Travelling through the meandering channels between the Norwegian islands, i’m struck by the number of tiny fishing villages and remote towns. This really is a fractured landscape where travel has only recently been easy. Today, as a wealthy country, there are roads, bridges, ferries and airports, but it wasn’t always the case. A journey that today takes hours would have taken weeks.
Norway is a land of folk stories and songs. Steeped in history and mystery. You can imagine these songs and stories growing up as ways that villages recorded their history, shared common understanding and built a common legacy and language. There is huge regional variation in folk stories and songs: common messages, but nuanced by region, by town, even by village. They are highly personal.
My friend Catherine is currently touring Germany with her own folk songs, highly personal, highly located in her life, in the place she lives and the people she knows. Knowing her gives each song extra, deeper meaning. So the context means that they mean something different to me than they would mean to you if you heard them.
Folk art is not just about recording history, it’s about teaching it too. These stories and songs, the world over, are a way of remembering things that should be remembered. It’s a way of sharing knowledge and values, morals and principles. Stories create our common heritage, so hearing songs of love and hate, murder or passion both entertain us and reinforce what we know to be true: the meanings of right and wrong, good and bad.
Much about folk art is contextual, to a particular place. We can understand them at one level without that local knowledge, but it lacks something of value.
It’s worth thinking about how self sufficient our own stories are. To the outsider, or the learner, are they accessible or exclusive? Are we assuming that people know the back story, or is it self contained?
Heading North: the blog is on holiday exploring the coast of Norway for two weeks, heading up the coastline to the arctic circle. Holidays are times to explore new things, so we may detour from normal service for a few days.