They waited in the dark and caught Europe’s largest bird of prey with their bare hands. Now the unique and spectacular images from Værøy will become part of Norway’s contribution to the world memory.
For several hundred years, a spectacular and perhaps slightly morbid form of eagle hunting took place on the island of Værøy in Lofoten.
High up in the mountains, the eagle hunters built small stone houses in the ground. Early in the morning while it was still dark they put out bait outside the opening and drench the snow around with sheep’s blood to lure the great bird of prey and catch them with their bare hands. .
The particular hunt required both courage and cleverness.
When the eagle set its beak on the prey, the hunter pulled the prey closer towards him. Finally, the eagle was so close to the opening in the eagle house that the hunter could reach out, grab the eagle and drag it into the house.
There the eagle was killed by breaking its neck.
- It was said that you had to turn your head around four times to kill the eagle.
This is what Espen Kjelling, who is a photo archivist at Arkiv i Nordland, tells us.
Unique photo collection:
It is not only the eagle hunting on Værøy that is unique. There is also a unique collection of photographs and film footage documenting how the catch took place
In the 1950s, a Swedish photographer traveled to Værøy and Røst at the far end of Lofoten to document how the local population gathered eggs in the bird cliffs.
Here he heard that people on the neighboring island hunted eagles with their bare hands. Then it was just a matter of finding a boat that could take him over to Værøy
Kjelling says that Hörnell stayed at Værøy and Røst for six months. When he traveled home to Sweden, he had a photographic treasure with him.
The material from here consists of around 400 negatives and two 16 mm films.
- It is a unique and important documentation of a cultural practice which may not be so well known, but which happened in Nordland close to our time. It is an important and spectacular part of our history, he says
Met death in the bird mountain:
Like many places along the coast, Røst has a centuries-long tradition of gathering eggs in the bird cliffs.
The collection took place by one person in the team being hoisted down the mountainside while two or three others held the rope. Then the harvester filled a vest with eggs, pulling the rope when they were ready to be hoisted up. The pictures show how they hung from the ropes and abseiled down the mountain sides.
- We get to see what clothes and equipment were used, where in the mountains it was picked, how many there were when they worked together, and the risks that were taken.
Was also captured alive
Eagle hunting on Værøy went on for several hundred years. The capture was the answer to a local problem as the birds of prey could pose a danger to the lambs.
From 1845 there was a shooting prize for predators in Norway. You got two kroner per eagle you handed in to the sheriff. The result was that stocks were greatly reduced.
Eventually, money was also paid out to catch eagles alive so that they could be ringed and released again.
Sven Hörnell’s photos of unique eagle captures on Værøy and Røst
Money was also paid out to capture eagles alive so that they could be ringed and released again. Here, a school class on Værøy gets to study Europe’s largest bird of prey.
The seabird population on Værøy and Røst, which used to number several million, has today been reduced to a fifth.
Ida Merethe Jensen is head of communication at the Archives in Nordland.
She is in Oslo today to receive the diploma which marks that the photo archive has been included in Norway’s documentary heritage.
This year’s theme was everyday life and Arkiv i Nordland nominated parts of the photo archive of Sven Hörnell, which you yourself own.
- We are very proud of the inclusion of this wonderful collection, she says.
There are still people on the islands who remember that such catching and collecting took place.
Now the Archives in Nordland will start the work of collecting that part of the history.
The unique photo collection is on display at Stormen library in Bodø until Christmas.