The Borough of Flakstad
The Borough of Moskenes
The islands of Flakstadøy and Moskenesøy are located in the untamed, western part of the Lofoten Islands. Most of the inhabitants of Flakstadøy live on the outer coast of the island, overlooking the Norwegian Sea. Here, you will find long, chalk-white beaches and extensive agricultural areas. The islands are surrounded by strong tidal currents like the Nappstaraumen and Sundstraumen straits, and the infamous Maelstrom.
Glaciers and other forces of Nature have sculpted the island landscape, which is among the wildest and most interesting that Norway can offer. Traces of Stone Age settlement dating back over 5,500 years can be found on the islands. Several old place names, such as Moskenes, bear witness to early Sami settlement.
The inhabitants of Moskenesøy live largely on the eastern side of the island, where the best harbour conditions are to be found. Earlier, there was also settlement along the entire northern coast of the island - the so-called outer coast, but owing to poor harbour conditions and perilous waters, all of them have now been abandoned. Nusfjord and Å are particularly well-known for their old, well-preserved architectural environment.
The Lofoten Fishery, the Fishing Village and the Rorbu Cabin
Abundant Resources in the North
Lofoten was of central importance in this productive process. Even before the year 1000 AD, substantial trade in fish had begun, and fishermen from other parts of the coast travelled to Lofoten to take part in the annual Lofoten cod fishery, which lasted from January to April. The fish was dried and taken home or sold to local merchants.
For several hundred years, fish produce from the North comprised up to 80% of the nation's total exports. In addition to this, large amounts of skins, furs, eider down and walrus tusks also came from the North.
The Struggle for Resources
However, towards the end of the 1200's, the mighty Hanseatic League of Germany took over most of the trade with the Lofoten Islands and North Norway from their offices in Bergen. The local aristocracy lost all command of the resources and was soon to disappear. The people were left in a state of general poverty, while escalating exports led to an increase in the population of the North.
The Lofoten fishermen lived a hard and perilous life. Every year many of them were lost at sea in their tiny open boats. Stories are told of great catastrophes where several hundred men were lost on the same day. And even among those who survived the toils of a stormy sea, the freezing cold would also take its toll. The fishermen often sat soaking wet in their boats in the frost and wind. When they came ashore, many of them had to sleep outdoors beneath the rocks, in caves or under their boats and sails. "... so the wretchedness that these poor people suffer for their daily bread is beyond description. I am quite sure that no-one on earth suffers so much for their meagre sustenance as do these poor, destitute people here in Nordland," bailiff E.H. Schønnebøl wrote in 1591.
Free Trade - Economic Growth and the Reign of the Squires
After the Napoleonic wars, when peace, the potato and the
smallpox vaccine had led to a population explosion in southern
Norway, considerable migration to northern Norway, including
the Lofoten Islands, took place. In conjunction with freer trade
and good fishing seasons, this was to form the basis for substantial
economic growth here in the North.
Their "right of control" over the fishing was eventually diminished by the Lofoten Act of 1857 which paved the way for free seas, free fishing and public fisheries inspection.
The squires established themselves and grew more powerful throughout the 1800's. In order to bind the fishermen to their fishing stations and thereby ensure the supply of fish, this "new nobility" built a large amount of rorbu cabins. These cabins served a number of purposes. The fishermen made their food there, they ate and slept there, dried their clothes, baited long-lines and repaired their nets there. As soon as a boat arrived in the fishing village, the skipper had to pay a visit to the squire in order to secure a rorbu cabin.
A man from Trøndelag who was not able to get a rorbu cabin, told that they hauled the great rowing boat ashore, turned it over and used it as a house.
The rent from rorbu cabins and other land dues comprised only a part of the squire's income. Since he also conducted trade and fish processing, he found it only natural to regard these operations as one and the same. Consequently, the fishermen who rented rorbu cabins were normally required to deliver their catch to the squire - at his price.
The strong position of the squire as rorbu owner, fish buyer and merchant was in some cases abused, and the fishermen often felt exploited and unfree. But even though the squires were intent on earning money, they were also socially aware, helping the resident fishermen's families and the visiting fishermen when they could. The fishermen and the squires had common interests: if the fishing went well, the squire also benefited. The squire supplied the fishermen with food and fishing gear, and often owned their boats, too.
Technology and Democracy - the End of the Squires
"Fishing Village Holidays, Lofoten"
We work to preserve our heritage
Over the past few years, the Fishing Village Realm of Flakstad
and Moskenes has consolidated its position as one of the country's
most stable and attractive destinations. Tourism has reinforced
local enterprise and restrained the effects of an extensive national
Ecology and Economy
If the resources disappear, the local inhabitants have little or no chance of investing in new enterprise elsewhere in the world. Their capital - production plants, houses and boats will then be of little or no value, and their self-respect and identity will be lost.
Here we see a connection between ecology, economy and identity that should be given a major role in the future conservation of natural and environmental resources.
Maintaining vital, decentralized human settlement will prove
to be the best means of conservation - because the local user,
on the basis of his/her knowledge and long-standing traditions,
will often be the best conservationist: If we are economically,
socially and culturally dependent on a resource, we will find
it easier to take on the role of guardian and protector of it.
This applies to the coastal population's and the coastal fisherman's
relationship to the fish resources, and the villagers' and tourist
host's relationship to the surrounding environment - to that
which the visitor pays to experience.
The struggle for fish resources has been going on for a long time. It started 1000 years ago, - concerning the right to export, and later process the fish - and it has continued over the past 50 years, with the right to catch the fish. Today, major corporations with efficient ocean-going vessels are competing with the local fish companies and the coastal fishermen for the right to the fish.
Fishing has always formed the basis of settlement here. The
struggle for this resource will determine the continued existence
of our small coastal communities. We ask visitors to help us
take care of our settlements and our environment.
Copyright: Lofoten Tourist Enterprises AS(LTE), 1997