At 23 years of age, still wet behind the ears, a notice on a bulletin board commanded my attention. While working on my degree I had the opportunity to spend time in the field, or Manumiro PÄIVÄNSINI , in my case. There was to be four in the party. The objective was to gather as much information as possible on the history, culture and lifestyle of the people on Manumiro. The islanders were an oddity, tracing their heritage to Finland but somehow had found their way to an isolated dot of land in the North Atlantic. Our research would hopefully unravel the mystery of how they got there. We hoped to chronicle how the community evolved over time to resemble more of a culture closer to the Shetland Islands than their roots. We would gather stories, make field recordings and gather notes on everything. It was certainly an assignment that excited me. I kept thinking if I might win the appointment I could be experiencing life in a place I could never imagine having the opportunity to see. Best of all, the people spoke English, or so they said.
Our transport was a ship taking supplies across the Atlantic to Norway. The accommodations left much to be desired but the food was good. Even so, the trip was miserable. If it wasn’t blowing up a gale, the rain was falling in buckets or the wind sliced through your clothing. I remained chilled during the whole time. Once or twice we feared for our safety as mother nature tested the skills of the crew and the durability of the ship, but we arrived safely in Oslo. From here it was a off to another ship after a couple of days in a noisy youth hostel. Once we hit the Shetland Islands it was off to another smaller ship the next morning, heading for Manumiro.
Luckily the seas were calm and the skies sunny as we journeyed for the outback islands that neither Norway nor the Shetlands will assert a claim over. They claim it is the questionable location, right on each other’s border (both countries claim an economic zone that extends way beyond their physical land, taking in everything between the shore and the edge of the zone). The Captain had his own theory: Manumiro never had much of interest to either country and whoever adopts the specks of land will spend more money than Manumiro can bring to them.
The Captain tried to reduce the shock he knew we would experience on the island. Dutifully he explained the people of Manumiro had always been survivors, making a life for themselves by ‘a slim margin’. He added we were in for a shock with the language. Yes it was English but in a Manumiro way. Aside from accent and a few Old Norse, Norwegian, Finnish and Irish words tossed in, it was still English but barely. He told us how the islanders would avoid us for days and not show us much more than a bit of courtesy until we joined them in the daily work routine. He added a life of comfort was not the Manumiro way. He added it was hard work keeping up an island and nobody but themselves to do it. If we would join in the islanders would embrace us as one of their own. Then, and only then, would we get what we came for. He also cautioned us to be careful about performing some tasks as they were not for those without the experience, adding the work came so natural for the islanders that they would never think you had never performed a task they have done all their life.
Another point the Captain made us aware of is that Manumiro is ten small sandy islands that are close together. He said that while the ship would stop only at Manumiro, merchandise would go out to other islands at low tide. He explained the shallow waters between the islands allowed for a tractor and wagon to be utilized to transport goods and even people from island to island but only in good weather and only at low tide. He said it might be possible to walk to the nearest island at low tide but he did not suggest we try. He said the water was perhaps a half a meter deep and we might sink in sand and muck up to our ankles with each step. He noted a trek of a few kilometers would greatly tax our endurance..
As our ship entered an indentation on the main island’s eastern side, there was no sign of life except for a small boat with a handful of men. They began to unload crates and we asked to help. In a few minutes we were heading to shore. The process would continue six more times before the supplies were on shore. With my strength zapped and my hands bloodied, we helped transport the crates to their final destination and were escorted to a brightly colored small wooden house we were told would be our new home.
In the kitchen a kindly looking grandmotherly woman prepared the house for occupancy as a pot boiled on the stove. Our shock came as she explained our restroom was a bucket with a bit of saltwater. She showed us our fresh and saltwater tanks, helped us put away things and taught us how to use the radio. There are no phones on Manumiro. The locals use somewhat of a walkie talkie system to communicate. By evening the wind had picked up and the clouds had rolled in. We sat down to a rabbit stew and fresh bread. “Hoping you lads like de stew” was one of the only things the quiet lady muttered. With our sore bodies, anything would be welcome to nourish our bodies and the stew was tasty. The night would be cold and wet.
The next morning we set out in the wind-swept rain to the restaurant. We were the only ones there. We ordered breakfast and a few minutes later plates appeared with fresh bread, fruit and butter. We asked about where the men were and was told we awoke too late for the daily business but we could take a look and find someone needing an extra hand.
We were surprised to have our help and offers rejected for about the first week. Nobody would be around us more than a minute or two. The lady at the restaurant explained the attitude. She said nobody could miss a day for sickness if they could help it and ‘da cold’ always came with the ship. ‘Da cold’ is either the common cold or some other virus that runs through the population for days once the ship comes in. Once we proved ourselves not to be sick, people would not leave us alone. She was correct.
Our routine changed little day to day. As soon as the sun was up, we grabbed breakfast and took part in the day’s work. By evening we were visiting homes and taking care of the documentation of life on the island.
While we documented every aspect of life on the island and while it was an incredible adventure, Manumiro is a hell. Life is tough on the islands and there are no frills. If food and entertainment do not matter to you and if you like doing things the hard way and working hard every day, then Manumiro is a paradise. (Our notes: For those of us who have grown up in a society where we are users of services and products versus creators of and users of these products, will likely find the present lifestyle a hell. Outside work and socializing with other islanders, there is no entertainment. For certain, one has to create one’s own entertainment on Manumiro. Andrew J. Bell, who provided this account comes from a society where almost every service or products awaits him on demand around the clock and where a wide number of entertainment options are available. For Andrew, this was a big change of life.)
Manumiro, meaning Morning Glory, is a group of ten low lying sandy islands in the North Atlantic known for their unique terrain as halligen islands among the mostly rocky islands of this sector of the Atlantic. As one might suspect, a variety of morning glory flowers are found on the main island and would cover the island without human intervention.
The islands are all close to one another. The small islands are all located within a 120 square mile area and typically one or more of the islands can be seen at any vantage point. As the population evolved, some islands became centers for trade or became known for a certain export.
With a population of 297 residing on six of the islands. The island in size are listed below with the population:
Manumiro 2,362 acres Population 90
Middle Island 1,418 acres Population 80
South Island 684 acres Population 37
East Island 432 acres Population 38
Little Manumiro 238 acres Population 30
South Manumiro 149 acres Population 22
West Island 124 acres Population 0
North Island 123 acres Population 0
Little Island 22 acres Population 0
New Island 9 acres Population 0
In the early days of Manumiro, fishing was the primary occupation when it was first settled in the 1500s. By the 1700s, the men fished while the women farmed the island. In the early 1900s, the economy began the slow switch to agriculture and animal husbandry. Today the islands make most of their income from raising sheep and growing hay. At present hay production is a bit more important than raising sheep.
These islands all govern themselves independent of one another yet cooperate collectively on all aspects that affect all the islands. Generally speaking, the loose-knit government consists of each island’s leaders communicating needs and concerns with the other islands in writing. Literally, each island negotiates deals with other islands resulting in a common plan which is then agreed upon or rejected by area islands. All of this happens on an informal basis and there are no written laws for local governance or collective government.
In the past few decades, a few tourists have come to the islands but the number of tourists remains minimal and has very little impact on the economy.
The most populated island, Manumiro, is by far the largest and the center of commerce among the islands. Most shops and services are found here although East Island is also an important business hub.
The islands were first populated as a camp for summer fishing boats but soon people decided to live permanently on the island. The population remained small. By the middle of the 19th century, more and more people came to the islands to fish and by World War I, the population was around 500.
By World War II, the population began a downward decline. Fishing methods were changing and it was becoming difficult to make a living. The islanders banded together, setting up a cooperative with a management team that sought markets for the fish and arranged wholesale pricing for needed imports.
The cooperative was the shot in the arm the islanders needed. There was a real sense of success and a good life being just around the corner. It sure looked that way for a good decade or so, but then the seas dealt a blow to Manumiro. The worst fishing season in anyone’s memory caused contracts to be unfilled. The unfulfilled contracts resulted in a loss of customers that never returned, partly because more sophisticated fishing methods by larger vessels meant the local fisherman could not provide enough of a catch to earn enough money. Within a couple of years, the cooperative was bankrupt.
At this point survival meant a reliance on sheep and hay, which proved successful but a dramatic difference in lifestyle. Some people left the islands.
Details on Manumiro money is scant. We know banknotes circulate. We know know the value: 4,084 per US Dollar at last check. All notes are of small value
Notes have been issued in the following denominations: 1, 8, 12, 80, 120, 200, 400, 600, 1,000, 2,000 and 4,000. This makes the largest denomination valued at under one US dollar. The denominations are 'odd' amounts and it is believed the values are traditionally used for certain common products everyone uses.
We understand a coin or two has been produced but its value is not directly related to the paper currency values. This likely means the coin carries greater value. This has been the case in monetary history where a paper currency was valued, say, at 80% of the coin's value for the same amount. From what we have discovered, there are very few coins in circulation.