Perhaps more than anything else in Vinje, the waters of Møsvatn speak for the historical legacy of the region. If not for the water that originates here, the story of the Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site would have been told in a completely different way – or not at all.
This is where filmmaker Aslaug Vaa comes in, and the documentary Kvar song ei soge (Every Song a Story). The story follows real people here who communicate through the art of vocal folk music known as ‘kveding’. The word kveding has its origin in the Norse word ‘kvad’ or ‘kvede’, which means ‘to recite a poem rhythmically and in a solemn way.
It is singing with a purpose – calling the animals, soothing the children to sleep, intoning a historical tale – cultural heritage that renews itself each and every day. In Every Song a Story, you will visit isolated farms and locations throughout Møsstrond, where the people we meet pass on their stories through this deeply rooted tradition.
Aaslaug has drawn much of her inspiration from her family roots from the mountain region around Møsvatn. To understand this cultural heritage and life here deep in the nature of the high Norwegian mountain plains, we must understand more about Møsstrond, an area inhabited by just a few hundred people around Møsvatn, the lake created by the Møsvatn Dam.
A settlement in Vinje Municipality, Møsstrond is one of Norway’s highest inhabited areas with an altitude of more than 920 metres above sea level.
The dam at Møsvatn did more than create the potential to fuel new industries with hydroelectric power. It created a massive manmade lake whose rising waters over the decades has changed the lives of the people living there. Completed in 1906, the water level was raised by 10 metres – and then over the next decades it was raised another 6.5 metres, for a total rise of 18.5 metres.
With the spread of the waters over a century ago, change did come. Suddenly, the only way to reach these farms was by boat during the summer and over the frozen lake in the winter. But the people who stayed persevered. At Møsstrond, the farms are few – but they are important to the culture, the tradition, the region.
The rising waters have brought some changes here in the past century. But this is recent history in relation to the long settlement history in the area. In this distinctive landscape south of the Handangervidda, archeological finds show that people have herded sheep and goats here for the last 6,000 years.
The summers are short here, but they are intense with the sun shining nearly 19 hours on midsummers’ day. It is also a lush highland climate still attracting herdsmen and their flocks of sheep and goats during the summer months. But nowadays, there are fewer animals – not like the old days.
Aanund and Tora
Aaslaug’s grandfather, Aanund Vaa, was born in Vinje in 1867. As a child he was taught by his uncle to lead herds of cows to the highlands. As a young man he was authorised by the county, and every spring he would go to selected farmers, taking the collective herd far up into the mountains. Here he would remain during the summer months from May to September in the areas west of Møsvatn. With up to 350 animals with him, he always found good and nutritious grazing for the herd there.
Tora, Aaslaug’s grandmother, grew up south of Notodden in Sauherad. When she was old enough, she and girls from neighbouring farms would take each family’s farm animals to the north in Vinje to graze each spring and summer. Tora was well known for her talent in kveding – the animals knew her voice and followed her, a comforting sound to them.
One summer day, Tora and Aanund met on the Hardangervidda. They soon fell in love and later married. Eventually, they were a family with six children. Even after they got married, Aanund followed his annual cycle. In the spring he left home, collected animals, farmed in the mountains and returned home in the autumn. The last time was in 1940, just two years before he died. In his absence, Tora took care of the family and ran the farm with a firm hand.
Aanund died long before Aaslaug was born, but she did get to know Grandmother Tora. As a young child they lived in the same house, and she remembers well when Tora died. The coffin was placed in the living room, and black-clad relatives and neighbours respectfully said goodbye to the strong woman as they sang hymns, drank coffee and ate cakes. Then the coffin-bearers carried Tora out of the house, and the entourage drove the coffin to the chapel where it stood until the funeral.
This was Aaslaug’s first encounter with death. Although she was not allowed to attend the funeral, she clearly remembers sitting with the other children in the house. As they sat together, they could feel, and almost see, Grandma Tora ascending to heaven wearing the white dress, but now with angel wings.
Memories such as this have been of great importance to Aaslaug through the years. She often thinks of her grandmother and the position of women in the farming community. It was simple and complicated at the same time. The women were apparently submissive but showed a perseverance and strong willpower. It was about taking care of the children, the family.
The farm had to be run whether the husband was at home or in the mountains.
The Story Appears
Many years later, while attending an annual country-wide competition in Norwegian folk music – the Landskappleiken – in Vinje’s neighboring municipality of Seljord, the idea of the documentary came to Aaslaug. She would honour the kveding tradition, presenting true personalities from Vinje who create meaningful stories through song, about their lives, the past and future, memories and expectations.
The film is an exploration into the beauty of Møsstrand and gaining a deeper understanding of the people and their surroundings. Through song, the actors in the film reflect on life, providing an opportunity for a deeper togetherness and meaning. We follow the actors through the seasons; from when the ice settles one late autumn on Møsvatn to next years midsummer celebration.
In the film, you meet different generations who tell about their lives through song. At the farm Hove we meet the Hove family; then to Austli and the roadless farm there and onwards to the family farm Hamaren – truly at the gateway to the deep Hardangervidda. Here you will still find traces of submerged farms when the water level is low, and experience isolated farms still in use after Møsvatn was dammed.
During Easter 2012, director Aaslaug Vaa and her international team began filming. By the time the film was wrapped and the last recording made in 2014, there were fourteen different performers who gave their stories through song. With a premier in Oslo in 2015 and a successful run, the film was later nominated for a Norwegian Oscar in 2016.
Kvar song ei soge is a film of adventure – both inside and out. It allows you to get acquainted with proud people in the community that is the source of the industrial heritage Rjukan-Notodden. A society where kveding has been a part of everyday life for generations, strongly woven into people’s lives as an important cultural expression.
The waters may have risen, and life may have changed in some ways – but some things stay the same deep in the heart of Vinje at Møsstrond.
Photos courtesy of Aaslaug Vaa