Parrot Time is a linguistic and cultural emagazine published bimonthly by the Parleremo language learning community. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Erik Zidowecki, contacted me based on our conversations about the Faroe Islands to ask whether I would be interested in helping him put together a special issue focusing on Faroese topics. Naturally, I was very excited to work on the project. With the help of four Faroe Islanders, we published eleven articles on subjects ranging from summer festivals on the islands and the new feature film Ludo to the presence of Danish in Faroese life and the Faroese perspective on the whaling controversy. I’m very happy with the way the magazine came together with such a wide variety of pieces and beautiful photographs.
From my article “Coming Home to Faroese” in Parrot Time’s special Faroe Islands issue.
“Coming Home to Faroese” was my main feature story for the magazine. By exploring the richness that learning Faroese has brought to my life, I wrote about the challenges and rewards of learning a language with a small number of speakers. Here’s an excerpt:
“I remember how it felt to speak Faroese down in Copenhagen, to navigate through the crowded city and yet feel as if I had never left the islands when I heard the language I had learned to love so well. The Danes and other foreigners that passed were none the wiser that something didn’t add up, that I was an imposter, that I didn’t belong. In a way I did. In that moment, I felt I could just glimpse, just taste, that feeling of being a part of something… smaller. Something more intimate. Of what it meant to know just from a language that you were home.”
Sea Shepherd has officially changed its Operation GrindStop 2014 logo.
Original Grindstop Logo
The former logo, which bore the image of the Faroese flag, or Merkið, was criticized by Faroese for desecrating the image of their flag. Using Merkið in this manner is also illegal under Faroese law.
New GrindStop logo
The new logo represents a significant change. It now features bloody seas under the islet of Tindhólmur. References to the Faroese flag have been removed.
In an update to their Facebook page, Sea Shepherd writes, “The new campaign logo shows that we are not anti-Faroese, but we are opposed to and will remain present in the Faroe Islands to prevent the brutal slaughter of cetaceans.”
At a press conference in the Faroe Islands, they said that they made the decision to redesign the logo based on conversations with their supporters in the Faroe Islands. No mention was made of any legal concerns.
An article on the Faroese website aktuelt.fo quoted Sea Shepherd leader Scott West as saying, “We have listened to the Faroese people — we understand, that the flag is sacred for the Faroese, so we made a mistake using it in this year’s campaign logo.” (Vit hava lurtað eftir, hvat føroyingar siga – vit skilja, at flaggið er heilagt fyri føroyingar, tí var tað eitt mistak av okkum at brúka Merkið í búmerkinum fyri kampanjuna í ár.)
Faroese social media is exploding with commentary about Sea Shepherd’s Grindstop 2014 anti-whaling campaign.
The Faroe Islands is being invaded this summer by The Sea Shepherd Conversation Society, which is coming with more than 500 volunteers in an attempt to stop the Grindadráp, or Faroese whale hunt, by “monitoring the 23 grind bays, deterring the dolphins from shore, and taking direct action to intervene against a grind if necessary.” Operation Grindstop 2014 will be the largest land- and sea-based campaign in the organization’s history.
The Grindadráp and Sea Shepherd are both controversial in their own way.
The Grindadráp / Faroese Killing of Pilot Whales
Photo: FaroeIslandsPhoto.com / Kasper Solberg
The Faroese have hunted pilot whales for hundreds of years, and their meat and blubber formed an invaluable part of their diet in the past, when food was scarce in this remote part of the world. Even today, whale meat and blubber is the Faroese national dish, and the hunt is considered one of the cornerstones of Faroese culture. The main threat to the consumption of pilot whale, as the Faroese see it, are the health effects of the high mercury content in whale meat today.
The pilot whale is not listed as an endangered species (as some anti-whaling activists claim) and the hunt is not considered to be a threat by organizations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the American Cetacean Society, and the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission to pose a threat to the species. The IUCN’s Red List listing of the pilot whale says that “the Faroese catch is probably sustainable.”
While some argue that the tradition is outdated and unnecessarily cruel, especially since it involves the killing of such intelligent or otherwise special animals, many Faroese argue that killing whales for food in the grindadráp is as humane, if not more so, than the slaughter of factory-raised animals, which merely has the public relations advantage of taking place behind closed doors so the blood doesn’t disturb the grocery-shopping, meat-eating public.
Sea Shepherd is an environmental activist group whose founder, Paul Watson, split off from Greenpeace due to his confrontational tactics. Many people around the world see Sea Shepherd’s members and volunteers as heroes protecting the whales, and they have a large media presence including, in the past, a reality TV show called Whale Wars. Others, however, decry the organization’s disregard for facts and their vigilante actions (they have been called eco-terrorists and faced charges for assault and sabotage, among others).
For more on the Sea Shepherd controversy, you can find many news articles about Paul Watson and the organization, such as this one from The Telegraph.
Grindstop 2014: The Beginning
The Sea Shepherd Grindstop volunteers started arriving in the Faroes last week, provoking a wide range of reactions from Faroe Islanders. Many wish the protestors would not be allowed into the country. Others say that it is important to treat them with respect as visitors, and that, on the bright side, they will be forced to spend money in the islands. There is also a small group of Faroe Islanders who are themselves against the grindadráp, despite the inherent difficulty of going against the established culture in a small community. A Facebook group called “Faroe Islanders against the Grind” counts 104 members.
Faroe Islanders Against the Grind
In comparison, another Facebook group was created about three hours ago to call for banning Sea Shepherd from the Faroe Islands. The group currently has 712 members.
Ban Sea Shepherd
Whatever the attitude, the presence of such a large group is bound to have an impact on the islands this summer. With fewer than 50,000 people living in the Faroe Islands, 500 protestors can be considered the equivalent of 3 million foreign Muslims, Jews and vegetarians invading the United States to demand that Americans stop slaughtering pigs and consuming pork products.
One satirical Faroese website even went to far as to announce a fake grindadráp, which it said would be held at Vatnsoyrar — the only village that is not on the coastline, but rather on the shores of the largest Faroese lake! The explanation was that in order to avoid Sea Shepherd, they would shoot the whales through a waterfall. I don’t know whether any Sea Shepherd people showed up in Vatnsoyrar, but I did find the link posted to their Grindstop Facebook page by concerned readers.
Fake Grindadráp in Vatnsoyrar
Faroese people have also taken to defending themselves and asking questions back at the activists through social media. Oddur Á Lakjuni wrote, “I’m wondering here: The Faroese kill more sheep than they do whales… But there’s not a word of criticism from anywhere. Both are killed for food – although neither is absolutely necessary for survival (and to be honest: which item of food is, when you take it in isolation?)”
The volunteers have been scouting out beaches and appear to be rather bored, if social media updates consisting almost exclusively of volunteers looking out onto the empty sea and videos such as this one are anything to go by:
Mimmy Vágsheyg, a Faroese woman who opened a new cafe in Klaksvík this year, says that anti-whaling advocates have been harassing her online for months, sending her messages filled with graphic images and leaving phony bad reviews on her business listings. Vágsheyg does not serve whale meat at her cafe, but thinks that the group must be indiscriminately targeting Faroese businesses. “I’m just getting started here, I don’t need this!” she said.
Since Sea Shepherd started arriving en masse last week, Vágsheyg says they have come into her cafe to repeatedly check her menus for incriminating items. “I don’t understand why they come every day. Do they think I am hiding the whale?”
En route to the Faroe Islands, I spent several days in the Norwegian coastal city of Bergen. One does not simply fly into the Faroe Islands, after all. Although Atlantic Airways (the Faroese national airline) is expanding its services pretty quickly, coming from America you still need to connect in one of a handful of European cities. You’ll have to book the flights separately, and, with flights in and out of the Faroes frequently delayed (sometimes for days) its good to have some buffer time in between. That gave me the perfect opportunity for a short stay in Bergen, where I studied abroad in 2012. The plan was perfect — I could stay with friends and even attend the 200th Jubilee celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day, or Syttende Mai.
From right to left: The famous tall-ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl, a Ferris Wheel for the Bicentennial celebrations, the Haakonshalle and Rosenkrantz Torn medieval buildings, and Bergen’s historic wooden wharf (Bryggen).
Aside from convenience and pleasure, there was also something romantic about the idea of entering the Faroe Islands through Bergen. Norway, and especially Bergen, have long had a tight connection to the islands, which they controlled during Viking and Hanseatic times. When the Danes took over Norway, they took the Faroes as well — and kept them when Norway was handed over first to the Swedes and then, finally, to the Norwegians themselves. Copenhagen long ago replaced Bergen as the “capital across the water” where Faroese goods were traded and religious and political authorities reported. But Norway and the Faroe Islands continue to resemble and remember each other in many ways.
Unlike in the rest of the world — and even in the rest of Europe — the Faroes are well known in Norway. Some Norwegians have even been there. The blank stares mentions of the Faroes elicited for me in the United States were replaced with a wide variety of reactions — “Wow, you’ll love it!” “How intriguing.” “What a crazy place…” “I had a Faroese friend once.” “I love Faroese music.” “I’m applying for a job there.” “I’ve always wanted to go there!” “Their language is so strange, it’s like you can almost understand it, but not quite…”
Rising high over the sea on Damsgårdsfjell!
Hiking on Mt. Ulriken, high above the city.
In many ways, Bergen was a good halfway point between where I was coming from and where I was going. A good place to acclimatise. The mountains and the sea, the rain and cool summer weather, the wool sweaters and smell of fish — these I would find in the Faroes as well. The size of the bustling city, the birch and oak and pine — these I would still have to leave behind. Norwegian was harder on my brain and tongue than my native English, but much easier and more familiar than the more-inflected and less-phonetic Faroese.
Fishing and picnicking on Mt. Sandviken.
I drank deeply of the pure mountain water I had missed so much. I walked so far that blisters broke through my tender flatland feet. I saw friends I had missed for many months, meeting them in bars and cafes, by lakes up on the fells, in cozy homes where the familiar smell of wet wood and the warmth of heated floors nearly brought me to nostalgic tears.
The Syttende Mai Parade
Syttende Mai was a day to remember. We gathered for the traditional holiday breakfast, with puddings and fenelår sausage and champagne, and walked down to the city along with thousands of Norwegians who had gathered in their Sunday best or beautiful Bunads, the Norwegian national dress that varies spectacularly and colorfully from region to region.
Spectators at the Syttende Mai Parade
We wandered blissfully from the parade to a cozy cafe packed tight with the festive air, to the statue of Ivar Aasen to celebrate the linguistic diversity of Norway, to the city’s oldest student bar up on the cliff, down to the wharf for ice cream, back to Årstad, on the other side of the harbor, to grill as the afternoon light shifted into a long, light Nordic evening. And we sang about Norway, in Nynorsk and in Bokmål, sometimes stomping the deck so hard that I was afraid the old boards would break.
After a short break when the French girls sang their anthem and I sang an Ozark ballad (I decided on Matty Groves), my friend Kurt turned to me and sang,
“Vilja tær hoyra kvæði mítt?”
The first words to Ormurin Langi — one of the most famous Faroese kvæði. “Do you want to hear my ballad?”
Vilja tær orðum trúgva, um hann Ólav Trygvason, hagar skal ríman snúgva.
Glymur dansur í høll, dans sláið í ring: Glaðir ríða Noregsmenn til Hildar ting.
Now that was good fun! Here were cultural roots that ran deeper than the sundering sea. I pulled up the lyrics on my phone so we could all sing along, some tripping over the orthography here and there or interrupting to say, “That’s just like an old word from my region! Like something my grandfather would say!”
In English, the lyrics mean something like this:
Will you believe the words, About Olav Tryggvasson, Here’s how the rhyme revolves.
Raucous dance in the Hall, Dance, form a ring, Gladly ride Norway’s men, To Hild’s War Gathering.
Singing Anthems, Ballads, and Kvæði
At some point, an exchange student came by to ask Kurt what was going on.
“This is a song that they sing on the Faroe Islands,” he told him. “That’s a little group of islands way out in the sea between here and Iceland. We like the way they sing. And this song is about a Norwegian king; they celebrate him on their national day. This makes us very happy.”