What Is A Bunad?

On my first excursion to Norway in 2008, I arrived in Oslo in the very early hours of Syttende Mai, Norway’s National Day. After sleeping for a couple of hours – I was too revved up for more than that – I staggered outside and into the company of thousands of Norwegians, who’d journeyed the length and breadth of their homeland, to congregate in the capital and celebrate their country’s independence.

No matter which way I swivelled my head, I got an eyeful of bunad, Norway’s national costume. I’m sure I was unintentionally captured in family photographs snapped in front of the Royal Palace, wide-eyed, slack-jawed, bedecked in a Buzum shirt and a black leather jacket, looking laughably out of place amidst the radiant bunad wearers.

When someone puts on a bunad, it would seem magic happens. A bunad has the potential to transform a typically demure person into someone unrecognizably exuberant. It brings about shared feelings of togetherness, elation and pride. When I saw my first bunad, it pretty much immediatly shifted my dogged mindset – I used to recoil at the idea of wearing anything that wasn’t black – and left me with a hankering for one of my own.

Women in Hardangerbunad bridal costumes / Photo: Nasjonalbiblioteket

“When it’s not easy to explain where you’re from, wearing a bunad shows where you’re heart is.”

Unni Irmelin Kvam

The beginnings of the bunad movement can be traced back to when, after years of rule under Denmark and Sweden, the Norwegians were in search of a national identity. Bunad – the word originates from the Old Norse búnaðr – was developed, ‘as a way to show a national mindset,’ to celebrate Norway’s freedom, and as a way of displaying Norwegian heritage.

A bunad – of which there are as many as 450 regional variants – is a unique and complex piece of clothing usually consisting of a shirt, a shift, the main woolen dress, and an apron. There are accessories including bags, stockings, shoes, scarves, shawls, and hand-made silver or gold jewelry known as sølje.

Designed to last a lifetime, a bunad is typically passed down through the family. The importance of its role as a family heirloom means it’s imperative it’s kept in pristine condition. One woman who’s mother’s bunad was damaged by moths was especially innovative and transformed the costume into cushions. The intricate detailing of a bunad has a story, which, as author Unni Irmelin Kvam says in her excellent Ted Talk, The Story Of The Norwegian Bunad ‘speak volumes if you know how to read it.’

Hardanger Bunad Photo Source: familysearch.org

In Norway today, there’s a bunad to be found tucked away in practically every wardrobe or attic. The estimated value of the bunads – a completed bunad costs in the region of 50.000 Norwegian kroner, about £4000 – is said to be around 30 billion Norwegian kroner.

The cost of a bunad depends on the design, the material used, the embroidery, and jewellery, as well as who actually makes it, whether it’s a renowned company, a local sewer or the person themselves. There’s a market for bunad in China. ‘China Bunad’ are made for a fraction of the cost of a traditional bunad, but it goes without saying, as they’re ‘not the real thing,’ that they won’t last a lifetime.

Photo: Laila Duran

For someone making their own bunad, the process can take upwards of a year. It’s long been tradition for parents to gift their children with a bunad for their confirmation at the age of 15. With the dresses, there’s always extra fabric in the seams so it can be altered as the wearer grows.

Silver, a metal which in Norway is steeped in legend and superstition, is an important part of the bunad. In days gone by, Norwegians used it to protect themselves against bad weather and illness. There are also tales of silver brooches being pinned on children’s clothing so trolls wouldn’t swap them for one of their own.

Marcus Selmer
Marcus Selmer
Marcus Selmer

It’s common, though not by any means mandatory, for bunad to be worn at weddings, baptisms, Christmases and birthdays, basically any major life event. However when Syttende Mai comes around, it’s expected the bunad will be brought out of storage and worn.

The Hardangerbunad is known as the ‘first bunad,’ and is renowned for its red body and white apron. It became known as ‘the national’ in 1905 and spread throughout the country. It was commonly used to represent Norway, but recently the East-Telemarkbunad has taken its place. Many people say Telemark has the most ‘Norwegianest’ bunads.

“If someone tells you you’re not Norwegian enough to wear a bunad that person is prejudiced and simply wrong.”

Unni Irmelin Kvam

There are dozens of ‘unwritten rules’ about the acceptable way to wear a bunad, and it’s expected that your bunad represents an area that you’re strongly connected to.

Women should accompany their dress with proper bunad shoes and purses. Sunglasses are frowned upon and heavy makeup is discouraged. There are even groups of people referred to as the ‘bunad police,’ who say bunads must be sewn and worn according to the strictness standards. To counteract this, there are folk who make ‘fantasy bunads’ by mixing and matching the styles.

Hardangerbunad.

There is much I haven’t talked about with regards to bunad, as I’m actually working on a much longer piece about its role in Norwegian culture. I haven’t for example, told you about Hulda Garborg or Klara Semb, two women who dedicated their live to bringing bunad into the Norwegian mainstream. But hopefully this post has inspired you enough that you want to go and investigate for yourself the part they played in the history and rise of bunad.

It’s been over a decade since I first went to Norway. I don’t have a bunad yet, but I have my heart set on the Sognebunad (the one in the slideshow) because, of all the places I’ve visited in Norway, whenever I go back my heart says ‘I’m home.’

Sources

Life In Norway / The Norwegian Bunad

Wikipedia / Bunad

TEDx Talks / The Story Of The Norwegian Bunad

What Is Brunost?

Thirteen years have hurtled by since I first went to Norway and had my first mouthful of brunost (brown cheese). From the get go, I was dead set on eating like a local. For breakfast at least. Lunch and dinner was typically pesto and pasta or cheap muesli. You know the kind – more dust than anything else. Though I found tykk-lefse med kanel (a thick flatbread spread with a sweet cinnamon butter) to be graciously affordable, so that was consumed regularly too. Perhaps too regularly. I grew sick of it after two weeks. Note: My relationship with tykk-lefse med kanel has been rekindled in recent years and we’re solid these days.

Anyway, brunost. To make Norway’s favourite cheese is straightforward and involves boiling the water from the whey of goat’s milk for several hours until the water evaporates. This caramelizes the sugar, giving the cheese its distinctive tan colour and caramel (debatable) flavour. What’s leftover from the process is left to firm up (though it isn’t massively firm, it’s akin to soft fudge) then it’s more or less ready. Like other cheese – though brunost isn’t technically a cheese – there’s no maturation needed.

I bought a block of brunost with the happy thought it would see me through the next few weeks of breakfasts and snacks. Having read about it before embarking on my Norwegian odyssey, I was certain I’d enjoy its ‘distinctive caramel flavour,’ because I love caramel. Who doesn’t love caramel? But my tastebuds had other ideas.

I ate it like the Norwegians do; thinly sliced with jam and fresh bread (though they also eat it with crispbread or waffles) but, despite its delectable creaminess, the actual taste, best described by another blogger as ‘salty goat’s fudge,’ wasn’t all that pleasing. Needless to say, I was distraught.

I tried it again later in the day, then again the next morning, determined to enjoy it, and not only because I’d paid nearly ten pounds for it. I can’t remember exactly what happened to the block – I was staying in a guest house at the time – I think I might have stuck a note on it and said anyone who wanted it could help themselves.

I haven’t given up on brunost though. Far from it. I’ve only eaten one variety – and there are many – and I’ve only tried it on bread and with jam. There are countless other ways I could eat it. I could make into a sauce for pancakes, add to gingerbread or use it in – Scandi Kitchen came up with this – mac’n’cheese.

When I was living in Sweden, I would eat something similar to brunost – though it was a soft and sticky spread instead of a firm-ish ‘cheese’ – called messmör. It was similar taste wise to brunost, just a bit sweeter and milder. After a few years of eating it, smeared almost transparently on bread, I found myself looking forward to it, and towards the end of my time in Sweden, would slather it on so thick you couldn’t see there was a slice of bread underneath.

Brunost has caused some controversy in recent years. Despite containing calcium and Vitamin B, due to its high sugar and fat content, one municipality considered banning it in schools. Whether this went ahead or not, I’m not sure, but I do like the idea of kids revolting against the banning of their salty goat’s fudge.

Eyes On The Arctic : Need-To-Read Things

In this weekly post, I collect all the need-to-read arctic related things that I’ve found over the past several days, and put them here in a handy bundle of links for you to pick, click and read.

12526-snowflake Plastic Tide Reaches The Arctic And Polar Bears

12526-snowflake Massive Iceberg In Greenland Breaking Up (Video)

12526-snowflake How Global Warming Is Destroying Our Best-Preserved Archeological Sites

12526-snowflake Ongoing Global Heatwave Is Setting All-Time Hottest Temperature Records All Over

12526-snowflake Beavers Are Moving Into The Arctic And You Can See It From Space

12526-snowflake As Arctic Warms Reindeer Herders Tangle With New Industries

12526-snowflake Nunavut Day Celebrations Include Facebook Beginning

12526-snowflake Welsh Students Create Ice-Rebuilding Machines

12526-snowflake Exploring The Arctic On A Sledge

 

Your Daily 5 Nordic Facts : Norway

  1. On the island of Svalbard, carrying a gun outside populated areas is required by law because of the high chances you might find yourself face to face with a polar bear. If you don’t have a gun license, you’re not permitted to leave the settlement areas alone.
  2. Norway is just a bit bigger than the US state of New Mexico.
  3. If you publish a book in Norway, the government will buy 1000 copies (1,500 if it is a children’s book) and dole out them to libraries throughout the country.
  4. Linje Akvavit is a Norwegian flavoured liquor, and it’s production is a bit bloody weird. It’s shipped in oak barrels from Norway to Australia and back before being bottled. Apparently the constant movement and fluctuating temperatures give the liquor it’s special taste as well as accelerating its maturity.
  5. The US has more people of Norwegian descent than Norway.

 

Sources that helped me find this stuff: Sysselmannen.no, FactRepublic.com, Quora

Pulse Of The Arctic : Increase Your Arctic Awareness

Watch : Polar Bear On Thin Ice

Read : You Can Help Polar Bears By Changing Your Diet

Climate scientists have stated that 330 grams of carbon are emitted for one single meal with beef, according to researcher M. Sanjayan, “that’s like driving a car three miles.” He added, “we’re probably eating too much meat…vegan is the way to go for the least impact on the planet.”

Listen : Ludovico Einaudi ‘Elegy For The Arctic’

Look : Art By Banksy

banksy_global-warming_wide-7527f80adc303d06811e9a8c4b7ab76465adbc2f-s900-c85

 

Pulse Of The Arctic : Increase Your Arctic Awareness

Increasing awareness about the Arctic and what’s going on at the top of the world has never been more important.

So once a week I will be sharing pivotal research material – from news stories to Ted Talks – for anyone interested in developing their knowledge about climate change and the effects it has on the north.

Watch :  Time-Lapse Proof Of Extreme Ice Loss

National Geographic photographer, scientist and adventurer James Balog has been photographing human modification of our planet’s natural systems for 35 years, and is one of the most important climate change activists we have breathing today.

This stirring, intelligent, powerful TED talk discusses the power science and art can have when they come together, and the visible changes Balog has documented of the ice we are so rapidly losing – 95% of the glaciers in the world are melting as I write.

If you feel you need more after the talk, Balog’s documentary Chasing Ice is available on Netflix. The time lapse photography of retreating glaciers will open your mind to new planes of thought about climate change.

Read : Arctic Birds, Seals And Reindeer Killed By Marine Plastics

A new report illustrates the scale of contamination in the Norwegian and Barents Seas north of Scandinavia, and shows that no corner of the Earth is immune from the scourge of plastic pollution.

Virtually everywhere researchers look they find plastic, according to the report by the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Even in remote areas with relatively low human impact, it says the concentration of plastic waste in the European Arctic is now comparable or even higher than in more urban and populated areas.

And there are signs the amount of plastic is increasing, with global plastic production reaching 322 million tonnes in 2015 and predicted to grow by around 4 per cent a year.

If you’re interested in getting daily news about the Arctic and climate change, I recommend you visit Google Alerts . The site monitors the internet for the content you have specified that you’d like to receive, and emails it directly to you.

Listen : Arctic Fever, A Spoken Word/Dark Ambient Album

Arctic Fever is a spoken word/dark ambient album featuring my poetry intertwined with the music of Crown of Asteria.

Centered around the thawing of the Arctic, Arctic Fever portrays how the catastrophic changes are impacting the peoples, flora and fauna of the far north.

While the listener will have an insight into what is happening now in the north, they will also have the opportunity to envisage what life was like at the top of the world, before the Arctic was cursed with whisky, organised religion, diseases and heat.

Arctic Fever is a homage to the Arctic, and all who dwell there, who are experiencing, in real time, the sea ice lessen, the permafrost weaken and the north they have forever know disappear.

Look : Art By Takeshi Kawano

Takeshi Kawano

Katie – Your Eyes In The North

My Top 10 Books About The North

The other day I was (sadly) complaining about a book I’d bought and read recently called Scandinavians by Robert Ferguson.

I rarely buy myself to a brand new book, but I was so absolutely sure that Ferguson was going to offer me 455 pages of potentially award winning literature, that I shelled out the £12 it cost on Amazon – it’s very newly published – believing it would be one of the best investments of 2018. (I’d previously really enjoyed his book The Hammer & The Cross : A New History Of The Vikings.)

One of the best investments it was not, and I was so disappointed I almost cried when I was done reading it.

Let it be known that I really hate it when I have to complain about a book, and if I don’t enjoy something, it’s not often that anyone else knows about it. There’s enough negative energy surging through the internet as it is without me ranting about every book I haven’t enjoyed.

However, something GOOD actually came from my bad experience with Scandinavians. My dissatisfaction led me make a post about it on Facebook, which led to a friend suggesting I make a blog post about my 10 favourite books about the far north, which then led to this post.

Every book listed here has deeply enhanced my knowledge, understanding and love of the north…and if any of them have touched you in a profound way, please comment and let me know!

I’m also interested in any suggested reading you have for me. Oh, and a final thing, if Viking history is your passion, do check out The Hammer & The Cross. Ferguson got it very right with this one.

Arctic Dreams By Barry Lopez

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My copy of Arctic Dreams, the award winning study of the Arctic by Barry Lopez (also the author of the outstanding book Of Wolves & Men) has been re-read so many times the pages have shed their whiteness, and have taken on that comforting softness that loved books adopt.

Practically each page has at least two of three paragraphs underlined or highlighted, and it still holds Post-It-Notes from several years ago.

Using just the most sublime prose, Lopez honours the Arctic, its history and landscape, its people, flora and fauna. He examines our deep fascination with the Arctic and why we find such a hostile environment so inviting.

One of my favourite of the nine chapters, though it is SO hard to choose, is Tornarssuk, a wedge  dedicated to history, present and future of Ursus maritiumus aka the wandering king of the polar north.

Buy it here.

This Cold Heaven By Gretal Ehrlich

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One of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life was to invest in the writing of the goddess of the cold, Gretel Ehrlich.

Dedicated to ‘those who travel the path of ice,’ This Cold Heaven has everything you could hope to find in a book about the landscape, history and peoples of Greenland. I don’t actually have the strength to count how many Post-It-Notes I’ve crammed into it over the years.

In this spectacular work, Ehrlich provides an intensive, addictive narrative of her personal experiences travelling across Greenland (the largest island on earth, with all but 5% covered by a vast ice sheet) and her personal encounters with the Greenlandic Inuit.

It’s a book so wonderfully dense with wisdom that it’s virtually impossible to take in everything on the first read. You must return to it time and again to fully experience the ‘realm of the great dark, of ice pavilions, polar bears and Eskimo nomads.’

Buy it here.

Dark Matter By Michelle Paver

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It was a happy accident that I encountered the novel Dark Matter by Michelle Paver in the library a few years ago.

Unlike her previous books for children, which I wasn’t too fond of, Dark Matter is unputdownable. I think I finished it in a night and was left gagging for more. It’s one of the best ghost stories I have ever read and I’m not exaggerating.

The story takes place in 1937. 28 year old Jack lost, lonely and poor, so when offered the opportunity to join an Arctic expedition, he leaps at the chance.

However once him and his team arrive at the uninhabited bay where they’re supposed to spend the next year, Jack begins to feel uneasy, and one by one, his companions start to leave…

Buy it here.

The Magnetic North By Sara Wheeler

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It was on one of my expeditions to Amazon that I found The Magnetic North by Sara Wheeler.

While her prose isn’t, I don’t think, as intense as Lopez or Ehrlich (and I favor intense) this volume about Wheeler’s travels through the Arctic is powerful, thought-provoking and, at times, immensely  poetic.

The variety covered in The Magnetic North is one of the things that’s makes it so readable, and by the end I was hugely envious of everything Wheeler had the opportunity to experience. I was particularly jealous of her time spent herding reindeer across the tundra with Lapps.

Magnetic North is a book which will make you think and think hard about the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of the Arctic. One of the ugly aspects that shook me the worst was reading about the bioaccumulated toxins in polar bears.

Buy it here.

5The Arctic : An Anthology Edited By Elizabeth Kolbert

In England, our best known bookstore is called Waterstones. It’s also the most expensive, and I could very rarely buy anything from there, unless I was in possession of a holy gift card.

At £8.99 The Arctic : An Anthology was one of the only things I could splurge on. But how it was worth it! It’s a close to perfect blend of writing about the science, nature, history, peoples and stories of the Arctic.

Published by Granta (one of my favourite publishers) The Arctic is an extraordinarily insightful read – though it’s FAR too short – featuring essential writings on our most precious polar region and its future.

Naturally Lopez and Ehrlich are in there, but there’s also works from the likes of Jack London, Rockwell Kent, Fridtjof Nansen and Knud Rasmussen.

Buy it here.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People By Michael Booth

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While finding really good books written about the Arctic isn’t that difficult, finding really good books written about Scandinavian culture is, I think, a challenge.

There just aren’t enough books getting published that are really sold reads. (Though I hope to change this in the near future.)

The Almost Nearly Perfect People however, is EXCELLENT. Instead of relying on the accounts of others, Michael Booth explores the cultures of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland using his own eyes and experiences.

He’s a funny, insightful and intelligent writer who, while highlighting the great things about living in the north, brings it to our attention that, actually, shit happens in Scandinavia too, and it isn’t all as dreamy as so many of us have been led to believe.

Buy it here.

Wild By Jay Griffiths

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Wild is one of those books that changed my life. And I don’t say that lightly. I found it at random in the library back in 2008 and after reading the first page, clung to it like it was my life raft.

I ranted and raved to anyone who would listen, about Jay Griffiths enlightening work in which she endeavoured to explore the wildernesses of earth, ice, water and fire.

While it isn’t all about the north – there’s one chapter called Ice which is northerly focused – I thought it essential I mention it here because her experiences and thoughts of the north are so profound, so moving, so aware that she can alter your way of thinking in a heartbeat.

Griffiths is one of the most important nature writers we have. Her ear is forever pressed to the ground.

Buy it here.

The Fellowship Of Ghosts By Paul Watkins

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I can’t remember if my Dad bought my this or if I did…either way, it was found in Pound Land. Yes. One of my favourite books about the north cost a quid in a bargain shop. Why it was there exactly isn’t something I like to dwell on because this author deserves ALL the readers.

When it first arrived in my hands, I knew it was going to be a winner not only because of  it’s spectacular front cover, but because it was published by National Geographic, and National Geographic do not piss about. Everything they publish is of THE highest quality.

The Fellowship Of Ghosts is a compelling narrative about Paul Watkin’s solo trek through the wilds of Norway’s Rondane and Jutunheimen mountains.

His descriptions of the challenging terrain he encounters on his journey is nothing less than spellbinding, and his natural ability to to weave together the connections between the Norwegian landscape and the myths and people found there makes for an exhilarating read.

Buy it here.

True North By Gavin Francis

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I was fortunate that back in England, my local library had quite the collection of Arctic literature, and among that collection was True North by Gavin Francis.

Although it’s been a few years since I read it, I can remember that I always had a pen and notebook so I could scribble down his impressions of journeying through the Shetland Isles, the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard and on to Lapland. (Envious am I? Naturally.)

True North is an engrossing insight into how the region of the Arctic has adapted to the 21st Century. I learned plenty from this book, and intend on returning to it asap to refresh my knowledge.

Buy it here.

Faces Of The North By Ragnar Axelsson

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I was first introduced to the work of Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson in 2008 when I was at University and working on a novel about Iceland.

A teacher lent me his copy of Faces Of The North (not without a lecture on how valuable it was first off though, to ensure it was well looked after.)

From the moment I saw the cover (can you taste the salt of the sea on your lips too?) I was happily stolen away from my life in England. Naturally, I didn’t want to give it back to my teacher. The impression it had left was soul deep.

This art book is as perfect as art books come, and through around 100 heart-stirring photographs of Greenland, Iceland and the Faeroe Islands, documents the vanishing lifestyle of the north.

Buy it here.

Katie – Your Eyes In The North