Nordic Clinker Boat Traditions Added to the Unesco Intangible Heritage List Skip to content

Nordic Clinker Boat Traditions Added to the Unesco Intangible Heritage List

By Nína Hjördís Þorkelsdóttir

Photo: The Icelandic Lighthouse Association.

The creation and usage of Nordic clinker boats has been inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The inscription is shared by five Nordic countries: Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

Nordic clinker boats have been built by the people in the region for nearly two millennia. The boats are quite small, between five to ten metres [16–33 ft] long and are made from wood. Although the craft of making a clinker boat varies slightly from region to region, the boats are built using the same basic techniques, which is explained as following on UNESCO’s website: “Thin planks are fastened to a backbone of the keel and stems, and the overlapping planks are fastened together with metal rivets, treenails or rope. The shell of the boat is strengthened with frames.”

Traditionally, clinker boats were mainly used for fishing and transport. Building a clinker boat required great skill and mastering the craft was a lengthy endeavour. Aspiring craftsmen would commonly start training with a master as young men, sometimes practicing for up to a decade until fully acquiring the skill.

The nomination was a result of a joint effort by various Nordic cultural institutions, associations and individuals, which commenced more than five years ago, RÚV reports. Over 200 associations signed the nomination, which was endorsed by all five governments.

Sigurbjörg Árnadóttir, chair of The Icelandic Lighthouse Association, says that the organisation had been preparing the nomination for quite some time.

“Reaching this milestone is simply wonderful, we are so delighted,” she says.

Sigurbjörg says the idea came into being after a series of annual festivals celebrating Nordic coastal culture. The festivals took place in various locations, such as Norway, the Faroe Islands and the Icelandic coastal town Siglufjörður. “During the festivals we shared our knowledge and expertise with other people and quickly realised that the building of Nordic clinker boats is a shared Nordic tradition that has been sustained for millennia,” she says.

Sigurbjörg admits that throughout the process, she was optimistic that UNESCO would accept the tradition to their list of intangible heritage. “We prepared the application very well and got many associates on board with us”.

Although the usage of Nordic clinker boats has changed throughout the years, UNESCO reports that the tradition is still of great significance. Today, the boats are mostly used for ceremonial purposes, such as festivities and sporting events.



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