This page provides a brief
of Flakstad & Moskenes, Lofoten Islands
The text consists largely of extracts from our fully illustrated book "Guide to the History of Lofoten" which is protected by copyright. The book is available for purchase from our shop. The following excerpts were written by Gro Røde and Ottar Schiøtz.
Contents of this Page:
The Lofoten Islands
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Like Pearls on a String
From east to west, the islands of the Lofoten archipelago stretch out like pearls on a string: Austvågøy, Gimsøy, Vestvågøy, Flakstadøy and Moskenesøy. Værøy and Røst are the farthest out to sea, separated from the other islands by the fabled Maelstrom Moskstraumen. When travelling to the other islands, the people of Værøy and Røst say that they are "going to Lofoten", but even so, they still regard themselves as thoroughbred Lofoteners. They share the same geography, yet the islands are different in how the weather effects them, in how the people live, and in the natural resources harvested there. Thus the islands can offer exciting variations in both nature, culture and history.
The "Outer Coast" and the "Inner Coast"
Geographically, we often distinguish between the "inner coast" and the "outer coast" of Lofoten. The outer coast faces the Norwegian Sea and the inner coast faces the Vestfjord, and is where most of the settlement can be found. The outer coast is more exposed to the heavy, wet sea mists and fog, and the fierce and raging storms. This is was probably what inspired district governor G.P. Blom to write the following in 1827:
"As ugly as the eastern coast of Lofoten is, it is yet surpassed in sheer rawness by the western coast, where, moreover, the fierce northerly and north-westerly storms rage with a greater vehemence than on the east coast, which is protected by the tall mountains."
The inner coast is characterised by calmer weather and rather warmer summer temperatures. Furthermore, the people there are spared from the horrid "good weather fog" that can come rolling in from the sea after a few warm, summer days. The sea fog covers the houses on the outer coast like a blanket, and temperatures drop instantly. In such cases we are glad that the inner coast is not too far away, because the sun may well be shining there, even from a cloudless sky. However, the
outer coast does have its advantages, too. It is there that the landscape can be bathed in the Midnight Sun between about May 25 and July 17. And in August, the sun may be even more beautiful setting in a pale violet sea, and leaving the sky in shades of colour that no painter can ever hope to imitate.
Primeval Mountains and Barren, Rocky Ground
Lofoten is comprised of the youngest and the oldest types of rock we know. The latter are so-called primeval rocks and are among the oldest in the world, being the remnants of a once enormous 3 billion year old plateau. The island of Moskenesøy is the only one of the Lofotens that can boast of being composed in part of this oldest, primeval ground. From the shore, these mountains tower up, steep and sheer, towards the sky. On top, however, they become gentle, undulating, and flat. The "younger" mountains have sharp peaks, sharp ridges and are often referred to as an "alpine landscape". The mountains of Lofoten are so high that scientists believe they were not covered by ice during the last Ice Age which took place about 18,000 20,000 years ago. But bear with us, Lofoten is more than just mountains and rocks.
Combined Fishing and Farming
The islands of Austvågøy and Gimsøy have relatively good agricultural potential along their outer coasts, but these areas are, however, small in comparison to those on the island of Vestvågøy, in the middle of Lofoten. This island comprises one of the most important agricultural areas in the county of Nordland. In the middle of the island there are wide, flat fields and many farms surrounded by high, protecting mountains. Subzero temperatures can be rather more discernible here in this "inland" region than out in the villages by the sea.
Further to the west you will find the islands of Flakstadøy and Moskenesøy. There is less soil here, and farms become scarcer and smaller the further west you go. The islands seem to consist mainly of mountains and rocks. On the narrow expanse of coastline between the precipitous mountains and the open sea, settlers have bravely dug in. Having said this, the farming hamlets on the outer coast of Flakstad are
luxuriant in comparison to Moskenes. The borough of Moskenes languishes in last place in the table of agricultural statistics. And as we continue further out to Værøy and Røst, the typical Lofoten pattern appears even clearer:
"Man on board, wife on land"
Out here, fish has always been the most important commodity, but way into this century the families of Lofoten were also dependent on having small farms, and on utilising what resources the land had to offer. In the mountain realm of Lofoten, even the landless classes could keep domestic animals by making use of the green and fertile, yet almost inaccessible mountainside hayfields. The local inhabitants climbed high up on the mountainsides to harvest fodder for their cows and sheep. Life was based on good fishing in combination with the keeping of domestic animals and the running of a small farm.
The women were for the most part responsible for the home , the farm and the domestic animals. They took care of what we call subsistence economy, providing important income that is not revealed in any tax assessments or documents. The men took care of fishing, ensuring a flow of cash income to pay taxes and buy essential goods like flour, firewood, paraffin, sugar and tackle.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s this type of combined fishing and farming died out and the small farms gradually disappeared. The men became full-time fishermen all-year-round, or got other jobs, and women began to seek employment outside the home.
Today, only a few families stick to the traditional combination of fishing and farming, but the small farm buildings still remain a typical part of the Lofoten landscape. Moreover, it would seem that a number of younger families are to some extent bringing back the traditional combination of fishing and farming. In the 1990s, the local authorities on the island of Røst, encourage people to keep sheep and they are in fact succeeding. In 1994, lamb from Lofoten was voted the best in the world, perhaps this too has encouraged others to start keeping sheep?
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"The Four Flows"
Lofoten protrudes from the mainland and into the sea like an outstretched arm. The location of the islands catches the eye, and they are therefore displayed on many old and ancient maps. Such an armlike position catches indeed most things, particularly gale force winds, storms and rain ..., but the most important thing this arm embraces is the invisible, life-giving Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream strokes intimately past the Lofoten Islands, creating mild winters, both at sea and on land. Without the Gulf Stream, Lofoten, with its northerly location, would become a cold and desolate place. It would be too cold for people to live on the islands, the Norwegian Arctic cod would not follow the flow to the archipelago, visiting fishermen would not come from north and south, and the thousand-year-old flow of fish products to the world beyond could never have happened.
Tradition of Openness
Lofoten an all-embracing arm, an inverted fjord? There is a long-standing tradition of openness here, openness when receiving visitors, openness towards news from afar. Experienced genealogists say that old censuses from Lofoten make exciting reading because, over the past couple of hundred years, such a surprisingly large amount of the population has moved here from other regions. People came here from the north and the south, from fjords and valleys and also from other countries. Lofoten has received visiting fishermen, artists, peddlers and adventurers and Lofoteners have set out on journeys, too, taking their fish with them. All this has provided new contacts and new impulses. For the most part, all this activity and flow of people was typical of the winter months. Today, the major flow of visitors comes during the summer season, constituting a relatively new and exciting chapter in the history of Lofoten. The main activity, however, still takes place during the winter, when the cod arrive.
The Amazing Journey of the Cod
Lofotens be all or end all is inextricably linked to the worlds greatest cod harvest, which takes place from January to April. The Vestfjord, between the islands and the mainland, has been called the worlds biggest maternity ward. It is here the Norwegian Arctic cod come to spawn during the winter. Until the age of 7 or 8, they frolic in the Barents Sea before reaching sexual maturity, whereupon they set off on a most amazing journey back to their place of birth. The journey begins in November-December. The cod steal past Finnmark and Troms, some of them being caught here and there, finally reaching Lofoten in enormous numbers in January, after a journey of some 800 kilometres.
Lofoten Draws them
Why do the cod migrate to the same area every year? Perhaps we might say that the cod has a kind of "instinct" leading it to its goal? Scientists say that this is still one of Natures mysteries, but they do know that a number of favourable conditions in Lofoten attract the cod: Perfect spawning temperatures of 4-6 degrees in the sea, correct salinity, suitable depth, appropriate currents and sufficient sustenance for the offspring (crawfish larvae and red copepod larvae). A 5 kilo female cod lays 2.5 million eggs, of which about 20 survive and develop into fish during the first year. Despite such great losses, the future of the species is thus safeguarded, and it is left to man to harvest the seas in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Poet and clergyman, Petter Dass, expressed Nordlands dependency on the fisheries. His words were written in the 1690s, and they still apply:
"Yea! The fish in the seas are our daily bread,
Should we lose them, we will suffer and dread,
Forced to utter our miserable sighs."
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The Lofoten Fishery
We wait for them, the fish and the fishermen, in January, every single year. Irrespective of occupation or business, in Lofoten, everyone is preoccupied with the winter fishery; with how things are going. This male-dominated occupation is observed with Argus-eyed vigilance by housewives, furniture salesmen, teachers and tax officers.
They all know that the greatest cod fishery in the world, forms the basis of all human settlement in the Lofotens.
Thousand Year Tradition
From January to April the fishermen are always at their posts in Lofoten, ready and waiting. In about 1120, King Øystein built "rorbu" cabins in Lofoten, where the fishermen could live and work. This was almost certainly because of the many visiting fishermen that came to the fishing villages during the Winter Season. Consequently, even more came. In such a way, the total catch increased, and the King gained
greater income and more control over the wealth that was landed. Today, the fishermen, and this "commercial fishery", are thus integral parts of a thousand year old tradition. The fishermen do as their forefathers did, they catch tasty cod, full of fatty liver and nutritious roes.
The fish as a commodity is the same, the drying method is the same, but apart from this the methods used for fishing, production and sales have all changed.
Stone Age finds show that the people here harvested the seas using tackle like stone sinkers and hooks made of horn and bone. Nets were also used, but only in shallow waters. The deep sea haul was taken with hook and line handlines. This continued for thousands of years, until way into the Middle Ages. In the history of the Lofoten Fishery, the tackle in use has been the focus of much turbulence. Being innovative on the seas of Lofoten has been no easy task. The fishermen were traditionally very sceptical to the use of new types of gear, saying that "the old ones are good enough". But more important was probably the fear of having to make new, substantial investments in an uncertain trade. Most of them had enough debt to begin with ...
Turbulence and Prohibition
We know that longlines were used in the Vestfjord in 1533, but it was not until 1580 that they became commonplace. The handliners quickly became frustrated, complaining that longlines ruined the fishing for them. There were no regulations on fishing, and lawlessness reigned: no rules for when the days fishing should begin, and no rules determining what tackle could be used. No wonder people were in despair. They asked the King for help, and were heard. In 1644, King Christian IV banned longlining. Gillnets were introduced to cod fishing in about 1750, and there was no lack of protest at that either. Consequently, nets were banned for a brief period of time. Only handlines were to be used, but then there were new protests, and the ban had to be lifted.
Indeed, neither making laws nor buying tackle were easy matters you never knew what would be prohibited next winter. Should the winter season prove to be a bad one, then the new types of tackle were held to blame, and there was a great deal of confrontation in the fishing villages between handliners, longliners and gillnetters. Things went to and fro, bans were imposed and the same bans were lifted. In the 1770s, both gillnets and the illegal longlines were in use. In 1786, both types of tackle were finally made legal, but conditions in the fishing villages were still a cause of great concern, with large numbers of strangers, few regulations, and a disturbingly high consumption of liquor and luxury commodities.
The Lofoten Act Improved Order at Sea
In 1816, the Lofoten Act Lofotloven was passed. This act regulated the time when fishing could begin in the morning, and divided the seas off the shore of each fishing village into permanent areas for longlining and gillnetting. The landlords or publicans of each fishing village were made inspectors, making sure that everyone conformed to the new regulations. So now peace was finally supposed to reign in the fishing villages, since the fishermen were obliged to stick to their own fishing village, rent "rorbu" cabins there, and decide in advance what type of tackle they would be using. There was, however, great dissatisfaction with these arrangements. The law was too rigid, it was not adapted to the unpredictable ways of the fishery. The fish did not distribute themselves evenly among the fishing villages, sometimes they were here, sometimes there.
Being bound to one part of Lofoten where there were no fish was quite intolerable when people in other areas were hauling in the catch. Furthermore, the landlords, having attained considerable authority, had become landowners like the British squires and acted like minor sheriffs in each individual fishing village, running things as they pleased. Dissatisfaction was rife, both among the fishermen, the general public, and among the official class.
Free Waters Free Fishing
In 1857 the strict regulations were finally lifted. An important figure in the implementation of this was government official Ketil Motzfeldt. The basic principles for fishing now became: free waters, free fishing, state inspection. The landlords, or squires, were removed from their office as inspectors, and the fishermen were given more influence and freedom at least on paper. In reality, many fishermen were still tied to their fishing villages. The squires had lent them money to outfit their boats, and had allowed them credit when times were hard. The squires knew that the fishermen would be forced to turn to them, even though they offered poor prices for their fish. Those who were in debt had simply no choice. The freedom to set tackle wherever the fishermen pleased led once again to unrest and disturbance. Nets and longlines were often set too close, and were ruined.
Safety and Minimum Prices
With the advent of the motor boat, work at sea became both easier and safer. It was easier to follow the fish and it was easier to go where the best prices were paid. The year 1938 is very important in the history of the Norwegian fisheries: it was then that the Raw Fish Act came into force, ensuring the fishermen a fixed price for their fish. From now on, the fish buyers could no longer determine the value of the catch, this was left instead to the fishermens own organisation, the Raw Fish Sales Association. The fishermen were secured a minimum price and could once again hold their heads high.
Up until the Second World War, fish caught in Lofoten was either sold to the squire, or to buyer boats anchored up in the harbour. After the war, the buyer boats disappeared, but even so, the squires were no longer the only buyers others had appeared on the scene. The 1950s and 60s were tough times for the old, well-established squire-owned businesses; they went bankrupt, one after the other. For the fishing village communities, this transition meant uncertain times but also opened up new opportunities.
The Seas of Lofoten Today
Today, the seas of Lofoten are divided up into longline, gillnet and Danish seine areas during the winter fishery and it is the fishermen themselves who determine the divisions. The boats must remain strictly in their own areas. The handliners on the other hand, can fish wherever they please. Nets and longlines catch the most fish, but the handliners dominate in numbers. However, according to the fisheries inspectorate in Svolvær, the tendency is clear: Danish seiners are increasing year by year. The Danish seiners use a small trawl net, like a large sack, that is tightened around the fish. Many fishermen criticise the Danish seine, saying that it is worse for the fish resources than the purse seines that purged the seas in the 1950s, before they were banned. Unrest and animosity between the users of the various types of fishing gear still occur, and the fishery inspectors of Lofoten have to patrol the waters off Lofoten throughout the season, to make sure that the borders between the different types of gear are observed.
Crisis and Optimism
Towards the end of the 1980s, some local communities experienced a crisis after the Lofoten fishery had provided poor yields for a number of consecutive years. During the winter of 1995, however, things were once again looking up the number of fishermen taking part was on the increase and the total catch was once again at an acceptable level. The fish kept to the more distant banks, though, and those who made money were the larger gillnetters and Danish seiners. The winter fishery was a disappointment for the smaller handliners, both in volume and income.
The Lofoten Fishery is culture and craftsmanship based on strong, long-standing and proud traditions. The Lofoten Fishery is competitiveness coupled with team work. It is long working days and worn out workers. It is hours spent at the most exhilarating, most dangerous and most beautiful place of work imaginable. It is elation at a major haul and sorrow over losses, purged seas and the fight for resources.
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Lofoten is one of the best places in the world for producing stockfish. The further west you go in Lofoten, the better in Værøy and Røst, conditions are particularly favourable. Visiting the Lofoten Islands in May is an experience for both the nose and the eyes, when knolls and hilltops are covered with fully laden stockfish racks. The island residents open their arms and proudly declare, "Thats our money you see hanging there."
Pure Food No Additives
No other country can compete with this way of conserving good food. Many have tried, none have been too successful like Iceland, for instance, who completed their final trial year in 1992. The fact is that very strict demands are made on conditions in stockfish production areas:
The air must not be too dry and the temperature must be relatively low so that the fish is not ruined by maggots and flies. On the other hand, the air must be warm enough so as to avoid freezing. A continuous breath of wind, with a touch of seaborne salinity, provides the best results.
Stockfish is a healthy, fresh commodity chemically free from artificial additives, created almost from "fresh air and love" alone. The production process is resource friendly and beyond all doubt the least energy-demanding food manufacturing procedure in the world. All the nutrition of fresh fish remains in the dried fish, only the water is removed. The nutritional value of a kilo of stockfish is the equivalent of that of 5 kilos of fresh fish.
Under reasonable storage conditions, stockfish will keep for years. When immersed in water, it soaks up all the moisture again, and in terms of transport economics it is therefore a unique foodstuff for export purposes.
Indeed, stockfish was in fact one of the first foodstuffs from the animal kingdom to be the object of international trade.
"Prima", "Sekunda" and Africa
Normally, the stockfish is taken down from the fish racks in early June and traditionally, June 12 was "fish-fetching day". From then on, it is the fish graders turn to sort the fish in accordance with the various different criteria. It is said that the stockfish grader not only does his job, but that he is also a craftsman in his field: he must be able to quickly see, smell and assess. At first, the fish is roughly sorted into 3 main categories: 1) "Prima" or first class, 2) "Sekunda" or second class, and 3) Africa (tertiary). Subsequently, it is sorted into a whole host of varieties, up to 30, according to quality, thickness and length.
The origins of this system lead us back to the time of the Hanseats (and later that of the merchants of Bergen) and their ability to exploit the demands made by the various markets on taste and size. Stockfish bound for Italy is graded with particular accuracy. There are at least 12 different grades of "first class" Lofoten cod. In addition, there are at least 5 different types of "second class" cod. "First class" cod from Lofoten is sorted by length, weight and appearance, into the various classes shown in the table below.
Sorting categories First Class Lofoten Cod
Ragno, 60 cm over
WM, Westre Magro 50/60 (thin Westre), 50-60 cm
WM, Westre Magro 60/80 (thin Westre), 60-80 cm
WDM, Westre Demi Magro 60/80 (semi-thin Westre), 60-80 cm
WDM, Westre Demi Magro 50/60 (semi-thin Westre), 50-60 cm
GP, Grand Premiere, 60-80 cm
WC, Westre Courant (ordinary Westre), 75-80 fish per 50 kg
WP, Westre Piccolo (small Westre), 100-120 fish per 50 kg
WA, Westre Ancona, 75-80 per 50 kg
HO, Hollender (ordinary Dutch), 58-60 fish per 50 kg
BR, Bremer, 50-55 fish per 50 kg
Lub, 40-45 fish per 50 kg
Second class Lofoten cod is sorted into the following categories:
IG, Italia Grande (large Italian) 55-60 fish per 50 kg
IGM, Italia Grande Magro(large, thin Italian) 60-65 fish per 50 kg
IM, Italia Medio (medium Italian) 75-80 fish per 50 kg
IMM, Italia Medio Magro (medium thin Italian), over 80 fish per 50 kg
IP, Italia Piccolo (small Italian) 100-120 fish per 50 kg
IPP, Italia Piccolo Piccolo (small, thin Italian) over 120 per 50 kg
First and second class cod from Finnmark is sorted by weight 100/200, 200/400, 400/600, 600/800 and 1000/1200 grams per fish.
Most stockfish is exported, something which is reflected in the names of the different categories. In the 1300s, the export of stockfish constituted no less than 80% of Norwegian export income. In 1994, 4824 tons of stockfish were exported at a value of NOK 392 millions. There are 30 countries on the list of buyers of this exalted commodity. At the top of the list, Italy prevails unchallenged, importing 3946 tons. It is therefore not without good reason that the Mayor of Røst says, "God bless Italian housewives and their kitchens! Long live Italian cuisine!" In 1994,
other important buyers included Croatia, the USA, Great Britain, Nigeria, France and Germany.
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The Cod Liver Oil Factory
Down by the old harbour, near the beach where they used to haul up the boats, you will find the oldest production plant in Å, the cod-liver oil factory. Here, the fish were braced and hung up on the fish racks to dry, or they were split and salted to make klipfish. The roes were salted in enormous German wine vats of oak, and the cod liver was boiled or steamed into cod liver oil.
In the old days, the liver was just left in the vats and the cod liver oil was skimmed off as the liver fermented in the heat of summer. Later, they began to boil the cod liver in iron cauldrons in order to extract a greater yield of valuable cod liver oil. This was done all year round. The stench was rife all over the fishing village. "You can smell money," people said of both this and the smell of dried fish.
The old Norse name for cod liver oil was "lysi" light, and the oil was actually used to fuel lamps all over Europe. Moreover, it was used for tanning skins, in the manufacture of paint and soap, and lots more. Cod liver oil and stockfish were for centuries Norways most valuable commodity.
Every summer, thousands of barrels of cod liver oil were transported on cargo vessels, the so-called "jekt"s, from Lofoten to Bergen and further on to Europe.
Fish, liver and roes, cooked together and referred to as "mølje", have always been an important and healthy part of the coastal peoples diet. Vitamins A and D and the Omega 3 unsaturated fatty acids in the cod liver oil, helped keep people healthy. It was often said that the cod liver oil makers and other people that took a lot of cod liver oil were seemingly never ill.
Medicinal Cod Liver Oil
Pharmacist Peter Møller wanted to introduce more people to the healthy effects of cod liver oil. In 1854, he built a lined cauldron, filled the space between the cauldron and its lining with water, and steamboiled the fresh cod livers. In this way he greatly improved the quality of the oil. The invention of medicinal cod liver oil was honoured with awards at many trade fairs in Norway and abroad. Later, the cod liver was steamed in conical oak barrels. In order to extract the last remaining drops of precious cod liver oil, the residue of the liver was then squeezed in a liver press before going to the manufacture of cattle feed or fertiliser.
Today, much of the old production equipment can still be seen in the cod liver oil factory at the Norwegian Fishing Village Museum in Å. Cod liver oil is still produced there in the old fashioned manner, and small bottles of it together with cod liver oil lamps are on sale as mementoes from Lofoten.
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Flakstad White Beaches
and the Midnight Sun
Flakstad smiles at you with its beaches white as chalk. Its pulse is the rhythmic beat of breakers rolling in from the great ocean. This tiny, green borough in the middle of the island realm of Lofoten consists of the island of Flakstadøy, and the northernmost tip of the island of Moskenesøy. Between these two islands is the narrow, fast-flowing Sundstraumen strait an important communications artery in this land of boats.
Harbour Conditions in the Fishing Villages
There is a sense of history about traditional fishing villages like Sund and Nusfjord. With its antiquated architectural environment, Nusfjord was selected as pilot project during the European Preservation of Architecture Year in 1975. These two fishing villages face the Vestfjord, as does the abandoned fishing hamlet of Nesland. All three represent important aspects in the history of communications prior to the motorisation of the fishing fleet.
Fertile agricultural areas like those in Vareide, Flakstad and Fredvang, are situated on the islands outer coast. At present, the village of Ramberg is undergoing development and will become western Lofotens most important outer coast harbour. The development of the harbours has greatly improved working conditions in fishing villages like Sund, Napp and Fredvang. In Mølnarodden and the surrounding district, the new industry fish farming has found a base.
Settlement in Flakstad is very scattered and includes many small, rural communities where traditionally, the combination of fishing and farming was the norm. Flakstad is the Lofoten borough where most of the population live on the outer coast of the island. Life there is lived beneath flaming, red skies and in a sea of mist.
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Sund Fisheries Museum
The Advent of the Motor Fishing Boat
A fog horn blows harsh and loud. A Bolinder, or was it a Brunvoll, drones away rhythmically. The shrill sound of hammer on anvil rings out. You have arrived in the realm of the audible. You have arrived at the Sund Fisheries Museum, which once, by way of a printing error, was described as the Sund Fixeries Museum and perhaps that is what it should have been called, because the fixing of curiosities and peculiar objects is something that has always been characteristic of this museum, which incidentally was not established on the basis of project descriptions, planning documents and bureaucratic paragraphs. This museum just simply developed, although not on its own.
A Museum is Born ...
Once upon a time but not that long ago, only about 50 years as a matter of fact a young, newly trained blacksmith set up a tiny smithy on an islet in the fishing village of Sund. Why did he do it? It was during the war, the fishing boat owners had long since installed engines in their boats, but there was a shortage of goods engines and other equipment were poorly maintained. Worn out Heins coughed and spluttered. Aboard the "Brottsjø" and the "Bølgen" Bolinders droned in dissatisfaction. In stormy weather out on the Vestfjord, Wichmans had problems, and winches got stuck. It was a long way to the shipyard here in the western Lofotens. The young blacksmith realised that there was work to be done here.
Things had to be repaired quickly so that the boats werent stuck in dock when the cod were at their most abundant out on the fishing grounds. The blacksmith did not have much equipment himself, but in his imaginative way he managed to fix most things. He welded, screwed and oiled a true inventor, he became. A wizard, some said. But could a museum arise from this? Of course not. But by way of all the improvisation he employed to get things to work, the blacksmith developed a special interest in, and insight into, just about any technical, mechanical or simply just any moveable part. And great was his satisfaction when he finally managed to coax life into these moveable parts. He grew more and more interested in anything that hummed or whirred, ticked or tocked ...
Ashlad and his Faithful Helper
He was born in a fishermans home "with one foot on the seashore" as he himself puts it. As a young lad he spent a great deal of time wandering along this shore. "Ive found it, Ive found it," he said, as did his close relative, Ashlad of Norwegian fairy tale fame. And he took care of what he found. He might easily find some use for a green glass float, a piece of rusty piping, or an old tin can. And as with Ashlad, before long, a faithful helper turned up. "She worked at the telegraph office and had a fixed income, so she bought me a welding set," the blacksmith once told me. And now they were two to find, obtain, and take care of ... For gradually the time came when the old drop-leaf tables were carted out the back door and replaced by Formica and teak tables. Chests and churns, wooden bowls, cod-liver oil funnels and lots of other "old junk" was thrown out of homes and boathouses and burned on bonfires. The small rowing boats rotted away on the shore.
Ashlad and his faithful helper took care of what came their way. But it was still no museum. In 1964, they came over an old, dilapidated "rorbu" cabin which they dismantled and moved to Sund. "The wages from the telegraph office were spent on nails," the blacksmith laughed. They crammed old domestic utensils into the cabin, together with tackle and ropes and "any old junk" as people used to say. The smithy was filled with tools and whirring bric-a-brac ... And that is how it became a museum. And that is how the fairy tail ended, or began ... Petra and Hans Gjertsen had begun to take care of part of our heritage ...
Derelict Fishing Villages and new Ones
The oldest boat engine in Sund dates back to 1907, the newest is from 1963. We are now going back to about 1905, when engines began to appear in the fishing boats, replacing the oars and sails. It is no exaggeration to say that the advent of the motor boat revolutionised the fishing industry in the course of a relatively short period of time. By way of his research, a historian named Jan Vea has provided a thorough analysis of structural and other changes that took place along the coast, verified by, amongst other things, some solid statistics. On the basis of his figures, Vea establishes the following fact: it was the fishermen from the Møre region who were the pioneers when it came to putting the new technology to use.
The fishermen of North Norway "sat on the fence" for a few years, until Troms became the pioneer county of the north. The motorisation process did not gain momentum in Nordland until 1914, but from then on things happened quickly quickest in Vesterålen, slowest in the Helgeland and Salten regions. Yet as late as around 1920, half or so of the fishermen of Nordland did their fishing from aboard motor boats. On the seas of Lofoten, open boats with sails were still a common sight, especially among those from Helgeland and Salten.
Sund was, and still is, one of the major fishing villages in the western Lofotens, together with the time-honoured neighbouring village of Nusfjord. On your travels you should, however, make a detour to another type of fishing village: to the derelict, yet well-preserved fisherman-farmers hamlet of Østre Nesland, which lies midway between its two "bigger brothers", Sund and Nusfjord. Østre Nesland evolved as a fishing hamlet in the 1850s. Imagine arriving in Østre Nesland on a winters day in 1920-25. What would you see there? In the harbour, the fishing boats would be shoulder to shoulder, or drawn up on the shore if the weather were bad. You would see 15-20 "rorbu" cabins full of fishermen, most of whom came from Helgeland. And you would see a number of fish racks. You could drop into the general store and buy yourself a packet of Tiedemanns tobacco. The aroma of freshly baked bread would ooze out from the tiny bakery. The cod-liver oil factory on the hill would not smell quite as good.
Harbour Conditions and Development
Now, imagine that you return 30 years later. What do you see now? Perhaps there are a few open boats with outboard motors in the harbour. Only a few rorbu cabins remain. The fish racks are few and far between, and you can smell neither fresh baked bread nor cod-liver oil. What has happened during these 30 years? You will find the answer by looking out over the harbour. It faces the Vestfjord, open and unsheltered against the south-westerly storms. By no means a good harbour, but it was a short distance from the fishing grounds and that was important when you were rowing out to find the cod. And should weather conditions in the harbour grow too bad, the small unmotorised boats of which there were still many around the year 1925, could be hauled up onto the beach. In 1950, however, the fishing fleet had long since been motorised, one or other open boat might still be found, but they all had outboard motors now. The harbour in Østre Nesland was not meant for motor boats.
The once vibrant and lively fishing village of Østre Nesland became derelict. It was the end of an era.
There are many derelict fishing villages along the coast of the Lofotens, but motorisation also led to the establishment of new fishing villages. A good example of this is Napp on the island of Flakstadøya. There is a good harbour there, but on the other hand, it was a long way to the fishing grounds when you had to row or sail there. With the advent of the motor boat, this disadvantage was eliminated, and Napp quickly developed into a modern fishing village.
Innovation Always Meets with Opposition
A fisherman came home from the slipway with his new engine. Inquisitive neighbours wanted to know how it worked. The owner told them it worked well, there was only one problem, "... it swallowed exhaust fumes." It turned out that the engine worked the wrong way round, taking in air via the exhaust, and expelling exhaust fumes through the air intake!! This story proves that knowledge of new technology was often lacking, and as is reasonable enough, the fishermen feared that they would not be able to cope with the problems. A touch of superstition might also be found at the root of their scepticism, expressed in such poignant remarks as "Engines are as great a disaster on board fishing boats as women, waffles and brown cheese ..."
Short-lived Opposition to Engines
The outermost part of the western Lofotens is characterised as a pioneer area with regard to the process of transition, and this applies in particular to Moskenes. This might seem something of a paradox because, as we have seen, the new technology aroused considerable scepticism and opposition here as in other places. The years prior to the First World War were characterised by intense yet short-lived opposition to engines. The fishermen claimed that the noisy engines frightened the fish away, that the motor boats would catch all the cod before they got to their spawning places, and that the old Nordland-type boats were not constructed for engines. Protest meetings were held, and a ban on motor boats was demanded during the Lofoten fishery. Even the Lofoten Fishery Inspectorate were in doubt, worrying about disorder at sea and demanding that certain sea areas be reserved for fishing from rowing boats, a demand that was in fact implemented.
The Squires Involvement
The squires, too, were sceptical. Jan Vea says that "they were largely on the side of the rowing boat fishermen." In 1908, the ageing squire of Reine asked Parliament to help limit the use of motor boats. It is not difficult to understand the squires scepticism. The rowing boat fishermen were tied to one place, they came to the squires village at the start of the season and stayed their until it was over. They hired rorbu cabins from the squire, bought their commodities in his shop, and they delivered their fish to him. A motor boat fisherman would be a mobile fisherman and would consequently pose a threat to the monopoly of the squire. But despite the threats, it is nonetheless a fact that many of the squires here, outermost in the western Lofotens, were quick to acquire their own motor boats. When the aforementioned squire of Reine asked Parliament to limit the extent of these newfangled operations in 1908, his sons and partners had already acquired two motor boats which were employed in gillnet fishing during the Lofoten fishery! And the squire of Nusfjord was to become a driving force during the process of transition.
A "Mobile" Fisherman?
How should one explain the squires active involvement in a process of structural change that they clearly feared would deprive them of power and influence? Why did they voluntarily elect to dig their own graves? Let us dwell for a moment on the notion of the "mobile fisherman". How mobile was he in this first stage of transition? There were in fact several factors that limited his mobility. Firstly, the engines were small, and as late as 1920, the average engine could muster a mere 13 hp. Their speed was correspondingly low, and in favourable conditions, a sailing boat could go faster. Secondly, the motor boat fishermen were still dependent on having a rorbu cabin, both as overnight accommodation for the crew, and as a place of work for the land-based workers, i.e. those who baited longlines and repaired the nets. There was therefore no immediate risk that the squires might be subject to the mass migration of fishermen from village to village.
The danger of losing control was not imminent at such an early stage. The squires here have therefore probably chosen the short-term solution, as Jan Vea points out, deciding that they were best served by going along with the unavoidable development of progress instead of trying to fight it, thereby providing themselves with the opportunity of reaping profits as long as there was anything to reap from. The fact that fishing in the western Lofotens was exceedingly good during these early years was no doubt a contributing factor to the squires decision.
The Poor Mans Dream of Owning a Motor Boat ...
In 1907, the three motor boats that were to be found here, on the outermost of the Lofotens islands, probably created quite a stir, and we can imagine that some young cotters lad or other, maybe taking part in his first Lofoten fishery, dreamed of some day owning his own motor boat. "Success" the boat would be called ... or maybe "The Trial" ... On second thoughts, he would name her after his mother, "Henrikka". And maybe this very same lad sat down at the kitchen table 10-15 years later to write an application to "The Sea Fishing Fund" for a loan to buy a motor boat. In that case he would soon learn that it was no easy matter.
The Fund was indeed established precisely to help poor fishermen of limited means, but a municipal guarantee for the loan was nonetheless required. At this point, the Mayor would be able to inform our fisherman that the Council required surety from "well-to-do guarantors." Sounds difficult.
Maybe a bank loan would be easier? Our friend knew of a fellow who had got one, but he in turn said that the bank required guarantors, too, and that they also regarded the boat itself, and his house and home as security for the loan. Our young fisherman didnt even have a house or home. A few years ago, his neighbour had acquired an engine. He had been given credit by the motor manufacturer.
For Lack of a Rich Uncle
During the first years of motorisation, it was not unusual for the engine manufacturers, who were very eager to make a sale, to offer both ordinary loans and hire contracts on given terms. But these arrangements were short lived, and our friend was turned down. And since he had no rich uncles either, who might have served as guarantors, it all ended up with him standing in the squires office one day, with cap in hand, begging for surety for the municipal guarantee and for a loan to cover the capital requirements that remained unmet, in order to fully finance the purchase.
Many a fisherman came to the squires office on the same errand as our impoverished young friend. We have no record of how many, nor do we have any record of how many were turned away. But various sources do show that many actually got what they were asking for. Often very often the squire would demand certain things in return for his goodwill. This might involve the fisherman being required to deliver his catch to the squire, or the far stricter demand that the squire be part-owner of the vessel. The latter condition was very common and meant that the squire could enjoy considerable control over operations.
Skipper on His Own Boat
The squire said yes to our fisherman, and after all the formalities had been dispensed with, he became skipper on his own fishing smack or cutter one of the 140 motor boats to be found in Flakstad and Moskenes around the year 1920. And now he dreamed of how one day he would buy the squires part, too, and become the independent, sole owner. Maybe he grew old before attaining his goal, or maybe he never actually got that far. Maybe, at worst, he lost his boat at a foreclosure during the inter-war years. During the recession and up until the mid 1930s, finding money to buy a boat became more and more difficult. The banks tightened up on the terms for loans. The State Fishermans Bank, which succeeded the Sea Fishing Fund in 1919, provided loans that covered only 40% of total costs. For many fishermen, the dream of owning their own boat was never anything more than a dream.
But some of them sought new solutions, and now more and more fishermen joined together to invest in a shared vessel, usually in cooperation with one of the squires out here. This was particularly common in the westernmost parts of the region. It should also be mentioned that as early as 1915, a special boat insurance company was founded. The company gradually managed to build up such a stable financial base that towards the end of the 1920s, it was able to offer low interest mortgage loans for the purchase of new vessels or for the alteration of older ones. The fishermen of Moskenes made particularly good use of these initiatives.
In 1935 the Norwegian Labour Party came to power with Johan Nygaardsvold as prime minister. As part of the governments social profile, the state was to provide "crisis grants" for the purchase of fishing vessels. The condition was that only active fishermen who were members of cooperative societies were eligible for grants. There was little interest for this kind of financing in our region. Only a few state boats, or "Nygaardsvold boats" as they were often referred to, turned up in the western Lofotens. One might ask why. Perhaps the answer can be found in the terms of these loans, where the squire was excluded from owning any part of the boats as he was not an active fisherman. The cooperative philosophy never made the necessary breakthrough in this region, opposed as it was by the squires.
The years passed by. Courses for ships engineers were held. The engines became bigger and more reliable. The boats became bigger, too, and one day the first boat with a wheelhouse showed up on the fishing grounds ... "A sheep shed," some laughed. It is said that once, under cover of night, some young pranksters in one of the fishing villages saw their chance to lay turf on the wheelhouse roof to emphasise the disgracefulness of "farmers at sea..."
People shared a wry smile, as they often do regarding anything new and unusual. Yet should a young lad on the post-war seas of Lofoten have caught sight of an open Nordland-type boat at sail a highly unlikely event he may well have thought, "It would have been fun to sail ... Granddad could do it."
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Five kilometres south of Napp, in rugged terrain, you will find a mighty, overhanging rock, a cave about 70 metres wide and 22 metres deep. The mouth of the cave is 9 metres tall, but at the back you have to crawl on your hands and knees. It is called Storbåthallaren and it is the oldest of the Stone Age settlements we know of in Lofoten and Vesterålen. The name, which means "big boat cave," comes from the fact that people used it as a winter storage place for the larger boats, or dories, right up until our own times.
It was Lofotens own "archaeological explorer", Kåre Ringstad, who found the Stone Age settlement in 1967. It was a very important find because for the first time, we were given a detailed insight into Stone Age life in the North.
Ringstad was on a boat trip with his family and had been fishing in the Nappstraumen strait when he decided it was time for coffee. They found a suitable place to land and after the coffee break, while Ringstad was looking around in his usual manner, he suddenly noticed an interesting overhanging rock. Upon taking a closer look, he walked right into the Stone Age settlement. On the way home his head was full of thoughts and his rucksack full of human bones. He hastily contacted Tromsø Museum. In the years between 1969 and 1971, excavations were carried out under the supervision of the archaeologist, Astrid Utne.
Life in the Cave
There is good shelter from the elements inside the cave, and thick layers of Stone Age human waste were found there. We can "read" almost 6000 years of exciting history from these layers of waste, from a time when sea level was about six metres higher than today. The objects found here included fishing tackle like hooks, harpoon points, and sinkers.
Other finds included spearheads and arrowheads, knives, axes and chisels made from slate, whetstones and grindstones. The tools were probably used to make tackle and boats, and for gathering fuel, hunting, fishing and carving. Bone needles (awls) and potshards from asbestos-based ceramics can provide us with details about work "indoors", about the sewing of clothes, tents and skin boats, and the preparation and preservation of food. Such finds show that Storbåthallaren Cave was not only a hunting station, but that people also lived here for longer periods of time. We can picture the extended family here: the men sitting sewing rough
leather capes while the women were out checking the snares for birds, or off together hunting otters.
The remains of the Stone Age peoples meals bear witness to an exciting and varied menu, the Stone Age settlers ate a lot of fish and here the remains of bones from cod, ling, coley, halibut and tusk were found. Shellfish and sea snails were also on the menu. In the remains of their meals there were bones from no less than 16 species of animals and 37 species of birds, of which gulls and the now extinct great auk seemed to constitute the most popular dish. When it comes to mammals, the remains of seals, foxes, wild reindeer and otters were found. Surprisingly enough, the remnants of bones also tell of dinners consisting of forest animals like deer and beaver. And even more unexpected were the remains of cattle and smaller domestic animals like sheep or goats. Noone had expected to find that they kept domestic animals in Lofoten 3-4,000 years ago. No remains of vegetarian food were found, but this is because such remains decompose quickly and most vegetables did in fact get eaten up! The extended family in the cave probably gathered berries, herbs and roots which they had for "dessert" or to spice their fish and meat with.
Battle Axe and Burial Finds
One of the finds of particular interest is the remains of a battle axe of the type that was in common use among cattle herders in southern and mid Scandinavia about 5,000 years ago. Did the Stone Age settlers use their battle axes for defensive purposes, or to attack? Burial finds from the Stone Age are very rare. In Storbåthallaren Cave, archaeologists found a womans grave including a complete skeleton. They named the woman Olga. Human bones from various different individuals were found in several places in the cave. It is difficult to determine whether these burials have any connection with the Stone Age settlement, or whether the place was used as a burial ground at some later date.
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Magnificent Mountains and Maelstrom
The island of Moskenesøy is majestic. Man becomes insignificant in this rugged island countryside, where the Maelstrom Moskstraumen one of the worlds strongest tidal currents, is nextdoor neighbour. The island is an eldorado for mountaineers and geologists. The mountains rise straight up from the sea, and at their feet a few, tiny fishing villages have managed to hang on. Traditional fishing villages like Hamnøy, Reine, Moskenes, Sørvågen, Tind and Å are all lined up along the inner coast of the island. The Lofoten Road comes to an end in Å. Along the shore of beautiful Reinefjord there are three tiny fjord hamlets with no road links, where the old combined fishing and farming traditions are still maintained.
From Mountainside Haymaking and Whaling, to Tourism?
There is not a lot of arable land in the borough of Moskenes, but haymaking on the steep slopes and mountainsides was common practice in the past, since most people kept domestic animals. Fishing has always been the major industry out here. The whaling organisation "High North Alliance" has its headquarters in Reine, the village with more whaling licenses than anywhere else in the country. Whaling has been going on here for generations. In more recent years, fish farming and tourism have become of increasing importance.
Up until about 1950, there were several small villages to the west of Å and around the Lofoten Headland. These villages were left derelict in 1951 though, after the first state grants had been awarded to encourage people to move away from the outer-coast villages of Hell and Refsvika.
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Cod and Communications
The Norwegian Telecommunications Museums Collection, Sørvågen
135 Years of Sørvågen Telegraph Station and Sørvågen Radio
We might well reflect in wonder at the fact that such a long, drawn out and craggy country as ours, on the outskirts of Europe, can offer telecommunications services to meet the highest of standards.
Many may indeed ask why Sørvågen, in the western Lofotens, set in Norways perhaps wildest and most rugged landscape, was to become the scene where such extremely important chapters in the history of Norwegian and European telecommunications history were written.
Or might this inaccessible countryside itself provide the reason why Norway is today among the world leaders in the development of telecommunications ?
Sørvågen Telegraph Station and Sørvågen Radio have been very much in the limelight throughout the 150 years of our telecommunications history.
Why Lofoten Why Sørvågen?
Every winter, fish worth millions of kroner were landed in Lofoten. The Lofoten fishery was one of the countrys most important enterprises. It was believed that establishing telegraph and telephone services in Lofoten would lead to an increase in the countrys income. Therefore, the authorities invested in the development of telegraph lines in Lofoten, starting in 1860. Wild mountains and ocean currents prevented the extension of the telegraph lines from Sørvågen, to Røst, Værøy and the Lofoten headland. The village of Sørvågen was therefore selected as the venue where several new inventions were to be tried out.
Norways First Fisheries Telegraph Service 1861
The year is 1859. Director General Motzfeldt of the post office wrote in his report from the Lofoten fishery that the yield would have been increased by 25% had telegraph lines been extended to the fishing villages. The Norwegian parliament Stortinget subsequently granted funds for a telegraph line to Lofoten. The Lofoten Line was completed in 1861, and its 170 kilometres of undersea cables and land lines comprised the countrys first separate telegraph line that was independent of the main network. Nine fishing villages had now been connected to each other by telegraph lines during the Lofoten fishing season. These were Skrova, Brettesnes, Svolvær, Ørsvåg (moved to Kabelvåg in 1862), Henningsvær, Steine, Ballstad, Reine and Sørvågen. The stations were only open during the fishing season, from January to April. In 1868, the Lofoten Line was linked up to the main Norwegian network, and from 1873, Sørvågen Telegraph Station was open all year round.
This increased the yield of the Lofoten fishery for both the fishermen, the merchants and the state, while also creating many new jobs in the fishing villages.
It was now possible to swiftly redirect the bait boats to where they were needed most, to transmit news about where the fishing was at its best, and to forecast stormy weather before it was too late.
Northern Europes First Wireless Telegraph 1906
"The mast was 50 metres tall. One of the workers climbed up and lay flat on his stomach across the top of it. I remember it well. We stood there with our hearts in our mouths," old Mrs. Hjørdis Lie from Sørvågen recalled.
We have moved on to 1903. On Lillehaugen hill in Sørvågen, a tall mast, comprising of several fir logs joined together and secured with 28 stays, had been raised. Similar masts had been set up on the islands of Værøy and Røst. The worlds second permanent wireless telegraph station had been built for experimental operations. Would it be possible to telegraph across the dreaded Maelstrom without laying one single undersea cable?
Four years earlier, in 1899, Marconi of Italy had experimented with wireless telegraphy across the English Channel. The fishermen and squires of the western Lofotens realised straight away what significance "the wireless" would have for them.
Elation in Røst And a Long Way to Row
In 1902, Hermod Petersen, an engineer from the Telegraph Board, paid a visit to Sørvågen. He spent the night at squire Nils Arntzens, assessed conditions, and left, convinced that it would be possible to establish a wireless connection between Værøy and Røst, and Sørvågen, that is to say, between the whole of Lofoten and the rest of the country. The Storting granted 15,000 kroner to the project.
The experiments carried out in 1903 provided results beyond all expectations. It is said that a man rowed all the way from Røst to Sørvågen, a stretch of 60 kilometres across perilous waters, to bring the good news: the signal from Sørvågen had passed over the Lofoten mountains, traversed the Maelstrom and been picked up in Røst.
On May 1, 1906, the wireless link between Sørvågen and Røst was officially opened Northern Europes first wireless telegraph. The Italians had got theirs the year before, but at least Sørvågen came in at second place in these worldwide statistics.
Storms and War The Masts the Weakest Link
Even before the telegraph line had been officially opened, the masts had been damaged by stormy weather. The top of the Røst mast was blown down on February 6, 1906. On March 11 it broke again, and on April 11, the top of the mast at Sørvågen was blown down. Even the new iron mast raised at Sørvågen in 1914 was blown down in 1925.
During the Second World War, Sørvågen Radio became a very important link in the German communications network, and on Boxing Day in 1941, the mast was demolished by British commandos during the raid on Lofoten.
Kaiser Wilhelm Contact with Ships at Sea 1908
"I remember Kaiser Wilhelms ship, the "Hohenzollern" was moored just off shore here. We kids were so excited. We climbed the hill and saw a little boat come to shore with a telegram," says Mrs. Hjørdis Lie.
The clerks at the telegraph office did everything within their power to provide the Kaiser with the best possible service, but it was all in vain.
Telegraph manager Øwre wrote the following in his telegram protocol:
July 15, 1906: "... have extra assistance today in connection with the German Kaisers journey south ... do not disturb Sørvågens possible coming correspondence with the ship."
July 16, 1906: "Heard a sign from the ship yesterday ... dispatched a number of telegrams ... the state of the network here, and the low mast made adjustments very difficult . I regret that this may provide an incorrect impression of both the equipment and those operating it."
July 12, 1907: "Called the "Hohenzollern" from 6 in the morning until 10.15 without being heard. We heard the ship call Sørvågen 10 times and Røst 4 times."
Sørvågen, then, did not manage to make contact with the Kaisers ship. This was an embarrassment for the as yet young nation of Norway. However, not only did Kaiser Wilhelm launch the flow of German tourists to Lofoten, we can also thank him for the fact that the telegraph office in Sørvågen was opened for contact with ships at sea as early as on July 1, 1908, making it the first of its kind in Norway.
The telegraph office became more and more important to the fisheries. During the Lofoten fishing season in 1910, up to 500 telegrams a day might be dispatched here. There was, of course, considerably less traffic during the off-season.
The telegraph station in Sørvågen soon became too small, but in 1914, station manager Thorleif Johannesen was able to move with his family and all his equipment into the new and pleasant telegraph building, only a few hundred metres away from the old station.
Wireless Telephone to Hell and the Maelstrom 1928
Norwegian Telecom obtained their first wireless telephone sets (radiotelephony) in 1919. The ordinary telephone lines now met with competition, just as the telegraph lines had been with the advent of wireless telegraphy. Norways first radio telephone station was also established in conjunction with Sørvågen Radio.
Lofotodden Radiotelephony Station at Hell began corresponding with Sørvågen in 1928. A few years later, Værøy also obtained a similar connection with Sørvågen.
Some important chapters in the history of telegraphy were indeed written in Sørvågen. It is sad that in 1976-77, the station had to be automated and Sørvågen Radio was closed down. The four telegraph buildings that had been in use from 1861 are still in relatively good condition, as is the 70 metre tall radio mast. The people in the west of Lofoten still appreciate the light emitted from it on dark autumn and winter nights.
The Sørvågen Telecommunications Collection is a division of the Norwegian Telecommunications Museum. The museum provides a good impression of the development of telegraphy, telephony and radio in this country. The museum is housed in the old telegraph station which dates back to 1914 and is situated just off the E10 highway.
The exhibitions will be closely linked to the following landmarks in the history of telecommunications in Lofoten and Norway:
Norways first fisheries telegraph service, the Lofoten Line, 1861
Northern Europes first permanent wireless telegraph service, 1906
Norways first permanent ships telegraph, 1908
Norways first permanent wireless telephone (radiotelephone), 1928
Norways first permanent radio link, 1946
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Life in the Fishing Village
Today well go in through the back door, or "kitchen entrance" to the fishing villages. Really, we should have come in from the sea, because then we would have seen the fishing villages from their best side, since the buildings date back to the time when the sea was the "main road", the traffic artery.
Å What a Place!
Å, in the year 1896. Life was not the same for the maid, Gjertine Hansdatter, and the squires daughter, Ingrid, but both their lives were an integral part of "life in the fishing village." All of the 33 buildings in the fishing village of Å have their own place in the jigsaw puzzle. Here, we find the dwellings of the squire and those of the fishermans family. In the rorbu cabins, visiting fishermen stayed during the Lofoten fishery. In the bakery, they baked the "daily bread". Food was stored safe and dry in the storehouse. There were animals in the stable and the chicken shed, animals that provided milk, eggs, meat and wool. In the barn fodder was kept for the animals. Here, too, you would find tools and vehicles like sleighs and wagons.
The outhouses and sheds contained various tools and tackle, and in the woodshed, a man would be in constant activity making firewood. In the nice, spacious boathouse, boats were hung up or lined up in rows. The blacksmith forged and repaired tools in his smithy for work both in the fisheries and on the farm. The shop sold goods of all kinds food, clothing and tools. Warehouses, quays and a cod-liver oil factory were built so that fish could be landed and processed. Post and reception offices served to maintain contacts and help do business with the world outside the fishing village. A religious meeting house also belonged in the picture, as a popular belief in God also had its natural place with the people of the fishing village.
In order that worldly life might carry on, the people of Å had to utilise what nature had to offer: berries from the fields, fish from the lakes, and juicy, green fodder from the mountains. But most of all, life there was linked to the Lofoten fishery and the riches of the sea.
Squires and Cotters
In 1896 there were two squire families in Å. There was the Nilsen family who were resident in Hennumgården House and the Ellingsens in that which is today known as the Mansion. They lived very close to each other, but that did not matter, because there was the best of relationships between the two families. The history of the squires is clearly visible in Å. It is more difficult to trace the history of the fishermens families though, despite the fact that they constituted the majority of the inhabitants. According to the census of 1900, 94 people were living in Å at the time. Ten of them were of the squires families.
Eighteen were servants, of whom only one was employed by a fishermans family. Three were in temporary employment with the Ellingsens and sixty-three of them constituted fishermans families and cotters. The cotters families did not own any land and had to rent that on which their houses stood, as well as haymaking lands and pastures, from the squire. Payment was made in the form of unpaid labour, usually performed during the summer haymaking season.
Squire Ellingsen had a large farm with two horses, ten cattle and several dozen sheep. In contrast, the domestic animals belonging to a fishermans family usually included one cow and 5-6 winter-fed sheep. All the animals needed fodder and the hay for this was gathered in the Å-dalen valley and on the steep slopes overlooking the village of Å. Every tiny green patch was a valuable asset on the steep, rocky island of Moskenesøy.
Late Imperial Style and Standardised Houses
Both squires residences were built in the 1860s and they dominate the scene in the fishing village. Considerable alterations were made to Ellingsens mansion in the 1890s, turning it into an Imperial style building. In 1909, the house on Bekkhaugen hill was built in three different styles: the Swiss and Jugend (German art nouveau) styles from Central Europe, in combination with the Nordic dragon style.
These houses provide a good impression of the relationship between the squire and the villagers. There were vast differences between people, both in wealth and power, not to mention in freedom of choice. The squires children were the only ones who were sent away to get an education. The children from the fishermens
families normally did as their parents had done, they became fishermen and housewives. There is a cotters house near the main museum building which was given a "face lift" in the 1950s. The cottage shows how the average man and woman lived their everyday lives. After the Second World War, there was an increase in welfare. People wanted better living conditions than the small, crowded dwellings could provide, and the old houses were incorporated into "new", standardised houses. Traces of the old ones can still be seen in several places.
The mansions of the squires constituted the public image of the fishing villages. At the homes of the better off, there were well-kept gardens with pavilions and exotic trees, shrubs and other plants. The Hennum garden in Å was renowned for this and was even mentioned in a weekly magazine as "a tiny piece of enchanting Eden." The mansion was often painted white, at least the walls facing the harbour were. It didnt matter too much about the back. That might lack panelling, and even be painted with the cheaper, red or ochre paint. White was the most expensive colour, and as such, it signified prosperity. This can be seen in the old, white-painted "Grandfathers house" in Å, where the bakery is today. Here, the back walls facing the storehouse are painted red.
The Squires Family
There have been five generations of Ellingsens in Å, but it all started a long time before them. Let us begin with the merchant of Å, whos name was Maas. He had a foster daughter called Margrethe Sophie Kibsgaard (she died in 1881) who, in 1843 married the captain of a cargo vessel, Johan Ellingsen (1812 1900).
Margrethe gave birth to ten children, but wealth had no power over sickness and death, and only three of the children actually grew up. The years between 1830 and 1880 were the Golden Age of the North Norwegian trading posts. Trade flourished, fish prices were good, and the fishing villages developed. In Å, development continued for several decades into the 1900s. This economic growth was closely linked to the fact that the fish merchants, like Squire Ellingsen, were given licences to export the fish that was ready for sale themselves.
The Year 1896
Margrethe and Johans son, Christen Peder, or C.P. as he was known, took over the management of the family business in 1876. His wife, Henriette Mathilde from Trondheim, gave birth to seven children. Both husband and wife had their own areas of work within the business, which was called "Handelshuset Ellingsen, Å." C.P. was in charge of trade, including the purchase and export of fish, roes and cod-liver oil, shop-keeping, the shipping agency and the post office. Operations were kept running by workers like the clerk, the assistant manager, the baker, the blacksmith, the carpenters and the dockers. The lady of the house had an equal amount of work to supervise. She managed a large household with a governess, a babysitter, a cook, a housekeeper, several maids, a milk maid and farm hands. There were nearly always overnight guests on the estate because traditionally, the squire had also been the local innkeeper. During the Lofoten cod season, there were 40 ready made beds at the Ellingsens. The farm was big, too, and the supervision of it required considerable effort from both of them. There were also farm hands and milk maids to take care of daily chores.
Winter and the Lofoten Fishery
Life has always been exhilarating and exciting during the winter fishery. The weather varies from frightful storms to the brightest sunny days with intense blue skies. The boats go back and forth to the fishing grounds, landing the catch on the quay. People shout and laugh and the gulls are beside themselves with all the titbits that are thrown into the sea. There is a pungency in the air, a mixture of tar and fish mingled with the tempting smell of freshly baked bread from the bakery. In 1896, no less than 32,280 hungry fishermen congregated in the fishing villages. The baker, who moved to Å during the fishing season, had plenty to do, since Å was a popular fishing station among a large number of these fishermen.
The Fishermen and Life in the Rorbu Cabin
The visiting fishermen in Å came largely from Beiarn and the Salten region. They came year after year and gradually became well acquainted with the local population and local conditions. The fishing villages were inundated with menfolk, and this meant that the girls were overtly coveted. During the autumn, the men checked their tackle and boats, and in mid January, they left their homes and set sail for Lofoten.
Ellingsen built many new rorbu cabins and in 1896 he had enough room to accommodate 300 men. Living conditions were cramped with 10-12 men, or two boat crews, in each cabin. Two or three grown men shared a single bunk. Everything was done in the main cabin room. Dripping wet clothing was hung up to dry, nets were mended and longlines baited, even their food was cooked here!
Fighting and antagonism? Oh yes, indeed there was the men could get on each others nerves, but as a rule there was a good feeling of solidarity among them. The fishermen spent their time and energy on a working day that began in the dark, around four or five in the morning. The start signal, a lantern or a flag, was hoisted at 6 a.m. The fishermen sailed or rowed as fast as they could out to the fishing grounds to compete for the best places to set their gear and haul in the catch. After a long day at sea, they gutted the catch ready for sale for hanging or salting. It was often late in the evening before they were back in their cabins.
The Lofoten Chest and Preparations
Fishermens wives, maids, sisters and mothers along the coast of Norway from Finnmark to the West Country, spent the autumn months in preparation. The men and sons were to take part in the Lofoten fishery, staying away for several months. They needed to take a well-filled Lofoten Chest with them because the worlds greatest cod fishery was also one of the worlds toughest places of work. The women baked in September. The baking ladies went from house to house helping to bake griddle cakes and the wafer crispbread, or "flatbread," that kept so well. In October the domestic animals were slaughtered and then meat for the coming year was prepared. The meat was processed by either salting or drying. The best of the dried or salted meat was placed in the Lofoten Chests.
The Lofoten Chest was of vital importance to the fishermen. The women packed them with love, care and wisdom to them it was a good investment ... A full grown man needed a lot of food and clothing in order to carry out hard, physical work during the coldest time of the year. Woollen clothing was vital along the coast. Coastal home crafts consisted largely of producing woollen clothing for the family and for the menfolk in particular. Clothes made from the wool shed by the old sheep that were kept outdoors all year round, had the same effect as todays "Gore-Tex" garments, they were water resistant and when the woolly mittens finally did get wet, they still retained the warmth. For those working at sea, woollen clothing was therefore essential. The women spent as many working days getting everything together, as the men spent on the Lofoten fishery itself!
The women in the fishing village didnt pack Lofoten Chests for themselves, but there was no shortage of work when it came to preparing food and woollen clothing. Their fields of work included the home, the barn and the men. They took care of everyone who needed food and care. In addition to this, they also took part in the fisheries, both before and after the catch was landed. They baited longlines, or tied the fish together in pairs at their tails, ready for hanging out to dry on the fish racks. During the Lofoten season, the women could earn money washing clothes for the crews of visiting boats. It was the squire who decided whether they should be allowed to let out lodgings to the fishermen, though. He had a monopoly on lodgings. If the weather was good, the women sometimes rowed out among the fishing boats and sold waffles and cakes to hungry fishermen!
The children, too, had to do their share of the work and took a great deal of responsibility in the home, looking after smaller brothers and sisters, fetching water and making food. Moreover, they also worked on the quayside, cutting out the cod tongues and threading the heads together ready for drying. Fish work provided them with cash, other work was rewarded with praise and acclamation from adults and satisfied parents.
The Age of the Open Boats
Å does not have a good natural harbour, but things worked well during the age of the open boat: Nordland-type boats of various, different sizes were moored in the tiny bay known as "Leira", in front of the boathouse. Here, you would find "fembøringer", "åttringer" , "firroringer" all the way down to the smallest "færingen", with its two compartments. The buyer boats ketches and cargo vessels came from afar to salt the fish. Steamers lay just off shore, selling bait to longliners. In 1896, motor boats were unheard of, people had only just got used to the steamers as carriers of heavy goods and travellers along the coast. In 1890, Å became permanent port of call for the steamer, and a local agency office was established. A new trend appeared in the villages with many of the visiting fishermen now arriving in Å on the steamer, or the "Local" as the boat was referred to locally.
But then, as now, it was the catch that everybody was interested in: that was what they made their money from. Ingrid, the Squires daughter, was 13 in 1896. She writes that there was excitement in the air: "All of us landlubbers stood around on the hilltops when the boats came in from the sea, waiting to see if they were lying low in the water." If the result was poor, everyones spirits sank, and there was a dismal atmosphere in the fishing village. It was something else when all the boats returned heavily laden. Then there was "unusual vitality around all the quays and warehouses. People ran, shouted, laughed and waved their hands the cod had arrived."
In 1896, the fishing was not particularly good. The total quantity of the catch ended up at 18,000,000 fish. The year before, in 1895, the result had been a phenomenal one, totalling 38,600,000. Still, fishing is unpredictable, exciting and stimulating. The dream of the great haul is ever present ...
June 12 Fish Fetching Day
After Easter, the Lofoten fishery was usually over, the fishermen had returned home, and the hectic atmosphere was gone. The fish "the money" was left hanging on the fish racks until June 12, which was "fish-fetching day." Then, the jekt this fabled North Norwegian cargo vessel would be moored in the harbour, ready to do its part of the job. Towards the end of the 1800s it was the cargo ship "Lydia av Aa" that rocked across the Vestfjord with all sails set, bound for Bergen. She was loaded with fish, roes and cod-liver oil, all ready for shipping to the markets down in Europe. In exchange for the fish, the cargo vessel brought goods like flour, corn, salt, sugar, paraffin, tools and tackle to the north. Fish prices were therefore of the utmost importance to everyone. Many of the years of destitution in northern Norway were a result of poor fish prices and high corn prices. Coupled with a bad Lofoten season, these things spelled disaster.
The old cleric and poet, Petter Dass from Alstadhaug, put the situation into words:
If the cod us should fail, what have we then,
What should we from here to Bergen send?
The cargo vessels would sail empty.
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Cave Paintings in Refsvika
In the mid 1980s a group of archaeology students were in Refsvika working on an assignment for the Economic Maps Department. It was fine, summer weather and they were inside the 50 metre tall, 12 metre wide and 115 metre deep Refsvikhula Cave. There was great astonishment among those present when, in the light from the torches, red matchstick men appeared quite clearly on the walls of the cave.
Even the local inhabitants thought it strange that nobody had ever noticed the figures before. People had been living in Refsvika right up until the 1950s. They had often been in the cave, or Kollhellaren as they called it. The children used to play there, and if the weather was stormy during the summer, the cows would seek shelter there. Consequently, the women often sat, nice and dry, milking their cows in Kollhellaren Cave, yet nobody ever actually noticed the 21 red-painted matchstick men who are about 30-40 centimetres tall and can be found at three different places in the cave.
Where the Light Meets the Dark
The matchstick men were painted about 3,000 years ago with paint made from a red powder, probably from the iron oxide that can be found in the cave. They were painted where the cave branches off in three directions, in the darkest parts, where "life meets death". This might mean that the caves were used during ritual or religious activities. In mid-summer, the Midnight Sun fills the cave with a yellowish light. Could this have been the light by which the Stone Age people performed their rituals?
In the cave known as "Helvete" (Eng. = Hell) on the islet of Trenyken in Røst, similar painted figures have been found, and recently, 8 drawings of human forms were found in a large cave at Sanden in Værøy. Similar finds at several different places may be a sign of strong religious bonds in the area.
The cave paintings in the Refsvikhula Cave, or Kollhellaren, are the Borough of Moskenes contribution to the ancient monument project "Footsteps in the north. A Guide to the History of North Norway and Namdalen."
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"Keep an Eye On the Current"
The Lofoten Headlands next-door neighbour is the Maelstrom Moskstraumen renowned as one of the worlds strongest tidal currents in open waters. It flows between the island of Moskenesøya in the north, and some islets just north of the uninhabited island of Mosken in the south. The strait is about 4-5 kilometres across and 40-60 metres deep, and is considerably shallower than the surrounding sea. The tide fills up the Vestfjord twice a day, and the difference in height between high and low tides can be up to 4 metres. Midway between high and low tide, the current changes direction, and this is when the whirlpools begin to appear, with speeds of up to 6 knots.
Nothing else in Lofoten has been so prolifically described and exaggerated upon in so many languages. In 1539, Olaus Magnus "Carta Marina" was published complete with an illustration of a terrifying Maelstrom. In 1555, his work on the Nordic peoples history came out in Rome. The Maelstrom is here described as an ocean vortex that runs up and down the sea every day, devouring great ships and spewing them up again! In 1591 the district bailiff wrote, " ... When the Maelstrom is at its peak, then you can see the sky and the sun through the waves and breakers, because they roll in as high as mountains." Similar impassioned descriptions of the Maelstrom can also be found in later accounts. The Norwegian clergyman and poet Petter Dass, the American author Edgar Allan Poe and the French author Jules Verne, are all in the same league. These authors describe the furious force of the Maelstrom, and Jules Verne also describes it as the worlds most dangerous stretch of sea. They write of a current that howls, that rumbles like a buffalo herd on the prairie, that drags ships under, smashing them to smithereens against the sea bed. They describe great whales bellowing as they submit to the Maelstroms vortices, while on land, the houses shudder at their foundations! The inhabitants of the outer coast villages of Hell and Refsvika lived nearest to the Maelstrom. They were annoyed at these exaggerations. They themselves had first and foremost treated the forces of the Maelstrom with respect adapting their work and travels to it in a natural manner. Yet even so, it took its toll among the inhabitants.
Its ferocity was indeed a powerful experience. From the land, it was exciting and entertaining to watch, and the locals gladly climbed a fair way up the mountainsides to get a better view of it. Today they say, "The Maelstrom, ah yes, that was our television when we were kids." Despite all the delirious descriptions of "the Great Maelstrom," the people of the outer coast regarded it as a gold mine full of shoals of shiny fish.
For more information about the
Maelstrom, you might like to try these links:
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Should you need any further information, please don't hesitate to contact us: we look forward to hearing from you!
Fishing Village Holidays, Lofoten
The Official Tourist Information Centre in Flakstad and Moskenes,
N-8392 Sørvågen, Lofoten, Norway
Tel.: (+47) 76 09 15 99
Fax: (+47) 76 09 24 25