Tag Archives: Travel

“We are not anti-Faroese” — GrindStop Logo Changed

Sea Shepherd has officially changed its Operation GrindStop 2014 logo.

Original Grindstop 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.

The new GrindStop logo

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.)

The Sea Shepherd Grindstop 2014 Invasion

Faroese social media is exploding with commentary about Sea Shepherd's Grindstop 2014 anti-whaling campaign.

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

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.

For more on the grindadráp controversy, please feel free to read Faroe Islander Elin Brimheim Heinesen’s blog post, Why Most Arguments Against Grindadráp Fail, the official Faroese whaling website, this PBS documentary or information directly from highly regarded conservationist groups.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Image: seashepherd.org

Image: seashepherd.org

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

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

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.

#GrindStop2014, #HotdogStop2015, anyone?

In the first week, not much of note has happened on either side. The Faroese are waging their own anti-SS social media campaign, sharing such critical news stories as photographic evidence of Sea Shepherd volunteers stealing food from a ferry buffet or mocking Sea Shepherd operatives for calling the police when a group of rowdy Faroese came towards one of their boats calling them names one night in the capital.

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

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?”

Imagining the Faroes, Part I

Now that I have been in the Faroe Islands for a few weeks, I have gotten started with my research interviews. I plan to talk to several Faroe Islanders of varying ages, genders, and places of residence about how the Faroe Islands are represented to foreigners through various media channels, and how they feel about those representations.

So far, I have conducted three formal interviews and more than a dozen informal conversations on this topic. One trend that has started to suggest itself is that the older interviewees have been more positive about representations of the Faroe Islands than the younger interviewees, even suggesting that the tourism imagery shows the islands in an unrealistically good light, while the younger interviewees seemed more bitter about anti-whaling sentiment and outdated representations.

A two-page spread from Visit Faroe Islands' new tourism booklets. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider during the last part of the interview.

A two-page spread from Visit Faroe Islands’ new tourism booklets. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.

One amusing wrinkle in the interviews has been that many respondents have recognized people they know in the example media I’m presenting to them. In my very first interview, I showed part of a video, and my interviewee asked me if I would like him to introduce me to the people speaking in the video. In another interview, when I showed the above photo of the Faroese ring dance, the interviewee told me that she recognized “almost everyone” in the photograph, as they were all from Klaksvík!

When I was planning the interviews, the possible frames I felt that I had seen in representations of the Faroe Islands were exotification (through emphasis on the traditional ways of life or the remote, wild natural conditions), trivialization (due to the nation’s small size), and conflict (presenting the Faroe Islands as backwards, especially in regards to the controversial grindadráp).

So far, no one has mentioned the trivialization frame, except to say that many people are not aware of the Faroe Islands at all. One man told me an anecdote in which he was travelling and tried to explain where he was from to some people who had never heard of the Faroes. He said that it was in between Scotland and Iceland, and they insisted that no such country existed. He looked around for a map of Europe, and when he found one, the map itself was missing the Faroe Islands! He had to find a second map to prove that he was, indeed, from a real place.

Here are the main points I’ve heard so far about depictions of the Faroe Islands:

A screenshot and description of the Danish tv documentary, "Kvindeflugt fra Færoerne," which is about the gender disparity in the Faroe Islands.

A screenshot and description of the Danish tv documentary, “Kvindeflugt fra Færoerne,” which is about the gender disparity in the Faroe Islands. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.

– They focus more on old traditions, such as the ring dance, and less on growing, current trends like modern music and cuisine.
– They are antiquated, and haven’t caught up with the changes of the last 10-30 years.
– They imply that everyone in the Faroes is a sheep farmer or a fisherman.
– They play down or ignore the existence of modern institutions like hospitals, shops, and the University.

– Information about the Grindadráp is filled with inaccurate claims, such as that the pilot whales are endangered or killed for fun.

– They have beautiful photos and descriptions of the unique Faroese nature.
– However, they could be painting an unrealistic picture of good weather and endlessly clear skies, conditions which are rare in the Faroes though they do occur.
– They ignore the winter almost completely in favor of coverage of the brief tourism season (June-August).

– They are concerned that tourists might not understand that the Faroese weather is uncertain and changeable, and that everything in the Faroes is expensive.

A sheep walking on the road leading to the village of Múli.

A sheep walking on the road leading to the village of Múli. This is one of the images I ask respondents to consider in the final part of the interview.

So far, one of the most intriguing things to come up in an interview was one woman’s suggestion that many of the problems she saw in representations of the Faroe Islands had the same problematic root — that foreigners almost never travel to the islands in the winter. Not only does that ignore more than half of the year in the Faroes, she thinks the long, dark, stormy winter has a huge effect on the Faroese culture, and that, without understanding that, it’s impossible to explain the Faroese mentality or perspective on a wide range of issues.

Faroese Montage

Montage Comic

Critical Skills Status Update:

My Faroese skills have improved to the point where I can explain my project, however badly and haltingly. This in and of itself feels like cause for celebration! I am also actually driving around, between villages, through tunnels, on mountain roads. Haven’t gone by myself yet, but I feel like I’m improving every time and no longer feel like I’m going to die — just potentially annoy every other driver on the road and maybe stall out the engine (sorry, little white car).

I’ve made a lot of contacts in the last week and feel much more prepared to get started with all the interviews and that sort of work now. Am I totally ready? Of course not. But I never will be. Still, I think things are going pretty well. And even if every day brings new challenges, that’s half the fun — so bring it on, Føroyar!

Cultural Background: The Faroese Language

My first taste of anything Faroese was the language itself, when a friend sent me Týr’s Ormurin Langi, a heavy-metal recording of an old Faroese ballad, almost a decade ago. Later, I would come to know the landscapes, the culture, and the people as well, but part of me fell in love with just the words themselves.

In a way, that’s very fitting. Language is a hugely important part of cultural and national identity. You’ll find it at the heart of many a nationalistic movement. The Faroese language and its use played an important role in the movement towards Faroese autonomy, and continues to be a factor in negotiating distance from Denmark and concepts of what the Faroe Islands should be today.

The Faroese language is very important to most Faroese, for whom it is their mother tongue, inextricably tied to the culture and proof of their need for independent recognition. In “Cultural Rhapsody in Shift,” Faroese Anthropologist Firouz Gaini writes that “the language, first and foremost as a semantic system and an oral tradition, has dominated the scene and been widely recognized as the jewel of the Faroese culture.”

Until the mid-20th century, Danish was used in official matters, education, literature, and religious institutions. Even today, because of the size of the community, a huge variety of imported products and media are not translated into Faroese. The Faroese TV station, when it runs out of Faroese material, switches to whatever it can get from Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian and American programming, generally subtitling in Danish if at all. The cell phones are Danish, and if you want to text in Faroese you’ll have to turn off the auto-correct and switch over to the Icelandic keyboard every time you need the letter ð (edh). Despite the huge push to translate all sorts of things from all parts of life, children still have to use many Danish textbooks and sometimes even take their exams in Danish. At a minimum, the Faroese are bilingual with Faroese and a local variety of Danish called Gøtudanskt, but many also speak good Danish, are trilingual with English, and even multilingual with other foreign languages on top of that.

Comic about Faroese and Danish

One could spend twenty minutes just explaining the history of Faroese in conjunction with the other Scandinavian languages, but, in an attempt to make things brief, Faroese is descended from Old Norse, just like Icelandic and Norwegian. Danish and Swedish developed in a rather different direction, but Danish then had a huge effect on Faroese and especially Norwegian when they were under Danish rule. The result is that Faroese and Norwegian can be considered the most central of all Scandinavian languages, with Faroese retaining more grammatical complexity and similarity to Icelandic and Old Norse. The Faroese are in fact the best in the region at understanding all of the others.

Faroese is a highly inflected, highly irregular language with an inconsistently phonetic writing system.

When I say Faroese is highly inflected, I mean that they love “bending” words – or conjugating their verbs and declining their nouns. Verbs take different forms depending on who does them and when, and nouns are even worse. There are three different noun “cases” – Nominative, Accusative, and Dative, depending on whether the noun is acting as the subject, object, or direct object or according to its place within a certain idiomatic expression. Nouns come in three genders, and within each gender there are several possibilities for how the words within that gender can be bent. Then, of course, you also have to think about definite vs. indefinite nouns, because the definite marker goes at the end of the word and affects the bending. If you’re keeping track, that means each noun has 12 forms – not counting four genitive ones which are now rarely used.

Emergency Exit Row instructions in Faroese on at Atlantic Airways flight.

Emergency Exit Row instructions in Faroese on at Atlantic Airways flight.

When I say Faroese is irregular, I mean that, despite all of these rules, you’ll find almost as many words that vary from the rules in at least some small way as you will words that follow them exactly. You’ll also find alternative ways to say all sorts of things – head, for example, can be høvur or høvd, or even heysur or knokkur.

Faroese also has some rare and strange vowel sounds, much as English does. This has been really hard for me to get used to, even though it’s not that different from my native language, simply because I’ve gotten so used to purer, simpler sounds in every other language I’ve learned. So you have to get used to that sort of irregularity.

The Faroese writing system is one of the biggest headaches for both native and foreign learners. I’m constantly asked here if I can also write Faroese. It would be very easy for someone learning the language by ear here to be completely illiterate. The relationship between the letters and the sounds is quite irregular, like in English or French, and takes a lot of getting used to. The reason for this is that when the written language was developed, and quite late at that (1854), the primary goal was not phonetic fidelity but rather etymological clarity. The written language is so clear about its roots that I can basically read Icelandic and Old Norse now, even though the spoken language has diverged greatly since that time. A secondary advantage of this writing system is that it avoided privileging any specific Faroese dialect (yes, that’s right – in a nation of less than 50,000 people, there are several dialects). That latter is what I’ve been told, anyway. From where I’m standing, it seems to me that that’s true only because the written language is so out of touch that it works equally poorly, and thus equally well, with every spoken dialect.

To give just one – although admittedly particularly egregious – example of the spelling nonsense, consider the letter ð (edh). Students of linguistic notation, Old English, or Icelandic will think they know this friendly character. It normally makes a voiced th sound (like in “then” or “there.”) Not in Faroese, though. In Faroese, it means whatever it feels like. Usually that’s some sort of semi-vocalic glide, like a W, V, or Y. But sometimes it’s a G. In exactly one word, it’s a D. I only wish I were joking.

"Gjógv" is the name for this village and the Faroese word for Gorge. Think it's pronounced Jogv or Gyoegv? Think again. It's more like Jeggv!

“Gjógv” is the name for this village and the Faroese word for Gorge. Think it’s pronounced Jogv or Gyoegv? Think again. It’s more like Jeggv!

All of this makes Faroese quite a bit harder than the average Indo-European language to learn. But I also find it also incredibly rewarding because it has such a tight and fascinating connection with the culture here. It’s lovely to see how much people value and take an interest in their own language — that enthusiasm makes the learning process, even if slow and slightly painful at times, an adventure I’m happy to embark on.

A Weekend in Suðuroy

Sheep graze beside Skúladepilin í Suðuroy, which serves as the island's high school and a  school for health professionals. The school opened in 2009 and has been a rare new construction on an island that continues to experience population loss.

Sheep graze beside Skúladepilin í Suðuroy, which serves as the island’s high school and a school for health professionals. The school opened in 2009 and has been a rare new construction on an island that continues to experience population loss.

I spent my first weekend in the Faroe Islands on the island of Suðuroy, the southernmost island in the Faroe Islands. Suðuroy interests me because it is on track to become the only large island not connected to the others by undersea tunnel. Getting to Suðuroy still entails, and may always entail, a helicopter or a two-hour ferry ride. Largely due to its isolation, Suðuroy has been losing population for several years and has now fallen below 5,000 inhabitants.

I went to Suðuroy for the 70th birthday party of a relative of my host family. I was also able to visit a small local festival in honor of a 130-year-old fishing boat and go out to the local pub one evening.  It was great to have such an intimate look at the island’s special culture.

Vágur: A child plays on the Johanna TG 326 during the celebration of the boat's 130th birthday.

Vágur: A child plays on the Johanna TG 326 during the celebration of the boat’s 130th birthday.

Tug of War is serious business at a boat's birthday party in the village of Vágur on Suðuroy.

Tug of War is serious business at a boat’s birthday party in the village of Vágur on Suðuroy.

Holding a heimalamb, a lamb raised at the farmer's home because its mother didn't want it. Cute, right?

Tvøroyri: Holding a heimalamb, a lamb raised at the farmer’s home because its mother didn’t want it. Cute, right?

People from Suðuroy have a distinctive accent and are known for being loud, friendly, and a little bit provincial. In my experience, the first two were definitely true. As for the third, well, I can only relate that when I went to a gas station and asked to use the bathroom, they answered “Yes, of course, if you don’t mind going down some stairs…” and promptly opened a trapdoor with a ladder leading to a toilet in the basement!

Suðuroy’s nature is a little different than that in the rest of the Faroe Islands. To my eyes, there are fewer mountain peaks and more sheer seaside cliffs. Suðuroy is the only one of the Faroe Islands to have had coal mines, one of which is still active. Basalt rock formations can be seen in several places, and the waters around Suðuroy wash no fewer than 262 islets and skerries. In addition to the picturesque villages, visitors often come to Suðuroy to visit its caves or the scenic point at Eggjarnar, from which there are astonishing views of sea-cliffs both north and south.

The sea-cliff view from Røðin.

The sea-cliff view from Røðin.

A lamb sleeps on Suðuroy, in view of seacliffs and the island of Lítla Dímun.

A lamb sleeps on Suðuroy, in view of seacliffs and the island of Lítla Dímun.

Tvørgjógv and Ásmundarstakkur in the north of Suðuroy.

Tvørgjógv and Ásmundarstakkur in the north of Suðuroy.

Hálsgjógv and tidal pools near Tvøroyri.

Hálsgjógv and tidal pools near Tvøroyri.

Sandvík, the northernmost village on Suðuroy and the spot where saga hero Sigmundur washed up from the sea to meet his death.

Sandvík, the northernmost village on Suðuroy and the spot where saga hero Sigmundur washed up from the sea to meet his death.

I hope to return to Suðuroy during the course of my project. The island is of great touristic interest for its lovely, unique nature and the way it represents a throwback to life in the Faroes before undersea tunnels connected “the Faroese mainland.” In addition, Suðuroy is still home to about a tenth of the Faroese population, and, as I know some people there now, I think it will be a good place to get to understand the lives and perspectives of the women living in more remote parts of the Faroe Islands. This weekend was a good first visit and I look forward to returning.

Passengers doze off on Smyril, the two-hour ferry that connects Suðuroy to Tórshavn.

Passengers doze off on Smyril, the two-hour ferry that connects Suðuroy to Tórshavn.