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May 28, 2015 2:23 AM   Subscribe

Iceland district repeals decree allowing Basque sailors to be killed on sight. A memorial dedicated to the 32 Basque whalers who were killed in the West Fjords in 1615 in what’s known as Iceland’s only mass murder Spánverjavígin was unveiled in Hólmavík, the West Fjords, on April 22, the last day of winter. At the occasion, West Fjords district commissioner Jónas Guðmundsson revoked the order allowing Basque sailors to be killed on sight.

"The edict was issued in 1615 after a storm destroyed three Basque whaling vessels on an expedition in Iceland. Eighty members of the crew survived, said Gudmundsson, and were left stranded in the area. “They had nothing to eat, and there were accounts of them robbing people and farmers,” he said.

The brewing conflict between locals and the whalers prompted then-sheriff Ari Magnússon to draw up a decree that allowed Basques to be killed with impunity in the district. In the weeks that followed, more than 30 Basques were killed in raids led by the sheriff and local farmers. “It’s one of the darkest chapters of our history,” said Gudmundsson, noting that the incident known as the Slaying of the Spaniards ranks among the country’s bloodiest massacres."
posted by three blind mice (18 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Acording to Jón Guðmundsson, the victims were stabbed in the eyes, their ears, noses and genitals mutilated. The captain, Martín de Villafranca, was injuried in the shoulder and chest with an axe, but he managed to escape into the sea however he was stoned in the water and dragged to the shore were he was tortured to death.

Brutal stuff. This massacre and the aftermath amongst the locals is one of the central events of Sjon's excellent novel From the Mouth of a Whale. The reaction and how the locals treat each other after makes it all seem very small-town wild west.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 2:46 AM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


...in accordance with the Icelandic law book of 1281 it was decided that the only right thing to do was to kill as many of them as possible.

I'm trying to understood how they made this decision. Once they cracked open the law book, did someone argue for just capturing and cutting off their genitals? No, just the mutilating them and set them free? kill some of them?... No, clearly the right thing to do is to kill them, kill them all. Agreed? Let's take a vote then.

No wonder the guy who disagreed got out of town fast.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:00 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would guess you are looking at very tight subsistence farming, family based, with little in the way of villages never mind towns. So if a bunch of people turn up and start robbing your food then its basically death from starvation or get together with some other homesteaders and kill the intruders. Savagery wise it doesn't seem that out of step with the period - less than ten years previous one of the gunpowder plotters was hung, then while still conscious castrated, disembowelled and eventually quartered.

Obviously you should not mess with Katullus on a Reykjavik meet-up.
posted by biffa at 4:48 AM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm just surprised that a nation founded by vikings doesn't have a longer list of home-grown massacres.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:05 AM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


"The program included Xabier Irujo, descendant of one of the murdered Basque whale hunters, and Magnús Rafnsson, descendant of one of the murderers, taking part in a symbolic reconciliation..."

I actually think this is really cool. I actually prefer we do atone for the effects of our ancestors past deeds, we carry the gifts and privileges of their good deeds and the burdens of their misdeeds, I know that's debatable, but I find this honorable.
posted by xarnop at 5:31 AM on May 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm just surprised that a nation founded by vikings doesn't have a longer list of home-grown massacres.

That's because most of what people know about vikings is propaganda disseminated by people vested in maintaining their own positions in society - a completely random example being the Christian Church in 10th C North-West Europe.
posted by kariebookish at 5:38 AM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I actually think this is really cool. I actually prefer we do atone for the effects of our ancestors past deeds, we carry the gifts and privileges of their good deeds and the burdens of their misdeeds, I know that's debatable, but I find this honorable.

Most definitely but giving a flag featuring a sword and Norse gods seems, on the face of it, to be a bit odd and not conducive to beating the viking stereotype. Clearly best intentions though!
posted by ocular shenanigans at 5:56 AM on May 28, 2015


That's because most of what people know about vikings is propaganda disseminated by people vested in maintaining their own positions in society

Nonsense. I saw both seasons one and two, so I am an expert. Tattoos, great facial hair, and lots of massacres comprise the total historical truth.

(Really, I have been to Iceland and know the basics of viking history, and I liked how self-aware people were about the usefulness of the viking stereotypes for national branding and marketing.)
posted by Dip Flash at 6:23 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm just surprised that a nation founded by vikings doesn't have a longer list of home-grown massacres.


There's plenty of stuff in the sagas about setting people's longhouses on fire over yuletide, and then stabbing anyone who ran out.

That was a thing back then.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:25 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's no longer legal to kill Basque sailors in Iceland?

Fuck, now I have to change my vacation plans. My deposit for the Iceland Holiday Sailor-Murdering Tour was nonrefundable, too. Thanks a lot, Althingi.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 6:26 AM on May 28, 2015


And you spent all that time learning how to say Jarri zure eskuak gora, ez dugu minik egin nahi.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:32 AM on May 28, 2015


I can see the attack ad now

"Jónas Guðmundsson voted to take away your right to protect yourself from remorseless cod murderers.

Guðmundsson. Soft on Basques. Bad for Iceland."
posted by JPD at 6:41 AM on May 28, 2015 [21 favorites]


The wily Basques have just been waiting for this moment: now the enemy's guard is down, it's payback time!
posted by Segundus at 7:25 AM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


let's not lose sight of who is really to blame here: the cod.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:53 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


By later in the 17th century, there was a Basque-Icelandic pidgin, so they'd made it up (in both senses) by then.
posted by Devonian at 8:05 AM on May 28, 2015


Can we still kill Basques in the other districts of Iceland?
posted by snottydick at 9:14 AM on May 28, 2015


An unwise decision. At this rate, the West Fjords will get a reputation for being soft on Basques.
posted by The Zeroth Law at 10:54 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


biffa: I would guess you are looking at very tight subsistence farming, family based, with little in the way of villages never mind towns. So if a bunch of people turn up and start robbing your food then its basically death from starvation or get together with some other homesteaders and kill the intruders. Savagery wise it doesn't seem that out of step with the period - less than ten years previous one of the gunpowder plotters was hung, then while still conscious castrated, disembowelled and eventually quartered.

The account by Jón Guðmundsson doesn't pull any punches when it comes to casting blame. He describes the the killings as cold-blooded murder and the dead as martyrs. So at the time it was considered a massacre. Yes, it was a long time ago and life that close to the Arctic Circle is hard, but that doesn't make the deeds excusable. I'm glad that this decree has been issued. It is within living memory that people in Iceland still defended and justified the killings.
posted by Kattullus at 11:25 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


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