Odel, bunad and Tubfrim

Man, I blog like tons and tons all at once and then stop, and still some of you still expect me to blog daily! (Hi, Mark!)

I got busy. I’m webmaster for one site (sorry, work-related and that’s off limits for this blog), catching up on some reading, and trying to post more often on my other blog. And I worked late Tuesday.

I’ve been happily busy. I really like doing all this blogging. (But it means some of you are also waiting for me to answer e-mail. Hi, Robbi!)


First off, I spent Saturday researching some Norwegian women who emigrated from Norway to the US in the 1800’s and made a big splash in their new home country. My mother is putting together a newsletter and wondered what I could tell her about them.

Well, I could tell her that the history of Norwegian emigrants is not taught in Norway. We know nothing about what happened after the sons who couldn’t inherit the farm left on a leaky, creaky ship for “Junaiten” (“yoo-nighten” – Norwegian slang for the US). Those who know are relatives with a keen interest in geneology and a collection of old letters.

Which brings me to the concept of “odel”: Instead of splitting farms up into smaller and smaller and useless parcels, Norway has had a law since the time of the Vikings that states that the farm in its entirety goes to the eldest son – so-called “odel” (the son is a “odelsgutt”). Nowadays, it’s the eldest child that inherits (so an inheriting daughter is a “odelsjente”). But it left nothing to the other sons, so they’d have to either go find some unused land and homestead/farm it, or go to the cities for jobs, or go to sea. The 1800’s brought a new alternative: Get a farm in the United States.

The odel law is becoming a nuisance because a new requirement was added in 1975 that to keep the farm, an inheritor must also live on it. But the odel law is constitutional so it will require a lot to remove it.


Then my mother asked for help with getting a bunad. The 1800’s in Norway (and I believe elsewhere) saw something called national romanticism – basically falling in love with your own country and glorifying it through rose-colored glasses. This came on the heels of writing the Norwegian constitution (in 1814) and getting the Swedish king to grant Norway a certain autonomy and therefore use of its new constitution. Norway’s national anthem was written during this blast of nationalism and its flag, blue and white cross on a red background, was designed in this period, too. When Norway in 1905 voted for sovereignity and secession from Sweden and got it, nationalism got renewed strength. People went into archives and grandparents’ attics and found the old national costumes – bunad – and started rescuing and recreating lost patterns.

Bunads were originally formal attire, often inspired by the fashions of their time, and built to last. Good wool cloth was used and the costumes were sewn with extra material so they could be let out if necessary. There is special jewelry that goes with the costume, unique to each region, and various other patterns, such as embroideries and weaves are also unique to each region. The most popular – and considered by many the most beautiful – is the Hardanger bunad. Hardanger and its gorgeous fjord (Norway’s second-longest), is a region south of where I live. The bunads around this part of western Norway are all very similar to the Hardanger. This page shows bunads typical of the county I live in. My mother wants one from a region directly north of Bergen, where my grandpa is from. The bunad jewelry is one of the things that makes me happy I’ve gotten to know Norway. It is exquisite!

Norway does not celebrate its independence day like the US celebrates its independence day. Instead, Norway celebrate its consititution day like the US celebrates its independence day. So on May 17, Norwegians don their red, white and blue and those that have bunads, wear them. Parades are a free-for-all; anybody can march in them. Here is one from May of 2004, taken at the nursing home my grandma was living in at the time. Thanks to the rain and therefore all the umbrellas, you can hardly make out any flags, bunads or red-white-and-blue ribbons worn on lapels. But it’s definitely the 17th of May. Off-camera is the local school marching band, with each member wearing a clear plastic poncho.


I’ve also been decluttering, and found a bunch of used stamps. Every kid in Norway – well, every kid of my generation and older, at least – has grown up with tearing stamps off envelopes at school or bringing them to school, where teacher put them in an envelope to Tubfrim, while informing us of this terrible disease, tuberculosis, which was and is Tubfrim’s main purpose: To help those stricken. Its other purpose is to aid handicapped children. (Tub = short for TB, frim = short for “frimerke” – postage stamp.) They are in dire need of stamps (people don’t bother to send what they do have, apparantly), so if you have any stamps, send them to Tubfrim, NO-3540 Nesbyen (Nesbyen is also known for being Norway’s hottest place in the summer). I got one big envelope sent off, and have started saving up for another.

But tuberculosis reminds me of a uniquely Norwegian experience for an American: All through grade school, we’d get a BCG test, a light cut on the inside of our lower arm dripped with some reactant, to see if we had TB. In 8th grade, we got vaccinated (amid horror stories about just how much that shot in the arm would hurt; it does leave a characteristic scar). The subsequent BCG tests later in 8th and in 9th grade were then supposed to give a positive, and that meant a slight redness around the cut. (I’m told they stopped these BCG vaccinations in the 1990’s.)

When I came back to Norway in 1981, I was required as an immigrant to get a chest X-ray; they were checking for TB.

By Keera Ann Fox

I am a bi-lingual American who has lived most of my life in Norway.
Jeg er en tospråklig amerikaner som har bodd mesteparten av mitt liv i Norge.

5 replies on “Odel, bunad and Tubfrim”

I love the Married Woman’s Bunad from Voss – thank you so much for telling us about these garments. You know me and fiber arts… Also, would the Tubfrim be interested in US stamps??


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