Daily life at Litlibær

The farmland was small as was the number of livestock as well. Each home had approximately twenty sheep and one cow, only to serve home needs. In the year 1917 Guðfinnur and Halldóra moved to Tjaldtangi a small peninsula between Seyðisfjordur and Hestfjordur fjords.  They wanted to be nearer to the fishing grounds. Thereafter Finnbogi and his family remain alone at Litlibær. He handed the farm over to his son Kristján upon his retirement.


Finnbogi was one of the most accurate shooters in the area and improved the farm´s income by shooting foxes, birds and seals. All of these were valuable to the home. Skins of foxes were highly valued. The major birds of prey were of the auk family, which were caught late in winter and autumn. Besides the bird meat, the feathers were used in blankets and pillows. Seals were valued for their hides, which were processed and sold and the meat and fat were used in the household.


Both homes possessed rowboats which were the key to their success. Each of these large families was self-sufficient and therefore able to lend a helping hand to people on other farms when they were short of fish or meat. To provide assistance, when you were able to, was built into the nature of these people.


Numerous stories have been preserved about the farmer Finnbogi and his shooting skills. Many of these can be found in the book Vaskir menn (Brave men) by Guðmundur Guðni Guðmundsson. Here is one of the best known:


At one time Finnbogi was travelling alone and found himself near some skerries in the middle of Isfjardardjúp (The main fjord in the area to which all the small fjords are linked) east of the farm Ögur. There he found some seals on the skerries which were off guard. At low tide the skerries appear from the surface of the sea. He managed to approach the skerries in shelter of the largest one and stalk upon the largest rock. He had brought a rifle with him although he normally used a shotgun. He hit two seals by the same bullet. The bullet went through the heart of one and in the head of the other.


He then rowed to shore and removed the hides of the creatures. All of a sudden he heard a sound from a fox in the nearby slope. He threw away the knife, seized the rifle and managed to stalk up the slope above the fox and shoot it. He then becomes aware of another fox which gets the same treatment. Here all worked together; rational thinking, extraordinary prompt action and outstanding shooting ability.


The book Vaskir menn also relates:


Finnbogi was a good seaman, careful, discerning of weather conditions and clever at managing people. Everyone who knew him agreed that he was a hunter of life and soul. He was a handyman and a good carpenter. For example did he make a chessboard with chessmen and was a good chess player himself. More than once he obtained a prize for his solutions of chess riddles.


One of the numerous children brought up at Litlibær was Einar Guðfinnsson who later became a nationally known entrepreneur. He relates his memories from Litlibær in the book Einars saga Guðfinnssonar written by Ásgeir Jakobsson:


The battle was endless for both parents, him with the scythe or the oar and her with the household indoors and often outdoors as well, when he was away fishing. They both toiled from day to darkness but had to live sparely to make ends meet for a rapidly growing family. As far as I know they made their start emptyhanded. The pasture belonging to Litlibær was very small to say the least and could not support the small livestock they had which only cared for the needs of the home. Therefore they had to obtain hay at other farms and bring it a long way with a great effort. My father had to undertake work at other farms to pay for the hay. There was no other way. Money was not in the hands of poor farmers.


The description that Einar relates of his youth at Litlibær is typical the life of children and their parents on such farms in that era, in particular the families that relied more on the sea than traditional agriculture to make a living:


In my youth the fjord was full of fish and life. Cod, herring and squid entered the fjord each year. There was abundance of lumpfish, bird, seal and minke whale. The main task of the boys was to catch fish in the fjord with our father. At shore our mother helped us to carry the catch, gut it, flatten and salt.


I do not recall us, the siblings at Litlibær, ever to be hungry although there were many mouths to feed and we had good appetite as most farm children who are on the run all day and began at an early age to help with the daily chores. Our father kept us to the work but he made sure as well that we had enough sleep and enough to eat.


Einar Guðfinnsson, still at a relatively young age, became nationally known as a ship owner, fish processor and merchant. He recalls that on occasions at Litlibær some food had to be rationed, mainly the butter which then had to be replaced by something else. This little anecdote is an early indication of  his growing talent  as a skilled  bargainer.


 At this time the butter was rationed and replaced by sheep fat as was common in those days. Then I say to my brother Sigfús, who was always called Fúsi. «You can eat the sheep fat, Fúsi, I shall take care of the butter!»


One of the better known Icelandic poets in the 19th century was Hjálmar Jónsson usually called “Bólu Hjálmar”, the nickname referring to his farm. He says in one of his poems: «Poverty was my mistress».  Einar is well aware of this when he relates one of his sorest memories from his youth at Litlibær:


My dad rowed with us in his boat Súgandi and the catch in that autumn was very good. Some days before Christmas a motorboat from Isafjordur came to fetch the fish to us. Dad went to Isafjordur with that boat to buy this and that for Christmas. He was told that he could not get any merchandise until after the New Year. He returned home emptyhanded. Then my father was sad.


Although Christmas was not celebrated as nowadays little things, who meant a lot to the children, filled them with joy. The reason for the refusal was because the account with the merchant was negative as, despite a good catch, the fish prices, cod and haddock in particular, were extremely low this autumn.  The strenuous battle was not always rewarded.


The large group of children who were raised and grew up here on this humble farm benefitted all their lives from the loving care that they received from their parents.  Although their means were limited, they had a good life and developed the characteristics and character that proved to be of profound value in their adult lives: efficiency, contentment and care for others. In the words of Einar Guðfinnsson: “They did not inherit wealth, they inherited virtues.”