PHOTO GALLERY: Honningsvåg’s rites of passage

May 15, 2013

From the moment I arrive in Honningsvåg, I see this is a visit about passages. I already have lots of landscape pictures of North Cape, northernmost point in Europe, but this visit is about people, the community, and huge changes ahead. I am greeted by a group of high school girls, full of life and mischief, standing in the middle of the main street, music blaring, whistles blowing, jumping about in bright red pants with the letters “Russ” written down their legs. It is the 17-day high school graduation celebration, aka Russ, with wild antics and parties leading up to a finale on National Day, May 17th.

Unfortunately, it is also the week BEFORE, not after, exams! With great wealth and seismic changes in the cultural landscape, the celebration is increasingly a venue for binge drinking, promiscuity and lavish spending on custom-painted, sound-rigged party vans and even buses. It looks innocent, and in small towns it generally is, with a list of pranks that earn knots tied onto the Russ cap tassle for each success, ranging from kissing a teacher to going 17 days without changing pants. Adults look the other way, figuring this is a final blast before more serious life begins.

At the other end of the innocence spectrum come confirmations this same week, with 14-year-olds and their relatives filling churches and banquet halls in white gowns and bunads, the national costume, which are distinct in design and decoration for each region. At a cost of $5000 each, bunads are bestowed upon confirmants to last a lifetime.

A few days later, the older generation has its day at a coffeehouse party presented by Perleporten, the town’s new culture house. Musicians perform songs from yesteryear and a local movie director tells funny tales of his life making films. No one wants it to end. One elderly woman, with tears in her eyes, tells owner Birgit Johansen, “This was my best day in years.”

Each age has its rite of passage this week, all against the backdrop of a major announcement in February that oil discovered offshore will will be pumped to an enormous storage facility to be built outside town in underground reservoirs blasted out of solid rock, bringing unimaginable wealth. “Up till now we’ve been based on fishing and tourism,” muses Hans Hansen, regional marketing director for Rica Hotels, “but this society is going to go through tremendous changes.”


High school girls pose in their red Russ pants in Honningsvåg, Norway. © Randall Hyman


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