by Siri Linn Brandsøy 12/10/2015
Many of the last permanent residents of the area, or what we call fastbuande, rest here, including my great great-grandma Kristina and my great-grandparents Jens and Anna. I've visited this graveyard many times before, removing the weeds on the family graves, then replanting new flowers together with my mum, her sister — aunt Bente, and their aunt Laila. This is the first time I am here alone. Returning to the childhood home of my great grandad to do fieldwork, collective family practices become the solitary act of a sensory ethnographer.
It's late Friday evening and I've taken the boat out for the first time on my own. As I secure it by the old church dock I realise that I've forgotten to keep track of whether the tide is rising or falling, which affects how tightly or loosely you leave the rope. I remind myself to start taking note of the tide as I make a clove hitch. This is the only one of the knots I learned from my grandad that I still remember.
As I pass through the gate, the unattended graveyard with weeds growing freely awakens me from reminiscing. When I was younger there was always the smell of freshly cut grass neatly trimmed between the gravestones. But having arrived in June before the peak holiday season, I'm too early or some would say too late as people keep on telling me that the way of life here has 'passed its due date.' I pull out a humongous dooryard dock from my great grandma's grave to make place for a bouquet of wild flowers. My inner voice speaks the names, the golden letters, Anna Henriette Indrevær. The majority of the last names written on the gravestones here are Indrevær, Husøy, Nautøy/Notøy and Utvær. With few exceptions, their names are the same as the islands where they once lived.
While the area was once part of a thriving fishing community with big cutter rigged sailing ships coming in from England to collect lobsters for export, most ships now just pass by in the distance, barely audible. In this open landscape of islands, islets and sea, your eyes see further than you can hear. I take a picture of the graveyard from the outside and notice that it is the shape of a boat. Isn't it strange how a graveyard by the sea has taken this form?
The entrance to the far right was once part of a church. It has been relocated twice, first from Utvær to Kirkøy, then from Kirkøy to Straume. If you look across Straumfjorden, to the east of the graveyard, you can see its new location, a white formation on a rocky grey-blue backdrop. The legend goes that there was a priest who had had enough of his services at Utvær being affected by bad weather, what they called messefall. Once it was so bad that the churchgoers were stuck on the island for a whole week and it was decided that the church had to be moved further inland to prevent this from happening. It was deconstructed and then rebuilt on Kirkøy. This method of reusing the material was common in the area and the history of many houses on these islands can be traced back to a different location than where they are currently situated.
When the new church was built in Straume in 1896, there were 280 people living on the inner side of Straumsfjorden and 200 on the outer side. This was one of the arguments for moving the church further inland. The people of Husøy, Nautøy and Indrevær now had to row across Straumsfjorden, meaning the Current Fjord, known for its strong currents, to get to church. Some refused and threatened to leave the Church of Norway. The church at Kirkøy was sold in 1900, and is now a chapel in Leirvågen. This 'centralisation' of the church is perhaps one of the first official indicators pointing to the remoteness of 'øyene lengst ute i vest' - the islands to the farthest west. A place where the weather reigns and could make the toughest fishermen and the strongest believer of God værfast - weather-bound.
Today, only 6 people live on these islands west of Straumsfjorden. The majority of the houses, like my grandad's childhood home and the former school house, have become second home dwellings that only come to life during the summer months and other holidays, such as Easter, when the descendants return.