Translation of an article printed in the newspaper Sosialurin number 90, of December 1977.
Brought with kindly permission by the author © Janus Mohr

Stories of Mykines

In the book of geography, "LandalŠru", which was published in 1926, Mykines is described in these words by Mikkjal Dßnjalsson ß Ryggi:
"Mykines is an outstanding beautiful island. ╗The seals are lying around the shores, the puffins are flying in rings, the gannets are breeding on the Holm --« yes, in this way the old sang and in this way it still is- seals towards east, gannets towards west. Along the shore there are vertical hammers, deep hammers with dark gorges and beautiful green puffin lands, smaller and bigger spots with grass and pastures for sheep and rams. The Landing place is at the South coast in a little cove, so it not necessary to haul the boats a shore, given no breakers. But at other times enormous breakers and in the winter, months can pass, where it isn't possible to either come or leave in a boat. The people of Mykines have fine and closely lying fishing banks, e. g. the well known Guttami­. In Lamba unusual many puffins are breeding and the rams grassing there are especially fine and well tasting
Between Lamba and Mykineshˇlm the gorge Holmgjˇgv and over this a bridge. The Hˇlm has the capacity for fine sheep and the well known oxen. On the shelfs on the North side, the gannets breed. At the Western most point there is a big lighthouse and the home for the lighthouse keeper. At the South -Western point the "boys", stacks, Flatidrangur and PÝkarsdrangur are standing; both are the home for gannets. Even more outwards Hˇlmssteinur and Knikarsbo­i are lying; the Westernmost point of the Faroes. South of the Hˇlm, Pollurin and Strongurin, one of the strongest tidal currents of the Faroes, are lying. Along the coast of the Hˇlm and Mykines, there is a swarm of stones, skerries and stacks. Towards South Ur­abo­i and UldalÝ­fles are lying, both dangerous surface rocks. On Gr°nskoradrang birds are breeding.
In Mykinesfj°r­ the tidal current is unusual strong and deceitful and it has the reputation of being one of the most difficult fjords of the Faroes to navigate. In the fjord, there are rocks and underwater rocks, among others Skjaldarbo­i, Tindagrynnan, Mřlingsgrynnan and Saksunargrynnan."

But much has changed on Mykines, since this was written by Mikkjal. The population, which at that time was close to 200, is now close to 20. Just during the last fifteen years, the population has dropped with around 70 persons.

From a part of the historical material, I collected on Mykines in the sixties, I here reproduce some of the interesting stories, which Zakaris Zachariasen told me. Zakaris died in 1972, 89 years old. This man of honest, was a fine storyteller, who knew a lot and in a lively way and with well-chosen words, was able to mesmerize his listener.
The story he told, is here written just as he told it.
Janus Mohr

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The catch of puffins

As long as I can remember, there always has been a great catch of puffins on Mykines. Around 1000 were caught a day. J°rgin once was at N˙gvunesi and caught nearly 1000. Another time he caught around 900 and another time almost the same number in Bj°rgini, ß Ur­arenni, as it was called. It was an unbelievable number. They sailed the catch home by boat.
When they were as far away as N˙gvunesi and in Bj°rgini, they had to sail the birds home. They did it in that way, that the sacks with birds were thrown onto the sea. Boats were lying below and picked them into the boats.
When they caught the birds, where or when it wasn't possible to sail them home, they were carried back to the village. It was normal for a man to carry 100 puffins. That was a suitable load. More than that, was too much. One puffin weigh around 500 grammes. And that is heavy enough, but some men have carried towards 200. And I know, that I myself once carried 220. That was much too much. But is is, what they have tried to carry, when having been on a plain terrain, at daytimes and where it was easy to walk.
In the mountains, Bj°rgini, it was impossible to carry loads that big, because it was far away and difficult to walk there. In the summer the puffins quickly became spoilt. Three days and they were useless.
At that time they payed tithe. Old Heini once asked me, how many puffins I thought was caught on Mykines. It is not for sure, that tithe was paid of all the catch, I don't know, but the tithe was almost always 15.000 - 20.000 puffins, when at the most. It was an unbelievable amount.
Every day all the men were catching puffins, There were around 30 men, who every day went fleyging. And they caught as much as they could carry and hadn't they no success at one place, they went to another place. But now it isn't that way any more, now they are not searching anymore. If they are not catching something at one place, they don't continue to another place.
They almost always succeeded at some place, if there was any puffins at land at all.
They started to catch puffins at Jˇans°ku (Midsummer). That was the earliest, but the real catch, didn't begin before eighth days later, at Syftuns°ku, the second of July.

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A strenuous catch

I will now tell a notable outing for puffins. I went from a place, which is called B°kkinum, downwards to catching puffins. It is North at KumlalÝ­.
From there I walked further downwards. But I wasn't satisfied by that. I thought I got too little and therefore went further by a narrow slope. I was alone. Went over to the place called Sj˙r­arberg. It is a slope with a width of forty fathoms, but it is well covered by grass and with a lot of puffins all the way downwards. Just fescue grass and the like.
I then returned the same way, I came down, through Sj˙r­arberg to find a place to attach a line. I had a long line with me, it was quite thin, but strong enough and then returned downwards. I caught 250 puffins. And when I was finished, I became quite sad, because I couldn't get them up. Because I was alone, as I told.
I had a short rope of raffia, the kind we use to carry the hay with. But I had to come upwards and also managed to carry a part of the way towards Sj˙r­arberg, all these 250 puffins. Maybe there were twenty or twenty five fathoms left, but I couldn't make it any longer.
But the time passed and the evening came closer. I then tied the rope to the line. The resulting rope was then so long, that I could lay it double. Then I pulled myself upwards and had both the ends of the rope with me and had bound 30 puffins at each end. In this way I then could take 60 puffins up at a time. But I had to go down all the way to bind more puffins in the rope and then back up and then pull the load up. It was really a very strenuous day.
We were married at that time, I know for sure, because my wife Katrina had become anxious and had send my brother, Ivar, to search for me. It had become late evening. I think it was nine o'clock. I had managed to get all the 250 puffins up and put them in sacks, when I heard a call. Yes, yes, I thought, I really had hoped to hear that call earlier. And he shouts, because a powerful voice he had. I answered, but he was so quickly to return. The wind was towards the edge and I asked him to wait to help me, but he already had returned home, to tell, that I was alive. He had heard me.
It took such a long time. When came upon the even, after going on a narrow path where it was difficult to go; - and into the bargain it had become quite dark-, yes I really was so tired, that it is hard to describe. I laid 150 puffins under some pieces of turf and continued home. It was an unusual strenuous outing. Unusual strenuous. It is the most strenuous catch of puffins, I ever had been at.

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To draw puffins and to take their eggs

It was possible to get 100 puffins in share the different places, when the holes weren't too deep. The puffins eggs tasted fine, when the were newly laid. But a little later and youngs began to appear in the eggs, they were not taken any more.
Quite a lot of effort was done, to draw puffins and they were drawn in thousands. They didn't draw more than each second year at the different places, had they drawn last year, they didn't draw this year. But at some places, in Bj°rgini, which were not places for fleygin, they drew every year. It disturbed the puffins quite a lot, where they were drawn, their success of breeding wasn't so good. And some of the eggs were always broken.

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Guillemot catching

They didn't caught so many other birds by fleyging, than of the puffins. But now and then they went fleyging guillemots. I especially remember once, when my brother Ivar and I went into Skar­ to catch guillemots and in a short moment got 150.
We went down a slope. It was broad and easy to walk upon and from there, we with the "fleygestang" could reach the different shelfs, where the guillemots bred. We wouldn't manage to come up again, but then we got the idea, before we descended, to carry a block with us, because we had enough of equipment. It was not easy to go down alone, it was better to descend both of us and so we did. There were more than 20 fathoms down. We attached the block just in the border between the grass and the rock and pulled a thin, but very strong line through the block. We also had an ordinary rope with us and by that we descended and by that we managed to reach the other line, which we bound around our waist, it was the line which went through the block and in that way, everything went fine.
In this way we came down on the slope and when we had finished to fleyge, I think we got 200, then we thought, that we had to return, enough must be enough.
Then we had to pull everything upwards and Ivar took the line around his waist and I pulled him up by the line, which ran through the block. All went fine. But it took quite a long time for us, because it was a heavy load for him to bring them the last way over the edge. He had to hold by his one arm and then to pull with the other arm and maybe I also had tied too many guillemots into the load at a time. But we managed. Yes we managed, but when we were finished, we were totally exhausted. ═var thought that the best to do, was to throw all the bird over the edge, because then there wasn't all the birds for our mother to pluck.
But at the end, all the birds were brought to the village.

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The catch of grey gannets

When we were going to catch the gannets, we went out on the Holm, at the place called ß B°li­. There some men sat and hold the one end of a line. !0 more men, hopefully more, went a shore on Steinin and pulled in the other end of the line and in this way stretched the line so much, that it was possible to come over the top of Pikarsdrangur, where it was best, if it could be placed in a little furrow on the stack. When the line was there, another stronger rope was tied to it and the men at B°li­ pulled the line so the thicker rope came over the stack. In the end of this rope there was a block, because the stack is quite high and therefore it is very strenuous to pull oneself upon it. The block was pulled so high as they managed and kept there. Then a man tied the one end of the rope, which went through the block around his waist and in this way managed to pull himself upwards and upon the stack.
In this way they did at the taller of the stacks, which is around 40 fathoms high. In former time they did it every year. Nowadays they only mount the lower of the stacks and there they get about 100 gannets.
On PÝkarsdrang, they usually got around 50. That stack is more pointed, smaller at the tip.
At Flatadrang they get around 100 gannets nowadays, but in former time, they didn't get more than the half of that, because a greater black-backed gull bred at the Eastern part of the stack. Flatidrangur is a little narrower at the middle and Eastwards from there, this greater black-backed gull bred every year. The gannets didn't come more Eastern than the middle. The greater black-backed gull ruled over half of the stack.
Once Andrias, father and I was fishing, Andrias said to my father: Aleksander, couldn't we shoot the greater black-backed gull? He threw some cod liver at the sea. And the greater black-backed gulls comes, he shoots and hits the gull. It was in the breeding season. Then there was only one gull to be seen when we rowed through Steinsund. But soon there were two black-backed on the stack again. Just few days afterwards Andreas had shut the one, the one left had got another mate. Some days later, Andreas shut the third gull and since then there have not been any gulls on the stack. Soon after that, the gannets began to breed on the whole of the stack. So much harm the different birds can do to one another.
On the Hˇlm, they also caught gannets on the different shelfs. They all have names. Loftrok og Ur­in, Nřggja plßssi­, Gamla rˇkin, Nor­asta rˇkin, Rˇkin Ý Hyvni and others. All the shelfs have names. It was often a pleasure to participate in the catch.
When we went onto the stacks, every man had to carry a bottle with him. Likewise it was in this way, when men were at the stacks for the first time. And were they on the Holm for the first time, they had some sheep meat with them. Every man, which hadn't been with before, it could be as many as 5, 6 - 7, who hadn't participated before. each of them had a sheep with them and the eldest man participating, he divided the meat, He cut the meat and divided it between the men. And as this wasn't enough. You were not allowed come further than the slope, which runs along the Holm at the northern side, just over the edge and a little downwards, further they were not allowed, the men who hadn't participated before. They then lied there, to manoeuvre with the end of the rope. A loop was made at the end of the rope and at that they had to stay. In this way the ones, who hadn't participated before, had to sit all the night long. The first time they were not allowed beneath the slope. And the first time they descended to the shelf, they had to have a bottle.
There are around 40 fathoms down to the shelfs. The line for the gannets is around 50 fathoms, I think. But it is not so bad to descend, it is quite easy to descend, The men were lowered down and the line was pulled up and then they began to kill the gannets and continued unto they were finished. The men who lowered them down, were not ready to pull them up at that moment. They continued and lowered other men down on the other shelfs, until all the men were lowered down onto all the shelfs. But what to do else - to sleep- they laid down to sleep among the gannets. And the next day one had a lot of lice, yes it scratched as nothing else. It was unusual unpleasant.
The shelfs of the gannets are quite broad. They are at least 3 fathoms, at least most of them. But there are narrower places at some places, where it is difficult to pass, especially when it is dark, because dark it is at night at the time of Mikkjalmesse. Because it is around this day, they go to catch the gannets. But I don't know. It always went on uneventful, when they were after the gannets, because there always men, who had participated before.
They could get 800 - 900 gannets. They were thrown onto the sea from the shelfs. The boats were lying below to get them, but it often couldn't be done that way, because of waves. There could be breakers and if that was the case, everything had to be pulled upon the Holm. It was unusual heavy work, to pull all the gannets up and carry them to the village. Because one man can only carry a few gannets at one time, ten gannets, it is heavy work to carry them to the village from the Holm, they are very unhandy to carry and it is strenuous to walk up through Lamba, when one is sleepy and have been awaken the whole night and so on and upon that, is dirty and wet after being down on the shelfs and been working there.
800 - 900 gannets were, as told, the usual catch, if it was possible to go there at the right time. But it happened, that the weather wasn't good enough, to go for the gannets and if it became late, some of the gannets could have left.
Normally they went for the gannets at Mikkjalsmesse, in September. After the middle of the month, they used to go. Yes, arround that time, they used to go. A good gannet weigh arround sixteen merk (one merk is around 0.24 kilogram, so one gannet is arround 4 kilograms).

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Walking in the mountains

The longest we lowered ourselves were, I guess 60 fathoms. Then one had to loosen the line and walk along narrow shelfs. Basically a lot of confidence was needed to lower oneself that much. The shelf one walked along, was maybe not more than one foot at some places and one alen (o,63 meters) at other places and besides that, one had to carry quite a lot, as one got the fulmars on the shelfs.
The place where the greatest hight was, was at Nor­anesi, as it is called. It is the point just north of the gorge.

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Land part and tithe

When they had caught a lot of puffins and carried the catch back to the village, they had to give land part of the catch. But the part of the catch, they could not carry, they hadn't to give land part of. But at the places, where they could carry, for instance from N˙gvunesi - it was the right of the Handanß farmer, they had to give one fourth to the land. Of the puffins caught in Bj°rgini they also gave one fourth. But when they returned from places west of the Tind, they gave one third. From the more distant parts.
But when it was from the closer places and the places, where it was easier to walk, they had to give one half of the catch.
Of puffins caught in Kßlvadal, they gave one third. Likewise from Borgardali. On ┴rnafjall a lot of puffins were caught and there they gave one third. At all the places Westernly, they gave the half.
The following places were Western : Gßsdal, ═rali­, Tindskri­a, Skorarnar and also KumlalÝ­ - the Northern part. At these places the land had to get the half. But coming North at Ý Skri­u, Northern in Ý LÝ­, one didn't gave more than one third.
When there were more owners of the land, upon which they were caught, the land part was brought to the one, who owned the most at that place. For example in ═rali­. Here the land part was brought to Poul - little Poul as he was called and then he gave in accordance to the other owners part of the land, one fourth. And from Gßsdal. Here the land part was brought to Gamla Heina┤s house or North to ß Lon, as it is called. And then he divided to all the owners of Gßsdal. He knew exactly, who the owners were.
One half of the catch in Lamba went to the land and that part was carried to the T˙ala farm. And of this part, only two golden were taken. Stallh˙s owned the first and those folks at Niclas, owned the second.
They caught puffins at Eggini Ý M˙la and all of that was laid at a place in the middle of the village and one man took care of that. He then split to all of them, who owned out there and that were everybody, because all 40 marks owned out there in Eggini Ý M˙la. And because of that, it could be the case, that there was nothing for every gylden each day. But everybody got his share, if not the first day, then the second.
The one who caught the puffins always got at least one half minus the tithe. The tithe always had to be taken and one half of that was carried to Ý Stovu and the second North to ß Lon. Gamli Heini, North at ß Lonini, bought the church tithe and those in ┴brahamsstovu bought the clergyman tithe.

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When one went for the mountains and to the outfield, they used lay down and pray.
Usually four men went together to ═rali­, to catch puffins and when arriving at ═ralÝ­heyggj, they laid down to pray, before they continued past the edge.
═ralÝ­rˇk has always been a good place to walk, somewhat stony, but so it was and it had a gate- They laid down there, to pray before continuing.
Arriving further upwards, under Ý Leiti­ - when one e g went to Gßsdal to catch puffins - they also laid down there. The bird catchers, having passed the fence, laid down to pray.
They also did so, coming further upwards. When they arrived at LÝraberg, as it was called. They passed the fence, turned arround, laid down on the fence, which was covered by turf on the one side, they laid down upon the fence to pray to God, before they continued.
And likewise, when they were tending the sheep, when they went into Ý Skorar. They laid down below T˙gvuni.
When they went to Borgardal, to gather the sheep, they laid down a particular place.
When they went to catch puffins in Bj°rgini or tending the sheep in Bj°rgini, there is a little hill, an elevation and upon this, they laid every time, before continuing over the edge. Then they rolled out a line, which the men picked up and continued, after having raised and prayed. After that, they continued.
When they went up to Horni­ Ý Hˇa, they laid down towards, what is called, Tv°rtur Ý Gr°v.
When they went to Borgardal and arrived at ß Kleivina, then they all laid down to pray.
I don't know if all men laid down to pray, when they walked to Ý Dal or to Lamba. But I know many men, who laid down upon Sk˙gvali­, before passing the fence. And also when they went to Skar­sfl°tt. They laid down there.
The men who went to catch puffins, laid down, before they passed over the edge. Likewise, when they went North into Ý LÝ­, they laid down at the cairn at upper Reyni and when they went to Kßlvadal, they laid down at the cairn at Skar­inum. When they went into the outfield, to tend the sheep, it was so, that they laid down to pray, before scattering over the landscape, as necessary. After having prayed, they didn't walk in one flock.
In this way, it was all over Mykines; before going at places, that was steep and dangerous to go, they laid down to pray. It was a very fine tradition, there is no getting away from it.
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