Created by Allan Korsager Davidsen
Myths and legends have fed the imagination of Faroe Islanders for centuries. Stories of giants and witches, kings and battles, hidden people and magical creatures are found on all 18 islands.
These myths and legends may hold truths that can unlock the secrets of our ancient origins.
This is the story of Snæbjørn, a strong and brave farmhand on the island of Suðuroy who must flee to the mountains after committing a horrible crime.
Once there was a rich farmer in Hvalba, on the island of Suðuroy, who had a servant called Snæbjørn. This Snæbjørn was an exceptionally strong and brave man, fleet of foot and skilled in climbing the steepest of cliffs. He was also a very proud man, never afraid to speak up for himself and others.
Among the farmers’ servants, there also was a milkmaid who lived in a barn, situated far from the rest of the village houses.
Snæbjørn and the milkmaid were lovers, and since, in those days, it was not allowed for people without property to marry, they carried out their love affair secretly in the barn.
Life went on peacefully in the village, but, occasionally, the judge and the bailiff visited Hvalba to carry out their judicial tasks.
Once the judge was there, he was served a meal of young pigeons, which was a rare delicacy, since they were difficult to get a hold of. But for this special meal, Snæbjørn had climbed to a certain cave, high on a cliff, where nobody else would dare to go. So, the next time the judge came to Hvalba, he asked the farmer to order his servant to go and fetch him some pigeons for dinner. However, Snæbjørn refused to go. He didn’t want to be sent off like an obedient dog.
Sometime after this incident, a Dutch ship, loaded with silk, porcelain and other luxurious goods, visited and anchored up in Hvalba. It was strictly forbidden to buy anything from foreign ships that weren’t connected with the Royal Danish Trade company, but Snæbjørn, who wasn’t afraid of any authority, went aboard the ship and bought four silk scarves to give to his love, the milkmaid.
Next time the judge and the bailiff came to Hvalba, they prosecuted Snæbjørn for buying these scarves, and he was sentenced to serve four years of imprisonment on the Danish jail-island Bremerholm. This conviction made Snæbjørn so angry, that he struck at the judge with a stick, but accidentally hit the bailiff instead, who dropped dead on the spot.
Snæbjørn fled towards the mountains, and even if many men tried to catch up with him, he was too fast and knew the mountain slopes, gorges and canyons so thoroughly, that they had to give up searching for him.
Even if the authorities were after him, many people from the village helped him with clothing and food and warned him if search parties were heading out to find him. He also frequently visited his love in the barn, who was now with child.
For three years, Snæbjørn lived as an outlaw in the mountains, sleeping in caves and on rocky ledges, where it was impossible for anybody else to climb. He never stayed long in the same place, but moved from the southern to the northern part of the island, depending on the weather conditions and where it was safest for him to hide.
Created by Allan Korsager Davidsen
Today, we can follow in his footsteps by visiting the places that are still named after him. These include Snæbjorn’s cabin, Snæbjørn’s cave and Snæbjørn’s ledge.
But living in the harsh, Faroese mountains was quite a challenge, even for a strong, brave man as Snæbjørn, and when one winter night a ship visited Hvalba, Snæbjørn managed to get onboard and sail away. He was never seen again in the Faroe Islands.
However, it is said that someone spotted him years later, living in the Shetland Islands.
Meanwhile, the milkmaid managed to hide her son, the offspring of her love affair with Snæbjørn, in the barn, until one day he was seen playing on the sandy beach among the other children. When asked who he was, the only answer he would give was: “I am my mother’s son.”
People soon found out that he was the son of Snæbjørn and the milkmaid, and since he was such a well-behaved and healthy boy, he was accepted in the village.
The boy’s name was Jacob, and he grew up to become a man, as strong and brave as his father. But he had a very special skill. He could see and talk to the magical creatures we call “huldufolk” – or hidden people. One day, when Jacob was with his dog tending sheep in the outfield, he saw a man coming towards him. This man also had his dog with him, and as he came closer, Jacob saw that he was one of the hidden people – a hulderman. The two dogs started to fight, and Jacob’s dog bit the heathen dog so badly that it died. Now the hulderman got angry and attacked Jacob. They fought for a while, and Jacob managed to drag the hulderman down the mountainside until the church was visible. The sight of the church made the heathen lose his power, and Jacob managed to overthrow him. When the hulderman realised that he was losing, he begged for his life, and promised Jacob that if he spared him, he would give him three great gifts. Every year, a one-eyed whale and a big log of wood would strand on the beach, and the third gift was a great white bird that would settle on the island of Mykines, which was his mother’s birthplace. There was one condition: no one in the village should speak badly of these gifts, or else they would disappear.
With this promise, Jacob set the hulderman free, and the following year, there came a log of wood and a whale and a white bird, known as the gannet, settled on his mother’s birth island. But people soon forgot the promise Jacob had given the hulderman, and talked badly of the wood, saying it was too crooked and useless, and, therefore, it disappeared. But the big-one eyed whale still comes to Hvalba each year, and the gannet still lives on Mykines, and to this day no one ever talks badly of these precious gifts from Jacob and the hulderman.
This version of the well-known story about Snæbjørn was written by Ria Tórgarð and read by Petur Meinhard Ellebye Andersen. Sound production by Finnur Hansen.