The Boroughs of Flakstad and Moskenes

- the Fishing Village Realm

















The Borough of Flakstad
Surface area: 180 km
Population: c. 1600
Municipal centre: Ramberg

The Borough of Moskenes
Surface area: 117 km
Population: c. 1400
Municipal centre: Reine

The islands of Flakstadøy and Moskenesøy are located in the untamed, western part of the Lofoten Islands. Most of the inhabitants of Flakstadøy live on the outer coast of the island, overlooking the Norwegian Sea. Here, you will find long, chalk-white beaches and extensive agricultural areas. The islands are surrounded by strong tidal currents like the Nappstaraumen and Sundstraumen straits, and the infamous Maelstrom.

Glaciers and other forces of Nature have sculpted the island landscape, which is among the wildest and most interesting that Norway can offer. Traces of Stone Age settlement dating back over 5,500 years can be found on the islands. Several old place names, such as Moskenes, bear witness to early Sami settlement.

The inhabitants of Moskenesøy live largely on the eastern side of the island, where the best harbour conditions are to be found. Earlier, there was also settlement along the entire northern coast of the island - the so-called outer coast, but owing to poor harbour conditions and perilous waters, all of them have now been abandoned. Nusfjord and Å are particularly well-known for their old, well-preserved architectural environment.

The Lofoten Fishery, the Fishing Village and the Rorbu Cabin

Abundant Resources in the North
When the great glaciers receded from our northern coastlines, the cod began its annual migration from the Barents Sea to spawn in the waters of Lofoten. Every winter for over 10,000 years, the coastal people have caught the tasty Norwegian Arctic cod, eating the fresh fish together with the liver and roes, or producing stockfish and cod liver oil - used for bartering and trading purposes.

Lofoten was of central importance in this productive process. Even before the year 1000 AD, substantial trade in fish had begun, and fishermen from other parts of the coast travelled to Lofoten to take part in the annual Lofoten cod fishery, which lasted from January to April. The fish was dried and taken home or sold to local merchants.

For several hundred years, fish produce from the North comprised up to 80% of the nation's total exports. In addition to this, large amounts of skins, furs, eider down and walrus tusks also came from the North.

The Struggle for Resources
Many a battle for the rights to these abundant natural resources was fought between kings and noblemen in the north and south. The most famous of these was the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030 AD, between the North Norwegian king Tore Hund with his army of fishermen and farmers, and King Olav the Holy. The fishermen and farmers from North Norway, Trøndelag and the northern regions of the West Country won that particular battle, but eventually lost the war over the abundant resources in the North. The royal power of southern Norway took over control. In 1120, King Eystein established North Norway's first town in the Lofoten Islands and built a church and so-called rorbu cabins (accommodation for visiting fishermen). He was now able to control trade and taxation while at the same time making it possible for more visiting fishermen to take part in the Lofoten Fishery.

However, towards the end of the 1200's, the mighty Hanseatic League of Germany took over most of the trade with the Lofoten Islands and North Norway from their offices in Bergen. The local aristocracy lost all command of the resources and was soon to disappear. The people were left in a state of general poverty, while escalating exports led to an increase in the population of the North.

The Lofoten fishermen lived a hard and perilous life. Every year many of them were lost at sea in their tiny open boats. Stories are told of great catastrophes where several hundred men were lost on the same day. And even among those who survived the toils of a stormy sea, the freezing cold would also take its toll. The fishermen often sat soaking wet in their boats in the frost and wind. When they came ashore, many of them had to sleep outdoors beneath the rocks, in caves or under their boats and sails. "... so the wretchedness that these poor people suffer for their daily bread is beyond description. I am quite sure that no-one on earth suffers so much for their meagre sustenance as do these poor, destitute people here in Nordland," bailiff E.H. Schønnebøl wrote in 1591.

Free Trade - Economic Growth and the Reign of the Squires
For several hundred years, the Northerners were forbidden to conduct local trade or to export their produce. After 1750, the Hanseatic League and other trade monopolies lost their grip and free trade acts were passed. Local commerce now became legal, and round about 1900, direct export from the fishing villages was also allowed. The local merchants, including squires Langås of Sund, Dahl of Nusfjord, Ellingsen of Å, Sverdrup of Reine and Berg of Svolvær were to become the first exporters.

After the Napoleonic wars, when peace, the potato and the smallpox vaccine had led to a population explosion in southern Norway, considerable migration to northern Norway, including the Lofoten Islands, took place. In conjunction with freer trade and good fishing seasons, this was to form the basis for substantial economic growth here in the North.
In the early 1800's, the local merchants began to buy real estate in the fishing villages. These landlords, or squires, were given exclusive buying and selling rights, and under the Lofoten Act of 1816 they were also given "powers of inspection and ownership" over the seas and the fish. They determined the price of the fish they bought and of the wares they sold, and were represented on all major public committees and councils. "Kings of the Headland" - Nessekonger - was the name given to these new, mighty men of the North.

Their "right of control" over the fishing was eventually diminished by the Lofoten Act of 1857 which paved the way for free seas, free fishing and public fisheries inspection.

The Fisherman, the Squire and the Rorbu Cabin
The word "rorbu" is derived from the Norwegian words "ror" (rowing a fishing boat) and "bu" (to live or stay); i.e. the accommodations in the fishing village where visiting fishermen lived while they were staying here to fish from their rowing boats. The first permanent accommodations in the fishing villages were probably turf huts. The oldest "rorbu" cabins consisted of a wooden room approx. 4 x 4 metres and a "hallway" or porch of the same width but often smaller. They had a fireplace and an earthen floor.

The squires established themselves and grew more powerful throughout the 1800's. In order to bind the fishermen to their fishing stations and thereby ensure the supply of fish, this "new nobility" built a large amount of rorbu cabins. These cabins served a number of purposes. The fishermen made their food there, they ate and slept there, dried their clothes, baited long-lines and repaired their nets there. As soon as a boat arrived in the fishing village, the skipper had to pay a visit to the squire in order to secure a rorbu cabin.

A man from Trøndelag who was not able to get a rorbu cabin, told that they hauled the great rowing boat ashore, turned it over and used it as a house.

The rent from rorbu cabins and other land dues comprised only a part of the squire's income. Since he also conducted trade and fish processing, he found it only natural to regard these operations as one and the same. Consequently, the fishermen who rented rorbu cabins were normally required to deliver their catch to the squire - at his price.

The strong position of the squire as rorbu owner, fish buyer and merchant was in some cases abused, and the fishermen often felt exploited and unfree. But even though the squires were intent on earning money, they were also socially aware, helping the resident fishermen's families and the visiting fishermen when they could. The fishermen and the squires had common interests: if the fishing went well, the squire also benefited. The squire supplied the fishermen with food and fishing gear, and often owned their boats, too.

Technology and Democracy - the End of the Squires
Most fishermen rowed in teams aboard the second largest of the Nordland-type rowing boats - the åttring" - which had 5 compartments. By 1905, the first boats with motors and decks had appeared. The fishermen could now stay on board their vessels while still using the rorbu cabins as a place of work on land. At the same time, they began to organise themselves in fishermen's unions that worked together with new, radical political parties. The power of the fishermen increased, while that of the squires diminished.
New legislation to the benefit of the fishermen and the fishing industry changed the balance of power. The Raw Fish Sales Act of 1936 relieved the squires and fish merchants of their right to determine fish prices. Since 1938, prices have been set by the Raw Fish Sales Association, which is the fishermen's own sales organisation. The system of squires disappeared after the war in step with the development of democracy.
Free trade, new technology and the development of democracy have turned North Norway into a good place to live. However, over-fishing, tough competition over the fish resources and swift globalization pose a threat like never before. Widespread mobilisation is necessary if the environment and settlements in the outlying districts are to be preserved.

"Fishing Village Holidays, Lofoten"
Environmental and Sustainable Tourism

We work to preserve our heritage
- to care for our natural surroundings, our way of life - and our guests.
We wish visitors an Environmentally friendly Fishing Village Holiday - and hope you will show consideration and support, also in the future - Welcome to Lofoten!

Over the past few years, the Fishing Village Realm of Flakstad and Moskenes has consolidated its position as one of the country's most stable and attractive destinations. Tourism has reinforced local enterprise and restrained the effects of an extensive national centralization process.
We hope that tourism in our region may be used as a tool for maintaining settlement, our way of life, our culture and our countryside. Our environment is attractive, but vulnerable. Therefore, it is also crucial that use of our cultural, natural and human resources is environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Ecology and Economy
- an important relationship

In conservation work we must distinguish between, on the one hand, the centrally controlled and industrialised use of the environment - within the fisheries, hunting and tourism and, on the other hand, the local population's traditional use of local, renewable resources .

If the resources disappear, the local inhabitants have little or no chance of investing in new enterprise elsewhere in the world. Their capital - production plants, houses and boats will then be of little or no value, and their self-respect and identity will be lost.

Here we see a connection between ecology, economy and identity that should be given a major role in the future conservation of natural and environmental resources.

Maintaining vital, decentralized human settlement will prove to be the best means of conservation - because the local user, on the basis of his/her knowledge and long-standing traditions, will often be the best conservationist: If we are economically, socially and culturally dependent on a resource, we will find it easier to take on the role of guardian and protector of it. This applies to the coastal population's and the coastal fisherman's relationship to the fish resources, and the villagers' and tourist host's relationship to the surrounding environment - to that which the visitor pays to experience.
In this way, decentralized settlement and local resource control contributes to the conservation of environmental attributes that both the fisheries and tourism are completely dependent on.

The struggle for fish resources has been going on for a long time. It started 1000 years ago, - concerning the right to export, and later process the fish - and it has continued over the past 50 years, with the right to catch the fish. Today, major corporations with efficient ocean-going vessels are competing with the local fish companies and the coastal fishermen for the right to the fish.

Fishing has always formed the basis of settlement here. The struggle for this resource will determine the continued existence of our small coastal communities. We ask visitors to help us take care of our settlements and our environment.

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Copyright: Lofoten Tourist Enterprises AS(LTE), 1997