In a European context the Faroes are a young nation with a known history of just over a millennium. Irish monks came to Faroe at the time when the West Roman Empire had fallen and the Arabs dominated the Mediterranean.
Initially the Faroe Islands were independent, but came under Norway and later Denmark, without ever being integrated in either Kingdom. In front of the governmental building at Tinganes markings of the old parliamentary assembly, Løgting, are still to be seen.
The origin of the Løgting goes further back than the colonial time under Norway, and it is the world’s oldest functioning parlia¬ment, most likely founded upon the arrival of the Vikings. Then it was also a court of law, whence the title of the Løgmaður (“lawman”) originates. So modern Faroe democracy has its roots in a more than a thousand year long history.
Tradition and modernity
Present day Faroe is characterized by tradition and modernity. The celebration of Ólavssøka (“St. Olav’s Wake”), which is the national festival, symbolizes this tradition and its own culture. The festival may today compare with a carnival where the nation gathers and people wander up and down the streets in the centre of Tórshavn, the capital, meeting friends and acquaintances in an attempt to hear the news and events of the past busy year. There is much entertainment in the form of concerts, children’s activities and exhibitions. The championships of the traditional Faroe rowing boat races are the high point of the sporting season, and the midnight sing-song in the town centre on July 29 is a high¬light. Thousands of voices fill the air with popular songs, after which they join hands in the ancient chain dance chanting age old ballads that go with it. Ólavsøka is the feast of the year celebrated with at clear conscience. Its historic centre piece is the convening of the oldest parliament in the world in the morning of Sct. Olav’s Day, July 29.
A Knowledge Society
The Faroes are a modern fishery society which must adapt to the outside world all the time. Even if fishing is the main industry, much effort is invested in developing the islands into a modern knowledge society with a high average level of education. Schooling is a major challenge as much of it takes place outside the Faroes. In a way they are a very special country as most people have lived abroad and returned well schooled, but not educated for Faroe careers. The challenge lies in luring the trained people home again.
Part of the betting on Knowledge lies in the plans to develop Faroe into a strong actor in the scientific field of genetics. One aim is to research in the human resource from the vantage point of having a small homogeneous and isolated population, while the animal resource lies in aquaculture. Human genetics are not only valuable in future, but may be researched backwards in time to see if there is correlation between the history of the country and that which can be read in the people’s genes. One research project showed that the male population is of 80% Nordic (most likely Norwegian) origin, while the women only have 10%. The rest, 20% of men and 90% of women, are of British (Celtic) ori¬gin. Aesthetic voices opine that this explains why Faroe women are particularly pretty, which may not to the same extent be said of the men.
being a sovereign state, and this point of view still parts the waters as it has done these past 100 years. The debate on whether Faroe is to be a home-ruled entity in the Danish Kingdom or an independ¬ent state fills much in the political landscape. The Faroes are not a member of the EU, so the growing foreign policy debate centres on the Faroe attachment to the rest of Europe and the world. Today effort is made towards EFTA membership and closer co-opera¬tion with the EU.
Sports are of great importance in Faroe. In the national sport of rowing young people race in the old Faroe rowing boats. Much culture and history are vested in this variant of rowing. Football is the most popular sport, and the Faroe national football team has drawn most attention worldwide to the existence of the country. The best known Faroe footballer is Todi Jónsson, who for many years played with FC København.
In the small villages the football pitches have been the venue of children, the young and adults and have apart from the sport itself fulfilled a significant social function. In winter handball dominates, as well as volleyball, gymnastics and swimming.
Faroe book publication is relative to the population among the largest in the world. About 140 titles are published annually. Since the first book in Faroese appeared in 1822, about 4.500 books have been printed. One of them is a Faroese dictionary with 65.000 head-words and explanations in Faroese.
The Faroese are known to be a singing people. There is much singing in various contexts. They also play much music. The historic chain dance is still alive, and a good knowledge of the ancient ballads is respected. There are many able musicians and several with an international potential, e.a. Teitur Lassen, Eivør Pálsdóttir, Lena Andersen and the rock group Týr.
Part of the merit for this must go to the actice Music School, which also forms the basis of the Faroe Symphony Orchestra. It has also trained several classical musicians like Ernst Dalsgarð, Rúni Brattaberg an Adi Ellendersen and some good composers. Until 15 years ago it was difficult to attract foreign names to Faroe to play, but today there are several internation¬al music festivals in summer. The G!-Festival at the idyllic township of Gøta and the Summer Festival at Klaksvík are the main attractions, each drawing audiences of over 7.000.
Art and Design
The Faroese write many books and paint many pieces of art. Faroe cultural life is very productive, active and stimulating. It rests on history, harsh natural conditions and smallness. But it also builds on the work of pioneers like the author and multi-artist William Heinesen and the painter Mikines. There are strong traditions behind the processing of Faroe sheep wool. But lately a new breed of modern designers has sprung up, and through innovation they have drawn international attention to Faroe wool, which increasingly makes up the clothing material of choice among young Faroese.
The Pilot Whale Hunt and Puffins
The Faroes have developed into a modern society, but people hang on to the old traditions. The Faroese have pride in their culinary culture and the self-sufficiency of the pilot whale hunt, fowling, sheep rearing and fishing for home consumption. It means the Faroe culture has maintained its close attachment to and respect of nature, while the population moves in the direction of becoming a modern IT-community.
Faroe society is heavily dependent upon fisheries, which receives much political attention on a daily basis. The average Faroese feels part of the globalising Western World. There is a strong awareness that the Faroes cannot exist on their own. They have a mobile labour force in fishing, merchant navigation and the crafts, and most of all the many students abroad make everybody feel that the world is a large place and Faroe is not its centre. The Faroe individual is more cosmopolitan than the individual European and knows that isolation is not an option.
Town and Village
A third of the population now lives in the capital Tórshavn, by far the largest town in the islands, which with pride acknowledges its position as the smallest capital in the world with only 18.000 inhabitants. Much revolves around Tórshavn, and it is very different from the rest of the country. Nature still matters a lot, especially outside Tórshavn. Many therefore have a fishing boat for their own food procurement and sheep grazing in the mountains. Some villages have birdcliffs, where they gather eggs or birds for food. This part of traditional culture is more common outside Tórshavn, especially in the smaller villages.
The Popular Soul
It is difficult to compare the small country of Faroe to the major countries of the world. In the islands there is much respect for local culture, which may be sensed in the typical dialects. The lan¬guage is a focus of interest. It took a hard struggle to salvage it in the late 1800s, and great store is put by linguistic characteristics. The language forms a major part of the proud and particular Faroe culture and is the framework around the rich cultural tradition.
The predilection for its own language, history, food and nature is the basis of Faroe of the present day, a mini-country on its way for-ward in a globalised world, where one clings to one’s own history. In a small society the same person must often play several parts, and that is also how the Faroes work.
The greater part of the export earnings of Faroe come from the sale of fish related products. The country has developed a strength as supplier to the fish industries of Europe and is finding new outlets for its budding IT-sector. Like the changeable and unruly weather the whims of nature impact heavily on the fishing industry, which is becoming more stabilized by aquaculture. Effort is put into developing other economic sectors, and a future oil industry looks like a realistic alternative. Tourism along with aviation on their own wings have also become Faroe growth sectors.