The Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands by Liv Kjørsvik Schei and Gunnie Moberg was written in 1991, twelve years before I visited the islands. The authors divide the book into chapters covering topics such as the early times, later history, folklore, the language, literature and fishing. There are also chapters about each island which I found extremely interesting. Two groups of islands, those that are sparsely populated in the north, as well as the smallest Faroe islands by area in the south, are grouped into two separate chapters. For such tiny islands as Mykines and Stóra Dímun, which the Faroese dreamer that I am hopes to visit one day, having such information about these tiny Atlantic specks–in English–was invaluable. I was fortunate enough to photograph Stóra Dímun and its little sister Lítla Dímun on a boat trip to the southernmost Faroe island, Suðuroy. The final chapter was about Suðuroy and I reacquainted myself with the story of the first Faroese flag, which was designed by a student from Fámjin, a tiny fishing village located on the west coast of the island. When I was there I photographed this famous flag, the first of its kind.


There was only one small map of the Faroe Islands at the front of the book. I wish there were more maps in detail, and individual maps of each island to accompany their own chapters. I had to flip to the front of the book constantly to understand what and where the authors were talking about, and more often than not the villages described were not represented on the map. Without a cartographic reference the villages seemed jumbled together and I couldn’t tell in which direction each island tour was going. The authors rely on Faroese landforms such as mountains, valleys, lakes and trails in their island descriptions and with the exception of the highest mountains none of these features were on the maps either. I felt lost without a map amidst the Faroese fog.

Life in the Faroes before the construction of roads and especially tunnels meant having to walk across the hilly islands, through the pea-soup fog and rain. I remember it well during my hikes across Streymoy and Suðuroy! The authors write about a teacher who braved the elements on the northern cigar-shaped island of Kalsoy:

“Thus a schoolteacher who worked in the two bygdir [villages] of Trøllanes and Mikladalur in Kalsoy before the tunnels came, told hair-raising stories of how she journeyed from one place to another along the frightening path high up on a ledge through the snow and storm of winter while securely roped between two of the toughest men on the island.”

Land in the Faroe Islands is hilly and beaten relentlessly by Atlantic winds and sprayed by salty waves. Any available space is used for animal husbandry, specifically for the grazing of sheep and cattle. I chuckled when I read the following:

“It is strange that the Faroese who are so inventive and constructive where fishing is concerned, cannot get their agricultural act together.”

Most crops cannot grow in the Faroes, and the few that do are sheltered from the rain and surf. Trees, for example, cannot grow in the Faroes, and any wooden buildings are built either from wood that had to be imported, or from wood washed ashore, usually from shipwrecks.

I enjoyed the chapters on the Faroese language and literature so much that I checked with several on-line retailers, including bookstores in the Faroe Islands that I myself visited ten years ago, to look for titles in English translation. I ended up ordering two novels that are famous throughout the islands for being groundbreaking works depiciting Faroese culture: Barbara by Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen and The Old Man and His Sons by Heðin Brú. I only wish that I knew Faroese, so I could enjoy the works in their original language. Fortunately, the Faroese SagaFæreyinga saga has been translated from its original Icelandic into English. As a Germanic language, however, Faroese seems easy to decipher, and attempts I made to read a Faroese passage before peeking at the authors’ English translation were easier than I thought.

I have more books on the Faroe Islands, as well as two books on the Faroese language. Books about Faroese written in English are few and far between. All of them will be part of my 2013 objective to finally read all the books I have about islands and their culture.

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