Probably for centuries oxen have been held on Mykines Holm for summer grazing. Exactly when this way of domestic animal hold have begun is not known, but it is known for sure, that it was in 1978, that the oxen for the last time were driven to an home from the Holm. This year it also was close to end in an accident. On the way out to the Holm one of the oxen fell and drew the man who were driven the ox with in its fall from the path, the stairs just up from the bridge. Luckily the man fell upon the ox and not the opposite way around, because had that been the case, the accident could easily have been fatal for the man. If this incident had anything to do with the fact, that this was the year, men gave up the work and risk of rounding up the oxen to the Holm, is not known.
The meat of the oxen having grazed the whole summer on the Holm, has always had the reputation of being very good and tasty. They were mostly sold to the middle- and upper-class in Tórshavn.
Before the building of the bridge in 1909, it was an elaborate, troublesome and dangerous procedure, to get them out there and likewise back, because then everything was done by boat.
Johanna Maria Skylv Hansen have written about these travels with the oxen to Tórshavn, as it was told to her by some of the men, who participated and she published the stories in the book "Gamla Gřtur (Old paths)" volume 1.
The story is here translated and brought with permission from the grand children of Johanna Maria and from the family of Helge Justinussen, the publisher.
Many times the travels the men from Mykines have had with oxen from Mykines Holm have been dangerous. Here will be told about some of them, as they were told me by some of them who participated and which should have been some of the worst.
One who participated, tells me in this way:
It may be about 40 years ago, we were going to Sřrvagur with the oxen. Timannafariđ (the boat for ten oarsmen) was launched and eight men sat at the oars. Besides that, two men were with to take care of the oxen, one for each ox. In the bow and the stern there was hay and straw, which had to serve as bedding. A bottle of brandy, two pint, we always had with us. But nothing was drunk of it, before the oxen were well placed in the boat and the psalm »Nu flyer jeg til din Naade« (I now fly to Your mercy) had been sung. To catch the oxen was often quite difficult, but we always succeeded. Wasn't it possible to catch them upon the Holm, they were driven down on the rock on the South of the Holm, where the most agile and quickly of the men easily caught the oxen, which were to go. Harness was laid on their heads and they were driven down on Skarvaklett, where another harness was laid upon them. It consisted in a strap around the belly just behind the forelegs and one just before the hind legs. The one in front should be tighten so much, that it was possible to have a flat hand between the strap and the belly and the one behind so tight that a fist could come in between. That was because the straps shrank becoming wet. When the ox felt the straps it laid down, probably because of fear. The tether was of amply length and was thrown out to the boat and the oxen was pushed into the sea. When the men had boarded the boat, they rowed a little a shore and the oxen were lifted into the boat in this way. Five of the strongest men lifted them inboard; one grabbed the head, one the front strap, one the hind strap, one the tail and the fifth the bottom board of the boat. He who took the bottom board reassured, that it lie as it should, so the ox could balance and then he said: »Hiv o hřj!« The ox had to be taken in one movement, if it should be as it should be; but even if this was the case, the boat often was half filled with water. The ox which should lie in the stern was taken first, the the one in bow next the same way. Now the ox was tied with a woollen band, that was to fathoms in length with a fork in both ends. The fork had to be as long as the distance from the thumb to the elbow and should be tied in a way, so there was no knot and the ox could easily be released, as we play the game "fitja gás" (A children's game where a band is laid around ones fingers in such a way, that when one pulls one end of the band, easily can loosen the band (t. r.)). When the ox laid on it one side, the harness was pulled under the thigh and around the horn, in such a way, that the head of the ox lie backwards along the flank.
Before the men sat at the oars, they laid a mitten over the eyes of the ox, so it wasn't possible for it to see land and in this way could become anxious. The men now began to row eastwards along the shore and after singing, the bottle went around. The men rowed rather more than usual when oxen were in the boat. Arrived on Mykines Fjřrður, the sails were set, but as the wind were just in front, the sails were lowered again and instead they rowed north of Gáshólmi. The wind had turned north and the waves were very choppy and a breaker came in over the boat at the bow, one just afterwards and even a third just at the same place of the boat. After that the boat was almost filled with water and ready to sink. The only thing to do was to run before the wind and again set the sails. The rudder was raised and two men had to steer with oars and three men bailed of all their power, two bailed in "eysrúminum" (the part of the boat especially for bailing) and one in "tofturúminum" (the space between two of the thwarts). So much water had come into the boat, that the men bailing in the "eysrúminum", felt the water at level with their hollow of the knee. At that time all of the men felt, that they were only one step from the death,
They sat the coarse inside Gáshólm and through Dragasund. Even that wasn't much better, as the "vestfaldet" (the tide going westward) had begun and the sea was very uneasy; but they succeeded coming past Múlan and first there the men felt, that they now was out of danger. As soon as they arrived at Sřrvág, the oxen were loosened and as they tried to rise they were pushed over board and a man followed with the tether.
Some times the oxen had hard in standing on their legs and if this was the case they were stung with a knife in the behind and then they were quickly on their feet again.
From here they were lead to either Miđvág and in fine weather, with boat to Velbastađ, or they were lead via Sandavág to Oyrargjógv and from there to Vestmanna. Some of the oxen were that tame, that they by them selves jumped over in the boat when the man with the tether had come into the boat. From Vestmanna they were lead over land to Tórshavn. Once two men were taken by bad weather and a blizzard, when on their way over land with oxen to Tórshavn. They had to tie the oxen in the mountains and go for Norđradal, where they got shelter for the night.
Dalkoen (the cow of the valley). Often the story of the transport of Dalkoen to Mykines was told. It was on the way back from a voyage with the oxen in fine weather. It was decided to bring the "Dalko" to Mykines from Gásadali. The cow was brought on board at Biggjarlógv. Rowing westward however the wind suddenly began to blow from north east and the strength of the wind increased from one moment to the next . Some of the crew argued for turning around but the majority decided to continue westward. The men rowed through Dragasund and coming west of Gáshólm, the sails were set. But even with the sails reefed, the boat could not carry the sails. They were in heavy and rough seas before they came westward in lee of Mykines. Then they rowed with all their might, so the cow could come alive to Mykines. Arrived at Mykines the weather was as bad as almost possible. The wind was blowing so much, that men who had been in the Outfield to gather sheep, had difficult going among the houses with the sheep. This journey is said to have been one of the worst, when living domestic animals have been brought to Mykines.
After the building of the bridge
When the bridge was build in 1909, these difficult and dangerous travels with the oxen directly from the Holm and into a boat were not necessary any more and instead the oxen were lead over the bridge and to the village. From there to the landingplace, where the transport to bigger boats or ships lieing outside Mykines, where they could be lifted on board with a crane.
The oxen were outfitted with a harness of two straps, one behind the forelegs and one before the hindlegs, which made it possible for the bigger boat outside Mykines to lift the oxen on board. Some of the oxen were brought to the bigger ship in boats, others were pushed into the water, holding their heads above the water with the head harness and in this way pulled along the side of the boat as one can see from this series of pictures from the sixties. At other times the oxen were slaugthered at the quay and the corpses brought by boat to a bigger boat outside the landingplace.
Click on a picture to enlarge, on the text on the larger picture to navigate and on the large picture to return
The pictures are the copyright of Jakup í Lřðu, Mykines and brought here with his kindly permission.
Tinned food production on Mykines
In the 1920'ies tinned food was produced on Mykines. It was the enterprising Jóhannes Frederik Joensen, who made a factory in the cellar of his house "Innistova". A pressure boiler was installed and a machine for closing tinns was driven by a motor via belt drive installed under the ceiling. The raw materials for the tinned food production was among other meat from the oxen on the Holm, but also puffins were preserved.