Clipfish, a trial, and the memory of war

Each part of Norway has its own, sometimes strange, ways to celebrate Syttende Mai


Photo: Tove Andersson, Kamøyvær is inhabited by 68 people, nine cats, and seven dogs, explains one of the inhabitants, Eva Schmutterer. The artist moved to the tiny town from Germany in 1997 and now runs three galleries and makes art inspired by the northern nature.

Tove Andersson

The celebration of the national day in Norway always includes marching bands. Marching in a parade is hard work, but the reward is more than just happy faces along the route, at least at North Cape.

At the northernmost tip of Norway, the marching band in Honningsvåg, Honningsvåg music association (HMF) travels each Syttende Mai by bus from one fishing village to another to play for the population.

HMF first travels to Gjesvær, a beautiful village with deep-sea fishing and bird-watching for tourists at Gjeværstappan, some 10 miles from the North Cape plateau. From there they continue on to a village of about 70 inhabitants, Kamøyvær.

After playing and marching, in weather varying from snow and wind to cool and sunny, the musicians get their hard-earned reward… in the form of the dried fish called clipfish!

The next time someone tries to tell you about typisk norsk celebrations, remember that there are many different traditions all over the country.

Trial tradition
HMF has a traditional party on May 17, something they call a “trial.” It is not at all considered traditional in other parts of the country.

A courtroom is assembled from among the band members, consisting of panel of judges, prosecutors, and defenders. The “crime” varies from year to year and may be something like entering the hallway wearing one’s uniform hat or—God forbid—losing one’s drumsticks while playing, or letting go with an outburst of non-appropriate words just outside a church house, or having one’s hands in one’s pockets.

The “trial” lasts for several hours, offers laughter and fun, and the punishments may be having to sing a text or to sew the offending pockets of a uniform shut, preventing a “guilty” member of the band from becoming a repeat offender.

Music that can’t be crushed


Photo courtesy of HMF
Honningsvåg music association member John Tore Svendsen holds up his reward for a long day of music.

As long ago as 1897, when Honningsvåg was a small fishing village with a few hundred inhabitants, it had horn music. In 1919, the present Honningsvåg music association began to form. The association was officially founded on Sept. 25, 1927.

The music—and celebration of Syttende Mai—were on hold during WWII. After the war, the area’s traditions were resumed as quickly as possible. It wasn’t easy for HMF, which was a music organization completely without instruments—they had all been lost during the forced evacuation from Finnmark in 1944.

The end of Norway’s occupation coming so soon before Syttende Mai has entwined the two joyous celebrations ever since, and this is especially true in the far north where the war’s destruction was more intense. In Honningsvåg, where only the church was spared being burned down during the war, the celebration of Constitution Day has always emphasized the liberation while honoring the fallen.

This article originally appeared in the May 4, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Tove Andersson

Tove Andersson is a freelance journalist who writes about travel and culture. She conducts interviews for the street magazine Oslo while writing poetry and fiction. Jeg heter Navnløs (My name is nameless) was published in 2020. Her website is, and she can be reached at