The people of Húsavík attracted the seals with smoke. They hunted the seal in nets and had a box of old grass (moð) at each end of their camping location. Around noon they lit the old grass, producing smoke. The harp seal soon saw the smoke, swam toward it and got caught in the net. Every possible part of the seal was used for various things and was a great help for many.
A Pound of Fat is Equal to a Pot of Milk
The most common products were the fat, the meat, the head and the skin. Seal fat was eaten and was for a long time as valuable as dried fish. The older and greener it was, the better it tasted. Around 1900 the pound of fat was equal to a pot of milk in Húsavík. The meat was eaten fresh, salted, boiled and smoked and also boiled for soup. The head, flippers and tail were soured.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Helgi’s father and grandfathers practiced subsistence hunting and farming. After the hunt the meat was often shared and sometimes given to those who had the biggest household.
Reading the Sky
Helgi talks about changes he has detected in the ecosystem in Skjálfandaflói. He has noticed changes in the weather, seaweeds and ocean currents as well as in the wildlife, and how the disappearance of the krill affects the ecosystem. After the disappearance of what he calls the ´red-krill´ the white birds are not much seen.
The changes in weather have affected the way the ocean freezes, for example the bay does not ice up as it used to do in the early days. That, Helgi says, is because the weather is not as still as it used to be and it is not as cold. He then tells of how he reads the sky for changes in weather. He can always see the wind direction by the way the clouds bank up in the heavens.
Connection Made Sacred
Helgi’s stories and observations are a part of The Akureyri Oral History Project at the University of Akureyri. The main objective of the project is to record the traditional, local knowledge of rural Iceland, using the techniques of oral history and applied social science. The aim is to preserve this knowledge and to make it available to researchers, students and the public as a scientific, cultural, educational and practical resource. More importantly, we are trying to bring knowledge of the landscape, seascape and nature back
into daily use. The stories of Helgi and his colleagues who carry the old culture sing in harmony with the Icelandic landscape and the ocean, much like the music of Sigur Rós does. Language and landscape are in connection with one another, which makes them sacred.
Tero Mustonen is a Finnish poet and a fisherman who manages Snowchange, a project to collect local observations of change across the Arctic. He teaches at the University of Akureyri.
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