Issue No. 5, October 1998

The Transcendental Friend







by Haye Hinrichsen
translated from the Hallig Friesian by Peter Constantine

On the Uses of Dung

On Langeness, our island, we don't have any use for dung in farming. Plow a field with dung, and the crops wouldn't be fit for dogs — we'd all be running for the dikes! But we don't throw the dung out, either; we use it for fuel.

Each farmer has a four-cornered pit down by the barn. We call it a potstaol, and it's usually built up with stone—two-and-a-half to three yards long, two yards wide, and one-and-a-half to two yards deep. Twice a day, morning and evening, after the cattle have been fed, we haul the dung out of the stall gutters in dung carts and take it to the potstaol. There the slosh oozes down through channels into the dung sewer. By the end of winter the pit has grown into a large mountain.

Dung spreading

We begin our dung spreading around Easter. First comes the dung hauling. No one enjoys this—it's nasty work. On dung hauling day all the neighbors pitch in: the young girls stomping and the young men hauling. The strongest man climbs down into the pit to shovel up the manure; one cartload after another is taken down to the wharf and emptied out in heaps, which the women trample flat. Then comes the foot-kneading. Each woman wears two pairs of socks, as you can't get the dung nice and smooth with shoes and boots. The job is usually done by late afternoon. Once the women have finished their stomping we can all go home.

The dung is left to dry for a week or two, depending on the weather.

Dung cutting

When the dung is hard enough to walk on, it's time for dung cutting. We use a "dung-stinger," a wooden spade with a sharp iron edge. We use it to cut the dung into small eight-inch squares.

Once the dung is cut it's flipped over, and the squares are laid out like roof-tiles on a house.

Lining up the dung squares

When the dung squares have dried on both sides they are arranged in rows. That's a tough job too: it always gets you in the back! We place four or five dung squares one on top of the other, in rows about three feet apart.

Making the kluade

After a week or two the dung squares have to be hauled away from the wharf, for the spring grass is growing fast. We pile them beside our houses. Four rows high and a fifth row on the top. We call these kluade.

Bringing in the dung squares

If the weather plays along, the dung squares are dry by late May or early June, and we bring them into our houses and store them in the attic. Here again, we need all the help we can get. Some have to fill the baskets; others have to carry the squares from the wharf, and others carry them up to the attic, where someone sits on the rafters packing the dung squares into neat piles. It's important that this person take special care to keep the dung wall even and tidy.

Making dung disks

The dung squares don't burn too well—they're too thick. So we also cut thin, round dung disks. Between dung spreading week and May 12th the day we chase our cows out onto the fens we gather the dung every day after cleaning the animals and bring it down to the wharf, where we put it in little piles. Then with a twig broom we beat these piles flat. Once they are dry enough to be stood up, we line the disks in rows just like the dung squares. But we don't pile them into mounds by the house. Once they've dried we just bring them in. Many of the disks break during handling into what we call smoll, stray bits of dung are called moot, which also covers the sheep dung we sweep together in the stables.

Dung territories

In the old days, when island farmers didn't have as many cattle as today and were often short of fuel, they would go out into the fens. Each farmer had his own dung territory, where women and children would set the cow droppings out to dry, and collect sheep manure.

Burning dung

We use the dung squares year-round in our stoves. The stove is built into the wall over the oven and has a fuel chamber on each side into which we put the dung. The fire burns constantly. After dinner, we put a dung square into the stove and cover it with ash. The following morning it is still aglow. We lay onto it things that burn easily, and flames jump up immediately. In winter we also heat our ovens with dung squares, dung disks, and other manure. Our ovens are different from those on the mainland; ours are square boxes made of cast iron, usually with Bible scenes on the front and sides, and decorated, in some houses, with brass buttons.

The oven is built into the wall and supported by two feet in front. It's closed to the room and heated from the stove. There is a large opening in the back which leads to the oven, and over it is a small air vent that allows the smoke to escape to the chimney.

Every kitchen has a square-shaped fuel cupboard near the stove built into the wall like a shaft all the way to the ceiling. There's an opening for the dung at the bottom. When the cupboard is empty, someone has to climb up to the attic and bring down a fresh batch of dung squares, dung disks and dung droppings in a basket.

[Note: Every attempt has been made to inquire into the copyright status of the work, which was originally published in Langeness in 1934.]





Issue No. 5 Copyright © 1998 by The Transcendental Friend. All rights revert to the authors upon publication.