Contemporary Orcadian Identity In Orkney

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‘The Orkney imagination is haunted by time,’ a film clip in the Skara Brae Visitor’s Centre reads. Contemporary Orcadian identity is undeniably grounded in a distant past, it does not fit into the traditional narrative of Scottish identity and thus the islanders consciously attempt to construct an identity that is truly unique. Orkney is a group of 70 islands off the coast of Northern Scotland, around 15 of which are inhabited today with a population of around 20,000. The Vikings first came to Orkney around the year 800 and gradually assimilated with native Scots, so Norse roots were deeply embedded into life in Orkney during the ninth and tenth centuries. The Northern Isles remained an earldom under the rule of a Norwegian King for around…show more content…
These centuries had a great impact on how contemporary identities are formed in Orkney. Laura-Jane Smith argues that the ability to validate identity is as important as the ability to challenge and overthrow misidentification, in these terms Orcadians have formed a strong rhetoric of the uniqueness of their culture and the need to remain distinct from Scotland has become vital. In this essay I will analyse contemporary Orcadian identity and how and why it has come to be shaped through the evoking a ‘Viking’ past. In order to answer this question I will investigate certain acts, sites and rituals of Viking heritage and practices and then show how they have come to shape contemporary identities in…show more content…
The concept of ‘Nordic connections’ and Viking heritage became of great interest from the eighteenth century onwards in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, however in Orkney this interest was amplified through Orkney’s real historical link with Norway. One might not presume that Orcadians would feel more Scandinavian than Scottish or British as long as Orkney is part of Scotland and the United Kingdom. However, the Norse past has certainly played a prominent role in the islanders’ self-understanding and it’s identity as a county is stronger than it’s identity as a part of Scotland or the United Kingdom. Practices of Viking heritage are so widespread on the islands that they have spilled out into the everyday lives of most islanders. These acts range from the use of the Norn vocabulary, naming practices, street names, arts and crafts, logos and labels, the use of runes, Viking imagery, twinning with the Norwegian Hordaland, the Highland Park distillery, The Orkney Brewery, school uniforms, knitwear patterns and jewellery. This is an extensive list of acts of Viking heritage that have been undertaken on the islands, each with their own importance in shaping contemporary identities but I have chosen to highlight four individuals acts, two which interact with the heritage sites on the islands and two intangible aspects to examine in more

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