Lifestyle and Culture of Faroe Islands, the untold stories from the edge of the world

The Faroe Islands are 18 islands in the North East Atlantic. Located in the Northeast Atlantic, the Faroe Islands characterised by steep cliffs, tall mountains, narrow fjords – and a population of 50,000. The beautiful green islands are a self-governing part of the the Danish Realm. Many Faroese fish products are renowned for their quality. Among the Faroe Islands’ other important economic activities are financial services, energy-related businesses, shipping, manufacturing for the maritime sector, IT and telecommunication, tourism and creative industries.

Located in the Northeast Atlantic, the Faroe Islands’s terrain is rugged, and the subpolar oceanic climate is windy, wet, cloudy, and cool. Through the centuries, the Faroese have defied the harsh nature and living conditions. Enduring today is a nation in which the living standard is one of the highest in the world. A highly industrial economy mainly based on fisheries and aquaculture continues to flourish, while a Nordic welfare model ensures everyone the opportunity to explore his or her own potential.

The Faroe Islands are a self-governing nation under the external sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark. Faroe Islands have exclusive competence to legislate and govern independently in a wide range of areas. For generations the islands were isolated and self-sustaining, until the emergence of industrial fisheries in the late 1800s led to the Faroe Islands becoming part of the international economy. These include for example the conservation and management of living marine resources, protection of the environment, sub-surface resources, trade, taxation, industrial relations, energy, transport, communications, social security, culture, education and research.

The marine eco-systems around the Faroe Islands are highly productive with a diverse abundance of marine species. A variety of fish stocks are utilised in Faroese waters, as well as from international waters and in other nations zones through fisheries agreements. The clean, temperate oceanic waters and strong currents in the fjords around the Faroe Islands are ideal for fish farming and premium Salmon production. Many Faroese fish products have become renowned for their high quality, such as Faroese Cod, Langoustines and farmed Salmon.

The Faroe Islands have a highly developed infrastructure: telecommunications and high-speed internet plus a comprehensive road network and tunnel and ferry connections all provide an excellent base for maintaining the economic, social and cultural viability of communities all around the country.The excellent transportation links between the different areas in the Faroe Islands are of great importance to local businesses and people alike.

Active participation in all aspects of local community life characterises the Faroe Islands. This contributes to social cohesion and a strong sense of local identity. Centuries of relative isolation have resulted in the preservation of ancient traditions that to this day shape life in the Faroe Islands. The unique mixture of traditional and modern culture characterises the Faroese society, constituting a strong sense of local community and an active outlook as a globalized Nordic nation.

Steep cliffs, green hills and crisp north Atlantic air… Nature is not only refreshingly close visually, but also a decisive factor in shaping Faroese culture. The Faroese society is founded on the Scandinavian welfare model. The living standard in the Faroe Islands is ranked amongst the highest based on GDP per capita. The Faroe Islands have villages and towns of varying sizes; schools, hospitals, shops, restaurants, museums, cinemas, TV/radio, telecommunication, factories, construction companies, and IT-developers – In short, all the usual trappings of a modern Western country, only a lot smaller.

50,000 people live in the Faroe Islands. The Faroese population is spread across most of the area; it was not until recent decades that significant urbanisation occurred. Industrialisation has been remarkably decentralised. Nevertheless, villages with poor harbour facilities have fallen short in the development from agriculture to fishing, and in the most peripheral agricultural areas, also known as Útoyggjar (“Outer Islands”), there are few young people. In recent decades, the village-based social structure has given way to a rise in interconnected “centres” that are better able to provide goods and services than the badly connected periphery. Shops and services are relocating en masse from the villages into the centres, and slowly but steadily the Faroese population is concentrating in and around the centres.

Out of the 29 municipalities in the Faroe Islands, the most populous is the capital, Tórshavn, with approximately 21,000 inhabitants. The second largest municipality is Klaksvík with 5,000 inhabitants, and Runavík takes third place with 3,900. While Eysturkommuna and Vága kommuna each count just over 2,000 inhabitants, the remaining 24 municipalities all have populations below 2000 people, and 12 municipalities have fewer than 500 inhabitants.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the Faroe Islands entered a deep economic crisis leading to heavy emigration; however, this trend reversed in subsequent years to a net immigration. This has been in the form of a population replacement as young Faroese women leave and are replaced with Asian/Pacific brides. Since 2013, the Faroe Islands have seen an increase population and in April 2017 the Faroese population reached an all time high when the population passed 50.000. The growth is primarily caused by more expats returning to the Faroe Islands, fewer people moving away and a growing number of children being born. In the last few years, women have accounted for the majority of the rise in population.

The demographical and political landscape of Faroese society constitutes a tiny yet accurate scale model of a European/Scandinavian society. Citizens and residents are entitled to a range of publicly financed services such as social security, healthcare and education. Education is schooling on all levels from primary school to higher education is free of charge for everyone. The aim of the Faroese education system is to ensure every individual has the opportunity to explore his or her own unique potential.

The Faroe Islands have a well-educated population, with free primary and secondary schooling for all and a number of institutions for higher education and research. Many Faroese study and work abroad in a wide range of fields for a period in their younger years before returning home to settle. With the characteristic mobility and flexibility of many island nations, the Faroese people, too, have long maintained and nurtured a broad international perspective in today’s globalised world. The economic prosperity in the Faroe Islands has contributed to postitive changes in the job market. The governments have prioritized the education sector to increase the opportunities and give young people more choices in higher education in the Faroe Islands. Subsequently, the number of students at the University of Faroe Islands has increased significantly.

The Faroe Islanders are a seafaring people and the maritime expertise of the Faroese is widely renowned. Over the centuries, the Faroese have developed the skills necessary to make the most of the valuable resources of the North Atlantic, and the Faroe Islands export seafood to all six continents. The Faroese economy is ranked amongst the highest in the world based on GDP per capita.

The almost total dependence on fishing and fish farming means that the economy vulnerable. Since 2000, the government has fostered new information technology and business projects to attract new investment. The Faroese business sector is grad­ually becoming more and more di­versified. Important and promising industries include financial services, petroleum related businesses, ship­ping, maritime services, civil avi­ation, IT and telecommunications, tourism and creative industries. Some are already well established, while others are up-and-coming.

The Faroe Islands have a highly ad­vanced domestic infrastructure in transportation and digital networks. Paved roads connect all inhabited vil­lages, and all the islands are connected either by subsea tunnels, bridges, fer­ries or by helicopter. From the Faroe Islands there are daily flights and regular ferry and cargo links to all neighboring countries.

Historically, the most common way to travel to the Faroe Islands has been by sea. The ferry Norröna, which is oper­ated by Smyril Line, sails to Hirtshals in Denmark and to Seyðisfjørður in Ice­land, transporting both passengers and cargo. Telecommunications and high-speed internet connection across the whole country also provide an excellent base for maintaining the economic, social and cultural viability of remoter com­munities.

By road, the main islands are connected by bridges and tunnels. Government-owned Strandfaraskip Landsins provides public bus and ferry service to the main towns and villages. Paved roads connect all the inhabited villages, and the populated areas are connected by 17 land tunnels. The various islands are connected by two underwater tunnels, in addition to three bridges and seven ferry lines. There are seventeen tunnels on land in the Faroe Islands. The tunnels have drastically improved the accessibility of many key locations by making it possible to drive to regions that had previously been accessible only with boats or by walking over high mountains.

Because of the rugged terrain, road transport in the Faroe Islands was not as extensive as in other parts of the world. This has now changed, and the infrastructure has been developed extensively. Some 80 percent of the population of the islands is connected by tunnels through the mountains and between the islands, bridges and causeways that link together the three largest islands and three other islands to the northeast. While the other two large islands to the south, Sandoy and Suðuroy, are connected to the main area with ferries, the small islands Koltur and Stóra Dímun have no ferry connection, only a helicopter service. Other small islands—Mykines to the west, Kalsoy, Svínoy and Fugloy to the north, Hestur west of Streymoy, and Nólsoy east of Tórshavn—have smaller ferries and some of these islands also have a helicopter service.

By air, Scandinavian Airlines and the government-owned Atlantic Airways both have scheduled international flights to Vágar Airport, the islands’ only airport. Atlantic Airways also provides helicopter service to each of the islands. All civil aviation matters are controlled from the Civil Aviation Administration Denmark.

The Faroe Islands have a highly developed communication network, which covers the whole country. From telecommunication and mobile phones to the internet and media, the Faroe Islands are at the forefront of modern communications technology. Working within the special geographic circumstances of the Faroe Islands, Faroese companies have become world experts in providing digital communication solutions to remote and sparsely populated areas. Today you can get fast and reliable broadband internet connection in every village in the country, something which has boosted the competitiveness of local commerce, in addition to benefiting local communities, educational institutions, and individual households.

With the arrival of the internet, the demand for better connectivity rose and the existing telecommunication cables were insufficient for large-scale broadband internet connection. The situation was improved drastically with the installation of the FARICE submarine communication cable between Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Scotland in 2004. Connections were improved further in 2008 with the installation of the SHEFA2 submarine cable between the Faroe Islands, Shetland, Orkney and the Scottish mainland. The installation of these two high-tech fibre optic cables, combined with comprehensive installation of domestic broadband cables, have significantly improved connectivity between the Faroe Islands and the rest of the world.

The Faroese people have lived off the ocean and have a deep respect for the ocean and the environment. The Faroese aquaculture industry is committed to sustainability and sound stewardship of the environment. Safeguarding the marine environment and using its resources sustainably is a major priority for the Faroe Islands, and a responsibility which is shared both with neighbouring countries in the North Atlantic and with the rest of the international community. Faroese fisheries and aquaculture are multifaceted. Not only do they contribute to global food security, but they also supply international markets with high-quality products and provide the people of the Faroe Islands with sustainable livelihoods.

The government of the Faroe Islands allocates significant resources to secure a controlled and sustainable utilization of fish stocks. This is administered through an effort based regulatory system, managed by the Ministry of Fisheries on the basis of national and international scientific advise. Marine research in the Faroe Islands aims to provide the best possible scientific basis for sustainable exploitation of marine resources. This research is incorporated into the specialist working groups under the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which then provide the basis for the Faroe Marine Research Institute’s advice to the Government.

The geographical position of the Faroe Islands is ideal for farming Atlantic salmon. The remote location of the Faroe Islands is complemented by pristine clear waters, cool steady sea temperatures, strong currents and accessible fjords. Farmed salmon is a vital part of the Faroese economy, representing half of the country’s export value and providing valuable jobs for communities around the islands. The combination of ideal natural conditions for salmon farming and a commitment to sustainability and quality is now being recognised around the world.

Faroe Islands is one of the world’s leading nations in producing sustainable electricity with over 50% of the nation’s electricity deriving from renewable energy sources. The main energy supplier of the Faroe Islands, SEV, has officially announced that the goal is to have 100% green energy production by 2030. There is great potential in the Faroe Islands for the exploitation of renewable energy: hydropower, wind and tidal power. In order to utilize the islands’ domestic energy potential, the government’s policy is to transform the heating of buildings from oil to electricity, and to transform the production of electricity from oil to renewables. Long-term, the transport sector will also run on electricity, produced by renewable energy.

Arts & Culture
The culture of the Faroe Islands has its roots in the Nordic culture. Full of vibrant creativity and innovation the Faroe Islands offer an exciting variety of cultural experiences in fields such as music, art, literature, crafts, design and gastronomy. The Faroe Islands were long isolated from the main cultural phases and movements that swept across parts of Europe. This means that they have maintained a great part of their traditional culture. In the Faroe Islands traditions of old, have retained their importance, while still allowing new creative forces to flourish.

Related Post

For millenia nature and the cultivation of deep rooted tradition has been the teacher and a source of inspiration to artists in the Faroe Islands. Today they master the art of coupling tradition and late modernity in cultural experiments within the fields of music, poetry, painting and design which tey share with and present to the rest of the world.

The language spoken is Faroese, all poems and stories were handed down orally. These works were split into the following divisions: sagnir (historical), ævintýr (stories) and kvæði (ballads), often set to music and the medieval chain dance. Even though the Faroese language was not officially acknowledged until 1938, it has always been a fundamental and vibrant part of Faroese culture and arts. With increasingly varied literary publications, in contemporary songs and the Faroese art scene, the language has not only persevered, but is thriving.

Secluded in the North Atlantic, a distinctive and rich culture developed in the Faroe Islands. Relative isolation meant that access to instruments, tools and materials used to be very limited. A strong oral and vocal tradition has a significant role in Faroese cultural heritage with storytelling, ballads and the characteristic chain dance – and singing is deeply anchored in the Faroese culture. The cultural scene evolves and grows as the Faroe Islands, through the last centuries, have become increasingly connected to the rest of the world, but artists in all fields still draw inspiration from the riches of Faroese tradition and nature.

Faroese architecture is a special Nordic mix of traditions and inspirations from Norwegian and Danish architecture, formed in this special Faroese context of a demanding natural environment, a profound sense of community balanced with a strong and colourful individualism.

Faroese architecture is a tradition mix innovative modernity. Medieval Faroese houses were farmhouses preserved with surrounding environments, very similar to those found in Norway of the same period. Traditionally building materials were what could be found in the surrounding natural environment – stone, turf and wood. Farmhouses were clustered closely together in small villages scattered around the islands. The villages are still there, although some of them have grown into towns, with the emergence of the commercial fishing industry from the late 19th century onwards.

The Faroese are deeply rooted in community and tradition. At the same time they are an innovative and highly individualistic people. A typical characteristic of Faroese villages and towns is the high degree of variation in colour. This tendency is very well illustrated in the intriguingly imaginative housing development at the Northern outskirts of Tórshavn, designed by the Faroese architect Gunnar Hoydal. Here we find the snakelike terrace houses, called randarhús (border houses), as they mark the outer borders of the city, much like the walls of medieval cities. Though they are attached to each other in a row, these terrace houses all have their own individualistic shape and colour.

Music and Dance
The Faroe Islands have an active music scene, with live music being a regular part of the Islands’ life and many Faroese being proficient at a number of instruments. Within music medieval hymns and ballads have been reinterpreted in popular rhythmic music at the end of the 20th century. The metal band “Týr” (a Nordic pre-Christian God) an illustrative case of the cultural blend, got its international breakthrough with an ancient ballad about heoric Viking chiefs dressed in an international musical style. Multiple Danish Music Award winner Teitur Lassen calls the Faroes home and is arguably the islands’ most internationally well-known musical export.

The vocal traditions have been exceptionally rich and versatile; one reason being that the written Faroese language was not established until 1854, and not accepted in public by the Danish authorities until 1938. All stories, myths, songs and ballads were handed down from one generation to the next orally, and people had to learn by heart to take part in this exchange, which today sums up most of their cultural heritage. Again, remoteness played a decisive part in the development; as there were no musical instruments of significance until the mid 1800s the voice was the only music-making tool available, and as a result singing is deeply anchored in their national identity.

One of the most unique cultural features is the chain dance, which originally was a mediaeval ring dance. Today, we call it the Faroese chain dance, and rightly so as it has only managed to survive in the Faroe Islands. The rhythm is quite quirky and the ballads about kings and heroes may have several hundred verses. The captain leads the singing and everybody joins in the chorus. The symbolic significance of the chain dance is the full circle of people from all walks of life who hold each others’ hands and meet face-to-face while sharing a moment of true common ground. Also theatre has enjoyed periods of great importance for the cultural life of the Faroe Islands and has also functioned as a unifying medium and developer of a national horizon.

Visual arts
Faroese visual art is of great importance for the memory of Faroese national identity, as well as for the dissemination of the Faroese visual universe. A lot has happened since the first Faroese painters, not so much longer than a century ago, painted the first landscape paintings, to show the beauty of their country, and demonstrate their love for the homeland. Countless new themes and motives have entered into Faroese art since then, international styles have had their influence, and today an impressive number of artists work with pictorial art, lively debates about art take place in all medias and on every street corner, new galleries and art venues pop up every year, and art plays an important role in everyday life.

The different periods and expressions of the visual arts meet and complement each other, but can also create a tension between the past and the present form of expression. The landscape is still the dominant motive in Faroese art, just as the interplay between nature and mankind is still the most prevalent theme. Faroese painters have through generations sought images that can portray the states of mind, the moods and the feelings that nature awakens in them, and they have sought forms in nature that can be used to explore and express their inward struggles. From the depth of the sea to the height of the sky, nature is being artistically investigated in every possible way. With psychological interpretations or ironic comments, poetic expressions or conceptual statements, or simply as an opportunity to carry out formal experiments. Nature is all around.

Faroese art is completely new and the exactly same, and maybe it is just this that makes it so fascinating and so alluring to foreigners. This ability to play both with the traditional and the contemporary, the local and the international, the unique and the general. Because in this constant alternation between originality and renewal and in the constant movement between the vernacular and the global endless nuances, contrasts, tensions and aesthetic possibilities are created, and together they form a rich, wonderful, inspiring pictorial art.

The Faroe Islands are a nation of poets and writers. The love of poetry and story-telling is deeply rooted in Faroese culture. For centuries the Faroese chanted and danced their literature. Faroese written literature has developed only in the past 100–200 years. A rich centuries-old oral tradition of folk tales and Faroese folk songs accompanied the Faroese chain dance. The people learned these songs and stories by heart, and told or sang them to each other, teaching the younger generations too. The poets and writers of the Faroe Islands are aware of the deep rooted traditions of Faroese poetry and story-telling and they move confidently into the realms of world literature.

This kind of literature was gathered in the 19th century and early 20th century. The Faroese folk songs, in Faroese called kvæði, are still in use although not so large-scale as earlier. Among international scholars these Faroese ballads are recognized as the distinct Faroese contribution to world literature and traits from the ballads are evident in contemporary literature in the Faroe Islands. Faroese literature is a literature of contrast between the old and the new, between tradition and innovation. In Faroese poetry of today you will find many different explorative approaches to the traditional material as well as significant influence from contemporary literature of the outside world. Faroese literature is genuine Faroese and at the same time embedded in the literary history of Europe.

Secluded in the North Atlantic Ocean the people of the Faroe Islands preserved and renewed a common Germanic and Nordic literature from the Middle Ages in heroic dance ballads based upon legendary stories about Charle Magne and Sigurd the Dragon Slayer. The world-famous Faroese writer William Heinesen (1900-1991) sets the tone in the opening of his beautifully orchestrated novel The Lost Musicians (1950): Far out in the radiant ocean glinting like quicksilver there lies a solitary little lead-coloured land. The tiny rocky shore is to the vast ocean just about the same as a grain of sand to the floor of a dance hall. But seen beneath a magnifying glass, this grain is nevertheless a whole world…

William Heinesen made modern Faroese literature known to the outside world. So did his cousin Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen (1900-1938) with the novel Barbara (1939). Written in Danish, their novels were translated into many languages. During this same period, the first half of the 20th century, a literature written in Faroese developed. In one of the best-loved classics in Faroese literature, The Old Man and his Sons (1940), the author Heðin Brú (1901-1987) eminently depicted the struggle between the old and the new in Faroese society in the middle of the 20th century.

Many years later the author Gunnar Hoydal (b. 1941) in the novel Under Southern Stars (1992) combined the Faroe Islands and the original cultures of South America in a story of cultural discovery. The novel was by the English author Fay Weldon characterized as a major work of literature. In 2005 and 2006 the writer Carl Jóhan Jensen received much critical attention both in and outside the Faroe Islands for his ground-breaking novel Un – Tales of Devilry (2005).

In the 21st century, some new writers had success in the Faroe Islands and abroad. In recent years many Faroese poets and writers have been translated and published outside the Faroe Islands, e.g. Jóanes Nielsen, Tóroddur Poulsen, Marjun S. Kjelnæs and Hanus Kamban. Writers of children’s literature have been exceptionally successful, e.g. Bárður Oskarson with his book A Dog, a Cat and a Mouse (2004).

Traditional clothing
Faroese handicrafts are mainly based on materials available to local villages—mainly wool. Garments include sweaters, scarves, and gloves. Faroese jumpers have distinct Nordic patterns; each village has some regional variations handed down from mother to daughter. There has recently been a strong revival of interest in Faroese knitting, with young people knitting and wearing updated versions of old patterns emphasized by strong colours and bold patterns. This appears to be a reaction to the loss of traditional lifestyles, and as a way to maintain and assert cultural tradition in a rapidly-changing society.

Lace knitting is a traditional handicraft. The most distinctive trait of Faroese lace shawls is the centre-back gusset shaping. Each shawl consists of two triangular side panels, a trapezoid-shaped back gusset, an edge treatment, and usually shoulder shaping. These are worn by all generations of women, particularly as part of the traditional Faroese costume as an overgarment.

The traditional Faroese national dress is also a local handicraft that people spend a lot of time, money, and effort to assemble. It is worn at weddings and traditional dancing events, and on feast days. Each piece is intricately hand-knitted, dyed, woven or embroidered to the specifications of the wearer. For example, the man’s waistcoat is put together by hand in bright blue, red or black fine wool. The front is then intricately embroidered with colourful silk threads, often by a female relative. The motifs are often local Faroese flowers or herbs. After this, a row of Faroese-made solid silver buttons are sewn on the outfit.

Women wear embroidered silk, cotton or wool shawls and pinafores that can take months to weave or embroider with local flora and fauna. They are also adorned with a handwoven black and red ankle-length skirt, knitted black and red jumper, a velvet belt, and black 18th century style shoes with silver buckles. The outfit is held together by a row of solid silver buttons, silver chains and locally-made silver brooches and belt buckles, often fashioned with Viking style motifs.

Both men’s and women’s national dress are extremely costly and can take many years to assemble. Women in the family often work together to assemble the outfits, including knitting the close-fitting jumpers, weaving and embroidering, sewing and assembling the national dress. This tradition binds together families, passes on traditional crafts, and reinforces the Faroese culture of traditional village life in the context of a modern society.

In recent years, several Faroese fashion brands have emerged and have started to make their mark on the international fashion scene. Knitted clothing is an integrated part of Faroese culture and today it plays an essential role in Faroese fashion.

Traditional food
Traditional Faroese food is mainly based on meat, seafood and potatoes and uses few fresh vegetables. Mutton of the Faroe sheep is the basis of many meals, and one of the most popular treats is skerpikjøt, well-aged, wind-dried, quite chewy mutton. The drying shed, known as a hjallur, is a standard feature in many Faroese homes, particularly in small towns and villages. Other traditional foods are ræst kjøt (semi-dried mutton) and ræstur fiskur (matured fish). Another Faroese specialty is tvøst og spik, made from pilot whale meat and blubber. (A parallel meat/fat dish made with offal is garnatálg.) The tradition of consuming meat and blubber from pilot whales arises from the fact that a single kill can provide many meals. Fresh fish also features strongly in the traditional local diet, as do seabirds, such as Faroese puffins, and their eggs. Dried fish is also commonly eaten.

Tags: Denmark