The Brother of the Snake and Fish as Kings Bróðir ormsins og fiskar sum kongar

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Published Jan 1, 1999
Ingvar Svanberg

Abstract

In traditional folk taxonomy, various fish species have been categorised in accordance with the social structures and kinship systems of human beings. According to this world-view, it was natural that the eel (Anguilla anguilla) had an Eel-Mother, who was responsible for reproduction, and that the eel was regarded as a relatíve to the snakes and was, therefore, called the Brother of the Snake. In the Faroe Islands, Norway and northern Sweden, this belief legitimised local aversion to the eel
as food.

Strange looking fish, either exceptionally large specimens of a certain species or those that were malformed in one way or other, or even uncommon species caught together with fish shoals, have been regarded as kings or leaders of certain fish. They have also been called -styrja in the Scandinavian languages. In Nordic countries, this term denoted certain large and rare fish species which were believed to command and protect other fish species such as herring or mackerel, which appear in
large shoals along the Atlantic coast, e.g. the opah (Lampris guttatus), the oarfish (Regalecus glesne), and the tuna fish (Thunnus thynnus).

The tradition of regarding certain species or specimens as the king of other fish is widespread, not only in northern Europe, but also in other parts of the world. It is also known with regard to reptiles, birds and mammals.

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Section
Humanities