Since time immemorial people have lived on almost every fjord and bay on Seiland, and traces of civilisation have been found dating right back to the Stone Age. People on Seiland have traditionally made their living from fishing, animal husbandry, small-scale farming, hunting, trapping and foraging.
Fishing was the main source of income in most households, and sheep were the most common farm animal. Many people also kept goats or cows. All types of resources that could be used were harvested during the year. The population were mainly Sámi, and Sámi was the most widely spoken language on Seiland before the Norwegianisation. In addition to the permanent residents, the island was also home to reindeer husbanders in the summer, and remains so today.
In November 1944, nearly all the settlements on Seiland were razed to the ground by the Germans, and much of Seiland’s cultural assets were lost. Many locations in the current national park were rebuilt after the war. The last fjords with human settlement within the current national park were depopulated in the 1960s. These included Lille Bekkarfjord, Bårdfjorden and Jøfjorden. Today you can find many traces of permanent settlement in the form of foundation walls, house ruins, turf hut ruins, landing stages, pasture strips and peat extraction sites.
Abandoned house at Gámanjárga/Komagnes, outside the park. Photo: Ingunn Ims Vistnes
Hanging fish Reproduced with permission from André Larssen’s picture archive.
Bilde: Fraflyttet hus på Gámanjárga/Komagnes, utenfor parken. Foto: Ingunn Ims Vistnes
Former hay marsh. Photo: Ingunn Ims Vistnes
Tidligere slåttemyr. Foto: Ingunn Ims Vistnes
The people on the coast of West Finnmark have a long tradition of harvesting winter feed for animals from uncultivated land, so-called rough hay meadows. Marshes, meadows and steep mountainsides could all be used for harvesting hay. In northern Seiland many of the mountain hayfields were so attractive that they were auctioned off on fixed terms. These included mountain hayfields in Bårdveggen, Humpavika, Bumannsfjordene and Jøfjorden. Rognsundet and Vargsundet were also widely known for their particularly nutrient-rich rough grazing.
At the end of each summer people made their way to the hayfields in small boats, cut the grass on the mountainsides and transported it down to the boats by basket or horse. On the steepest slopes the grass was raked and bundled up into net bags and then rolled down the slopes to the sea. The boats were then loaded up and the grass was transported back to the village, where it was racked and dried.
The hay harvests were hard work and everyone chipped in, including the children. However, the harvests were also a social event where people saw old friends and the children had plenty of playmates. Store Bekkarfjord was home to many fishing boats and smacks during the harvest, while others used tents or spent the night under upturned boats. In the evening you could see the light from the bonfires along the shore.
Gradually people acquired ownership rights to the hayfield strips. In 1878, 192 properties were registered at Store Bekkarfjord, most with both Sámi and Norwegian names. The strips are quite narrow, often between 20 and 80 metres wide, and run up the slopes in straight lines. The strips at Store Bekkafjord are now private property, and many of the families have strong ties with the steep slopes and the nutrient-rich grass.
Nutrient-rich, steep hayfields at Store Bekkarfjord. Photo: Ingunn Ims Vistnes
Hege Annestad Nilsen’s art installation at Store Bekkarfjord tells the story of outlying hay meadows. Photo: Ingunn Ims Vistnes
Næringsrike og bratte slåttemarker i Store Bekkarfjord. Foto: Ingunn Ims Vistnes