of the ”hill”. Nestled by lots of birds. Not more than maybe 30 meters, but still. We went back down the same road and encountered the lake again.
Little by little we reached the very outlet, where a small rivulet finally threw itself into the sea. Some moderately sloping parts of stone were found around the opening, with small saltwater pools, we tested by tasting, more than 20 meters above sea level. It must be stormy sometimes. A black algae coating covered the stone around the puddles and small, small red mites crept around there. The black algae coating was a bit slippery and green sea algae grew in the pools.
With greetings from Tjaldur.
We went back to the village over the mountain meadows along the lake, where terns and skuas occasionally made their dives against us, Tjaldur, too, not forgetting. The sense of morale of today’s excursion is that one should not consider going down any place, where one has not gone up and that a good map and good navigation is a must. Especially in foggy weather conditions, the mist can be exacerbated. It’s not always the map can show very small precipices, which, however, make you unable to move on. Ravines around brooks can be found in the interior. This in turn can prevent a journey despite the seemingly soft hills, apart from in the Faroe Islands, also in Iceland because the slightly porous volcanic rocks in common can easily be gouged out by watercourses or inland glaciers.
Then came the last day and we took the bus to the airport. In the souvenir shop at the airport we bought two cups of tea with the imprint of Tjaldur. And then we flew home.